What is Parnassia?

Mandi Raymond

Parnassia, more commonly known as bog star or grass of Parnassus, is a plant that is often spotted growing in swamps, bogs, deep woods and damp forests. Indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere and a frequent sight in alpine and arctic locations, the plant has the appearance of a flowering grass. Despite its appearance, Parnassia it is not a grass at all. It is a part of a plant family called herbaceous dicot, which are flowering plants that have two embryonic leaves in their seeds. This group contains nearly 200,000 species.

Parnassia gets its name from Parnassus, a mountain sacred to the Greek god Apollo.
Parnassia gets its name from Parnassus, a mountain sacred to the Greek god Apollo.

The flower of Parnassia usually has five white petals, approximately 1.5 inches (36 mm) wide and laced with green veins. The center of the flower contains five sterile stamens. Each of the stamens has a shiny drop that resembles nectar.

This plant blooms most often in the late summer months. It has an approximately 8-inch (200-mm) tall stalk and leaves that can be 4 inches (100 mm) long. Although there are a number of species of this plant, they are all very similar in appearance.

There are believed to be more than 55 varieties of Parnassia over the world. In the United States, the plant can be found in places such as Colorado and Utah. The history of Parnassia goes back to 1753, when it was named by Linnaeus. The name of the plant comes from a mountain in Greece called Parnassus, which was thought to be sacred to the Greek god Apollo.

Parnassia is not rare, but it also is not especially common, and finding it along a trail is considered to be a treat for many hikers. If Parnassia is planted in a garden, it should be done with seeds, because the plant does best if it starts in its long-term home. The soil should be moist and watered very frequently. The seeds can be planted in light sunlight or shaded areas and should be put in the ground at the end of the summer. Germination might take as much as six months.

For a long life, the plants should be divided up every few years and spread out so that they can flourish. This will ensure that the plants stay strong and healthy. The division should not be done until after flowering has been completed for the season. This will ensure a higher likelihood that the plants will take in their new home.

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