Jeffersonia diphylla

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Robert Pavlis

Jeffersonia diphylla :photo by Robert Pavlis

Jeffersonia diphylla is uncommon both in the wild and in gardens. It starts early in spring with purplish new growth that opens white flowers long before leaves show on deciduous trees. Unfortunately the flowers only last a few days. Its real beauty comes next as the blue-green leaves develop. The shape of these is very unusual and look as if someone has pasted two leaves together, hence the name diphylla.

Jeffersonia diphylla :photo by Robert Pavlis
Jeffersonia diphylla :photo by Robert Pavlis

This is a very typical shade plant, that grows quick in spring to gather some sun light, and then enjoys a shady, cool summer under deciduous trees. It prefers a moist location, but I grow it in a dry area, that gets full noon day sun, and it seems to enjoy the spot. If it gets too dry it will go underground in late summer, but my plant seems to keep its leaves all summer long.

Jeffersonia diphylla, spring buds :photo by Robert Pavlis
Jeffersonia diphylla, spring buds :photo by Robert Pavlis

Common names include, twinleaf, helmet pod and ground squirrel pea. The name twinleaf obviously refers to the leaves. Helmet pod is a good description of the seed pod, which sticks straight up, but is shorter than the leaves. As it dries and releases the seeds, it curves over and starts looking more like a pipe.

Jeffersonia diphylla :photo by Robert Pavlis
Jeffersonia diphylla :photo by Robert Pavlis

There are two species in the genus Jeffersonia, the other being J. dubia, with light lavender blooms.

Jeffersonia diphylla, collecting seed in an organza bag :photo by Robert Pavlis
Jeffersonia diphylla, collecting seed in an organza bag :photo by Robert Pavlis

The following is a video describing the use of organza bags for collecting seed.

YouTube video

 

Jeffersonia diphylla, dry seed and pipe-like seed pod :photo by Robert Pavlis
Jeffersonia diphylla, dry seed and pipe-like seed pod :photo by Robert Pavlis

Jeffersonia seeds are hydrophilic and the embryo will die if seed dries out. Sowing the seeds before any drying takes place is the best approach.  However, if they are to be stored for a while, it is best to let the seeds dry a bit and then seal them in a plastic bag along with slightly moist vermiculite.

Jeffersonia diphylla

(Jefferson-ee-a dy-FIL-uh)

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: 45cm (18in)

Bloom Time: early spring

Natural Range: Eastern North America

Habitat: damp woodlands

Synonyms:  none

Cultivation of Jeffersonia diphylla:

Light: part to full deciduous shade

Soil: rich organic soil, limestone

Water: moist to medium

USDA Hardiness Zone: (4?) 5 – 8

Propagation: seed, division

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

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