Primarily pollinated by bees, elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) is endemic to the southern two-thirds of California. A slender, spindly plant with simple or branched stems, elegant clarkia grows below 5,000 feet on dry slopes, often shaded, where soil is disturbed. These specimens were photographed along Bench Trail in Pinnacles National Park CA.
The plant has a few lanceolate leaves along the stem. The leaves are opposite and petioled. A member of the Evening Primrose Family (Onagraceae), the elegant clarkia inflorescence is an erect raceme. The flower buds are nodding. The four distinctive petals have a circular, diamond-shaped or broadly triangular outer edge and a threadlike base. The petal color can range from lavender pink to salmon or purplish with a darker red spot on each. The four reddish sepals are joined at the base and turn to one side after the flower opens. There are eight anthers. The outer anthers are red orange to dull red while the inner anthers are lighter to whitish. The stigma protrudes from the flower. Elegant clarkia fruits are eight-ribbed and contain brown, minutely crested seeds.
Another common name for C unguiculata is mountain garland. Lewis Clark (1770 – 1838), of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame, is honored by the genus name. In Latin the species designation means “little red claw or nail” and refers to the base of the petals.