Description: This native perennial plant is up to 5' tall and unbranched, except near the inflorescence. The central stem is round and smooth. Scattered along this stem are 3-7 whorled leaves. These leaves are up to 6" long and 1½" across with serrated margins. They are ovate to narrowly ovate, and are either sessile or have short petioles. At the apex of the plant are several slender spikes of white flowers up to 8" long, resembling a candelabra. The narrow tubular flowers are about ¼" long, from which 2 yellow or brown stamens are exerted. These flowers are crowded together all around each spike, blooming from the bottom up. They have no scent. The blooming period usually occurs from early to mid-summer, and lasts about a month. The tiny seeds can be carried several feet away from the mother plant by the wind. The root system consists of a central taproot and some rhizomes, which enable vegetative reproduction.
Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and moist to average conditions. Growth is best in rich loamy soil, although some sand or clay is tolerated. The leaves may turn yellowish green in bright sunlight or during a drought, otherwise they normally appear healthy and are not often bothered by disease. This plant has a tendency to flop over on slopes.
Range & Habitat: Culver's Root occurs throughout Illinois, except a few south-central counties. Although widely distributed, it is only occasionally seen. Culver's root occurs in moist to mesic black soil prairies, sand prairies, openings and edges of woodlands, thickets, savannas, and swampy meadows along rivers and ditches. This plant is not often seen in highly disturbed habitats.
Faunal Associations: The most common visitors to the flowers are long-tongued and short-tongued bees, which collect pollen or suck nectar. This includes honeybees, bumblebees, Mason bees, Green Metallic bees, Masked bees, and others. Other kinds of insect visitors include Sphecid wasps, butterflies, moths, and Syrphid flies. The latter include species that feed on pollen only and are non-pollinating. Culver's Root doesn't appear to be bothered by leaf-chewing insects or mammalian herbivores to the same extent as other plants. The seeds are too tiny to be of much interest to birds.
Comments: While in bloom, this plant has an eloquent appearance, although the pretty white flowers rapidly turn brown. Its common name refers to the medicinal usage of the bitter root, which has purgative properties. The surname 'Culver' probably refers to a pioneer physician who advocated the use of this plant for the treatment of various ailments.