Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Bluebead-lily - Clintonia borealis   (Aiton) Rafinesque
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Section 5 » Order Liliales » Family Liliaceae
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Author(Aiton) Rafinesque
DistributionOccurs throughout the higher Mountains, mostly above 5,000 feet elevation. No records yet for the extreme southwestern counties, and likely absent at least from Cherokee and Clay counties. Perhaps also absent from Alleghany County owing to its lower elevations.

This species has a classic Northern range, as it occurs from Lab. to Man. south to central PA, southern MI, and southern MN, and then southward only in the Appalachian Mountains. It ranges barely into northern GA, and is not known from KY.
AbundanceFairly common to common and widespread above 5,500 feet, and sparingly down to 5,000 feet and slightly lower in elevation.
HabitatThis is a characteristic herb of spruce-fir forests, but it also grows in mixed hardwood-spruce forests and in Northern Hardwood Forests. Weakley (2018) says that it also occurs in Northern Red Oak Forests as well. For the most part, it grows at elevations too high for the closely related C. umbellulata, though both can be found in the same forest stand in some areas.
PhenologyBlooms from late May into June, and fruits from July into September.
IdentificationA handful of lilies and orchids have moderately large, elliptic to obovate, shiny parallel-veined leaves, growing in a rosette at ground level. This species has an average of three such basal leaves, often 6 inches or more long. The naked flowering stem grows to 9-12 inches tall, and at the top dangle 3-8 medium-sized flowers. Each flower is a dull yellow or greenish-yellow, with the 6 tepals somewhat spreading and about 2/3-inch long. After blooming, this species has bright blue berries. The other member of the genus in the state -- C. umbellulata -- has a similar number of basal leaves and a similar flowering scape. However, its leaves are a bit longer, often to about 9 inches long, but the main difference is that the species has well over 10 smaller flowers (and up to 20 or more) that are white instead of yellow. It also has berries that are blackish instead of bright blue. Both can occur in sizable colonies that cover many square yards of the ground. When you are walking at high elevations, you will certainly encounter one or both of these species regularly, but in spring you may be too early for either to be in bloom. Thus, you may have to be careful in the identification of just the basal leaves, though habitat and elevation can be of help. Also helpful is that this species has mostly glabrous leaf margins, whereas C. umbellulata has quite hairy leaf margins, especially toward the base of the leaves.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Yellow Clintonia, Yellow Bluebead Lily, Bluebead, Clinton's Lily. No common name is consistent, but most include the phrase "bluebead".
State RankS4
Global RankG5
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