Linnaea borealis L.
Linnaea borealis var. borealis
Linnaea borealis var. longiflora
Linnaea borealis var. americana (currently not accepted by ITIS – belongs to longiflora)
Duration – Growth Habit
Perrenial – forb/herb subshrub
Identification and Information
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) is an evergreen, creeping subshrub with long, slender stems that weakly root and are thinly hairy, often glandular. The plant produces numerous short, more or less erect, leafy stems or branchlets with 2-4 pairs of opposite leaves. The leaves are simple, short-stalked, and vary from egg-shaped to nearly circular. They measure 7-25 mm long and 5-15 mm wide and have a few shallow teeth along the upper half. The leaves are leathery, dark green above and paler below. They can either be glabrous or fringed with long hairs on the stalks and margins of the leaf bases.
Linnaea borealis bears its flowers in an inflorescence of nodding pairs on slender, erect, Y-shaped stalks that terminate the leafy branchlets. Two tiny bracts cradle the base of the flowers. The corollas are slenderly funnel-shaped, measuring 9-16 mm long, and range from pink to whitish. The corollas flare above into five lobes and have hairy throats. The styles are about as long as the corollas and feature a tiny knob-like stigma. The flowers have four stamens. Following pollination, Linnaea borealis produces dry, 1-seeded achenes (nutlets) flanked by a pair of tiny glandular bracts.
Subspecies: Linnaea borealis has two recognized subspecies. Subspecies borealis has bell-shaped 9-11 mm long corollas, flaring from within the calyces, with very short or sometimes absent tubes. On the other hand, the subspecies longiflora has funnel-shaped corollas that are 10-16 mm long, with tubes about equaling or surpassing the calyces.
Linnaea borealis was named after Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician who was the “father of modern taxonomy”. His classification for naming organisms has been modified but is still used today. It was Linnaeus that developed the standard Latin binomial species name, and he went on to name over 8000 species of plants and animals. Linnaea borealis was Linnaeus’ favorite plant. In his publication Systema Naturae, he classified over 4000 animal and 9000 plant species.
For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis L.) and its subspecies have a history of traditional uses among various indigenous communities. The Carrier people of British Columbia used the species as a food source, although specific culinary applications are not specified. The Montagnais tribe employed the mashed plant for treating inflammation of the limbs, while the Tanana people of Alaska used a poultice made from the whole plant to alleviate headaches and ensure longevity in children. Psychological aid was also attributed to this application. The Thompson Indians of British Columbia used a decoction of the plant for medicinal purposes, although the exact use was unspecified.
The subspecies Longtube Twinflower (Linnaea borealis ssp. longiflora) was documented in the ethnobotanical practices of different indigenous groups. Among the Algonquin people of Quebec, an infusion of the entire plant was consumed by pregnant women to promote the health of the child. The infusion was also used for managing menstrual difficulties. The Iroquois people utilized the twigs of Longtube Twinflower, preparing a decoction given to children as a febrifuge (to reduce fever), for gastrointestinal aid (relief from cramps), and as a sedative. Additionally, the Potawatomi tribe considered the entire plant as a remedy for unspecified female troubles, while the Snohomish tribe used a decoction of the leaves as a cold remedy. [NAEB]
Distribution and Habitat
Linnaea borealis has a wide distribution across the northern hemisphere. In North America, it is native to Alaska, all of Canada, and the northern and most western regions of the lower 48 states, especially at higher elevations. It is also found in Greenland. Beyond North America, Linnaea borealis occurs in Europe and Asia. The species has a circumpolar distribution, extending from northern Japan in the east to the Alps in Europe and from northern California to Arizona and New Mexico in the western United States. In the Appalachian Mountains, it reaches as far south as West Virginia. Linnaea borealis demonstrates a wide-ranging distribution within various subarctic, boreal, or cool temperate forests.
Twinflower occupies mesic forests in both the lowland and montane zones. It inhabits a range of habitats, from moderately dry to fresh soils, within boreal, cool temperate, and cool mesothermal climates. The plant is often found in needle-leaved forests, as well as on trunks and mossy rocks. Twinflower thrives in a variety of ecological contexts, from open pine woodlands to mossy understories in coniferous forests. The species exhibits shade tolerance and persists on undisturbed cutover sites. It is characteristic of Moder and acidic Moder humus forms. The elevation range for Linnaea borealis varies from sea level to approximately 2,500 meters, and it can grow on slopes with gradient percentages ranging from -2% to 262%. The plant shows adaptability to a range of soil moisture regimes, from moderately xeric to hydric conditions.
References and Further Reading
Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 19
Classification and Taxonomy
Linnaea borealis L. Taxonomic Serial No.: 35314, ITIS Database
NAEB Text search: linnaea borealis, Native American Ethnobotany Database
Map and Distribution
Linnaea borealis L., GBIF Database
Description and Information
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis): Plant of the Week, USDA and U.S. Forest Service
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), ucmp.berkely.edu
Diagram: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 3: 276.
The Linnaean Plant Name Typification Project, Natural History Museum, London
1. Linnaea borealis Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 631. 1753., Flora of China – www.eFloras.org
Linnaea borealis L. twinflower, Flora of British Columbia