Synthyris cordata is sometimes considered synonymous with Synthyris reniformis, or sometimes asserted as being Synthyris reniformis var. cordata. Synthyris cordata is distinguished from Synthyris reniformis by narrower leaves and unicellular hairs on the inner corolla tube. John Schenk, in the article, Sorting out Oregon’s Synthyris (PDF), points out that research indicates that today’s species represents a distinct lineage that originated from Synthyris reniformis. Adding to the complicated nomenclature of this species is the fact that Synthyris has recently been moved from Scrophulariaceae to Plantaginaceae.
Today’s species is endemic to southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. It is commonly known as serpentine snow queen, as it grows in decomposing serpentine soils. Snow queen is a reference to it being one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. Although the flowers are very small, they possess a humble beauty. Each inflorescence gently curves upwards, holding 5-10 light blue, bell-shaped flowers. Two darker blue stamens peek out just beyond the edge of the corolla. When these perfect flowers become pollinated, they form capsules with two valves that hinge open. These valves are typical of the genus, providing its name (syn = together, and thyris = little door).
Synthyris cordata has clumps of basal leaves that are somewhat variable in shape. They are described as ovate to widely ovate, with a base lobed to cordate and a tip acute to obtuse. The epithet cordata in this species’ name refers to heart-shaped leaves, while the epithet reniformis in Synthyris reniformis refers to leaves that are kidney-shaped. I can’t quite come up with it, but I think there must be an easy mnemonic involving hearts and kidneys that could help us remember how to tell the two species apart. Anyone want to give it a try?