What is a Twinflower?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Twinflower is a creeping shrub in the honeysuckle family, found distributed throughout woodlands in the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere. Known formally as Linnaea borealis, after the scientist who developed taxonomic classification and was particularly fond of this plant, it is rare in many parts of its native range due to habitat disruption. Human activity has changed the composition of many woodlands around the world, making it harder for fragile plant and animal species to survive.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

This plant grows low to the ground and could be considered a subshrub or shrublet. It is evergreen and perennial, producing flowers on small stalks that split at the end to host two blooms, explaining the name. Over time, it is common for twinflower stems to become partially buried under leaf litter and detritus, and this can cause the plant to look patchy, as only the aerial stems will be visible. The distinctive flowers are so unique that when the plant is in bloom, it is unmistakable and easy for people to spot.

Arctic to temperate climates are hospitable for twinflowers. These plants prefer the filtered light and partial shade of woodlands, and can be seen distributed with other woodland flower species like trilliums. They are very vulnerable to human activities like hiking and harvesting wild plants, as these activities can disturb the network of roots and stems. The creeping growth habit allows the twinflower to spread on a variety of types of terrain.

Gardeners can cultivate twinflowers in their own woodland gardens. Nurseries and catalogs carry domestic cultivars and they can also be grown via seeds, cuttings, and layering. Seeds tend to germinate unreliably and cuttings from mature plants are usually the best choice for propagation. Collecting twinflower specimens in the wild is not recommended, as there are several subspecies that look similar and some are threatened or endangered. If wild plants are collected, the wild population may no longer be able to sustain itself.

People interested in viewing woodland plants like the twinflower in situ can take advantage of guided walks offered in many communities. Botanical gardens sometimes organize walks and other events to allow people to see woodland wildflowers, and walks are also offered by conservation organizations and gardening clubs. Visiting the woods with an expert in plant identification can offer an opportunity to see rare plants, learn more about their natural habitat, and participate in nature conservation projects like removal of invasive species and litter cleanup.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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