Applectrum hyemale is one of the more interesting plants which grow on our property for several reasons. The first reason for my interest in the plant is that the whole “plant”, in quotes, is only a single leathery or papery greenish-grey leaf which stands out among the fallen brown leaves.
When I started investigating the plant, trying to identify it in the days when all there was available to me was books with one picture (if you were lucky!) identifying the plant, I found that it had two common names and both names were related to its root. One of those names is “Adam & Eve” and the other is “Putty-Root” which brings us, as usual in my case, to talk about history.
Way, way back in Grecian times people, just as I did, dug up plants to transplant them or simply to investigate. Being Greek, of course, they spoke Greek (!) and they could not help noticing that the corms of a certain plant looked like testicles…So, they simply called the plant “Testicles”, Orchis in Greek, which is what we now call about 18,000 species of plants with shared characteristics such as having two corms, aplectrum hyemale being one of them.
This “plant” consisting of a single leaf was all over my property. I noticed it here and there, usually in moist shady places sometimes in groups where spent flower racemes had fallen. I started digging up the plants I found and putting them in groups. The immature plants, I discovered, had only one corm, but the older plants had two corms which were attached. One of the corms was the “Adam” and the other corm, which I suppose developed after the Adam, was the “Eve” corm from which the flower would grow.
I discovered that the small, immature plants had only one corm …
The older, more mature plant has two corms which are attached tone another
The other common name for the plant, “Putty-Root”, also has something to do with the plant’s corms. If the corms are smashed, they become a glutinous paste which is like putty. Native Americans used this putty to repair crockery. I must say, though, that I have not crushed any of my plants’ corms to see if they indeed work like putty. I will take historians’ word for it. In addition to using the plant’s root as putty, according to sources, Native Americans made a poultice out of it to put on boils as well as a tea to use for bronchial troubles.
Besides the intriguing name the plant is interesting for other reasons. Most of our plants emerge in the spring or early summer, flower, then seed, die off, and emerge again for another go at it. Not Aplectrum hyemale. Its life cycle does not follow the usual pattern. The leathery, papery leaf begins to emerge about the time everything else is dying off, in the fall of the year. Then in the winter, as we have seen, there it is, attracting deer who enjoy munching on it, and calling our attention as we make our way among the fallen leaves.
By spring the leaf dies off and disappears. In its place a stalk begins to grow which by mid May (in Nantahala, at least) a beautiful raceme of delicate pink-purple-greenish flowers emerges and blooms.
In our garden we have had a resounding success in transplanting Aplectrum hyemale plants. They all have survived. Several groups have been placed next to trees which protect the plant from wandering wild life destroying the flowers before they have a chance to become seeds.
Seen here is a group of plants with a raceme of seed capsules. There are many, many tiny seeds in each pod.