Early Meadow Rue
Bluish-green 0.5” long 3-toothed leaves that droop.
|Dioecious Meadow Rue||Quicksilver Weed|
Family: Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)
Height: To 3’ (90 cm)
Flowering: April - May
Habitat: Moist to Wet, Shady, Woods or Ravines
Early Meadow Rue is not a difficult species to recognize. The graceful yellow tassels that delicately hang from the stalked flowers make this wildflower distinct. However, it is occasionally difficult to identify. Early Meadow Rue is often confused with Tall (or Purple) Meadow Rue (T. dasycarpum), which as its name indicates, is taller than Early Meadow Rue.
Each part of the common name carries some significance in describing the flower. Early refers to the time when the flower emerges. Early Meadow Rue is a spring ephemeral that appears in early April before the canopy closes and light is diminished. In this way, the flower can maximize its use of sunlight before the trees block out the sun. Meadow is perhaps less obvious as this form of Meadow Rue prefers moist, shady areas. Other species of Meadow Rue, including Tall Meadow Rue, prefer open hillsides and sunny slopes. Rue is derived from the Greek word rhute or Latin ruta meaning Rue. The foliage of most Meadow Rues, including the dioicum species resembles that of Rue (Ruta graveolens). Though the species are not related, this resemblance is the source of the common name. The three-lobed leaves of Early Meadow Rue have been likened to other wildflowers in the Aquilegia genus. Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides – formerly Anemonella thalictroides) is also a member of the Thalictrum species and named for the way its leaves resemble those of Meadow Rue.
The scientific name is also an appropriate choice for Early Meadow Rue. Thalictrum is the genus name that contains all species of Meadow Rues. The word Thalictrum is Greek for a plant whose identity is not known. Today, definitions for the genus name simply refer to the wildflowers as they are no longer unidentified. Dioicum is a Greek word meaning “two households”16. While this may seem strange it actually refers to the gender of the plants. Male and female reproductive parts of Early Meadow Rue are not only on separate flowers, but also separate plants. Other species of Meadow Rue have separately sexed flowers, but they are on the same plant. In this way, Early Meadow Rue is distinct.
Dioecious Meadow Rue: Dioecious is a botanical term defining those flowers that have male and female flowers on separate plants within the same species. Early Meadow Rue is a dioecious form of Thalictrum.
The colors of the flowers, which have no true petals, are due to both the sepals and stamen. The greenish-white and yellow colors attract early spring pollinators to assist the plant in reproduction. Early Meadow Rue is visited by bees, butterflies, and other insects, which also pollinate the flower. The plant may also be wind pollinated owing to the arrangement of its reproductive parts. Its ability to cross-pollinate via wind obviates the need for a floral fragrance to attract insect pollinators.
The underground root system of Early Meadow Rue is elaborate and involved in reproduction. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous allowing for reproduction by its rhizomes or achenes. It has a shallowly rooted caudex in which the foliage dies back each winter and resprouts again in spring. This form of rhizomial reproduction allows the plant to grow in large colonies.
Early Meadow Rue has no known medicinal properties. No literature exists describing its use by Native Americans, pioneers, or other early people for medical purposes. The plant is not used today in any medical treatments.
Like Nodding Trillium, Early Meadow Rue is a plant whose leaves are progressively being destroyed by the increasing White-Tailed Deer population. Because the deer browse on the foliage of the plant, its nutrient stores are destroyed, and the wildflower will not last over winter.