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U.S. Forest Service

Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the species may be found. Thalictrum sparsiflorum range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Thalictrum sparsiflorum. Thalictrum sparsiflorum, fewflowered meadow-rue. Photo © 2009 Barry Breckling, CalPhotos.

Thalictrum sparsiflorum. Thalictrum sparsiflorum, fewflowered meadow-rue. Photo ©2009 Keir Morse, CalPhotos.

Thalictrum sparsiflorum. The fewflower meadow-rue in full bloom in mid-June. This species tends to produce many small flowers, despite its common name.

Fewflower meadow-rue (Thalictrum sparsiflorum)

The fewflower meadow-rue (Thalictrum sparsiflorum) is a lovely delicate looking tall perennial forb in the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family. Before it blooms, it looks similar to western columbine (also in the buttercup family).

The main stem is over a meter tall and is deep red in color. Beginning at the base and extending upward, small light pink flowers terminate loose panicle branches. While this is known as the”few flowered” meadow-rue, an abundance of showy small flowers can be viewed during the peak of flowering from June to August. Unique within this genus, these small flowers (less than 2cm across) are perfect in that they have both male and female parts. Flowers have five whitish to pink sepals and a spray of up to 20 stamens.

The meadow-rue collects its sunlight with compound leaf blades divided into a few or many segments. Leafs are characterized as having long petioles and are rounded with three clefts and rounded teeth. This plant is distinctive as it grows singly to a few in a group, and can be taller than surrounding species.

The fewflower meadow-rue is native to western North America including Alaska, much of Western Canada, California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. It is also known from northeastern Asia. This species is found in a variety of habitats including wet meadows, streambanks, damp thickets, bogs and forest understory.

Medicinal or traditional uses for this plant are few, but Native Americans were known to give their horses ground flower and plant parts to increase vigor, spirit and endurance to otherwise lethargic or despondent horses. The primary use for this species today is adding joy to hearts of weary hikers when they chance upon this beauty in bloom.

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