Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
During the early spring season, the diminutive western rock jasmine, also called "fairy candelabra," sometimes appears in great profusion on the prairies of North Dakota. The plant occurs in open habitats throughout southern Canada and most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.
Western rock jasmine is a dwarf winter annual usually less than three inches tall. Plants less than one inch tall are often encountered. Winter annuals germinate in late fall and form basal leaves; stems elongate and flowers and fruit develop the following spring. There are no stem leaves, but a rosette of small oblong leaves forms at ground level. Five to ten tiny white flowers, each on a long stalk, radiate from the tips of multiple stems. The flowers are five lobed.
Look for western rock jasmine on dry sites in heavily grazed native pastures where the plants may be more easily seen. Although sometimes abundant, the plant is so small, and matures so quickly in the spring, that it is undoubtedly of little forage value for livestock.
This plant is a member of the primrose family (Primulaceae), whose name stems from the Latin primus, "first," in reference to early flowering. The generic name Androsace was derived from a name used by the Roman Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) for some unidentified plant. The specific epithet occidentalis means "western" in botanical Latin. Western rock jasmine was first described for science by the German botanist Frederick Pursh in his famous Flora Americae Septentrionale published in 1814. Pursh was the first to publish on the many plants collected by Lewis and Clark.