Orthilia secunda
one-sided wintergreen

Alaska Wildflowers | Green and Other Colors

A single stem of Orthilia secunda, commonly known as one-sided wintergreen or sidebells wintergreen, is shown in a forested setting. The plant features a raceme of small, nodding, greenish-white flowers arranged along the upper side of the stem. The basal leaves are broad, dark green, and slightly serrated, with a few additional leaves visible on the lower part of the stem. The surrounding environment includes moss and fallen leaves, with a nearby plant exhibiting rounder, glossy green leaves. Orthilia secunda thrives in this shaded, moist forest habitat.

Orthilia secunda
one-sided wintergreen

Common Names

pyrole unilatérale
one-sided wintergreen
one-sided orthilia
one-sided pyrola
sidebells
sidebells wintergreen

Synonyms

Orthilia secunda ssp. obtusata
Orthilia secunda var. obtusata
Pyrola secunda
Pyrola secunda var. secunda
Pyrola secunda ssp. obtusata
Pyrola secunda var. obtusata

Subspecies

none

Genus: Orthilia
Family: Ericaceae
Order: Ericales
taxonomic heirarchy

Etymology

The scientific name Orthilia secunda has its roots in both Greek and Latin. The genus name Orthilia, established by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1840, is derived from the Greek words “orthos,” meaning “straight,” and “ilium,” meaning “side” or “flank.” This combination likely alludes to the plant’s distinctive secund (one-sided) inflorescence. An alternative interpretation suggests it may come from “orthos” and “eileo” (to roll), possibly referring to the curved style that straightens as the flower matures. The specific epithet “secunda” is Latin for “one-sided” or “following,” emphasizing the flower arrangement on the stem.

This species was previously classified within the genus Pyrola, which is reflected in one of its vernacular names, “one-side(d) pyrola.” The common names “one-sided wintergreen” and “sidebells wintergreen” both describe the plant’s unique floral presentation, with “one-sided” and “sidebells” referring to the flowers hanging on one side of the stem. The term “wintergreen” is commonly applied to several plants in the Ericaceae family, often characterized by evergreen leaves and sometimes a wintergreen flavor or scent. However, this particular species may not possess these traits strongly.



Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

Identification and Information

Vegetative Morphology:

Orthilia secunda, commonly known as one-sided wintergreen or sidebells wintergreen, is a perennial herb in the heath family (Ericaceae) that grows from fibrous rhizomes, often forming colonies. The plants are typically 5-20 cm tall, with erect aerial stems. The evergreen leaves are mostly basal, sometimes with a few on the lower stem, and have petioles ranging from 4-20 mm in length. The leaf blades are simple, oblong, ovate, or round and are shiny and dark green on the adaxial (upper) surface and lighter green on the abaxial (lower) surface. The margins of the leaves can be entire or finely serrated.

Reproductive Morphology:

The inflorescence is a dense, one-sided, terminal raceme comprising 3-25 flowers (up to 29 according to FNA). The inflorescence is often lax in the bud stage and becomes erect in fruit. The individual flowers are erect in the bud stage and become arching or drooping when in bloom. The pedicels are recurved to reflexed in fruit. The flowers are nodding bells, 5-6 mm wide, radially symmetric, with five overlapping, somewhat closed, but not fused greenish-white petals. The calyx consists of five small, green sepals, 0.5-1 mm long, which are appressed (spreading in fruit). There are ten stamens, approximately as long as the petals, and a slightly longer, five-lobed style protruding from the bell. The fruit is a flattened, globe-shaped capsule containing hundreds of seeds.


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Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

Orthilia secunda has been traditionally used for various medicinal purposes. According to the Native American Ethnobotany Database, a decoction of the roots was used to make an eyewash.

Additionally, the Chipewyan people mashed the leaves and mixed them with lard to create a salve, which was applied to cuts for three days to stop bleeding and promote healing. They also chewed the leaves to relieve toothache pain; however, I have not verified these uses from other sources [source: Plants of the Western Forest].


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Distribution and Habitat

Map data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), NatureServe Explorer, and Kew

Orthilia secunda is widely distributed across the northern hemisphere. It is native to Alaska, Canada, most of the western and northern United States, northern Asia, Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, and most of Europe, and extends into Mexico and Guatemala.

Its habitat includes a variety of ecosystems such as forests, moist thickets, shrublands, bogs, arctic tundra, and alpine tundra. The species thrives in cool, shaded environments with well-drained, acidic soils and is commonly found in coniferous and deciduous forests.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
ClassEquisetopsida
SubclassMagnoliidae
SuperorderAsteranae
OrderEricales
FamilyEricaceae (heaths)
SubfamilyMonotropoideae
TribePyroleae
GenusOrthilia
SpeciesOrthilia secunda (one-sided wintergreen, sidebells wintergreen)

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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Pratt, V. E. (1989). Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways (p. 78). Alaskakrafts, inc.

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 156). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Brandenburg, D. M. 2010. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. Sterling Publishing. (p. 452)

Classification and Taxonomy

Canadensys. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda (L.) House. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/name/Orthilia%20secunda

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). (n.d.). Orthilia secunda (L.) House. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=504066#null

USDA PLANTS Database. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda (L.) House. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=ORSE

Etymology

Flora of North America. (n.d.). Orthilia. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from http://beta.floranorthamerica.org/Orthilia

CalFlora. (n.d.). Botanical names: Page O. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from http://www.calflora.net/botanicalnames/pageO.html

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/2687/

Map and Distribution

Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). (n.d.). Orthilia secunda (L.) House. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://www.gbif.org/species/2888310

NatureServe Explorer. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda (L.) House. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.137427/Orthilia_secunda

Plants of the World Online. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda (L.) House. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:176704-2

Description and Information

Flora of North America. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from http://floranorthamerica.org/Orthilia_secunda

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 714). Stanford University Press.

Ecological Atlas of Alaska. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=1311

E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Orthilia%20secunda

Canadian Museum of Nature. (n.d.). Orthilia secunda (L.) House. Retrieved July 9, 2024, from https://nature.ca/aaflora/data/www/pyorse.htm

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