Many of the species in the Gayophytum genus are very small and difficult to distinguish. I found a member of this genus near Little Medicine Lake (Siskiyou County CA). The wispy plants were almost invisible against the bare, dry ground. Unable to take a decent location photograph, I plucked a plant, placed it in a cooler and took it home to photograph. As a result, the plants in the photographs are not as fresh as could be desired.
I believe this Gayophytum is G. diffusum, commonly known as spreading groundsmoke because the spindly plants resemble a puff of smoke lying along the ground. A native plant, spreading groundsmoke is a member of the evening primrose family. It can be found on open slopes, grasslands, sagebrush steppes and other dry ground in the Western States and British Columbia.
Spreading groundsmoke is a spindly plant with branching, reddish, needle-thin stems with tiny, sparce, lance-shaped leaves. The single white to pink flowers are less than 1/4″ wide with four petals. The bracts are sharply reflexed (bent back). Long sausage-shaped pods contain the seeds and are constricted between the seeds. When mature, spreading groundsmoke split open releasing the plumed seeds.
The genus name Gayophytum translates as “gay’s plant” and was named for Claude Gay (1800-1873), a French botanist.