Desert Figwort

While walking along the Thomas Wright Battlefield Trail at Lava Beds National Monument (Siskiyou County CA) last month, Leonard and I found many desert figworts (Scrophularia desertorum). This perennial native is found amid rocky slopes and dry areas in the mountains of California and Nevada, between roughly 2,500 and 10,000 feet in elevation. The plants generally inhabit crevices amid the boulders.

A member of the Figwort Family, desert figwort produces clusters of erect stems from a rhizome. The four-angled, lightly hairy stem grows between 2 and 4 feet in height.

The opposite desert figwort leaves have petioles (stalks) and are toothed. The blades are triangular to lance-shaped.

The wide-open, terminal inflorescence of desert figwort has many glandular, hairy branches and matures from below upward (pannicle). Five green sepals form the calyx. Five maroon petals form the corolla. The top two lobed petals project forward forming a “hood” over two vertical lateral lobes and a central deflexed petal. The flower has a club-shaped sterile stamen (staminode) that is visible in the flower mouth and 4 declined fertile stamens. The stigma is rounded.

Desert figwort fruits are capsules filled with many plump seeds.

Scrophularia, the genus name, refers to knobs on the rhizomes of some species. The knobs were thought to resemble scrophula, a tubercular condition of human lymph nodes. The rhizomal knobs of this genus were believed to cure scrophula.


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