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.