Devil’s Spineflower

Devil’s spineflower (Chorizanthe rigida) is a very small plant that is often more conspicuous dead than alive. The spiny bracts surrounding the flowers become extremely rigid and dark and the short stem becomes woody. The plant skeleton, with its sharp spines, often remains in place for a year or more after this native annual dies.

In life, devil’s spineflower has woolly leaves with long stalks. A member of the Buckwheat Family (Polygonaceae), the tiny, yellow-green devil’s spineflower flowers are concealed by the spiny bracts so that a magnifying glass is needed to see them. The bracts can be over an inch long. The leaves wither soon after the plant flowers.

Devil’s spineflower has many other common names including skeleton plant, spiny herb and spiny chorizanthe. They grow on gravelly or rocky flats below 6,000 feet and can be found in the deserts of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah as well as northwest Mexico.

The genus name comes from Greek (chorizo/to divide and anthos/flower) and means “divided flowers”. This refers to the plant’s divided corolla. The species designation, rigida, means rigid in Latin, which the spines are.

Leonard and I did not see any green devil’s spineflowers on our trip to Death Valley. However, their skeletons were plentiful near Eagle Mountain, just outside the Park on Highway 127 and north of Shoshone CA.

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