Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is a native Adirondack wildflower which produces a cluster of pink or white flowers in July, followed by colorful deep pink fruit capsules in August and September. Pipsissewa is also known as Prince's Pine. It is a member of the Pyrola family. Other common names for Pipsissewa include Waxflower, Common Pipsissewa, Noble Prince's-Pine, and Bitter Wintergreen.
The name Chimaphila is from the Greek cheima, meaning "winter weather" – a reference to the fact that the plant is evergreen, with leaves persisting through winter.
Identification of Pipsissewa
Pipsissewa is an evergreen plant classified as a subshrub. It grows four to ten inches high. The erect stems are slender and woody. Each year's growth puts out a few new branches, which eventually root and form mats.
The lance-shaped evergreen leaves of Pipsissewa are dark green and glossy. The leaves are one to two inches long and about a half inch wide; they are whorled with distinct sharp teeth along the edges.
Pipsissewa flowers are pink to red or white, growing in a loose terminal cluster of three to seven nodding flowers. The flowers are about ½ inch long, with five thick waxy petals. The petals are cup-shaped, with rounded tips. The flowers are borne on slender stalks standing well above the upper leaves. The petals are arrayed around a plump green central pistil, which is also surrounded by a ring of reddish anthers. In the Adirondack Mountains, Pipsissewa usually starts to bud in early July, with flowers blooming for most of the month.
Pipsissewa flowers are followed by fruit in the form of a small, five-sectioned capsule. The fruit capsule starts off green, then changes to a deep pink. In late fall, it darkens to brown and splits open to expose the seeds. The capsules are about ¼ inch in diameter, with a distinct button-shaped cap. In the Adirondacks, Pipsissewa is in fruit from early August through late October.
Uses of Pipsissewa
Pipsissewa has several edible uses. The leaves of the Pipsissewa plant reportedly can be made into a tea or used as flavoring in root beer. The leaves have also been used to flavor candy and soft drinks.
In addition, Pipsissewa played an important medicinal role among North American Indians and settlers. It reportedly was used by many tribes to treat a wide variety of aliments, including fevers, colds, kidney stones, skin diseases, stomach ailments, chest pains, and chronic rheumatism. The plant was reportedly also used by some native Americans for backache.
Wildlife Value of Pipsissewa
No wildlife uses of this species were found for the Adirondack region.
Distribution of Pipsissewa
Pipsissewa is a circumboreal species that is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere. It can be found from Newfoundland to Alaska, south to California. The plant also grows in the eastern United States, from Maine south in the mountains to Georgia and west to Minnesota. Pipsissewa is listed as endangered in Illinois, threatened in Iowa and Ohio, and exploitably vulnerable in New York State.
Pipsissewa is found in almost all counties in New York State, including all counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line except Herkimer County. This plant is protected under the 1974 New York State Wildflower Law.
Habitat of Pipsissewa
In the Adirondack Mountains, Pipsissewa can be found in well-drained mixed or coniferous woods, usually in light shade. It can be found in dry sandy forests, on the edges of forests, and along roadsides. Pipsissewa usually grows in small patches.
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