HomeNext | Previous | Index | Purchase book

Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

Figwort (Snapdragon) family, Scrophulariaceae (continued)

Monkeyflowers bear no resemblance to monkeys, although there may be some that suggest a monkey’s face. The name Mimulus is derived from  the Latin mimus (mime), possibly referring to a monkey’s antics. Ours bloom in the summer near seep springs, on stream banks, and in moist meadows at higher elevations. Common characteristics include opposing leaves, calyces and  petals that form  a tube, petals opening outward to form a three-lobed lower, and a two-lobed upper lip. The opening into the flower tube is obscured in some species by a furry swelling on the "palate" of the lower lip. Although listed under Scrophulariaceae, taxonomists now believe that they should be Phrymaceae (lopseed family) as indicated here.

(Phrymaceae, Lopseed family)

Lewis’s (or Purple) Monkeyflower, Mimulus lewisii Pursh, has large, rose-colored blooms, accentuated by a red-spotted yellow palate on the central petal of the lower lip. It commonly grows along mountain streams, blooming at least as high as tree-line. The species name honors Captain Meriwether Lewis who collected the plant near Lemhi Pass on the border of today's Montana and Idaho, on August 12, 1805; it grows in the same place today. It was named by Frederick Pursh (1774-1820), a German botanist working in Philadelphia. In 1813 Pursh published a flora of North American plants, based in part on the expedition's material.

Sub-alpine (or large mountain) monkeyflower,  Mimulus tilingii Regel (right, left) is a yellow-flowered plant that, like Lewis's monkeyflower, is often framed against a watery background. The flowers (right) are about 1" in diameter and may be identified by their bright yellow petals and a furry two-humped, variably red-spotted "palate." Mimulus tilingii grows close to the ground, often in a compact clump (left), as high as treeline.. Heinrich Sylvester Theodor Tiling (1818-1871), a physician/botanist with the Russian American company collected the sub-alpine mimulus near Nevada City, CA, in 1868.

The common yellow mimulus, Mimulus guttatus DC., (not shown) looks so much like the subalpine plant that the two species are hard to tell apart. It grows near seep springs and other moist places, from sea-level to mid-elevations. A taller, rangier plant. its flowers appear identical to those of the sub-alpine monkey flower, so much so that one would expect them to be variants of the same species. Recent studies, however,   show that they are genetically separate. Meriwether Lewis found the yellow mimulus, Mimulus guttatus, on the Blackfoot River during the expedition's return journey, a few miles above present-day Missoula, MT on July 4, 1806.

The Primrose (or Yellow creeping) Monkeyflower, Mimulus primuloides, Benth. (left) is so small—the one illustrated here was less than 1/4" in diameter—that one must look hard to see how attractive the plants are. Its flowers are characterized by notched petals and maroon-to-crimson spots on the three lower petals. The plants spread by means of creeping stems ("rhizomes") forming mats in moist moutain meadows—the ground is often completely covered with matted ovo-lanceolate leaves. The plants are found at least as high as treeline in the mountains of all of the far western states.

Musk-flower, Mimulus moschatus Douglas ex Lindl. (right), named for its odor, is a plant of the Northwest (although, interestingly, a disjunct population grows on the northeastern seaboard, north to Labrador). The plants usually grow near streams or in other moist places. Because the flowers are obscurely lipped, and the petals have no red markings, the plants may not be recognized as monkey-flowers when first seen.

Dwarf purple mimulus, Mimulus nanus Hook. & Arn. (left) is a foothill plant. Its striking little flowers have variable and distinctive dark markings. Its appearance is so unique that one should be able to identify the plant at first glance. They may grow in such numbers as to turn the ground purple.

Suksdorf's mimulus,  Mimulus suksdorfii Gray  (right) is a tiny mimulus. Its flowers, greatly magnified here, measure only about 1/8 inch across. It is found in most states west of the Dakotas and Texas. This plant was formerly listed on this site as Mimetanthe pilosa (Benth) Greene--a small mimulus-like plant with much the same distribution. The reddish calyx helps with proper identification. (Photographed at the Craters of the Moon National Monument).

HomeNext | Previous | Index | Purchase book