Psilocarphus brevissimus var. brevissimus

Today’s photograph is courtesy of local field botanist Dr. Terry McIntosh. Terry took this image near Princeton, British Columbia in early September a couple years ago. Thank you!

Psilocarphus brevissimus has two recognized varieties: the Californian var. multiflorus and the far more widespread var. brevissimus. The latter can be found throughout western North America (see distribution map, but note incorrect absence from British Columbia), Baja California and parts of South America (Argentina and Chile). The reason for the disjunct (or widely separated) distribution isn’t addressed in the resources I’ve read, but given the habitat requirements of the species, it can be imagined. Psilocarphus brevissimus is a species found along the drying margins of seasonally-inundated sites (like vernal pools and ditches). Long-distance seed dispersal via waterfowl or shorebirds seems the likely explanation.

Known commonly as short woollyheads or (my preference) woolly marbles, Psilocarphus brevissimus var. brevissimus is rare in some parts of its range, including British Columbia where it is a red-listed taxon restricted to the Princeton area. It is a low-growing annual, ranging from 2-10cm (1-4in.) tall.

Michael Charters’ excellent California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations provides a meaning for Psilocarphus: the Greek psilos means “bare” or “naked” while karphos means “a splinter, twig, chaff, straw”. This is in reference to the disk flowers in this genus not being subtended by chaffy scales (likely in comparison with a genus that is similar in appearance). The specific epithet means “very short” (same word root as “brevity”).

A few additional photographs and illustrations are available via the Alberta Native Plant Council: Psilocarphus brevissimus var. brevissimus (PDF).

Psilocarphus brevissimus var. brevissimus

7 responses to “Psilocarphus brevissimus var. brevissimus”

  1. Wendy Cutler

    I’d love to come across that plant, but I’m not a hiker, so I guess that’s not going to happen. Nice to see it then in that lovely photo.
    Thanks too for the link to the plant names dictionary. I tried to “Pin” it, but it doesn’t seem to have any usable photos, so Pinterest won’t do it. I had to add the text link in the description of another dictionary I have pinned.

  2. elizabeth a airhart

    daniel -i have had woolly marbles in my woollyhead all my life

  3. Richard Old

    Nice to see such an excellent image of an inconspicuous species. The saccate receptacle bracts which enclose the corollas of this and Micropus are unusual and very interesting under magnification. They are worthy of a photo in their own right.

  4. Gabrielle

    Dearest Elizabeth, your comments are as enjoyable as Botany photo of the Day!

  5. Jessica

    That’s a delightful portrait of a plant that could easily be overlooked because of its size. Sweet!
    Love this site.

  6. drbob

    Psilocarphus is just one of many vernal pool genera with amphitropical distributions. Others include Lasthenia, Downingia, Navarretia, Legenere, Plagiobothrys, and Blennosperma. Several of these genera have marvelously coevolved pollenation biology, with several families of solitary bees. In most of these genera there are 6-10 California species and a single South American representative. Ledyard Stebbins used to go on about the “constipated sea gull” hypothesis to explain these disjunctions, and then point out that nearly all of the South American taxa are self-pollenating.

  7. Cyndy Henderson

    Danielle, I agree with you. Elizabeth’s comments are such a delight!

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