One More Belly Flower


Nama demissa


Sorry that I keep going back and forth between Death Valley and the Potomac Gorge. I still have lots to post about that trip, but things are happening fast at home, so the blog posts are going to bounce around for awhile yet.

So, back to Death Valley… Purplemat is not particularly showy, given that it stands no more than three inches above the ground, but it is pretty up close. There are two varieties, demissa and covillei; without more detailed pictures I can’t be sure, but I believe the plant shown here is the former.



penny for scale




About the botanic name: ITIS accepts the specific epithet demissa, and demissum as an unaccepted orthographic variant.  Nonetheless, you’ll see demissum often on the internet. Also, other sources place this plant in the Hydrophyllaceae.

view from above

Two Blazing Stars


Mentzelia species

Not unlike the case with cryptanthas, there are many species of Mentzelia (87 in North America), and they can be difficult to differentiate.

But not impossible. Based largely on location data from Calflora and BONAP, I’ve narrowed it down to M. albicaulis and M. obscura. Given that the former is found in a much larger area, and there are many more sightings of it in the Death Valley area (per Calflora), I’m placing odds on it being M. albicaulis (aka whitestem blazing star).



Death Valley blazing star, aka reflexed blazing star
Mentzellia reflexa

Death Valley blazing star is easier to identify, mostly because of the leaves.


Calflora considers in endemic to California, though BONAP shows it in several contiguous Mojave Desert counties, including ones in southern Nevada and northwest Arizona. At any rate, its range is much more limited than the first species.


All Mentzelias under discussion are annual forbs, though there are perennials and one vine in the genus.

Hidden Flowers


Cryptantha (and maybe other) species
aka cat’s eyes; popcorn flowers


According to extensive research done at the San Diego State University, there are 130 species of cryptantha in North America. And by “cryptantha” I mean all the species formerly placed in the genus Cryptantha, which has been split into five genera (the other four are Emerocarya, Greeneocharis, Johnstonella, and Oreocarya). All of these are native to the western US.

Within those 130 species are 31 varieties. For the most part, the species are differentiated by details of the nutlets, which typically range in size from half a millimeter to as much as several millimeters. Even the large ones require a damn good hand lens, or better yet a dissecting microscope.

My interest in identifying and classifying wildflowers does not go this far, so uncharacteristically I will be content saying that I found several different species of cryptanthas (not necessarily Cryptanthas) during my recent Death Valley trip.

To give a sense of scale, the above close-up view was taken from this specimen (note the penny):

which might – might – be Cryptantha muricata (pointed cryptantha).

These are belly flowers for sure!  Here’s a different species:





And a third:












And winning the “wait, are those even flowers?!” prize:


The flowers in these two pictures (above and right) are less than one millimeter across.




Not a Cryptantha


Amsinckia tessellata
checker (or western or bristly) fiddleneck
aka devil’s lettuce


After looking at so many cryptanthas, I was sure that’s what this had to be. There are two yellow-flowering cryptanthas, this must be one of them, right?

Nope. It is in the borage family, though, so it’s not too distantly related. It’s an annual, with a range north and west from New Mexico into British Columbia, and, strangely, Missouri.

I thought I was done with this, then stumbled across references to other Amsinckia species. There are eleven species, about eight of which are in Death Valley. Not nearly as tricky to identify as the cryptanthas, but not so straightforward, either. It’s possible that the species pictured here is actually A. menziesii var. intermedia. I’m guessing it isn’t, though, based on my principle “when in doubt, choose the common one over the rare one.”  To confuse matters a little more (because that’s what taxonomy does), I think this is A. tessellata var. tessellata, rather than the less common variety gloriosa.