While in swampy woods in LaPorte County, Indiana this past weekend scouting for a field trip I am leading this coming weekend, I saw several of the species that give rise to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources community classification name "boreal flatwoods." (Personally, I prefer the NatureServe community name of Pin Oak-Swamp White Oak-Red Maple Flatwoods Forest for this community, as the percentage of boreal species found in this community is actually fairly low.) One of those species, Trientalis borealis ssp. borealis, was in flower.
Trientalis means "a third of a foot," which apparently is a reference to the height of the plant (even though it gets about twice this size). The specific epithet borealis means "northern," a reference to the general distribution of this species. Although it is found as far south as Georgia, Starflower, as this species is known, is generally found in the colder climates of northern North America. In the southern reaches of its distribution, Trientalis borealis is known as a boreal relict - a species that has found refuge in the cool, wet woods with a microclimate most similar to the conditions present tens of thousands of years ago when Picea mariana and Larix laricina dominated this part of the country. Subspecies borealis is found in the eastern half of North America, whereas subspecies latifolia, with broader leaves and pink to rose corollas, is known from western North America.