Vernal pools, those seasonal bodies of water (see my 6-6-2012 post) so common in our area (Modoc County CA), are beginning to dry as summer approaches. Drying wet flats and vernal pools support a host of very small wildflowers. To really appreciate these pretty little gems one must get down close to the ground – definitely worth the effort.
Bach’s downingia (Downingia bacigalupii) forms blue/purple masses in drying pools and flats. This annual is a native of the Northeastern California sagebrush steppe and can also be found in the contiguous areas of Oregon, Nevada and Idaho. Some sources list Bach’s downingia as a rare species, however it grows prolifically in the low areas of our pastures.
The five petals of Bach’s downingia, also commonly called bacigalupis downingia or Bach’s calicoflower, are arranged in two “lips” on the top of a long pedicel-like (stalk bearing a single flower) inferior ovary. The upper lip is formed by two petals and is a solid color. Three petals are joined to make the lower lip, which has two orange-yellow spots on a white field. A long, hooked, blue striped anther column towers above the petals, looking much like a periscope.
I was surprised to discover that Bach’s downingia was first named in the literature as late as 1962 by John H. Weiler. Weiler chose to honor Rimo Bacigalupi, a 20th Century California botanist who was the curator of the Jepson Herbarium at the University of California in Berkeley, with the species name of Bach’s downingia. (The Jepson Herbarium is definitely worth a visit and is one of my favorite stops in Berkeley.) The genus was names after A.J. Downing, an American horticulturist from the 1800s.
These Bach’s downingia were photographed in our pastures near Lookout CA.