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Gillenia trifoliata (Bowman's root)
Muller, Thomas L.

Gillenia trifoliata

Gillenia trifoliata (L.) Moench

Bowman's Root, Indian Physic

Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Synonym(s): Porteranthus trifoliatus

USDA Symbol: GITR6

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

This loose, informal, slender perennial, grows 2-4 ft. tall from a woody rootstock. One or more stems arise from each crown. Leaf blades are divided into three, narrow, toothed lobes. An erect plant bearing white or pinkish flowers with narrow petals and almost stalkless, 3-parted leaves. The whitish flowers have five narrow petals and are borne in loose panicles. Attractive red calyxes persist after the petals fall.

The five petals of this plant project somewhat irregularly. The dried and powdered root was used by Native Americans as a laxative and emetic, hence the common names. A southern and western relative, American Ipecac (G. stipulata), found from Kansas, Michigan, and New York south to Georgia and Texas, has large, sharply toothed or jagged stipules.


From the Image Gallery

26 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Fruit Type: Aggregate , Follicle
Size Notes: Up to about 4 feet tall.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Flower 1 inch.
Fruit: Aggregated follicles.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Blooms usually white, but occasionally pale pink.


USA: AL , AR , DC , DE , GA , IL , KY , MA , MD , MI , MO , NC , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: S. Ont. to DE & GA, w. to KY, AR & LA
Native Habitat: Dry to moist, upland woods & rocky banks, mostly in the mountains.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained, rich, rocky, acid soil. Tolerates lime.


Use Ornamental: Standout white flowers for shade
Use Medicinal: The dried and powdered root was used by Native Americans as a laxative and emetic.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes


Propagation Material: Root Division , Seeds
Description: Propagate by seed planted in early spring or by division.
Seed Collection: Ripens in early fall.
Commercially Avail: yes

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Gillenia trifoliata in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Gillenia trifoliata in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Gillenia trifoliata


Record Modified: 2023-05-10
Research By: TWC Staff

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