Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Venus' looking glass (Clasping bellwort)

Today’s featured plant eluded me for years. I rarely came across it at the right time, and when Mike Delaney led me to some plants in bloom on one visit to his restored prairie in Dallas County, the flowers came out looking blue in most of my images. (I later learned this is a common problem when photographing purple flowers.)

With an assist from members of the Iowa Wildflower Report Facebook group, I am pleased to present Venus’ looking glass (Triodanis perfoliata). The common name tells you right away this one’s a beauty. Sometimes known as clasping bellwort or clasping Venus’ looking glass, this plant is native to most of the U.S. In Iowa, it typically blooms sometime in June.

For botanically accurate descriptions of the foliage, flowers, and fruit of Venus’ looking glass, I recommend the Illinois Wildflowers and Minnesota Wildflowers sites. Before flowers appear, this plant’s leaves form distinctive rosettes. Kim El-Baroudi took this picture in her gorgeous Des Moines backyard.

Wait, why is there cement in that photo? Venus’ looking glass is one tough customer: “it may pop up in sidewalk cracks, empty lots, and other disturbed areas,” Minnesota Wildflowers writes. Kim took these pictures on her patio.

Venus’ looking glass starts to bloom near the bottom of the plant. The higher-up flowers bloom over the next few weeks. Another photo by Kim:

And a close-up of the purple flowers.

Although “This plant flourishes best in poor soil that is either gravelly or sandy,” you can find it in higher-quality habitats too. Mike Delaney has quite a bit growing on his Dallas County prairie. I took the next picture in late June. According to Illinois Wildflowers, these plants are usually 4 to 12 inches tall. I’ve seen some taller specimens, but this plant was right in the average height range.

Lorene Shepherd found a colony of Venus’ looking glass last year at Lake Ahquabi State Park in Warren County. The next two shots are hers. You can find more of her lovely photographs on her Facebook page.

Another pro who gave me permission to publish his image of Venus’ looking glass is Don Weiss. Striking pictures of wildflowers and foliage against a black background is his signature.

Occasional Bleeding Heartland contributor Wendie Schneider captured the next two pictures of Venus’ looking glass on a Story County prairie. You can tell they are near the end of their blooming period, because the flowers are way at the top of the plant.

Once the flowers have gone, fruit develops as capsules, which eventually split and release many tiny seeds. I missed the show for this plant on the Dallas County prairie.

Tags: Wildflowers
  • Beautiful bloom photos

    I appreciate the info on this flower, which I don’t know well. I’ve seen it growing in a rather wet area but on poor soil — though it’s interesting that we, in books and papers and general language, use “poor” rather than a more neutral term. We think of soil in terms of what most of our crops like best. But for many kinds of plants, “poor” soil is wonderful soil.

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