Spreading Groundsmoke

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.

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