Plant Species of San Jacinto Mountain: Chimaphila menziesii, C. umbellata and Pyrola picta; little Prince's pine, pipsissewa, and wintergreen


Table of Contents

Introduction
How To Discriminate These Species
Photographs


Introduction

Chimaphila menziesii, C. umbellata and their close-relative Pyrola picta are charming small plants that are always a pleasure to encounter. Most often, they pop up here and there among the pine duff, enlivening the otherwise mostly-barren heavily-shaded forest area, especially when they are in bloom. This habitat almost surely accounts for the pine in the common names of little Prince's pine for C. menziesii and Prince's pine for C. umbellata, although we couldn't find any reference for the origin of these common names. Occasionally, these three species are found growing in bare ground at the base of boulders.

These three species are said to retain their green leaves in winter, which accounts for the genus name of Chimaphila, which means "winter-loving", and the common name of Pyrola picta, white-veined wintergreen. Chimaphila is from the Greek cheima, winter, and philia, love.

The name Pyrola means "pear-like", since Linnaeus, who named the genus, noted the resemblance of the basal leaves of the type species, P. rotundifolia, to a pear leaf.

C. umbellata is also called the wonderful name of pipsissewa, which may have originated from a native American name, possibly from Eastern Abenaki kpi-pskwhsawe, literally, flower of the woods, or from a Cree name meaning "It-breaks-into-small-pieces", from the erroneous belief that the leaves help to dissolve kidney stones. This species is said to help alleviate sympotoms of arthritis (rheumatism), and a character in the Uncle Wiggily board game was named "Pipsisewah", perhaps because Uncle Wiggily had rheumatism (see a picture of Pipsisewah). An extract from pipsissewa leaves is "used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, particularly root beer". The Flora of North America treatment says "Ethnobotanical studies have documented a wide variety of drug and food uses of Chimaphila among more than two dozen tribes of Native Americans".

There are five species of Chimaphila in the world; these two species, both fairly common at San Jacinto Mountain, are the only ones in California.

There are about 15 to 30 species of Pyrola in the world, depending on whether some species are included in that genus or instead placed in different genera. We have four Pyrola species in California. Only P. picta is common at San Jacinto Mountain. Munz collected vouchers of P. minor from Round Valley on 7 July and 6 September 1922, but we have never seen it there, and no one else has ever collected it.

These species are all in the heath family, Ericaceae, which includes blueberries, manzanitas and rhododendrons. There are three major sections of the Ericaceae in California, each associated with different mycorrhizae. The Wikipedia entry on mycorrhizae says "Mycorrhizae are associated with the vast majority of all plant families so far examined. Mycorrhizae are a fungus which grows inside the roots of a plant in a symbiotic relationship, receiving carbohydrates from the plant and giving the plant water and mineral nutrients".

Mycorrhizae can also connect a given plant to a plant of a different species, allowing the given plant to take carbohydrates from the other plant. Although in effect this makes the given plant a parasite on the other plant, such plants are considered mycotrophic rather than parasitic, since they are receiving their nutrition directly from the fungus.

The parasitic group, which includes snowplant and pine drops, are entirely dependent on their mycorrhizae, to the point where their seeds will only germinate when they are invaded by their mycorrhizae!

The three species discussed here are in the subfamily Pyroloideae, also knows as Monotropoideae, and vary in how dependent they are on their mycorrhizae. There is a form of P. picta, f. aphylla, which has no leaves at all and may be fully parasitic on mycorrhizae. Although previous work seemed to show that leafy forms of P. picta could also produce naked inflorescences without basal leaves, recent DNA work shows that some leafless plants appear to be a distinct species (Jolles and Wolfe 2012). The two Chimaphila species always produce green leaves, and thus produce at least some of their own food.

The Monotropoideae are one of the basal groups of the Ericaceae, meaning that it was one of the earliest groups to branch away from the rest of the family. See phylogenetic trees of Ericaceae.

For more information about these three species, see the Forest Service Fire Effects Information System pages on Chimaphila menziesii and Chimaphila umbellata, and the Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers page on Pyrola picta.


How To Discriminate These Species

Although these species are pretty distinctive once you get to know them, getting to that point is sometimes tricky for specimens not in flower. We agonized over the determination of a number of individuals in the past, and even recently were fooled by some plants in fruit that were mimicking a key characteristic of a different species. As a result, we cannot give you any single characteristic that will 100% work to separate all three species for every specimen.

Instead, the following gives a suite of traits that should help to uniquely identify most specimens in the field. Most of these characteristics are shown in the photographs below.

Note that these characteristics are for the plants at San Jacinto Mountain. Plants found elsewhere might differ!

Surrounding plants. C. umbellata is generally found growing inside, at the edges, or very close to chinquapin, Chrysolepis sempervirens. The other two species are usually found away from shrubs, but not always.

Number of stems in a given area. C. umbellata usually produces a large number of stems. There often are literally a hundred or more plants in a small area. The other two species usually are found in handfuls in one area, with typically one to ten plants. However, we have seen one patch of C. umbellata with only five plants, and several patches of C. menziesii with 20-25 plants.

Presence of cauline leaves. The leaves of P. picta are all essentially in a basal rosette, with the flowers on a naked stalk. Chimaphila leaves are mostly on the stem, with the flowers at the tip of that leafy stem.

Number of leaves on a single stem. C. umbellata is also the leafiest of these three species. A typical stem has ~25 leaves present on it, but can have as few as 12. The other two species have many fewer leaves at San Jacinto Mountain. C. menziesii typically has 6-11 leaves at most. P. picta has 5-7 leaves at most, and sometimes has zero, just sending up a naked flower stalk.

Number of cauline leaves per node. P. picta has no cauline leaves. C. menziesii usually appears to have 1-2 per node. C. umbellata usually appears to have 3-5 leaves per node.

Leaf color. Each of these three species has different leaf colors, but it is difficult to describe the difference, since the color of the leaves vary intrinsically, and the perceived or photographed color strongly depends on lighting. C. umbellata has the greenest leaves, which are on the bright green or yellowish-green side of green. Its leaves show the least variation in color. P. picta is at the other extreme, usually with grayish-green almost glaucous leaves. However, it can occasionally have fairly green leaves. C. menziesii is the most variable. Its leaves can be blue-green, yellow-green, bright green, and even occasionally a bit glaucous.

Vein color. C. umbellata never has veins with obvious white edges. P. picta almost always does, accounting for its common name of white-veined wintergreen. C. menziesii sometimes does, and sometimes doesn't.

Leaf shape. C. umbellata has narrowly oblanceolate leaves, with their widest portion near the tip, except for the very lowermost leaves, which are widely-oblong to narrowly-elliptic, with the widest portion at middle. The other two species never have oblanceolate leaves of any kind. P. picta has leaves that are very close to being round, almost as wide as long. C. menziesii has leaves that are lanceolate to elliptic, with the widest portion at middle or closer to the base.

A good example of the change in shape for the leaves of C. umbellata is shown in this picture by Louis-M. Landry. The lowermost leaves are elliptic and darker green, changing to the narrowly-oblanceolate yellow-green upper leaves.

Leaf edges. P. picta has mostly-entire leaves, either without any teeth along the edge or with fairly minor teeth. Chimaphila are usually obviously toothed, but the leaves of C. menziesii can be entire.

Inflorescence shape. The flowers of P. picta are in a distinct raceme, with the flowers at regular nodes along the stalk, including the uppermost flowers. The flowers of Chimaphila are somewhat umbellate (umbrella-shaped), with the inflorescence being somewhat flat-topped, with the uppermost flowers all at roughly the same level.

Number of flowers. C. menziesii has only 1-3 flowers per stalk. C. umbellata has 3-10 flowers per stalk. P. picta has 5-10 flowers per stalk.

Sepals. The sepals of C. menziesii are ~5 mm long, almost as long as the petals, and can sometimes be seen peeking out from in-between the petals. The sepals of the other two species are much shorter than the petals. (The Jepson Manual Two treatment says the sepals of P. picta are much larger than 2 mm, but that doesn't appear to be true. Munz gives them as 2 mm, and all online pictures show short sepals.)

Petals. The petals for C. menziesii are often swept back like those of shooting stars. The petals for C. umbellata and P. picta are usually cupped forward, with the bases spreading.

Style. The style / stigma for P. picta is long and somewhat curved, like an elephant trunk, often sticking out past the petals. The style / stigma for Chimaphila is a green flat disk.

Fruit. The style is retained on the capsule of P. picta, and the capsule splits from the bottom up. The capsule of Chimaphila has no style, and splits from the top down. When fresh, the capsule of C. menziesii has its large sepals still wrapped around it. The other two species have small sepals that never wrap the capsule.


Photographs

Note that the species are not presented in alphabetical order from left to right in the pictures below. Instead, Chimaphila umbellata has been placed on the left, since it is the most distinctive of these three species, allowing the other two to be seen next to each other.

Click on the individual pictures below to get larger versions. The larger versions sometimes show a larger field of view as well.

See also Pictures of Some Similar-looking Young Plants at San Jacinto Mountain.

Chimaphila umbellata

Chimaphila menziesii

Pyrola picta

Young Plants


Marion Mountain Trail, 7/26/10
(with chinquapin)

Tahquitz Peak, 10/19/12
 

Tahquitz Peak, 10/19/12
 

Marion Mountain Trail, 9/19/10

Tahquitz Peak, 10/19/12

Skunk Cabbage Meadow area, 10/11/11

Marion Mountain Trail, 11/10/09
(with chinquapin)

Tahquitz Peak, 10/19/12
(all plants in pix are C. menziesii)

Tahquitz Peak, 10/19/12
 

Larger Plants


Devils Slide Trail, 10/02/12

Devils Slide Trail, 7/14/06

Devils Slide Trail, 10/11/11

Upper Deer Springs Trail, 9/19/10

Devils Slide Trail, 7/14/06

7 Pines Trail, 9/21/11

Buds


Willow Creek Trail, 6/20/07
 

Ernie Maxwell Trail, 5/22/09
(with cobwebs)

7 Pines Trail, 6/28/10
f. aphylla (without any leaves)

Upper Deer Springs Trail, 7/26/10
 

Ernie Maxwell Trail, 5/22/09
(with cobwebs)

Spitler Peak Trail, 6/18/09
(with cobwebs)

Flowers


Willow Creek Trail, 7/28/09
(Inflorescence damaged above this flower)

Upper Deer Springs Trail, 7/26/10
 

Willow Creek Trail, 8/8/09

Willow Creek Trail, 7/28/09

Upper Deer Springs Trail, 7/26/10

Willow Creek Trail, 8/8/09

Fruit


Upper Deer Springs Trail, 9/19/10

Tahquitz Peak, 8/2/07

Marion Mountain Trail, 9/14/10

Upper Deer Springs Trail, 11/10/09

Marion Mountain Trail, 11/10/09
(No pix yet of more mature fruit)

Upper Deer Springs Trail, 9/14/10

Tahquitz Peak, 10/19/12
(No pix yet of more mature fruit)


Go to:


Copyright © 2012 by Tom Chester and Dave Stith.
Commercial rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce any or all of this page for individual or non-profit institutional internal use as long as credit is given to us at this source:
http://tchester.org/sj/species/chimaphila_and_pyrola.html
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 24 October 2012.