Skip to main content

U.S. Forest Service

Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where Twinleaf may be found. Range map of Twinleaf. States are colored green where the species may be found.

Twinleaf. Jeffersonia diphylla. Photo by B. Eugene Wofford, University of Tennessee Herbarium.

twinleaf. Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). Photo by James Henderson, University of Tennessee Herbarium.

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla (L.) Pers.)

Twinleaf is a member of the Berberidaceae (Barberry) family. This family contains perennial herbs or shrubs with often-spiny stems and/or leaves and flowers borne singly or in clusters or racemes. Only one other species of twinleaf occurs in the world: J. dubia, found in Japan. His friend and fellow botanist, William Bartram, named the genus in honor of Thomas Jefferson.

Twinleaf has one white flower atop a leafless stalk appearing in April-May. The flower is about 2.5 cm wide (1 inch), with four sepals that eventually drop off, and eight petals. The fruit that follows is a large, dry, pear-shaped capsule, with a tiny-hinged lid. Its leaves can be up to 15 cm long (6 inches), and are basal, long-stemmed, and divided lengthwise into wing-like halves. This is a very distinctive characteristic. The plant is short while flowering and fruiting (12.5 to 25 cm; 5-10 inches) and increases to 45 cm (1.5 feet) as the fruit mature.

Other both common and species names suggest a plant with two leaves, there are actually more. Each leaf is divided into two nearly separate leaflets. Twinleaf is found in rich, damp, open woods usually in limestone soils. It can be found from Ontario, Canada and New York south to Georgia and Alabama, and northwest to Iowa and Minnesota.

Native Americans used the root as a tea for cramps, spasms, nervous excitability, diarrhea, a diuretic for kidney stones and urinary infections, and as a gargle for sore throats. Externally it was used as a wash for rheumatism, sores, ulcers, inflammation, and cancerous sores. The plant is probably toxic, so caution should be used if preparing it for modern day use!

For More Information

PLANTS Profile - Jeffersonia diphylla, Twinleaf