Lesser Baby Innocence

Plant identification books all seems to cover the same group of plants – usually the most common, invasive  or spectacular species. Meanwhile so many other beautiful wildflowers, particularly the tiny ones, are rarely mentioned. What is needed is a book on “teeny white flowers”. When one examines these miniscule wildflowers they are beautiful – on a very small scale.

One such tiny flower is lesser baby innocence (Tonella tenella), a native annual found along the West Coast from British Columbia to California. This small member of the Plantain Family prefers moist, rocky soil in the forest understory and is often shaded by ponderosa pines, oaks and big leaf maples.

Lesser baby innocence, I have no idea where this common name comes from, has a weak, spindly, upright or prostrate stem. The shape of the opposite leaves change as one proceeds up the stem: lower leaves are broadly ovate and have petioles (stems), middle leaves are divided into three lobes while the upper leaves are stalkless and generally without lobes. The five-petaled, two-lipped flower has four lobes on on lip, one lobe on the other lip and is white with purple or blue spots or streaks. The flowers have long pedicles (stalks) and four white stamens. Lesser baby innocence flowers are self-pollinating or can cross pollinate, often with the help of bees. The fruit is a globose capsule containing two to four seeds.

Another common name for this little beauty is small-flowered tenella, a name that better describes the flower but is nowhere near as colorful as lesser baby innocence. The species name, tenella, means “delicate” and accurately describes the plant and its flower. Other scientific names for lesser baby innocence are Collinsia tenella and Tonella collinsoides.

These lesser baby innocence were photographed below the falls along Burney Creek in McArthur Burney State Park (Shasta County CA).


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