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This perennial wildflower is 1-3' tall and unbranched. The erect central stem is light green to pale purple, terete, glabrous, and often glaucous. A non-flowering plant has a single compound leaf at the apex of this stem, while a flowering plant has two compound leaves. The lower compound leaf of a flowering plant is located toward the middle of the central stem, where it is divided into a whorl of 3 compound leaflets. Each compound leaflet is ternately divided into 9 simple subleaflets that are arranged in groups of 3 (2 lateral groups and a terminal group). Less often, a compound leaflet may be divided into 15 simple subleaflets that consist of 2 additional lateral groups. The basal stalks (petiolules) of the compound leaflets are long and ascending; they are light green and glabrous. The  subleaflets are 1-3" long and ¾-2" across (or occasionally wider); they are broadly ovate-oblong to obovate-oblong in shape and smooth along their margins, terminating in 2-5 cleft lobes with blunt tips. The upper surface of the subleaflets is glabrous and either gray-green, yellowish green, or medium green, while the lower surface is pale green and glabrous. The slender basal stalklets of the subleaflets are light green and glabrous. The upper compound leaf of a flowering plant is located under the inflorescence. This compound leaf resembles the lower compound leaf, except its 3 compound leaflets are smaller in size because they have only 3 subleaflets each. On a flowering plant, the central stem terminates in a floral panicle about 1-3" long that is rounded or elongated; each panicle usually has 5-30 flowers (rarely more). Individual flowers are about 1/3" across, consisting of 6 petaloid sepals, insignificant petals, 6 stamens, and an ovoid ovary with a beak-like style. Depending on the local ecotype, the oblanceolate sepals are greenish yellow, greenish brown, or greenish purple. Underneath each flower, there are 3-4 green bractlets that resemble sepals. The branching stalks of the panicle are light green, glabrous, and ascending. The blooming period occurs from mid- to late spring before the leaves have fully developed. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by berry-like seeds that are about 1/3" across, globoid in shape, glabrous, and glaucous. These seeds are initially green, but they later become bright blue at maturity during the summer. The seed coat is fleshy and contains carbohydrates. The root system is rhizomatous and fibrous.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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