The lacy perennial adds a delicate touch to the landscape


Found from northern California to southern Alaska and eastern Wyoming, Western Meadowrue (western thalictrum) is a beautiful serrated herbaceous perennial common in the shady understory of coniferous forests and in wet meadows. It grows erect to 3 or 4 feet tall and spreads slowly. This member of the Buttercup family is dioecious, meaning the male and female flowers are produced on separate plants.

A mid-summer bloomer, both male and female Meadowrue flowers lack petals and appear in clusters with their reproductive parts prominently displayed. Male flowers have up to 20 to 30 long, pendulous yellow and purple stamens that hang in the breeze under a cap of green sepals like miniature fringed shades. Female flowers display immature fruits on up to 15 reddish-purple styles branching into star-shaped structures resembling fireworks. Male and female plants often grow in separate patches and depend on the wind to blow pollen from male flowers to female flowers for fertilization. These delicate flower clusters are not large and colorful, but are usually plentiful and, up close, very interesting.

The light green leaves are slender with three-fold leaflets growing alternately along narrow stems. The individual leaves are oval or heart-shaped and often lobed or deeply notched. They look like columbine leaves, another member of the buttercup family. The foliage turns yellow in the fall, adding color and texture to a garden.

Meadowrue has many household uses. The Blackfoot tribes made perfume and stains from the fragrant seeds and flowers and mixed powdered seeds with water as hair and body cosmetics. The seeds were used as a deodorant for clothes and as an insect repellent. Pemmican, cured meats and broths were spiced with Meadowrue seeds. Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and have a sweet taste.

Medicinally, Native Americans made a tea from the seeds to treat chest pain and the Bella Coola tribes chewed the root for headaches, eye troubles, sore legs and to loosen phlegm and improve blood circulation. A poultice of mashed roots was applied to open wounds to aid healing. Meadowrue root contains berberine, a chemical with valuable antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

These uses of Meadowrue are best left to the experts as some members of the Buttercup family are poisonous and can be difficult for the Western Meadowrue beginner to distinguish.

In a garden, Meadowrue works well in a shady, moist location, adding light color and delicate texture to your landscape. It tolerates seasonal flooding if you have a swampy area in the spring.

Meadowrus grows in the interior rainforest habitat in the northern Idaho Native Plant Arboretum, but it is the closely related T. dasycarpum species or Purple Meadowrue. Open to the public, the Arboretum parking lot is located at 611 S. Ella Ave. at Sandpoint. Western Meadowrue is described and illustrated on page 167 of the KNPS publication, “Landscaping with Native Plants in the Idaho Panhandle,” available at local bookstores and the Bonner County History Museum.

Native Plant Notes are created by the Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society. To learn more about KNPS and the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum, visit


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