Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris)

Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: Swamp Candles in bloom in Barnum Bog (2 August 2013).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Swamp Candles is a native perennial plant with spikes of yellow flowers that appear in July and August. In the Adirondacks, it is found in wetland habitats, such as marshes and bogs. Swamp Candles in bloom in Barnum Bog (2 August 2013).

Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris) is a wetland plant that produces yellow flowers in summer. It grows in swamps, bogs, and other wetlands in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.

Swamp Candles was long considered to be a member of the Primrose Family.

  • More recent studies based on DNA sequencing led researchers to conclude that Lysimachia should be moved from the Primrose (Primulaceae) family to the Myrsine (Myrsinaceae) family. Several sources now reflect this recommendation.
  • However, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System still assigns Swamp Candles to the Primrose Family, as does USDA and the New York Flora Association.

The origins of the plant's genus name (Lysimachia) are obscure. One theory is that the name is a reference to King Lysimachos of Thrace, who is said to have pacified a bull with a piece of loosestrife. Another theory is that the name derives from the word Lysis ( meaning a release from) and mache (meaning strife). The species name (terrestris) means "growing on ground."

Alternate common names for Swamp Candles include Swamp Loosestrife, Bog Loosestrife, Yellow Loosestrife, Swamp Yellow Loosestrife, Swamp-candles, Spiked Loosestrife, Earth Loosestrife, Bulblet Loosestrife, Bulbil-loosestrife, and Bulbil Loosestrife. The latter names refer to the reddish bulblets that may form in the leaf axils of the plant.


Identification of Swamp Candles

Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: Swamp Candles on the Boreal Life Trail at the Paul Smiths VIC (27 July 2013).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Swamp Candles' flowers grow in a narrow cluster at the top of the central stem. Swamp Candles on the Boreal Life Trail at the Paul Smiths VIC (27 July 2013).

Swamp Candles is an erect, perennial plant growing one to three feet tall. The stems are smooth and green, sometimes with maroon streaks.

Swamp Candle leaves are lance-shapedLanceolateLanceolate: A leaf shaped like a lance head, tapering to a point at each end. or narrowly elliptic, from 1½ to four inches long.

  • The leaves are stalkless and usually arranged in an
    oppositeOpposite leaf arrangementOppposite Leaves - leaves occurring in pairs at a node, with one leaf on either side of the stem.
    fashion, meaning that the plant has pairs of leaves emerging from the same node.
  • The leaf surfaces are covered with tiny dots.
  • The leaf edges are
    smoothSmooth leaf marginSmooth leaf edges do not have any teeth.
    , without any teeth.
  • In late summer, after flowering, the plants may have red bulblets which appear in leaf
    axilsLeaf AxilAxil: The angle between the upper side of a leaf or stem and the stem or branch that supports it.
    .

Swamp Candle's starlike yellow flowers grow in a narrow spike, four to twelve inches long, at the top of the central stem. Each five-parted flower is about ½–¾" across. Each petal is marked with small reddish patches at the base. The five protruding stamensDiagram of flower stamenStamen: The male part of the flower, made up of the filament and anther. are also streaked yellow and red.

Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: Swamp Candles blooming on Heron Marsh at the Paul Smiths VIC (11 July 2017).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: In the Adirondack Mountains, Swamp Candles is usually seen in bloom in July and August. Swamp Candles blooming on Heron Marsh at the Paul Smiths VIC (11 July 2017).

This plant is a summer bloomer. A tally of flowering dates for the upland Adirondack areas compiled by Michael Kudish, based on data collected from the early seventies to the early nineties, gives a median flowering date as 12 August. More recent flowering data for the northern Adirondacks indicate bloom times starting in mid-July.

Swamp Candles fruit is a dark, dotted capsule. The ovoid seed capsules are smooth, each with a few small individual seeds.

Uses of Swamp Candles

No edible or medicinal uses for Swamp Candles could be found. According to folklore, Swamp Candles and other members of the loosestrife genus were said to have soothing powers over animals, leading people to tie a branch of the plant to the yoke of oxen to make them easier to handle.

Wildlife Value of Swamp Candles

This plant is not a source of food or cover for animals or birds. Several sources suggest that Swamp Candles are a pollen source for native bees. Some insects are known to feed on the plant, including the larvae of the Tiny Yellow Sawfly (Monostegia abdominalis), Poplar Vagabond Gall Aphid (Mordwilkoja vagabunda), and the Foxglove Aphid (Aulacorthum solani).

Distribution of Swamp Candles

Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: Swamp Candles on the bank of Barnum Brook at the Paul Smiths VIC (19 July 2014).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Swamp Candles can be found throughout the Adirondack Park. Swamp Candles on the bank of Barnum Brook at the Paul Smiths VIC (19 July 2014).

Swamp Candles can be found in the eastern half of the US and Canada. This plant grows in Manitoba east to Newfoundland, south to Georgia, and northwest to Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. It has been introduced into the northwestern US, where it may be found in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. The plant is listed as endangered in Kentucky and Tennessee.

In New York State, Swamp Candles may be seen in most counties in the eastern half of the state. The New York Flora Atlas shows vouchered specimens for Swamp Candles in all counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line, except Saratoga County.

Habitat of Swamp Candles

Swamp Candles plants prefer poorly-drained soil in mostly sunny or partly sunny sites. This plant may be seen growing in a wide variety of wetland habitats, including swamps, marshes, bogs, fens, stream banks, pond and lake margins, wet ditches, and wet meadows. Swamp Candles can be found in several ecological communities, including Riverside Ice Meadow and Sedge Meadow.

Look for Swamp Candles along the banks of Barnum Brook on the Boreal Life Trail boardwalk at the Paul Smiths VIC. This plant can also be seen along the Bloomingdale Bog Trail. It is sometimes seen growing near Spotted Joe Pye Weed, White Meadowsweet, and Steeplebush.


References

Michael Kudish. Adirondack Upland Flora: An Ecological Perspective (The Chauncy Press, 1992), pp. 23-28, 148.

New York Flora Association.  New York Flora Atlas.  Lysimachia terrestris.
Retrieved 28 December 2017.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Lysimachia terrestris. Retrieved 28 December 2017.

United States Department of Agriculture. The Plants Database.  Lysimachia terrestris (L.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb. Retrieved 28 December 2017.

Flora of North America. Lysimachia terrestris. Retrieved 28 December 2017.

NatureServe Explorer. Online Encyclopedia of Life.  Lysimachia terrestris.
Retrieved 28 December 2017.

New England Wildflower Society. Go Botany.  Swamp Yellow-loosestrife. Lysimachia terrestris (L.) B.S.P.  Retrieved 28 December 2017.

New York State. Department of Environmental Conservation. New York Natural Heritage Program. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition (March 2014), pp. 55-56.  Retrieved 17 October 2015.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2015. Online Conservation Guide for Riverside Ice Meadow. Retrieved 14 March 2017.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2015. Online Conservation Guide for Sedge Meadow. Retrieved 14 March 2017.

New York State. Adirondack Park Agency. Preliminary List of Species Native Within the Adirondack Park Listed Alphabetically by Scientific Name and Sorted by Habit. Volume 1. Updated 10.23.2006, p. 27. Retrieved 26 January 2017.

Connecticut Botanical Society.  Swamp Candles. Lysimachia terrestris.
Retrieved 28 December 2017.

University of Wisconsin. Flora of Wisconsin.  Lysimachia terrestris. Retrieved 28 December 2017.

Minnesota Wildflowers.  Lysimachia terrestris. Swamp Candles. Retrieved 28 December 2017.

Illinois Wildflowers.  Swamp Candles. Lysimachia terrestris. Retrieved 29 December 2017.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.  The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden. Lysimachia terrestris (L.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb.  Retrieved 28 December 2017.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Lysimachia terrestris. Retrieved 28 December 2017.

iNaturalist.  Adirondack All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory. Swamp candles. Lysimachia terrestris. Retrieved 28 December 2017.

Anne McGrath.  Wildflowers of the Adirondacks (EarthWords, 2000), p.  81, Plate 23.

Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny.  A Field Guide to Wildflowers. Northeastern and North-central North America (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968), pp. 106-107.

Doug Ladd. North Woods Wildflowers (Falcon Publishing, 2001), p. 133.

Lawrence Newcomb. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (Little Brown and Company, 1977), pp. 266-267.

Meiyin Wu & Dennis Kalma. Wetland Plants of the Adirondacks: Herbaceous Plants and Aquatic Plants (Trafford Publishing, 2011), p. 88.

David M. Brandenburg. Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America (Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2010), p. 450.

Timothy Coffey.  The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers (FactsOnFile, 1993), p. 104.

William Carey Grimm.  The Illustrated Book of Wildflowers and Shrubs (Stackpole Books, 1993), pp.  202-203.

Wilbur H. Duncan and Marion B. Duncan.  Wildflowers of the Eastern United States (The University of Georgia Press, 1999), p 62, Plate 228.

National Audubon Society.  Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Eastern Region. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), p. 716, Plate 317.

William K. Chapman et al. Wildflowers of New York in Color (Syracuse University Press, 1998), pp. 86-87.

Iowa State University.  BugGuide.  Monostegia abdominalis.  Retrieved 29 December 2017.

Roger Blackman and Victor Eastop.  Aphids on the World's Plants.  Host Lists and Keys for Each Plant Genus. Lysimachia. Retrieved 20 December 2017.

Steven Clemants and Carol Gracie.  Wildflowers in the Field and Forest: A Field Guide to the Northeastern United States (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 194-195.

Allen J. Coombes. Dictionary of Plant Names (Timber Press, 1994), p.  112.

Charles H. Peck.  Plants of North Elba. (Bulletin of the New York State Museum, Volume 6, Number 28, June 1899), p. 115.  Retrieved 22 February 2017.

Mari Källersjö, Gullevi Bergqvist, and Arne A. Anderberg, "Generic realignment in primuloid families of the Ericales s.l.: a phylogenetic analysis based on DNA sequences from three chloroplast genes and morphology," American Journal of  Botany. September 2000.  Volume 87, Number 9, pp. 1325-1341. Retrieved 29 December 2017.

Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park

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