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Honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis)

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Honewort

Summary

An herbaceous perennial plant native to eastern North America, common in riparian areas and moist woodlands.

Range - Expand

LegendColor
Native
Extirpated
Native or Not Present

This tentative map is based on our own research. It may have limited data on Canada and/or Mexico, and there is some subjectivity in our assignment of plants as introduced vs. expanded. Read more in this blog post.

Description & Identification

Honewort is characterized by trifoliate compound leaves that are irregularly doubly serrated, and often deeply cut. Different individual plants or even leaves on the same plant can look quite different.

Similar Plants

thumbnail of Bishop's Goutweed
Bishop's Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)
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Habitat

Found in woodlands. Especially common in floodplains and moist bottomlands, but occasionally on richer upland sites as well. Also found in moist, shaded parts of gardens and suburban areas. Found both in intact natural areas and disturbed or anthropogenic habitats. Often most abundant in riparian areas, growing directly adjacent to water.

Prefers medium to light shade, moist to mesic conditions, and rich, loamy soil with ample organic matter. Also often grows in silty soils. Tolerates waterlogged soils and temporary flooding.

Life Cycle

Honewort is an herbaceous perennial. Plants survive as perennials by reroducing vegetatively at the base, and the older plant then dying after setting seed.

Especially in shade, first-year plants rarely flower and may only grow an inch or a few inches tall. Under more favorable conditions, first-year plants can flower and produce seed, but usually not as profusely as established plants.

Second-year plants grow substantially taller.

Seeds are heavy and typically fall close to the parent plant. This, coupled with this plant's preference for low-lying, flat areas can cause it to form dense colonies. After cold stratification, seeds germinate opportunistically, usually more in spring, but possibly later depending on conditions.

In mild winters, the basal leaves will sometimes persist through winter, especially on sheltered sites.

In dry conditions, the leaves will wither and often all above-ground parts of the plant will die. Plants will sometimes resprout in the same season after the end of a short but intense drought, or will be replaced with seedlings if the plants are killed after a more prolonged drought.

Although this plant usually blooms early-to-mid-summer, bloom time is somewhat flexible and will occur later under certain conditions.

Faunal Associations

The small flowers attract a variety of small bees, wasps, flies, and beetles.

This plant is a host of the larvae of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), which eats many plants in this family.

Uses

All parts of this plant are edible; however, plants of this family can be hard to identify, and this family contains some very poisonous plants, so exercise caution.

Western society does not utilize this plant as a food, although some inspiration can be taken from the Japanese use of the closely related Cryptotaenia japonica, whose spring-harvested leaves are often added to soups.

This plant is visually similar to bishop's goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria), a plant that is widely planted as a groundcover, but is considered invasive in North America. As Honewort grows well in similar conditions, it can be used as a native substitute for that groundcover.

Cryptotaenia japonica, known in Japanese as mitsuba, is a close relative, and is cultivated as a food plant in Japanese and Korean cultures. It has been introduced to North America both as a food plant, and an ornamental (a red-leafed cultivar.) The red-leaf cultivar is sometimes found in the wild. C. japonica can be distinguished from its larger flowers, and smaller number of flowers per flowerhead.

Cryptotaenia canadensis (Honewort) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Cryptotaenia canadensis (Honewort) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Cryptotaenia canadensis | Go Botany (About This Site)

Honewort | iNaturalist (About This Site)

Cryptotaenia canadensis (Canadian Honewort) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Cryptotaenia canadensis | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

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Photo © Reuven Martin, Public Domain.