In contrast to yesterday’s sturdy phlomis, gillenia is a graceful and airy perennial whose star-like white flowers brighten the shady border. Known as Bowman’s Root, Gillenia trifoliata is native to Eastern North America, where it grows in open woodlands. It’s said that the common name is derived from the long, underground rhizomes, which are straight as a bowstring. (I didn’t dig mine up to check this out.) Gillenia is also sometimes called Indian Physic as it was used by Native peoples for medicinal purposes.
When the flowers are finished, they leave behind persistent red calyxes that are quite attractive too. With their rosy colouring, they remind me of tiny rose hips, and indeed, gillenia is a member of rose family, Rosaceae. The scientific species name, trifoliata, refers to the three-part leaves.
Gillenia trifoliata is listed as a native of Ontario in some literature, but I couldn’t recall ever having encountered it as a wildflower. I was referred to an excellent webpage titled The Diversity of Plants in Ontario by William Van Hemessen, linked here. There, I found the answer to this little mystery. He writes: Finally, a plant called Bowman’s-root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a plant of oak savannahs in far Southern Ontario that is believed to be extirpated from the province.
When I was reading up on gillenia, I came across a third common name for this plant: Fawn’s Breath! That’s my favorite. I can just imagine a fawn, hidden away in a patch of gillenia in the forest, breathing out flowers.