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Shoreline Plants  

Species: Menyanthes trifoliata L., buckbean, bogbean
Family: Menyanthaceae

The somewhat bean-like, three-lobed leaves held above the water by long, fleshy stalks make buckbean relatively easy to identify. During the summer, buckbean produces spikes of showy pink or white tubular flowers with distinctively fringed petals. The flowers’ rank smell attracts flies and beetles, as well as bees, for pollination. This medium-sized plant commonly sprawls with sphagnum moss in the shallow acidic waters of bogs or in freshwater lakes.

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Leaf: Large, alternately arranged leaves have 3 oblong to oval, smooth-edged or slightly toothed leaflets (2-12 cm long and 1-5 cm wide). The leaves arise on long stalks (5-30 cm) from the plant base. Wing-like appendages (stipules) are found at the base of the leaf stalks.

Stem: The stems run horizontally as spongy thick rhizomes, either on boggy soil or sprawling near the water surface. Old leaf bases are often visible.

Flower: White or pink-tinged flowers are funnel-shaped with 5 fringed petals and 5 sepals. They are arranged in spikes of 10-20 flowers on leafless stalks 20-40 cm long.

Fruit: Capsule contains many shiny yellow-brown buoyant seeds.

Root: Thick and somewhat spongy roots arise from rhizomes and may be hanging in the water.

Propagation: Seeds and creeping rhizomes.

Importance of plant: Buckbean had many historical medicinal uses by Native Americans and Europeans and it is still used by modern herbalists. Some Native Americans used it as an emergency food supply. Occasionally sold as an ornamental pond plant. Leaves sometimes used as a hops substitute for brewing beer.

Distribution: Temperate Northern Hemisphere. In Washington mostly west of the Cascades.

Habitat: Ponds, bogs, wet meadows, seeps, and lake margins. Neutral to acidic water, often growing with Sphagnum moss.

May be confused with: When in bloom, buckbean is unlikely to be confused with other Northwest aquatic plants. The leaves Native American Use Icon could be confused with marsh cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris) which usually has more than 3 distinctly toothed leaflets per leaf. Deer cabbage (Fauria crista-galli), a related species with heart or kidney shaped leaves, is found in wet areas on the Olympic Peninsula.

Photographs: Menyanthes trifoliata, closeup of buckbean flower

Line Drawings: None available 

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