Swamp Candles is an erect native perennial forb growing from 12 to 30+ inches high on erect smooth stems, that can be simple or branched, less often branched but damage to the top of the plant will usually produce branching stems. Stems can have maroon streaks.
Leaves are opposite to sub-opposite, narrowly elliptic to lanceolate, without a stalk or a very short stalk, the leaf surface is smooth but dotted. Leaf edges are entire, tapering to the base and tapering to the pointed tip. There is a single main vein, most prominent on the underside and some obscurely visible lateral veins on the upper surface.
Inflorescence: The inflorescence is a terminal smooth stalked raceme of stalked flowers that can reach 12 inches long. If the plant is branched, there may be multiple racemes.
Flowers are solitary on long stalks arising from the raceme rachis; they are five-part with a yellow corolla that is streaked with black or maroon resin canals. The petal edges are pointed to slightly rounded. There are five stamens which are united at their base section by a fleshy band that is attached to the petals, thus giving them the appearance of an upright tube as they surround the style. Filaments are yellow, anthers darker yellow when in pollen. The base of the petals is tinged red. The calyx is very short with five green lanceolate very small sepals streaked with black or maroon resin canals and either smooth or with minute fine glandular hair on the margins.
Fruit: Fertile flowers produce a dark, dotted capsule, 3 to 3.5 mm in diameter that contains a number of small seeds. Late in the season, elongate reddish-brown bulblets, about 1 cm in size, may develop in the leaf axils near the top of the plant. Bulblets can be planted or rhizome sections taken for additional plants. Starting from seed is said to be difficult.
Habitat: Swamp Candles grows in wet areas - marshes, bogs, shorelines fens, and similar wet habitats. It has a rhizomatous root system from which it spreads. Full to partial sun needed.
Names: Swamp Candles was formerly slotted into the Primrose family (Primulaceae), but the change to Myrsine is explained at the page bottom. The genus name, Lysimachia, is from the Greek for either king Lysimachus or from lysis meaning "a release from" and mache is for "strife". The legend is that Lysimachus, king of Sicily, was walking through a field. A bull chased him. He grabbed a loosestrife plant, waved it in front of the bull and it calmed the bull. In general then, both the common and the generic name refers to a supposed power to sooth animals or "loose" them of their "strife". See below for more. The species name terrestris simply means 'growing on ground'. All the alternate common names are fairly self-explanatory, only the normal name - Swamp Candles - referring to the tall yellow raceme, does not use the word' loosestrife' in the name.
The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was - ('L.)' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended by 'Britton, Sterns & Poggenb.' which refers to three botanists who collaborated on the classification of numerous species, particular those in and near New York as all three were members of the Torrey Botanical Club. They were Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934) American botanist and taxonomist, co-founder of the New York Botanical Garden, signatory of the American Code of Botanical Nomenclature and co-author with Addison Brown of Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions in 1896. 'Stearns' is Emerson Ellick Sterns (1846-1926) American botanist, co-founder of the New York Botanical Garden. ‘Poggenb.’ is Justus Ferdinand Poggenburg I (1840-1893), botanist.
Comparisons: The flowers of Swamp Candles are quite similar to Whorled Loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia L., but there the flowers are in a whorl form the leaf axils, not on a raceme and the plant grows in upland habitat, not wet areas. Other examples of Lysimachia in the Garden are: Fringed Loosestrife, L. ciliata; Tufted Loosestrife, L. thyrsiflora; and Moneywort, L. nummularia. See also Prairie Loosestrife, L. quadriflora.
Above: The inflorescence is an unbranched terminal raceme. Note the flower in the front with the extra petal. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: Lysimachia species may occassionally have extra petals as this flower shows at the 10 o'clock position - up to nine have been noted. The flower petals have a reddish base and are streaked with resin canals. The five stamens have filaments that are united at their bases and then surround the style. Note the very short narrow green sepals placed between the petals. These also have resin canal streaks.
Below: The flowers have long stalks and when the flower fades, the sepals close around the ovary leaving the fading petals on the extended style.
Below: 1st photo - The upper side of the leaf showing the dotting and the faint lateral veins. 2nd photo - the leaf underside also shows the dotting. Both surfaces are smooth.
Notes: Swamp Candles is not indigenous to the Garden but first brought in by Eloise Butler in 1912 from Washburn Park in Minneapolis. She did more plantings in 1913 and '15. In late 1932 she acquired 6 additional roots from Barksdale, Wisconsin and heeled them in over winter. Then on April 8, 1933 she planted them on the north margin of the Mallard Pool. Two days later she was fatally stricken. Martha Crone planted more in 1933 that she obtained from near Anoka, MN.
In Minnesota Swamp Candles is found in almost all counties in the NE quadrant of the state and down as far as the metro area, then just 3 counties along the Mississippi - Goodhue, Winona and Houston. In North America Swamp Candles is found from the Mississippi River states eastward except the deep South. It is also know in the northwest corner states of Wash. Oreg. and Idaho. In Canada it is found in British Columbia and all the lower provinces from Manitoba eastward.
Family Change: This is one of 8 species of Lysimachia found in Minnesota, listed currently by DNR. Seven are native, one is introduced. Several others have been reported but with little data. Based on recent scientific work, some of the leading references have moved most Lysimachia species into another plant family - Myrsinaceae, following the lead of Flora of North America, on the basis of resin canals among other considerations. The U of M Annotated Checklist of the Flora of Minnesota follows this classification.
Lore: As explained above, the common perception that a loosestrife plant has soothing powers over animals led people to tie a branch to the yolk of oxen, making them easier to handle. The plants are known to repel gnats and other irritating insects which maybe explains why the animals were easier to handle. Pliny the elder wrote that the odor of loosestrife would keep snakes away.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"