Native plant: pale corydalis

by Caroline Brown

No more politics for now–let’s talk about pale corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens), a native plant usually found in disturbed areas of boreal (cold climate) forests.

A member of the poppy family, pale corydalis has unusual tubular pink flowers with yellow tips and multi-lobed blue-green leaves. It blooms in the summer to early fall. Its foliage looks a little bit like a bleeding heart; in fact, I’ve read that it is a relative of the bleeding heart.

A rare native species in Rhode Island, pale corydalis has been found in Wolf Hill Forest Preserve in Smithfield, RI, around the corner from where I live. It is found primarily in climates with cold winters and cooler summers. In North America, it’s found from Alaska east to Newfoundland, south to the Pacific Northwest U.S., northern Rocky Mountains, north-central Midwest U.S., and east to the Atlantic coast from Maine south to Georgia. Pale corydalis grows best with a lot of sun in dry, sandy, or gravelly soil, and in open or thin woods.

Pale corydalis is a pioneer species in secondary succession (an event such as a fire or other disturbance which changes an existing ecosystem), particularly after fires. Its seeds are generally fire-resistant and germinate quickly after a fire compared to many other species, because it thrives on the nutrients left behind after a fire. Generally, pale corydalis isn’t found in areas that haven’t been disturbed by fires, which is why it’s unusual for it to be found on Wolf Hill.

Pale corydalis grows easily from seed, though it’s not readily found commercially. I haven’t actually seen this plant on Wolf Hill, but I can’t wait to look for it next summer!

Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.


7 Comments to “Native plant: pale corydalis”

  1. How Beautiful!! They look like little yellow butterflies with pink wings! 🙂

  2. I thought of bleeding hearts, seeing this photo and before reading what you had said in the post. Very pretty. I love bleeding heart plants so much and these certainly look similar.

  3. These flowers are blooming right now–second and third week in June 2008, a cold year so they may last another week or so–in the areas of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that were burned in the forest fires of the last two years.

    The blackened lands heaped with burnt logs have rebounded with very young birch, aspen, conifers, alder, etc. The bunchberries are on their way, the blueberries will be spectacular this year, the raspberries are gonna be good too.

    Very few birds in the burnt over places I walked this week adjoining Seagull Lake, but white-throated sparrow is singing.

    This corydalis is not named properly. Pale? It’s really spectacular. Same general colors as wild columbine–bright pink and strong yellow. I just knew it was a bleeding heart long before I found this website to identify it. Blossoms are strung along the tapering end of a stem like a bleeding heart but the flowers lack one of the halves of a heart–they are shaped like the yellow corydalis flowers of my flower book. Clumps can extend over knee high, but many are shorter. Not as thick a clump as domestic bleeding heart, though. More like individuals. Reddish in stems like the domestic one. Ferny leaves. When many are in a small area, their mass gives a general reddish glow to the air around them that can be see from a canoe, waving to you in the strong winds.

    They cling to bare rock outcroppings in this Laurentian shield rock field. They are on upland fields, islands, everywhere. Yet, apparently, if you don’t go to a burn area, you might never see them in Minnesota. I never have seen them before. They are happy friends in a landscape that can otherwise seem like a downer. The ancient rocks are exposed, no longer covered by forest. Bald heads of igneus stuff. A landscape of massive lumps. Yet here are flowers. And Joy is with them.


  5. I love these as well – we find them we we live in northern Ontarion – we call them Lady Slipper.

  6. This plant grew in a burn area with in our 60×100 garden, where I had a smudge fire to keep the black flies down last Spring.

    We do have Lady Slippers here as well but these are not like them with a flower about 1/2″ long (13mm for metric folks).

    The leaves are not even close to each other. The Lady Slipper has 2 large leaves, and this pale corydalis plant has odd colored blue/green leaves all over the place like a fern.

    The stems right now are a odd blueish pink, so over all this is a delightful plant to see.

    I have collected a small baggie of seeds.

    The reason I searched these out is I would like to know of any uses by man for these besides looks. Food and medical are my prime interest.

    The rough location is central and very east New Hampsire, just below the “Kanc” aka Rt 112

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