Clintonia borealis

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Clintonia borealis
Clintonia borealis 140615.jpg
Growing on Mont Tremblant, Quebec

Secure (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Subfamily: Lilioideae
Genus: Clintonia
C. borealis
Binomial name
Clintonia borealis
  • Clintonia aitonii Raf.
  • Clintonia angustifolia Raf.
  • Clintonia biflora Raf.
  • Clintonia biumbella Raf.
  • Clintonia borealis f. albicarpa Killip ex House
  • Clintonia borealis f. lateralis Peck
  • Clintonia ciliata Raf.
  • Clintonia falcata Raf.
  • Clintonia fulva Raf.
  • Clintonia glomerata Raf.
  • Clintonia latifolia Raf.
  • Clintonia multiflora Raf.
  • Clintonia mutans Raf.
  • Clintonia nutans var. 'dasistema' Raf.
  • Clintonia nutans var. 'fascicularis' Raf.
  • Clintonia nutans var. 'macrostema' Raf.
  • Clintonia nutans var. 'obovata' Raf.
  • Clintonia nutans var. 'prolifera' Raf.
  • Clintonia nutans var. 'uniflora' Raf.
  • Clintonia ophioglossoides Raf.
  • Clintonia triflora Raf.
  • Clintonia undulata Raf.
  • Convallaria borealis (Aiton) Poir.
  • Dracaena borealis Aiton
  • Smilacina borealis (Aiton) Ker Gawl.

Clintonia borealis is a species of flowering plant in the lily family Liliaceae. The specific epithet borealis means "of the north," which alludes to the fact that the species tends to thrive in the boreal forests of eastern Canada and northeastern United States.[3]

Clintonia borealis is commonly known as bluebead, bluebead lily, or yellow clintonia.[4][5] The term "bluebead" refers to the plant's small blue spherical fruit, perhaps its most striking feature. However, the term can be misleading since all but one of the species in genus Clintonia have blue fruits (notably, the fruit of C. umbellulata is black). Thus yellow clintonia is probably a better name for C. borealis since the adjective refers to the color of the plant's flower, a unique character among Clintonia species. Compound names such as yellow bead lily or yellow bluebead lily are also in use.

Other less common names include corn lily, poisonberry, or snakeberry. Some authors refer to C. borealis as Clinton's lily[6] but that name may be more appropriate for the genus as a whole.


Clintonia borealis is a small (5–10 in) perennial plant, usually found in homogeneous colonies. At full growth, a shoot has 2–4 clasping and curved, slightly succulent leaves with parallel venation. The flowers are arranged in small umbels at the extremity of a long stalk. They have 6 stamens and 6 yellow tepals (i.e. very similar sepals and petals). In rare cases more than one umbel is found on a shoot or shoots from a clone. The fruits are small dark blue, lurid berries, which are semi-poisonous.[7] A white-berried form (f. albicarpa) also exists.[8][9]

The plant reproduces via seed or vegetatively by underground rhizomes. By either method, the plants are slow to spread. One colony often covers several hundred square meters.[4]


In 1789, William Aiton described the species Dracaena borealis Aiton,[10] a name that was to become a synonym for Clintonia borealis (Aiton) Raf. The latter was first described by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1832.[11] The species C. borealis was previously classified within the genus Convallaria.[12]


Clintonia borealis is a wide-ranging species in eastern North America, from Newfoundland and Labrador across New England into the Great Lakes region west to Manitoba and Minnesota.[2][13] Its range extends southward into the Appalachian Mountains where it is allopatric with C. umbellulata, that is, the ranges of the two species do not significantly overlap but are immediately adjacent to one another. In the Appalachians, C. umbellulata prefers hardwood forests less than 1,000 m (3,281 ft) while C. borealis populates coniferous or mixed forests up to 1,600 m (5,249 ft).[5][14]

C. borealis is globally secure but threatened in Maryland and Tennessee.[1] It is an endangered species in Ohio and Indiana.[15][16]


Clintonia borealis is not found in open spaces, only growing in the shade. It is extremely slow to spread, but established clones can usually survive many later modifications, as long as sunlight remains limited. Whereas crossed pollination is more efficient in producing seeds, self-pollination will still produce seeds, allowing the plant to propagate.[citation needed]

Like other slow-growing forest plants, such as Trillium species, Clintonia is extremely sensitive to grazing by white-tailed deer.[citation needed]


Culture is difficult, due to the need to avoid direct sunlight and the difficulty posed by germination. Transplanting is not recommended.[citation needed]



The rhizome contains diosgenin, a saponin steroid with estrogenic effects.[citation needed]


The young leaves of the plant are edible while still only a few inches tall.[17] The fruit however, is mildly toxic, and is quite unpleasant tasting.[3]


Hunters in North Quebec were said to have rubbed their traps with the roots because bears are attracted to its odor.[citation needed]

According to a Mi'kmaq tale, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of the bluebead lily to transfer the poison to the plant.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Clintonia borealis". NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Clintonia borealis (Aiton) Raf.". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis (Ait.) Raf.)". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  4. ^ a b USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Clintonia borealis". The PLANTS Database ( Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  5. ^ a b Utech, Frederick H. (2002). "Clintonia borealis". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 26. New York and Oxford. Retrieved 4 August 2020 – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  6. ^ Hemmerly, Thomas Ellsworth (2000). Appalachian Wildflowers. University of Georgia Press. p. 122. ISBN 9780820321646.
  7. ^ Niering, William A.; Olmstead, Nancy C. (1985) [1979]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region. Knopf. p. 597. ISBN 0-394-50432-1.
  8. ^ Gleason, H. A. & A.J. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada (ed. 2) i–910. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.
  9. ^ Scoggan, H. J. (1978). Pteridophyta, Gymnospermae, Monocotyledoneae. 2: 93–545. In Flora of Canada. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
  10. ^ Aiton, William (1789). "Dracaena borealis". Hortus Kewensis. London. 1: 454. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  11. ^ Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel (1832). "Clintonia borealis". Atlantic Journal, and Friend of Knowledge. 1 (3): 120. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  12. ^ Poiret, J. L. M. (1817). "Convallaria borealis (Aiton) Poir". Encyclopédie Méthodique. Supplement, Tome V: 737. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  13. ^ " Clintonia borealis". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  14. ^ Utech, Frederick H. (2002). "Clintonia umbellulata". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 26. New York and Oxford. Retrieved 24 August 2020 – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  15. ^ "Rare Native Ohio Plants: 2018-19 Status List" (PDF). Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  16. ^ "Endangered, Threatened, and Extirpated Plants of Indiana" (PDF). Indiana Department of Natural Resources. 2020-03-09. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  17. ^ "Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Clintonia (Clintonia borealis)". Adirondacks Forever Wild. Retrieved 4 September 2020.


External links[edit]