This plant has seen a severe decline in numbers over the last 100 years. One factor in its decline may have been the overcollection of its highly valued root which was used to cure many ailments. The legend goes that the devil was so envious of its curative properties that he bit off most of its rhizome leaving only the short rhizomes seen today, hence the name Devil's-bit. Its Latin name means dwarf yellow lily but this description may have come from a shriveled herbarium specimen since the plant is neither dwarf nor yellow.
While there have been as many as fifty populations historically present in the state, today we only know of seven populations. This severe decline is due in part to natural succession.
There has been a continual decline in numbers of plants in known populations over the past 10-25 years. The factors for this decline are not completely understood, but succession/canopy closure is probably a major reason.
There were approximately fifty historical occurrences known of this plant but presently less than ten are known. In the early 1900s, the roots of this plant were collected and sold for medicinal purposes. Collectors received 30 to 45 cents per pound. The amount of root stock collected from New York is not known and the impact from this collection is not known. This may be one of the reasons for the decline of the plant over the last 100 years. Another reason for the decline is likely due to habitat loss through succession, degradation, or destruction.
Many plants are threatened by succession and lack of additional habitat in which to spread. These long-lived plants can survive for many years under canopy closure, but they fail to reproduce. Should the plants be lost to competition, deer browse, picking, trampling, etc., there are no means for recovery once the canopy has closed.
Some populations have benefited from the creation of light gaps. At one site in the southern Hudson Valley where few to no plants were producing flowers, many trees were cut in order to create light gaps. The following season, many of the plants in this setting produced flowers and set seed. This resulted in the recruitment of juvenile plants. Using this site as an example, the other sites may also benefit from the controlled removal of select trees and shrubs.
More research is needed to determine factors affecting the amount and timing of flowering in New York populations. We would like to see a study that compares multiple light gap treatments to various control populations to determine the optimal canopy cover for flowering and recruitment.
A long-lived plant that is often a calciphile of oak woodlands, mesic woodlands, oak barrens, mixed young mesophytic woods, old pastures with red cedars, moist thickets, calcareous seeps in red maple-tamarack swamps; calcareous wet meadows within old successional woods, calcareous rocky summits, and rich sloping fens. In areas where the canopy is closed, the plants may remain vegetative; however, flowers typically appear as soon as the canopy is opened (New York Natural Heritage Program 2004). Moist meadows, thickets, rich wooded slopes, and covers (Flora of North America 2002). Moist woods and bogs (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Moist meadows and woods (Newcomb 1977). Meadows, thickets and rich woods (Fernald 1970).
This plant is historically documented from Rensselaer County south through the Hudson Valley and westward throughout the state south of the Adirondacks. While historically this plant has had a broad distribution, today it is only known from a few populations in western New York and the southern Hudson Valley.
Chamaelirium luteum occurs in eastern North America from Michigan and Ontario, east to Massachusetts, and south to Louisiana and Florida. It is relatively rare in the northern portion of the range and more common in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina.
This attractive wildflower has a single flower stalk growing up to a meter tall from a rosette of 5-10 lance-shaped leaves 8-15 cm long. There are also a few narrow leaves along the flower stalk. Above these leaves is a long spike of tiny white flowers that are either male or female and turn yellow as they age. The female flowers mature into small, erect, oval, green fruits.
A dioecious (each plant is a either male or female) plant 25-95 cm tall with its basal leaves in a rosette. These basal leaves are elongate-spatulate to obovate, 8-15 cm long. The stem leaves are narrower and progressively smaller up the stem. Both male and female flowers are whitish, but drying to a yellowish color. These small flowers (2-4 mm) are in a slender spikelike raceme.
The best stage for identifying this plant is while it is in flower; however, it can be identified vegetatively.
When in flower, not likely to be confused with other species. Vegetatively, this may look like a number of other liliaceous plants to somebody not intimately familiar with this species.
Vegetative plants may be present from early spring to late fall. If the plant flowers, these flowers will begin to appear late-May and may persist to late July or even early August. The flowering stalks should persist into the winter. Surveys may take place anytime from early spring to late summer, but the plants stand out more in flower. Since the plants do not flower every though, surveys that target the flowers may be difficult. The recommended survey time is May and June.
The time of year you would expect to find Fairywand vegetative, flowering, and fruiting in New York.
Chamaelirium luteum (L.) Gray
Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.
Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.
Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2002. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 26. Magnoliophyta: Liliidae: Liliales and Orchidales. Oxford University Press, New York. 723 pp.
Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.
Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.
Newcomb, Lawrence. 1977. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide: An Ingenious New Key System for Quick, Positive Field Identification of the Wildflowers, Flowering Shrubs, and Vines of Northeastern and North-Central North America. Little, Brown and Company. Boston.
Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.
Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York
Information for this guide was last updated on: September 8, 2004
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Chamaelirium luteum. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/fairywand/. Accessed May 29, 2023.