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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

Pink Family (Caryophyllaceae)

The pink family is moderately large, consisting of 93 genera and 2,400 species scattered throughout the north temperate zone; many are found in northern Mediterranean countries. The family is well represented in our Northwest. While many of the European species are colorful, ours are mostly small white flowers. Typically, plants in the pink family have narrow, opposed leaves that originate from swollen nodes along the stem. The flowers are usually five-petaled and the ends of the petals are often notched or fringed. In some species the sepals coalesce to form a swollen tube below the flowering part. Ornamental plants and cut flowers, especially species of Dianthus (carnations, sweet william, for example), have considerable economic importance. A few of our Caryophyllaceae are weeds, including several garden ornamentals imported from Europe that now grow wild in the western United States. These include bouncingbet (Saponaria officianalis), babysbreath (Gypsophila paniculata), chickweed (Stellaria media) and several others. The scientific name Caryophyllaceae is derived from the Greek word for the clove pink, a relative of the carnation that smells like cloves; in fact, the Greek word for cloves and for the plant are the same, garyphallo. This word, in turn, evolved from the Greek words karyon for “nut” and phyllon for “leaf,” combined to describe a clove—a dried bud of the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum).
The Sticky Chickweed, Pseudostellaria jamesiana, (formerly Stellaria jamesiana), shown on the left, is a common little 5-petaled May-blooming flower usually found in shaded areas. The name chickweed comes from Europe—apparently the plants really are a favorite food of poultry. The sticky chickweed is easily identified, for the leaves are prominently ridged and the petals notched. Edwin James (1797 -1861) was a surgeon and naturalist with the 1820 Long expedition that explored Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

Field chickweed, Cerastium arvense  (Torr.) W. A. Weber & R. L. Hartm. (right) is a common, widely distributed wildflower often seen growing in open fields (the species name, arvense, implies a cultivated field or meadow). Related cerastium cultivars, with similar flowers, are often used as border plants in ornamental gardens.

Longstalk stellaria, Stellaria longipes Goldie (left) is a long-stemmed (longipes) circumpolar, moist meadow and streamside plant. It grows in all of the the western mountain states north to Alaska , in all Canadian provinces, and the islands of the  Arctic archipelago, and in Greenland. Stellaria longipes has been studied extensively at a molecular and chromosomal level as it apparently represents a polyploid hybrid of two diploid progenitors.

Uinta sandwort, Eremogone kingii (S. Watson) Ikonn. var. glabrescens (S. Watson) Dorn (right). The Uinta sandwort (formerly Arenaria kingii) is a common, low, spreading plant that grows at all elevations on rocky sagebrush covered slopes and gravelly ridges, blooming from late spring well into the summer. Brown anthers borne on thin filaments overlie each petal and give the five-petaled flowers a spotted appearance. Until recently, this and similar plants were included in genus Arenaria (from the Latin word arena meaning “sand” reflecting the plants’ preferred habitat). This plant’s species name honors geologist Clarence King (1842-1901) who surveyed the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin, in the 1860s. Eremogone, from two Greek words, means “solitary seed.”

Nuttall's (or brittle) sandwort, Minuartia nuttallii (Pax) Briq.  var. nuttallii (left) tends to form well demarcated clumps, growing from mid- to alpine elevations on exposed sandy or gravelly ground. There are several varieties; this one is characterized by its sharp-pointed sepals and leaves. The leaves are given off at nodes (a characteristic of the Caryophyllaceae in general) and because its stems are brittle, they break off at the nodes when plucked.  As one or another variety, Nuttall's sandwort grows from Alaska, south as far as New Mexico. The genus Arenaria has been revised in the recent past, and this plant may still be found listed in guide books as Arenaria nuttallii Pax.

Bladder campion or common catchfly, Silene vulgaris (Moench) Garke (right)  is most often seen growing on disturbed ground. It is easily identified by its deeply cleft white petals and the large, green-striped, inverted tear-shaped involucrum that is responsible for its common name, bladder campion--a name shared with several similar plants.. The common catchfly (formerly Silene curcubalus Wibel) is a a Eurasian import that is now found in most of the United States (except for a few southern states) and in most of Canada. The common name catchfly refers to the sticky involucrums common to this and a few related genera.

Parry’s Silene Silene parryi (left), blooms from early summer on.  A rangy, long stemmed, plant, with a cluster of basal lanceolate leaves, it may be further identified by its notched petals protruding from bottle-shaped tubes formed by  five joined, pointed, sepals. As the flowers age,  the ten longitudinal green stripes.turn purple and its  petals point outward. Charles Christopher Parry (1823-1890), for whom this species is named, was an English-born American botanist.

Scouler’s silene, Silene scouleri Hook. Scouler’s silene (right) has at least three, and usually more, pairs of broadly lanceolate opposing leaves that become smaller and farther apart as they ascend the stem. Higher up there are two or more clusters of long-tubed flowers with hairy, sticky, fusiform calyces. Scouler’s silene is found mostly at lower altitudes. Th species name honors John Scouler (1804-1871), a ship’s surgeon who came to America in 1825 with David Douglas. Douglas remained, and Scouler returned with his ship to England, having found several new plants during his brief stay in the Northwest.

Menzies silene, Silene menziesii Hook. (left) .Menzies silene has clustered small flowers each with five lobed white petals. While the calyces are prominent, they are not so much so as in other plants in this genus.The petals have two inner tab-like appendages at their base, a common feature of flowers of this genus, although not always easily seen.This small plant favors open woods, growing to fairly high elevations. It is found throughout the West, south to Arizona and New Mexico, and north to Alaska. Its name honors Archibald Menzies, surgeon-naturalist with the Vancouver Expedition.


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