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    Mitella stauropetala and Pectiantia pentandra are easily told apart when they are in flower, one has white flowers, the other, green.  But before and after they flower, the two plants might be difficult to identify, because they have a number of similar characteristics.  Here are a few characteristics to help distinguish between the two: 

Leaves: both have many basal leaves, but those of M. stauropetala are a bit more rounded, less toothed, and in an open, airy growth pattern; leaves of P. pentandra are somewhat leathery looking, on shorter petioles, and in a more dense growth pattern.  

Stems: P. pentandra is often half the height of M. stauropetala but they can both grow 12-16 inches tall.  

Growth habits and habitat: P. pentandra tends to grow in large continuous colonies of dozens of plants with a mat of leaves and dozens of flowering stems. New plants grow from a spreading root system. It is , common to find P. pentandra at the base of decaying logs.  M. stauropetala also sprouts from its roots and can, therefore, be found in spreading colonies with a dozen or more flowering stems. It is usually in open forests away from logs.  Both plants like moist woods.

    The two primary keys to distinguishing between the two plants after they have flowered are: 

1) The arrangement of the flowers/seed capsules: Mitella stauropetala is secund, i.e., its flowers/seed cups are arranged on one side of the stem, not necessarily in a straight vertical line, but close to one.  P. pentandra's flowers/seed cups are scattered on all sides of the stem.  (See photograph immediately below.)  

2) The pedicel (the stem of the flower and seed cup) of Mitella stauropetala is about 1 millimeter long at flowering time and about 2 millimeters long at fruiting time when it is about half as long as the seed cup is wide.  The pedicel of Pectiantia pentandra is 2-4 millimeters or more long and is thus about as long as, or longer than, the seed cup is wide.  The photograph immediately below shows pedicels and seed cups of P. pentandra.

Pectiantia pentandra

     See below for more photos of these characteristics.

     Linnaeus named the Mitella genus in 1753.  Charles Piper (1867-1926) named Mitella stauropetala in 1899 from specimens Sandberg, Mac Dougal, and Heller collected in Idaho in 1892.  "Mitella" is Latin for "turban".

     William Jackson Hooker named Mitella pentandra in 1829 from plants that had been grown from seeds Thomas Drummond collected in the northern Rockies.  Per Axel Rydberg renamed this plant Pectiantia pentandra in 1905.  "Pectiantia" is from the Greek for "comb" and refers to the comb-like structure of the petals.

Mitella stauropetala
Mitella stauropetala  (White Mitrewort)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, streamsides, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 4, 2004.

The leaves of White Mitrewort are large, showy, and reminiscent of Brook Saxifrage, and the tall slim flower stalk is also, at first glance, similar to that of Brook Saxifrage.  The flowers of each plant are exquisite miniature works of beauty.  Mitrewort grows in moist to dry open woods and even though it is fairly common, it is often difficult to find because it is buried in a mass of greenery.

"Stauro" is Greek for "cross-like", referring to the tiny branchings of the petals.

Mitella stauropetala
Mitella stauropetala (White Mitrewort)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, streamsides, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 4, 2004.

The petals are narrow and forked; the sepals are the rounded structures in a cup formation.  Petals fall after many days, and the sepals remain days longer as the seeds mature in their base.  Eventually sepals, too, fall and only the stalk remains with tiny cups of black seeds.

Mitella stauropetala
Mitella stauropetala (White Mitrewort)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, streamsides, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Upper Calico Trail, July 12, 2004.

Pectiantia pentandra
Pectiantia pentandra.  Synonym: Mitella pentandra. (Green Mitrewort)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, streamsides, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 16, 2005.

The leaves of Pectiantia pentandra (and M. stauropetala shown above) are characteristic of many members of the Saxifrage Family shown on this web site.  Flower stalks of Pectiantia pentandra are often about six-to-eight inches long and flowers are tiny works of wispy art: green, filamentary, and airy.  The plant is less commonly noticed than Mitella stauropetala even though the two enjoy the same habitat and do grow very near each other in wetlands, moist woods, and shady areas of Spruce forests.  Observing this flower closely may get you wet and muddy but you will be filled with wonder.  

"Pentandra" is from the Greek for "five anthers".

Pectiantia pentandra
Pectiantia pentandra.  Synonym: Mitella pentandra. (Green Mitrewort)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, streamsides, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 16, 2005.

Petals are deeply cut and flared back.

Pectiantia pentandra
Pectiantia pentandra.  Synonym: Mitella pentandra. (Green Mitrewort)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, streamsides, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 16, 2005.

The five dots in the red circle are the anthers that give the plant its specific epithet.

Pectiantia pentandra
Pectiantia pentandra.  Synonym: Mitella pentandra. (Green Mitrewort)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, streamsides, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Kilpacker Trail, August 10, 2011.

Minute seed cups hold even more minute seeds. Notice, as mentioned at the top of this page, that the seed cups are arranged around the stem, not just on one side as they are for Mitella stauropetala.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Mitella stauropetala  

Range map for Pectiantia pentandra