Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Woodland Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata)

Written by Diane Beauton

As beginner hikers we are discovering the hidden beauty of the back roads in our own community. What's most exciting is when you stumble across and are rewarded with a bit of nature that has a little more history behind it than most, such is the case with the Woodland Clarkia.

But keeping the reader in suspense let me tell you about the this needle in a haystack first.

This variety of Clarkia is cataloged as an annual herbaceous plant (simply put, it's an herb) that is native only to California. It is also known as Elegant Clarkia and Elegant Fairyfan for it's delicate and wispy petals.

This particular species name unguiculata means "little red claw or nail" and refers to the narrowing shape of the petals where they connect to the flower head.

Belonging to the Onagraceae (Evening Primrose Family), this plant is toxic,

so although this plant is cataloged as an herb, medical uses are unknown as is the possible hazards to your health. Naturalist consume at your own risk!

Its colorful, spidery-looking flowers showcase as a variety of colors, ranging from white to vibrant purple to soft pink to bold crimson. This wildflower would be a compliment in any garden.

Now for the 'needle in the haystack' of history. Its variety name Clarkia is named after Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The following excerpt is taken from one of there journals (original spelling) after making it to the Pacific Coast in 1805:

"I met with a singular plant today in blume," wrote Meriwether Lewis on June 1, 1806, "of which I preserved a specemine. It grows on the steep sides of the fertile hills near this place." He described the root, stem, branches and leaves, and finally the parts of the delicate flower:

...The corolla superior consists of four pale perple petals which are tripartite, the central lobe the largest and all terminate obtusely; they are inserted with a long and narrow claw on the top of the germ, are long, smooth & deciduous. There are two distinct sets of stamens the 1st or principal consists of four, the filaments of which are capillary, erect, inserted on the top of the germ alternately with the petals, equal short, membranous; the anthers are also four each being elivated with it's fillament, they are linear and reather flat, erect sessile, cohering at the base, membranous, longitudinally furrowed, twise as long as the fillament [and] naked, and of a pale perple color. the second set of stamens are very minute, are also four, and placed within and opposite to the petals. These are scarcely persceptable while the 1st are large and conspicuous; the filaments are capillary equal, very short, white and smooth. the anthers are four, oblong, beaked, erect, cohering at the base, membranous, shorter than the fillaments, white, naked and appear not to form pollen....This has the appearance of a monopetallous flower growing from the center of a four petalled corollar."

Above is the dried specimen of the "singular plant" that Lewis collected and was named in 1814 by botanist Frederick Pursh. named Clarkia pulchella.

We had a difficult time identifying this one so we requested the help from another plant lover who identified it for us. We want to thank Sharon Nixon a.k.a. 'Birdmom' for her assistance.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article! And a big THANK YOU to Sharon for her assistance.


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