Okay, class. Close your books and notebooks, and take out a blank sheet of paper. We’re going to have a pop quiz. Quickly, no peeking…what kind of flower is this?

Yesterday as I took a late afternoon walk along the Ashuelot River here in Keene, I snapped this picture of a cluster of purple berries sprouting from a whorl of parallel veined leaves. In my mind, I was convinced I knew what flower had produced the berries in question. “Oh, yeah, that’s what’s-its-name!”

There are a handful of flowers that stump me every year: every year I remind myself of their name, and every year I forget their name anew. For the life of me, I can never recall the name Clintonia, a genus of small multi-flowered lilies that bloom in mountain woods in spring and early summer. I didn’t grow up with Clintonia, so when I moved to New Hampshire, they always struck me as being odd and unfamiliar. For some reason, I always confuse Twinflower and Starflower even though they look nothing alike: something about the simplicity of their name befuddles me. And for some reason I always want to call Arrowhead by the name “arrow-root” even though I’ve never seen their roots and it’s obvious that their leaves are shaped like arrowheads.

With such confusion in mind, when I took the above photo, I was certain I knew what this plant is…but now that I check my books, I’m not sure. The leaves are too wide (and too parallel veined) to be Starflower; although Bunchberry has whorled leaves under a cluster of berries, they typically have a single whorl of 6 leaves under a bunch of red, not purple berries. And although the berries in the photo do look a lot like dark blue Clintonia fruit, Clintonias have lance-shaped basal leaves, not ovate whorled ones.

So, class, does anyone know what the above plant is? It can be difficult to identify berries since most wildflower books are keyed toward flowers: if you don’t know the number and/or color of flower parts, you’re stuck when it comes to ID’ing an unfamiliar species. So does anyone in the studio audience know? I promise a virtual apple from the teacher for the first bright student to lend a a hand with this: any takers?