Purple Chinese Houses

Chinese purple houses (Collinsia heterophylla) have an inflorescence consisting of interrupted whorls of flowers arising from leaf axils. Someone with an imagination thought the inflorescence resembled fairytail Chinese pagodas, thus the common name.

This annual native, a member of the Plantain Family (Plantaginaceae), grows in shady places above 3,000 feet in California and Northern Baja.

Purple Chinese houses stems are simple or diffusely branched and can be green or purplish. The opposite, lance-shaped leaves are slightly toothed. The lower leaves have short petioles (stalks) while the upper leaves are sessile (no stalks or clasping the stem). At the end of the reproductive cycle the leaves turn a deep red.

The pea-like flowers have five petals arranged into two lips. The upper lip had two lobes and is white to lavender and spotted with a wine color. The three-lobed lower lip is purple to rose purple. There are four stamens and one style enclosed in the central lobe of the lower lip. Occasionally the entire flower appears white.

The fruits are flattened, two-valved capsules. Purple Chinese houses seeds need light as a part of their germination process and will not germinate if covered too deeply with soil.

The genus name honors the botanist Zaccheus Collins (1764 – 1831). The species name, refers to the two different types of leaves on this plant (from the Greek heter/different and phyllon/leaf).

These purple Chinese houses were blooming along California Highway 140 between Mariposa CA and Yosemite National Park in April.

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7 Responses to Purple Chinese Houses

  1. Beautiful :)) I have seen these lovely blossoms hiking on trails at Circle X Ranch (Park) in Malibu. Dawn

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  2. tonytomeo says:

    This is available from Annies Annuals, and supposedly does quite well within refined gardens. I suspect that what is available is a cultivar or a variety. Like many plants that survive through long summers by dispersing their roots very extensively, this one probably does not do so well potted unless watered regularly, but would likely be susceptible to rot if watered too much. That is a common theme with such plants.

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    • gingkochris says:

      I noticed that many outlets sell Chinese houses seeds.

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      • tonytomeo says:

        I was not aware of that! I had not looked for them. I was impressed to see the plants, even though they were rather dinky. Seed would be more practical for something that likely prefers to grow where the seed land. (Well, you know how some of those plants are sensitive to transplant.)

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