In Search of Grass of Parnassus

In the company of friends Anne and Lezlie, two enthusiastic hikers and wildflower experts, I headed to Yellow Branch Falls yesterday in search of the elusive Grass of Parnassus. Also called bog-stars, but known scientifically as Parnassia glauca, the plant is actually an herbaceous dicot rather than a grass.

Ann with mossy chestnut log, from a tree that died of blight nearly a century ago.

Ann with mossy chestnut log, from a tree that died of blight nearly a century ago.

Lezlie capturing the autumn display of hearts-a-bustin (Euonymus americanus).

Lezlie capturing the autumn display of hearts-a-bustin (Euonymus americanus).

Anne had seen Grass of Parnassus on the trail in years past and we were in luck, finding the showy plant in flower along the banks of the waterway only a short distance into the hike. The stunning blooms, pure white veined with green, are held aloft on upright stalks, roughly 15 to 20-inches tall. Glossy green foliage, including one stalkless leaf clasping the flower stem, is similar in shape to a lily pad.

Grass of Parnassus is found in various types of moist habitats (fens, swamps, woodlands, etc.) in calcareous soil, typically where there is low canopy cover and high plant diversity. In the Upstate, it flowers in October.

Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca)

Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca)

Grass of Pernassus along the Yellow Branch waterway.

Grass of Pernassus along the Yellow Branch waterway.

We had other good luck too, sighting an impressive group of rare Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) on our return journey from the falls. Also known as the ghost plant, this herbaceous perennial is parasitic (specifically a myco-hypopitys), so chlorophyll is absent. Stems bear a single flower that droops like a bell and then turns upright when it begins to fruit. The plant also fades from white to pink as it ages.

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

Monday morning’s rain ensured a dramatic cascade of water at the falls and we enjoyed our lunch and a well-deserved rest on one of the massive rocks at its base.

Yellow Branch Falls with 50-feet of cascading water that stretches 75-feet wide.

Yellow Branch Falls with 50-feet of cascading water that stretches 75-feet wide.

The ideal spot for lunch.

The ideal spot for lunch.

15 thoughts on “In Search of Grass of Parnassus

  1. Alice

    Thanks for posting this Marian, I saw those in bud a few weeks ago, beside a waterfall in NC, and wondered what those plants with lily pad leaves were. Beautiful photos.

    Reply
  2. Deen Meloro

    These plants are beautiful. I feel as though I learn so much from these posts ~ thank you for opening new worlds for me.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Deen–I always learn something when hiking, and I almost always see something I’ve never seen before. It was especially fun to go with Anne and Lezlie, because we all have our areas of expertise and could teach each other.

      Reply
  3. Pauline

    What a fantastic waterfall, such a reward after your hike. I have only once seen Grass of Parnassus and this was by a lake near to where we lived in the NW of England, such a pretty little flower.

    Reply

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