Roots of Gold

One of the easily missed flowers in the sub-alpine is the Three-leaved Goldthread (Coptis trifolia). I found several in bloom on a walk around Paradise Meadows earlier this month. Like the name suggests, it has three evergreen basal leaves.

Three-leaved Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)
The small white flower and three basal leaves of Three-leaved Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) make it easy to identify.

Compare the simple basal leaves of this plant with those of Fern-leaved Goldthread (Coptis¬†aspleniifolia), which is also found in similar habitat. I’ve often found the distinctive seed heads of this¬† small delicate plant but haven’t had much luck finding the flowers. This summer my timing was better.

Three-leaved Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)
The common name of Three-leaved Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) refers to the flower’s golden-coloured roots.

But what does the “goldthread” refer to? Like the Fern-leaved Goldthread, Three-leaved also spreads by way of golden-coloured rhizomes. While it’s not necessary to dig up this delicate flower in order to confirm its identity, I’ve always been curious about the colour of the roots. I gently removed a plant to photograph it and then replaced it afterwards.

You have to look carefully for this beautiful sub-alpine wildflower – see if you can find both species of Goldthread on your next walk around Paradise Meadows in Strathcona Provincial Park. With the late blooming season there may still be some in flower, but you can also look for the seed heads as the season moves into fall!

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