Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia)

Grass-of-Parnassus A rare and exciting flower of late fall is the Grass-of-Parnassus. This plant is in danger of extinction in all or at least significant portions of its range in Alabama

Grass-of-Parnassus is not a grass. It does not even resemble grass. Early botanists thought it to be the plant in Greece which was described as the grass on Mount Parnassus in the Materia Medica of Dioscorides.

It grows as a clump of leaves on long stems, a basal rosette from which arises a scape-like stalk. This stalk terminates in a single flower. About halfway up the stalk is one clasping leaf, producing the effect of a stem growing out of the leaf. Each clump consists of a network of many white roots.

The flower has five sepals, five petals, and five fertile stamens, plus five more sterile stamens. The five fertile stamens are separated by the sterile ones. The five beautiful and delicate-looking petals are white with seven to nine green veins. The green pistil has four stigmas.

About a month after blooming the cone-shaped four-valved capsule turns brown and splits open. Many small brownish seed are attached to the inner surfaces of the capsule. The leaves may yellow but the fruiting stalk stays upright.

There are three species of Parnassia found in Alabama, all equally endangered. This perennial herb grows in moist deciduous woods and along shaded stream banks. It is a member of the Saxifrage Family.