Jeffersonia, also known as twinleaf or rheumatism root, is a small genus of herbaceous perennial plants in the family Berberidaceae. They are uncommon spring wildflowers and grow in limestone soils of rich deciduous forests. The botanical name of twinleaf is Jeffersonia diphylla, native to moist deciduous forests of eastern North America from Minnesota and Iowa east to Ontario, Canada and New York and south to Alabama and Georgia. Jeffersonia was named for United States President Thomas Jefferson by his contemporary Benjamin Smith Barton. This genus was formerly grouped in genus Podophyllum. The plant is probably toxic, so caution should be used if preparing it for modern day use!

Jeffersonia diphylla has leaves and flowers that are smooth and emerge directly from the rhizome. The leaves are divided into two leaflets which are half-ovate in shape with entire or shallowly toothed margins. It has showy white flowers with four sepals, eight petals, eight stamens, and a singly pistil; the flower resembles bloodroot flowers. The short-lived flower appears in April or May before the forest canopy appears. The fruit is a green pear-shaped capsule with a hinged top. The characteristic leaves are large and nearly divided in half, giving rise to its common name, twinleaf. It rarely grows taller than 12 inches (30 cm). As with other deciduous forest plants, the seeds are dispersed by ants, a process known as myrmecochory.

Table of Contents


0.5 - 3 feet

Width-Circumference (Avg)

0.5 - 1.5 feet

Approximate pH


Growing Twinleaf

Sowing: To break their dormancy, these seeds need to experience cold and warm moist periods followed by another period of cold moisture. Mix the seeds with a small amount of damp sand and place in a sealed plastic bag; store in a refrigerator for 30 days, then at 70-75 degrees F for 30 days, with a final period of 30 days in the refrigerator. Sow the seed just below the surface of the soil in a germination flat, keeping the soil lightly moist and at room temperature until germination; since these plants resent having their roots disturbed, they should be transplanted outdoors as soon as they can safely be handled. Alternatively, this seed can be direct sowed outdoors in late fall and allowed up to two years to germinate.

Growing: Transplant seedlings after the last frost of spring; keep the soil consistently moist and free of weeds. This plant develops rather slowly, usually producing only a few leaves in its first year because of the growth of its extensive root system. Blooming usually occurs after 5-6 seasons of growth. Mature plants also grow best in moist soil, and will benefit from a mulch of leaves to conserve moisture and control weeds. Fully developed plants can easily be divided in late fall or early spring. Though it blooms in spring, this plant remains attractive until frost and can be used as an effective ground cover.

Twinleaf Care

Plant in a moist and cool site among native plants. Twinleaf also works well in shaded areas of rock gardens. Mass plantings quickly bring about an efficient groundcover.

The flower petals are so fragile that they can drop at the first gust of wind or first rainfall of early spring. Establish young plants together and free from weeds.


Twinleaf prefers part shade (direct sunlight that lasts only two to six hours of the day) and will tolerate full/deep shade (less than two hours to no direct sunlight).

Find a spot beneath canopies of large deciduous trees for best results, as these conditions will offer part sun in early spring and lush shade in the heat of summer.


Plant in moist, humusy, well-drained loam. Twinleaf is most at home in the limestone soils of organically rich damp woods.

Some gardeners have had success growing this perennial in a mixture of sand and peat. Others report that twinleaf will grow in alkaline soil, though acidic soil (<6.8) is highly recommended.


Cover with mulch in summer to maintain cool roots, and allow the soil to dry out.

Propagating Twinleaf

Divide these herbaceous perennial plants at the end of the growing season. They can also be easily propagated by seed.

Collect seeds three to four weeks after bloom. Sow as soon as seeds are ripened so they do not dry out. Seedlings take four to five years to develop into flowering plants.

Pests and Plant Diseases

Fortunately, there are no serious insect or disease problems. While the preferred moist conditions may make Twinleaf susceptible to slugs or snails, overall this is a very low-maintenance and versatile plant to bring to your shade garden.


Medicinal: Plants of Jeffersonia diphylla were used medicinally by Native Americans for treatment of dropsy, gravel and urinary ailments, and for gall and diarrhea, and in poultices for sores and ulcers.

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