Perennial herb with a thick rhizome flowering stem 0.6 - 2 m tall Leaves: basal, sheathing, elongate, to 0.8 m long and 3 cm wide, linear with a narrowed base and long-pointed tip. Flowers: greenish yellow, becoming dark reddish purple, with six clawed, spreading tepals that have a pair of yellowish green glands at the base. Fruit: a three-lobed ellipsoidal capsule, 1 - 1.5 cm wide. Seeds winged. Inflorescences: are large, hairy clusters (racemes) of both unisexual and bisexual flowers (polygamous). The terminal raceme is 10 - 26 cm long. The secondary racemes are spreading to ascending and 2 - 22 cm long.
Similar species: No information at this time.
Flowering: June to July
Habitat and ecology: Rare, probably extirpated from the Chicago Region. A single specimen was found in a low meadow along a railroad. Typical habitat is meadows and wet prairies.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Etymology: Melanthium comes from the Greek words melas, meaning black, and anthos, meaning flower, referring to the darkening of the flowers with age. Virginicum means "of or from Virginia."
Stem stout, erect from a thick rhizome, 7-15 dm, hairy above; lvs linear, acuminate, the lower much elongate, often 3 dm, 1-2(-3) cm wide, narrowed at the base; panicle ovoid, 2-3 dm, hairy, its lower branches bearing a raceme of slender-pedicellate fls, the lower fls perfect, the upper staminate; tep spreading, pale green, 6-13 mm, the blade ca twice as long as the claw, flat, oblong or oval or obovate, obtuse, glandular at base; fr ellipsoid, 3-lobed, 10-15 mm; seeds 5-8 mm. Wet woods and meadows; N.Y. to Ind. and Minn., s. to Fla. and Tex. June, July. (Veratrum v.)
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.
Rare and very local. My White County specimen was found in a wet prairie habitat a half mile east of Idaville. My Cass County specimen was found in mucky soil in a large swamp about 3 miles northwest of Hoover. I found a single specimen on a springy, gravelly slope in the open at "Crows' Nest" about 8 miles north of Indianapolis. It has also been reported from Franklin and St. Joseph Counties, from the vicinity of New Albany, and from the area of Delaware, Jay, Randolph, and Wayne Counties by Phinney, who assigns it to "wet meadows."