Torrey's Cat's-eye

Cryptantha torreyana

Species distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Small, white flowers with yellow throats
  • Coiled flower heads tend to be paired
  • Nutlets have a longitudinal groove down the center
  • Foliage covered with stiff, straight, long hairs

Family Characteristics: 

  • Predominantly blue flowers (sometimes pink, purple, yellow, or white) with 5 flaring lobes
  • Coiled flowering stalk, like a scorpion’s tail, with flowers blooming on the upper surface and the lower flowers open first
  • Foliage covered in rough hairs
  • Leaves are alternate, simple, and entire
  • Fruit consists of 4 nutlets (occasionally fewer)

Growth habitat: 

Annual, 10–40 cm tall, lacking a tuft of leaves at the base.

Leaves and stems: 

Foliage covered with stiff, straight, long hairs that often arise from low bumps.  Hairs are spreading or flat.  Erect stems are simple or branched.  Alternate leaves are linear to narrowly oval, 0.3–5 cm long, with entire margins.  

Flowers: 

Small, white flowers (1 mm across) with yellow throats in coiled flower heads that tend to be paired.  Each flower consists of 5 tiny petals that fuse at the base into a tube with 5 bulges at the throat.  Flower heads typically emerge somewhat above the leafier part of the plant.  Hairs on the base of the petals (calyx) are more or less straight.

Roots: 

Taproot.

Seeds: 

Small, egg-shaped nutlets, 1–2.5 mm long, are smooth and shiny.  Nutlets have a longitudinal groove down the center of the backside and forks near the tip.  Nutlets are not compressed.  Green calyx below the nutlets, 4–8 mm long, has stiff hairs that lay flat and spreading bristles.

Habitat preferences: 

Dry to moist, sparsely vegetated soil of open forests at low- to mid-elevations.

Interesting facts: 

The name cryptantha refers to the presence of flowers that never open and appear hidden.  Species is named after John Torrey, an American botanist.  Native American groups crushed and boiled some Cryptantha species for external use as a lotion for itching, boils, and fatigued limbs.

Biological Classification: