Desert Fivespot

Leonard and I spent the last week tent camping in Death Valley. It was very dry with no super bloom this year. However, I still managed to find many new species which will provide fodder for new posts.

One of Death Valley’s “iconic” wildflowers is desert fivespot (Eremalche rotundifolia, formerly Malvastrum rotundifolia). This distinctive little plant seems to feature prominently in many Death Valley publications.

Desert fivespot flowers close at night and only open during the day. The blossom resembles a globe with the petals never fully opening at the top, perhaps to reduce evaporation. When Leonard and I first saw this specimen at the Fall Canyon trailhead (Death Valley National Park CA), it was tightly closed. Returning several hours later the flower was open and ready to be photographed. (I am holding the flower but did not pick or harm it.)

A member of the Mallow Family (Malvaceae), desert fivespot has many other colloquial names including lantern flower, Chinese lantern and false mallow. This annual, native grows below 4,000 feet in the washes and flats of the Mojave and Sonoran (Colorado) deserts of Southeast California, southern Nevada and western Arizona.

Usually less than a foot high, desert fivespot is covered in conspicuous hairs. The few green to red leaves are round to heart-shaped with a scalloped margin.

The hollyhock-style flowers grow singly on an erect stem. The five rose to purplish petals curve inward. The inside center of the blossom is a creamy white with a deep purple blotch at the base of each petal. There are many stamens fused into a column.

Desert fivespot has many carpels (fruits) arranged in a ring. The carpels are thin, flat, reticulate near the edges and black at maturity.

The genus name comes from one of the many forms of the Greek root word “erem” which means a lonely place, uninhabited, a place of solitude – a desert. In Latin the specific designation refers to the rounded leaves.

I am delighted to finally see desert fivespot in person.

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2 Responses to Desert Fivespot

  1. kfbenjamin says:

    Beautiful. You amaze me with your knowledge.


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