There is a stretch of road that erupts with small white flowers in early summer. The leggy plants are two feet tall but so thin and sparsely leafed out, they are not noticed until the flowers open. So many flowers open at the tops of these plants covering the hillside, they bring a smile as I realize the Indian Physic is blooming.
Gillenia stipulata Nutt.
May to July N Family: Rosaceae
Flower: Five sepals form a cup surrounding the base of the flower. Five white to pink, long, narrow petals emerge from this cup spreading out into a star shape. The petals are widely spaced. Ten stamens and five pistils are inside the cup bulging outward in a mound.
Leaf: The leaves are widely spaced on the stems giving the plant a sparse or leggy look. Each leaf is deeply lobed into three long fingers lined with jagged teeth. These teeth can divide the lower leaves into a more lacy look. The leaf has a short half inch long, hairy petiole projecting it out from the two leaf like stipules surrounding the stem at the node. A definite midvein goes out each lobe. The upper surface is a darker green than the lower surface.
Stem: The green to red stem is usually two feet tall but can reach four. It branches in the upper half. They have a tough, smooth feel but can have short hairs mostly toward the leaf nodes.
Root: The root is a perennial rhizome.
Habitat: This plant likes wooded hillsides.
Midwestern Indian Physic
Indian Physic forms colonies. A group of colonies can cover a hillside. All the plants begin to flower at the same time so the small flowers are noticed because of their number.
Although Indian Physic is a member of the rose family, the flowers don’t look much like a rose. The petals are long and narrow, spreading out so they look widely separated. In the calyx cup is where the rose look is seen as there is a mass of stamens.
The plant itself looks leggy. The stems are thin but tough with the leaves at long intervals. Thin branches jut off in the upper half of the plant. The flowers top long, thin stems.
At first glance the leaves look like they have five parts. The bottom two aren’t part of the leaf but surround the stem and base of the petiole. The leaf has three parts.
The blooming period is given as three months but most of the flowers appear in June and are gone by the end of June. All of the flowers I’ve seen have been white. There is pink down at the edge of the calyx cup but it doesn’t extend into the petal.
Indians used the dried root as a laxative and emetic. It has been replaced by a South American ipecac plant. When ingested, this causes a sudden, severe gagging.