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Coptis trifolia (Threeleaf goldthread)
Reveal, James L.

Coptis trifolia

Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb.

Threeleaf Goldthread, Three-leaf Goldthread, Canker Root

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Synonym(s): Coptis groenlandica, Coptis trifolia ssp. groenlandica, Coptis trifolia var. groenlandica

USDA Symbol: cotr2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (N), CAN (N), GL (N), SPM (N)

Small and slender, this woodland perennial bears a single flower at the end of a 6 in., leafless stalk. Each flower has four to seven, petal-like sepals tinged with purple on their outer surface, and numerous white stamens. Basal, evergreen leaves, divided into three leaflets, occur on long petioles.

The common name refers to the golden-yellow underground stem that both Native Americans and colonists chewed to treat mouth sores (hence another common name for the plant, Canker-root). It was also made into a tea for use as an eyewash.


From the Image Gallery

17 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Fruit Type: Follicle
Size Notes: Up to about 6 inches tall.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul


USA: AK , CT , IN , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OR , PA , RI , VT , WI , WV
Canada: MB , NB , NS , ON , PE
Native Distribution: Lab. to Man., s. to NJ, WV mts., n. OH & n. IN
Native Habitat: Mossy woods & swamps

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Soil Description: Moist, cold, acid soils.


Description: Sow seeds outside as soon as they are ripe. Seeds will germinate after one winter and flower after two. Propagation is also possible by root cuttings.
Commercially Avail: yes

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

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


Record Modified: 2023-02-01
Research By: TWC Staff

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