Perennial herb with a short, stout rhizome flowering stem to 1 m tall Leaves: in a basal rosette, to 20 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, narrowly lance-shaped with a long-pointed tip. There are also small, bract-like leaves scattered along the flowering stem. Inflorescence: a terminal, spike-like cluster of small flowers raised on a sturdy upright stem. Flowers: white, 8 - 10 mm long, tubular, with six triangular lobes that are 2 - 2.5 mm long. Stamens six, orangish. The flowers are noted for their mealy appearance. Fruit: a capsule, enclosed by withered sepals and petals.
Similar species: Aletris farinosa is the only Aletris species found in the Chicago Region and has no similar species.
Flowering: mid-June to late July
Habitat and ecology: Moist, sandy areas with somewhat acidic soil. Found in open woods, sandy prairies, sandy flats, and other areas where the vegetative cover is rather sparse.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: The roots of this plant were once used to treat colic, hence one of its common names.
Etymology: Aletris comes from the Greek word meaning "the female slave who grinds the meal." Farinosa means mealy or powdery, and refers to the appearance of the flowers.
Stem 5-10 dm, beset with scattered linear bracts 3-20 mm; lvs narrowly lanceolate or oblanceolate, 8-20 cm, acuminate; raceme 1-2 dm, its bracts linear or clavate; fls white, tubular, 8-10 mm, the perianth-lobes narrowly triangular, 2-2.5 mm; ovary ca a third inferior, the lower part becoming obscurely 3-lobed and slightly gibbous in fr, the upper part becoming round-ovoid; seeds 0.7 mm; 2n=26. Sandy soil, open woods, and barrens; s. Me. to Fla., w. to Minn. and Tex. June, July.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.
Infrequent throughout the northern part of the state as indicated on the map. In addition there are reports from Floyd and Vigo Counties and Schneck says it was found in prairies in the Lower Wabash Valley but is nearly extinct. It is found in moist, sandy soil in wet or moist prairies, in prairie habitats in open woods, and in open woods. I have made repeated attempts to establish this species in our garden but it fails in a few years although I have transplanted it into both neutral and sandy soils with an abundance of the original soil.