Miterwort (Mitella diphylla) – may be one of our most beautiful and least appreciated wildflowers. Because its habitat is deep forest it is noticed by few who venture into the woods in spring, and even when spotted, it requires close inspection with a 10x magnifying hand lens to see its delicate beauty. However, it is well worth getting on one’s hands and knees to do so. The intricate filigree surrounding the tiny, white cup-like flowers gives them the appearance of 5-parted snowflakes.
Miterwort is named for the shape of its tiny fruits, said to resemble the hats (miters) worn by bishops of the Catholic Church. Even if the flower stalk bends over, the fruits always orient themselves such that their opening faces upward, thus ensuring that they are in the proper position for their unusual method of seed dispersal. The shiny black seeds are ejected from the fruits by the force of raindrops, a method termed splash-cup dispersal. Depending on the angle and force of the rain, seeds may be splashed up to a meter from the plant.
Miterwort will be in flower in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area within the next week or two. Look for its thin flower stalks subtended by paired leaves on your next woodland walk.
Learn more about miterwort and many other spring wildflowers in Carol Gracie’s book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History.