California Fagonbush

California fagonbush (Fagonia laevis) grows on hot, dry slopes and bare, rocky soils that get seasonal moisture. That is the habitat along the Fall Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park (California) where Leonard and I found these specimens in March. This member of the Caltrop Family (Zygophyllaceae) can be found in the Mojave Desert and nearby areas (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Northwest Mexico).

California fagonbush is a low, spreading, spiny, slightly shrubby plant. This perennial native has intricately branching, slender, angular stems. The sparse opposite leaves have a somewhat waxy surface and are palmately divided into three narrowly lanceolate leaflets (trifoliate). Each leaflet is tipped by a spine.

There are five solitary, terminal flowers with lavender to pink flowers. California fagonbush petals are clawed (narrower at the base). The flower has ten stamens with yellow anthers and a greenish superior ovary. The fruit is a deeply lobed capsule with five chambers. Each chamber contains one seed.

Guy Crescent Fagon (1638 – 1718), a French botanist and chemist, is honored by the genus designation. The specific epithet means smooth in Latin. Another common name for F laevis is small-flowered fagonia.

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