Parnassia palustris

Northern Grass of Parnassus

Northern Grass of Parnassus, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and William S. Alverson
Northern Grass of Parnassus
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and William S. Alverson

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Parnassia, from the Greek, Parnassos (Parnassos), "of Mount Parnassus", a mountain in central Greece.
  • palustris, from the Latin, paluster, "boggy, marshy"
  • Northern Grass of Parnassus, from ???
  • Other common names include: American Marsh Grass, Bog Star, Marsh Parnassus, Parnassus, Almindelig, Leverurt (Dan), Ädalalill, Raudnael, Maksa Rohi, Südamelill, Sügislumelill (Est), Vilukko (Fin), Parnassie des marais (Fr), Fionnan Geal (Gaelic), Studentenröschen, Sumpf-Herzblatt (Ger), Fehérmájvirág (Hun), Mýrasóley (Is), Jåblom (Nor), Bielokvet Moèiarny (Slovak), Slåtterblomma, Hjärtblad, Hjärtblomma, Vitvisil (Swe)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
        • Order Rosales, the Roses
          • Family Saxifragaceae, the Saxifrages; with Heuchera (Alumroot), Mitella (Miterwort), and Saxifraga
            • Genus Parnassia, the Grasses of Parnassus
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 24206


  • An evergreen perennial herb with prominent white blossom.
  • Leaves all basal except for the single, ovate, sessile leaf (or bract) usually present near or below the middle of the stem. Basal leaves ovate, heart-shaped, tapering to the base, up to 1½" long, smooth, without teeth, on stalks up to 4" long. Single stem leaf usually cordate and clasping.
  • Stem upright, slender, unbranched, to 1½' tall, smooth, bearing a single leaf or bract about 1/3 the way up the stem.
  • Roots to 8" depth
  • Flowers white and showy, solitary on the stem, up to 1" across. [Photo]
    • Sepals 5, green, lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate, ¼"-½" long, with 5-7 veins.
    • Petals 5, white, free from each other, ovate to obovate, up to ½" long, not fringed, with 3-13 veins. Typically 1½-2 times as long as sepals.
    • Stamens 5 fertile, many sterile
    • Pistil 4-carpellary, stigmas 4
    • Ovary more or less superior (within blossom)
  • Fruit an ovoid, 4-valved capsule, up to ½" long, subtended by persistent sepals.
  • Seed numerous, tiny, oblong, and angular


  • A perennial of watersides and wet places, unmistakable when in bloom.
  • Field Marks
    • a single, white, five-petal flower with prominent veining of the petals
    • a bare stem rising from basal leaves with a single, small leaf about 1/3 of the way up the stem.


  • Circumboreal; in North America south to New York, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, and California.


  • Calcareous fens, wet moorland, raised bogs, marshes, shores, stream banks, and wet meadows to quite a high altitude.





  • Reproduces by seed
  • Flowers July-September


  • By seed
    • sow as soon as seed matures in late autumn
    • maintain constant moisture
  • Division in spring


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Minimum frost-free days - 140
    • Sun full
    • Soil moist,peaty, alkaline, pH 6-8
  • Growth rate moderate
  • Good for naturalizing in and among marsh grasses.



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Last updated on 26 February, 2004