Paris quadrifolia

Taisha is the author of this entry. She writes:

Today’s photos of Paris quadrifolia, or herb paris, in habit and close up were taken by stevieiriswattii!@Flickr on May 14, 2013 (submitted via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool). They were taken in the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) region of Germany. Thank you for the images, steveiriswatti!

Paris quadrifolia of the Melanthiaceae is a perennial species found in shaded woodlands of Europe. Its range extends eastward to include western Asia, Siberia, and the Himalayas. In the last century, populations have been in decline in most western European countries due to the destruction of broad-leaved woodland. For a detailed account of the species see: Jacquemyn, H. et al.. 2008. Biological Flora of the British Isles: Paris quadrifolia L.. Journal of Ecology. 96:833-844.

Herb paris grows from a creeping rhizome. Plants have symmetrical leaves occurring in two pairs. Extending above the leaves is a single inconspicuous flower with green sepals and yellow petals. The eight bright yellow stamens are exserted upward, almost appearing protective of the purple-red ovary. After pollination, a many-seeded berry on a pedicel will develop, presented enticingly for the picking. However, it is not advised to consume the fruit, rhizomes, or any of the foliage, as herb paris is poisonous in just small doses.

Paris quadrifolia
Paris quadrifolia

6 responses to “Paris quadrifolia”

  1. John Gyer

    I am curious, The picture looks to have 9 stamens insted of 8, 6 stigmas, probably 5 sepals insted of 4, and 5 leaves intsed of 4. Such deviations from type are well known in Trillium – particularly pedicillate Trillium – where they are usually unstable and revert to the typical 3 sepals, petals, and stigmas with 6 stamens. Is the same true of Paris?

  2. Denis Dooley

    I have planted this at least four separate times and it has failed every single time. It is an interesting plant, but not interesting enough to try a fifth (or was it sixth?) at the prices they run.

  3. cherrieswalks

    They grow all over the place in the Chamonix valley at the base of Mont Blanc.

  4. Richard Price

    John Gyer’s query about Paris quadrifolia.
    Yes, there is considerable variation in numbers of leaves, sepals, petals, stamens and stigmas. Prof John Stevens Henslow, Darwin’s mentor when he was at Cambridge, published a paper in 1832 on ‘Variations of Paris quadrifolia’ in the Magazine of Natural History, vol 5, pp 429-33. He counted the leaves and floral parts on 1500 specimens. Of these, 1164 had 4 leaves, 4 petals, 4 sepals, 8 stamens and 4 stigmas, ‘the most common condition’ and 192 specimens had 5, 4, 4, 8, 4. Among the rest, the number of leaves varied between 3 and 6, of sepals between 3 and 5, of petals between 3 and 5, of stamens between 7 and 11, and of stigmas between 3 and 6.
    Read the paper at
    The interesting thing about this paper is that it illustrates Henslow’s intense interest in variation. Given that Darwin spent so much time with Henslow during his three years at Cambridge (1828-31), it is surely inconceivable that he did not influence Darwin’s thinking. Three of the first five chapters of ‘The Origin’ are, of course, on variation.
    For more on the Henslow’s influence on Darwin read:
    Kohn, Murrell, Parker & Whitehorn, (2005) ‘What Henslow taught Darwin’, Nature, vol 436, 4 August 2005.
    Walters & Stow (2001) ‘Darwin’s Mentor, John Stevens Henslow’ Cambridge University Press.
    and visit Cambridge University Botanic Garden, conceived by Henslow, to see variation in living specimens of Pinus nigra, Fagus sylvatica, and Corylus avellana almost certainly planted under Henslow’s direction.

  5. Alice

    RE planting failure of paris. I planted one thinking it had failed, then read in a gardening journal that they can sometimes take 3-4 years to ‘surface’ after transplanting and/or planting. I marked the spot, kept watching for it, and 3 years later it showed up. I’ve just purchased another one and plan to be very patient for that one too. If you haven’t dug it up or disturbed the location where you planted yours, you may wish to play the ‘waiting game’. Believe me, they are worth the wait and the effort.

  6. Denis Dooley

    Thanks Alice. I will try to leave the spot undisturbed. Maybe I will get lucky.

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