After a long day of hiking, it is tempting to not follow up on a plant Leonard and I see that is off the trail. Usually it is something familiar and known. Occasionally though it is, as birders say, a “lifer” – an entirely new species for us. In May, Leonard and I ended a day of exploring in the Trinity Shasta National Forest by walking the trail to Potem Falls (Shasta County CA). Although I saw a group of interesting flowers on a steep slope below the trail, I was tired and almost did not climb down to investigate. Thankfully I did because it was a “lifer” for both Leonard and I – sticky Chinese houses (Collinsia tinctoria).
Sticky Chinese houses are native annuals endemic to California. They are found in open, dry, rocky places below 6,000′ in the western Sierra Nevada and northern Coast Ranges of California.
Members of the Figwort Family, sticky Chinese houses grow between 1/2 and 2 feet in height. The ovate to lance-shaped leaves have short or no petioles (stems) and are arranged in opposite pairs on the stem. The leaves are sticky, stain brownish and are green or can be reddish. The day after observing and photographing the sticky Chinese houses, I noticed that my hands were stained brown after handling and photographing the plant.
Sticky Chinese houses flowers are arranged in pagoda-like, well-separated whorls at the end of the stem. The flowers are variable in color. They are mostly white with light purple accents to primarily purple. The accents are a combination of purplish dots, stripes and squiggles. The lower lip of the flower in this species has markings while another species of Chinese houses has unmarked lower lips. There are four stamens and a style.
Sticky Chinese houses are also commonly known as tincture plant.
The genus name, Collinsia, honors an early American botanist, Zacheus Collins (1764 – 1831).
Lesson learned: Check out all unknown plants.