In the spring last year, my friends and I went out to a old growth forest to see if we could find some cool plants. And I found a very interesting two foot tall plant with reddish-brown flowers.

What is this?!

      I had no idea what it was off of the top of my head, which was exciting. It almost looked like a plant from the Gesneriaceae (African violets are in this family) but that family is only found in the tropics. I searched and search my favorite databases – Michigan Flora Online, NY Flora Atlas and Go Botany (New England Flora Online) to no avail. I finally pulled out my trusted book, A Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America (Peterson & McKenny, 1998) and looked in both the red and brown flower sections. And there it was, the horse-gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum). There is a very similar species, Triosteum perfoliatum, that has wider leaves at the base, denser short hairs and longer styles. Both of these species are also called wild coffee, as people dry and grind the seeds as a coffee substitute, as described in Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America by Peterson (1999).

Horse-gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum, Caprifoliaceae)

      These flowers are actually in the Caprifoliaceae family or the honeysuckle family. Honeysuckles are usually woody vines or shrubs, so I wasn’t thinking of that family looking at the fuzzy herb. But they all share opposite leaves, with the flowers coming in pairs right above the leaves. So a difficult identification for a very cool flower!

Horse-gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum, Caprifoliaceae)

One thought on “Horse-gentian

  1. A friend first spotted the bright orange berries on this unusual plant while we were taking a walk on a wooded path that is about 25 yards up from a small lake. I put a plant marker beside it so I can hopefully see it blooming in the spring.

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