Yellow Clintonia / Bluebead Lily
Clintonia borealis
Lily Family (Liliaceae)
By Webmaster

Bluebead lily berries on the East Pond hike (photo by Webmaster) Yellow clintonia is a member of the Lily Family that bears light yellow flowers in the spring and striking, pure-blue (no hint of purple) berries during the summer (at which time the plant is usually referred to as "bluebead lily" instead of "yellow clintonia"). A single stalk rising from a cluster of two to four large, shiny basal leaves, supports three to twelve flowers. A characteristic of the Lily Family is that flower parts exist in multiples of three and so it is with this plant: the flowers are bell-shaped with six petals and six stamens. Yellow clintonia prefers moist, shady woods and often forms large colonies.

The berries are inedible for humans with a taste unpleasant enough to quickly discourage eating. Various sources have reported that the berries are anywhere from "mildly" to "very" poisonous. In spite of a negative effect for hikers, eastern chipmunks can stomach the fruit.

Hikers looking for an on-the-trail snack from this plant will have to go out around May when the leaves are only three to four inches high and have not yet fully unfurled, thus forming a vase-like structure; the older leaves are bitter and tough. While young, the cucumber-tasting leaves make for a great salad and can be eaten either raw or cooked. The deer enjoy this meal too so you might have some competition.

American Indians would apply a poultice of fresh leaves to burns, sores, and infections. The root of clintonia contains an anti-inflammatory. Hunters in Quebec used to rub their traps with the rhizome to attract bears. It is also said that rubbing your skin with the rhizome will keep mosquitoes away. Hmm, so no mosquito attacks but perhaps a bear attack instead? Maybe it's better to just leave the root in the ground!

Yellow Clintonia / Bluebead Lily Characteristics   

Flowers:   3-12 per plant, light yellow, drooping, bell-like, 3/4-1 inch, 6 petals (actually 3 petal-like sepals and 3 petals), 6 stamens
Leaves:   basal, oblong, shiny, 5-8 inches
Fruit:   shiny, pure-blue berry,1/2 inch in diameter, ripens by mid-July and stays blue into August
Height:   6-16 inches
Flowering:   May through August
Habitat:   moist woods, acid soils
Range:   Labrador to northern New England; south to mountains of Georgia and Tennessee; north to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Latin Name:   Clintonia borealis
Family:    Lily Family (Liliaceae)
Name Origin:    Named in honor of the former governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), better known as the chief promotor of the Erie Canal. Like many successful public figures of the nineteenth century, Clinton pursued natural history in addition to his public duties.
Common Names:   yellow clintonia, bluebead lily, corn lily, straw lily, bead lily, cow tongue

Yellow clintonia flowers on Cutler Coast hike (photo by Webmaster)


Yellow clintonia flowers on the Midstate Trail (photo by Webmaster)
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Bluebead lily on East Pond hike (photo by Webmaster) Yellow clintonia on Cutler Coast hike (photo by Webmaster)

 

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