Fringed Water Plantain

Fringed water plantain (Damasonium californium)  inhabits sloughs, marshes and shallow water pools, ponds and lakes as well as slow-drying vernal pools. Since spring officially ended yesterday, this will be the last post in my recent series of vernal (spring) pool plants. (See also Bach’s downingia and needle navarretia.) A synonym for D. califormicum is Machaerocarpus californicus.  Fringed water plantain is also commonly referred to as star water plantain.

Fringed water plantain is native to Northeastern California, adjacent areas of Oregon and east to Southwestern Idaho. It can now also be found in Washington, Nevada and Montana. Because of its higher water requirements, this perennial is usually classified as an aquatic plant. The plant roots are underwater but the leaves and flowers are emergent (at the surface).

One to several flower stems and numerous basal leaves arise from an underwater rhizome. The leaves have a long petiole (stalk) and are oblong with parallel veins. The inflorescence is a panicle (branched and blooming from the bottom up)  at the end of a scape (leafless flower stalk growing directly from the ground and as long as or longer than the leaf petioles). Fringed water plantain flowers have three free, sharply toothed, white petals with a yellow blotch near the base, three sepals, six stamens and six to fifteen pistils (female reproductive organ) which are arranged in a whorl. The seeds are contained in ovoid achenes (single seeded dry fruits) with a beak at one end. The achenes are tightly arranged in a wheel-like head.

Although other species that are colloquially call plantains have medicinal or other uses, fringed water plantain does not.

The word plantain comes from the Latin “planta” meaning “sole of the foot”. To someone the leaf of plantains resembled footprints. Someone has a much better imagination than I do.

These fringed water plantain plants were photographed in a long-lived vernal pool along County Road 91 in Modoc County CA.

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