It is a strange plant. Triosteum, the horse-gentian. In the same family as the honeysuckles, the twinflower, the Viburnums, and the elderberry, it seems to have the characteristics of none of these kin. Instead, the horse-gentian grows in gorgeous solitude in the dry upland pasture or the dry wood lot, and produces a tall, stout stalk with long, broad, tapered leaves clasping the downy stem. In the axils of these oddly shaped leaves are clusters of long sepals enclosing the dark maroon, tubular flowers with their protruding, greenish pistils and the shorter stamens. The flowers are an uncommon color among flowers, and last but a short time in May and June.
Triosteum perfoliatum L.
June. Hilly, open woods. pastures.
When the flowers fall away, the long, leaf-like calyx segments remain in star-shaped formation around the stem, and by late summer when the pasture is dry and the woods are crackly with dry heat, the horse-gentian shows bright red-orange fruits in the axils of the leaves. The fruits are brilliant and attractive, but fall away too soon tor them to be used ornamentally.
The berries are often called wild coffee. More than a hundred years ago in Pennsylvania - and no doubt elsewhere, wherever the Triosteum grows - the dried and toasted fruits of "wild coffee" were used by some of the Pennsylvania Germans as an acceptable substitute tor that beverage; The name has persisted to this day.