What do they have in common?

These plants all have something in common other than being residents at the Leach Botanical Garden.  Can you discover what it is?

Botanic name: Achlys triphylla
Common name: vanilla leaf
Family: Berberidaceae

This fascinating plant sends out three-lobed, fan-shaped leaflets early in the spring, which later fill in to create a quite dense carpet on the woodland floor.  They do flower – sending up a spike of tiny white flowers. In the autumn the the leaves die back leaving a lacy network of veins. The dried foliage emits the scent of vanilla, and is sometimes dried and used as a scented sachet in the home.

Botanic name: Epimedium x versicolor ‘sulphureum’
Common name: barrenwort
Family: Berberidaceae

Unlike many of it more woody relatives, this is an herbaceous plant that stays low to the ground generally up to about 12”.  Red stems with a spray of light yellow flowers appear amid a mound of green foliage which may have a red flush in  spring.  The green leaves remain evergreen in warmer climates. You can find Barrenwort along the trails between the upper garden and the Manor House.

Botanic name:  Jeffersonia diphylla
Common name: twinleaf
Family: Berberidaceae

In spring this namesake for the third president of the United States sends up stems each containing a single white flower, accompanied by twin leaves resembling a butterfly with its wings spread. The blue-green leaves may have ridged or wavy edges. Look for low-to-the ground clumps of this two-leaved plant along the trails in the hilly area between the upper garden and the Manor House.

Botanic name:  Berberis nervosa
Common name: low-growing Oregon grape
Family: Berberidaceae  

Dwarf Oregon grape is plentiful, and you will readily find it here in the garden. With longer, more densely purple-berried stems and longer holly-like leaves than its relative, Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), it is beloved not only by humans as a lower growing shrub, but also by animals and birds who enjoy the berries..  Here’s a rhyme to help you tell this low-growing Oregon grape from it’s taller relative, courtesy of our Volunteer Coordinator, Annie Winn: “Spiny & shiny – aquifolium (taller); matte & flat = nervosa.

Botanic name:  Nandina domestica
Common name: heavenly bamboo
Family: Berberidaceae

The only member of the genus nandina is not actually a bamboo, but is instead a species of flowering evergreen shrub getting up to 7’ tall.  The new leaves in spring are quite showy with their bright pink or red coloring, later changing to green, and then to a red or purple before falling off.  The flowers are white, borne in early summer in conical clusters held well above the foliage, evolving into  bright red berries in winter.  It’s a showpiece throughout the year.  One caveat – it’s highly poisonous – for both cats, animals, and sometimes birds. 

Did you discover the common thread?

​They are all very different members of the Berberidacae family.  (Thanks for playing!)

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