Indian Physic (American Ipecac)

Gillenia stipulata
Family

Rosaceae (roses)

Description

This leafy plant may cover entire hills in the Ozarks. Flowers are in small groups arising from upper leaf axils; the parts are in fives, with 5 erect sepals and 5 white, very narrow, spreading petals with pointed tips, about 20 stamens, and 5 pistils. Blooms May–July. Basal leaves are entirely different from stem leaves, pinnately divided, fernlike. The basal leaves appear much earlier than the upright stems. Stem leaves are 3-divided with lanceolate, double-toothed leaflets. All nodes have leaflike, trifoliate stipules.

Size

Height: to 3 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in dry uplands, open woods, usually on acid soils.

image of Indian Physic American Ipecac Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Central and southern Missouri.

Human connections

“Indian physic” and “ipecac” indicate Native American use for internal cleansing, a widespread ceremonial custom. "Ipecac" is a word referring to an emetic derived from dried roots of certain plants. Today, emetic drugs are used most often in cases of accidental poisoning.

Ecosystem connections

The many diverse plants that colonize Ozark hillsides help to hold the soil in place during our infamous "gully washer" rainstorms. They are also the foundation for a forest ecosystem that includes fungi, insects and other invertebrates, and vertebrates such as birds and mammals.