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One-flowered Wintergreen

Moneses uniflora

  • Family: Heather Family – Ericaceae
    (formerly Wintergreen Family – Pyrolaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial wintergreen herb.
  • Height: 5–12 cm (2–4.8 in.). Stem with single scale, grooved.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), white, 1.5–2 cm (0.6–0.8 in.) wide, nodding; petals 5. Calyx 5-lobed. Stamens usually 10. Pistil a fused carpel, single-styled (stigma 5-lobed). Flower solitary, terminating stem, nodding, fragrant.
  • Leaves: Opposite, rosette-like at base, stalked, overwintering. Blade obovate–round, round-tipped, shallowly serrated, leathery.
  • Fruit: 5-parted, 5–8 mm (0.2–0.32 in.) long, erect capsule.
  • Habitat: Young forest heaths, mossy spruce copses, spring-influenced swamps, stream banks, bog margins.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Unlike other wintergreens, one-flowered wintergreen opens its petals as wide as they can go. Many people regard one-flowered wintergreen as one of the most thrilling flowers that grow wild in Finnish forests. According to an old belief the flower, which bears a slight resemblance to the human eye, has been used to treat eye diseases, and it was held to make one’s eyes more beautiful. Its nodding flower gazes humbly at the soil – and in fact the position of the flower is very functional because it effectively prevents self-pollination. The flower can patiently await suitable pollinators without withering for up to six weeks. In order to prevent its pollen being wasted on the wrong flower, it is expedient for a plant to choose its pollinator as carefully as possible. Wintergreen’s fragrance attracts small flies and beetles to pollinate the plants, but one-flowered wintergreen emits a fragrance which is like lily-of-the-valley or cyclamen, and it smells quite different from true wintergreens (Pyrola). After flowering the developing capsule becomes erect. Wintergreen seeds are, along with the Orchid (Orchidaceae) family’s, the smallest in the plant kingdom: a single seed weighs around two millionths of a gram, and they are so small that they can float on the gentlest of air currents.

One-flowered wintergreen graces mossy, lush forests, swamps, springs and stream-sides here and there all across Finland. Unfortunately for the plant it shies away from forest owners’ preferred terrain, which means that stands can often disappear if the area is used to produce wood for sale. One-flowered wintergreen seems to be very sensitive to interference with its terrain, and it has declined during the time of intense forestry. When it is not flowering it is easy to miss the small plant, especially as not many plants tend to grow in the same place.

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