E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb.
three-leaved goldthread (threeleaf goldthread)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Virginia Skilton  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #3411)

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Distribution of Coptis trifolia
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Species Information

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Perennial herb from a yellow to orange rhizome; stems erect, 3-12 cm tall, not elongating in fruit, minutely-hairy above.
Evergreen, all basal, stalked, 2-11 cm long, 3-parted, the leaflets unstalked or short-stalked, egg-shaped, 1-2 cm long, slightly lobed, toothed, bases wedge-shaped.
Inflorescence 1-flowered, erect; bracts minute; flower stalks 1-4 cm long; petals 5-7, half the length of sepals, club-shaped, fleshy, hollowed and with nectary near tip; sepals usually 5, whitish, spreading, oblanceolate to egg-shaped or elliptic, 4-11 mm long, 1-4 mm wide; stamens 30-60.
Follicles, 4 to 7, spreading, elliptic, 4-8 mm long, on stalks equal to or longer than fruit; beaks straight but hooked at tip, 2-4 mm long; seeds dark, ellipsoid, 1-1.5 mm long, appearing wrinkled.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Habitat / Range

Wet forests and bogs in the lowland and montane zones; frequent W of the Coast-Cascade Mountains in BC, rare eastward; amphiberingian, N to AK, E to NF, and S to ME, WV, and MN; Siberia, Japan.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Ecological Framework for Coptis trifolia

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 0 438 2120
Slope Gradient (%) 0 10 75
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
0 35 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
1 6 8
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: AT(1), BWBS(5), CWH(138), ESSF(13), ICH(35), MH(11), MS(2), PP(1), SBS(3), SWB(1)

Ecological Indicator Information

A shade­intolerant, submontane to montane, Asian and transcontinental North American forb. Occurs on very moist to wet, nitrogen-poor soils within boreal cool temperate and cool mesothermal climates. Scattered in open-canopy coniferous forests on gleysolic or organic soils on water­receiving sites; common in nutrient­poor wetlands. Oxylophytic species charac­teristic of Mor humus forms.

SourceIndicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia (Information applies to coastal locations only)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is not evaluated, unknown or variable.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Coptis groenlandica (Oeder) Fern.
Coptis trifolia subsp. groenlandica (Oeder) HultTn
Coptis trifolia subsp. trifolia
Coptis trifolia var. groenlandica (Oeder) Fassett

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References