Pyrola elliptica (Shinleaf)

Plant Info
Also known as: Waxflower Shinleaf, Wild Lily-of-the-valley
Family:Ericaceae (Heath)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist woods
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:5 to 10 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Raceme of 7 to 15 hanging flowers on short stalks at the top of the stem. Flowers are white with five roundish petals ¼ to 3/8 inch (6 to 10 mm) long and a cluster of yellowish to brown-tipped stamens under the upper petals. The style is pale green to whitish and curves down and out below the lower petals like an elephant's trunk. Flowers are up to about ½ inch across when fully open. The calyx cupping the flower has 5 lobes that are light green and triangular to egg-shaped, about as long as wide and less than ¼ as long as the petals. At the base of a flower stalk is a papery bract, lance-linear to awl shaped, usually shorter than the stalk.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are basal, somewhat leathery, 1 to ~3 inches (to 80 mm) long, longer than wide, mostly elliptic, broadest at or above the middle, hairless, mostly rounded at the tip, tapering to rounded at the base, the leaf base sometimes narrowing to an obscurely winged stalk that is as long as or shorter than the blade. Edges are toothless or shallowly scalloped, but often have obscure teeth with a minute point (denticulate). The upper surface is dark to medium green, dull to somewhat shiny. Flowering stems are smooth and may have a few scale-like leaves below the flower cluster.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a capsule about ¼ inch (3 to 5 mm) long, wider than long, somewhat compressed globular with 5 sections, each containing many seeds.


Shinleaf is one of the most common Pyrola species in Minnesota, found primarily in coniferous and deciduous woods. Shinleaf is distinguished primarily by the dull leaves that are pretty consistently longer than wide, where other Pyrolas have leaves that are typically more round to kidney-shaped and more leathery, though there is some variability. The flowers resemble those of Round-leaved Pyrola (Pyrola americana), which has floral bracts longer than the flower stalk and longer calyx lobes that are longer than wide. Green-flowered Pyrola (Pyrola chlorantha) also has similar flowers but are more greenish, and its leaves are smaller and rounder.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Alan O - SE Hubbard County
on: 2009-07-19 20:07:05

This was the first time I've ever seen this plant. Found in woods near wetland.

Posted by: Lorri A - BWCA - Clove Lake
on: 2009-08-10 09:08:07

Clove Lake is very far northeast, between Gunflint and Saganaga Lakes. We camped there on our way out of the BWCA on 8/07/09. There were several clumps of blooming shinleaf in our campsite, on the path to the latrine.

Posted by: Mark - Oakdale Nature Preserve, Oakdale MN
on: 2010-06-19 12:23:24

Photographed 06/19/10 in a small patch 150 yds southeast of the 45th/Granada entrance. First time I ever saw this plant.

Posted by: Julie - Northome, MN
on: 2011-04-27 16:26:49

I found a pink species of this plant on a balsam bog on our land south of Northome, MN.

Posted by: Barb - Two Harbors, MN
on: 2011-05-04 09:14:32

I found this plant in the ditch area on the side of the Flood Bay County Road, just north of Two Harbors, MN. I was on vacation and got interested in seeing how many MN wildflowers I could find and photograph.

Posted by: Mary - Elgin, mn
on: 2011-06-27 17:38:22

We have these in the woods on our acreage near Elgin, MN. First time I've seen them with flowers and been able to identify them.

Posted by: Linda - Washington County
on: 2011-07-07 16:58:21

Found a lot of this one blooming deep in the woods at Sunfish Lake Regional Park in Washington County on 7/7/11.

Posted by: Kate - (near) Tofte, MN
on: 2013-08-20 09:03:07

I've seen this flower twice this summer, on the Cascade River Trail, near Grand Marais, and on the Carlton Peak Trail, near Tofte. I had never seen the flower before this summer, so I was quite surprised to see it twice in the woods. Both woods were shady and moist. Pipsissewa came to mind when I first saw it, but then I looked it up in my field guide and found it to be pyrola, a new name and flower for me.

Posted by: Christine - Gooseberry Park - north of Duluth
on: 2014-08-09 10:40:27

Saw Pyrola yesterday on river trail going towards Lake Superior. Have never seen similar. My plant id group was kind enough to identify for me. Saw just one plant. South part of trail.

Posted by: Tony - Marysville Township, Wright County
on: 2015-06-29 10:01:22

I found Shinleaf for the first time on my property. It is in an area that we restored to forest in 1994 (formerly a corn field). We planted a mixture of hardwoods and Norway spruce on this hillslope. I didn't plant Shinleaf, and have never seen it elsewhere on the property, but I am happy to have it there.

Posted by: Aaron - Duluth, MN
on: 2015-07-07 11:07:35

I ran into a bunch of this on the grounds at my place of work, a small stand of a dozen birch trees, cohabiting with clover, daisy, valerian, and grasses. Many (hundreds in total?) in the area. I bent over to pluck some, thinking it was Lily of the Valley, which is invasive and smells great, so I pick it whenever I get the chance. It seemed a bit late for LotV, and I realized it was another plant when I picked the stem.

Posted by: greg - Superior trail near Temperance River
on: 2015-07-18 10:04:51

This was blooming near and on the trail as we approached Temperance river from the north.

Posted by: Donna - St Louis County
on: 2016-06-23 00:09:18

Found several Shinleaf plants near Floodwood in the woods next to the St Louis River

Posted by: Bob - Detroit Lakes
on: 2016-07-07 21:31:40

Found a white version of this flower on the North Country trail just east of the Tamarac Natl. Wildlife Refuge in NW Minnesota.

Posted by: Susan S - Duluth Minn. by Jay Cooke Park, high above St.Louis River
on: 2017-07-23 11:52:44

First time I've seen these - not many, but so fragrant! Under oaks and basswoods, and coincidentally the latter are are in bloom now too; the two fragrances (to my nose) are virtually identical. Just lovely.

Posted by: John J Pastor - McNair logging camp, 20 miles N of Two Harbors on Hwy 2
on: 2019-08-03 13:47:01

Now blooming (late July - beginning of August 2019) in the open/somewhat bushy area that was the old McNair logging camp and is now host to the Northern Blue butterfly and its host, bilberry. Blueberries and bilberries just ripening and Northern blues common. This pyrola is fairly common and scattered amongst the blueberries but generally in the shade of a willow or juneberry bush.

Posted by: Kim - Eagan
on: 2020-06-22 19:13:27

Found on the south side of Jensen lake in Eagan on June 22, 2020. Not sure of the species but it has white flowers. Very delicate.

Posted by: Erik O. - Afton, MN
on: 2020-06-26 13:30:25

Found several while visiting a private property. The soil is mesic to mesic-dry oak woods.

Posted by: Bill Karanikolas - Afton State Park
on: 2020-06-27 20:28:40

Saw it on a hillside trail leading from St. Croix River to open plateau above. Trail passed under tall trees. Everything on the ground was either green or brown except for a lone shinleaf.

Posted by: Lynette Peterson - Northern Becker County
on: 2021-06-08 19:11:47

I discovered this plant on my island 30 years ago. It has pink flowers. An old time resort owner told me it was used for medicine, hence the name shinleaf. It is growing in a wet, low and shady area and does not transplant well. But it returns yearly and is never disturbed.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-06-08 19:25:13

Lynette, if the flowers are pink, you may have Pyrola asarifolia (pink pyrola) instead.

Posted by: luciearl - Fairview Twp, Cass County
on: 2021-07-13 22:15:45

Found this blooming on my trail right in the middle of the path. We ususlly mow the paths, but did not get to it this year. Several patches growing in out path.

Posted by: Marlys C Ray - Brainerd
on: 2022-07-09 14:13:56

Found blooming in my back yard under red pine and maple trees, deep shade. There was one plant last year and several seen this year. Currently blooming now 7/9/2022.

Posted by: Sherman in Duluth - Under a Maple tree in my yard 25 ft from the street
on: 2022-07-28 21:23:25

I took my dog for a walk two days ago. When we returned home to the West edge of my yard near the "pile of rocks wall" that runs between my and my neighbor's woods, in the shade under a big Sugar Maple I saw three separate stalks of small white flowers. They were Pyrola elliptica growing among a number of flowerless Orange Hawkweed plants and some grasses. I removed some of the ground-hugging Hawkweed so I could see the Pyrola leaves and take a pic or two with my phone. I hadn't ever seen them in my yard before, but in the past have seen them somewhere near or in Duluth.

Posted by: Jessie Eastman - near Taylors Falls
on: 2024-07-11 11:09:13

This is a first siting for us! Found just along our driveway among spruce trees. Beautiful.

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