Bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata) is a native perennial that usually grows in sandy or rocky, well-drained soil or in open sites from low to subalpine elevations (1,000 to 9,000 feet). There are three subspecies of C. umbellata, one of which can be found in every portion of North America.
A hairless plant, bastard toadflax is spread by rhizomes and often occurs in dense colonies. The erect stems are unbranched or sparingly branched. Alternate lance-shaped to oblong leaves occur along the entire length of the stem. The leaves are entire, thick and fleshy and may be stalkless or have very short stalks. Often a waxy white powder covers the leaves – they are glaucous.
Bastard toadflax flowers appear greenish white to purplish. The flowers have no petals, rather it is the sepals that resemble petals and give the flower its color. There are usually five sepals, but I found flowers with four and six sepals. The five stamens are attached to the sepals by tufts of hair. The anthers may be yellow or reddish-purple. The inflorescence is a small terminal cluster of flowers.
The drupe-like fruits are spherical with remnants of the sepals at the tip. Drupes are fleshy one-seeded fruits containing a stone and kernnel. The bastard toadflax fruits are edible but are small and thin-fleshed.
Bastard toadflax is hemiparasitic, that is, the plants are root parasites and can also photosynthesize. If there is a specificity of bastard toadflax as a root parasite it is unclear because the roots of over 200 species are parasitized.
Native Americans used preparations of bastard toadflax to treat colds, sore eyes and canker sores.
The genus name, Comandra, refers to the hairy attachment of the stamens to the sepals. In Greek “kome” means “hair” and “ander” is “man”. The species, umbellata, derives from Latin and refers to the shape of the inflorescence. Another common name for C. umbellata is false toadflax.
The bastard toadflax photographs accompanying this post were taken in May and early June at the peak of Timbered Crater (Shasta County CA), just north of Timbered Crater in Siskiyou County CA or along the PSEA Trail at Burney Falls State Park (Shasta County CA).