Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A very common prairie denizen, bastard toadflax will win no floral beauty contests, but is of interest because the species is our only representative of an entire plant family. The plant is widely distributed, being found from the Cascade Mountains to Maine and south to Georgia and Texas.
A mature plant of bastard toadflax is only about six inches tall. Numerous clusters (umbels) of white flowers top the stems. Each five-lobed flower is only about three-sixteenths of an inch long. The oblong leaves are about an inch long.
The stems of this perennial plant arise at intervals from horizontal underground rhizomes to form small clones. The rhizomes also may produce adventitious roots that can, in concert with a fungus, produce button-like structures called haustoria. Each haustorium may fold around the root or rhizome of a host plant and penetrate it to absorb its nutrients. Fringed sage and northern wheatgrass are known hosts. The plant seems to reach greatest abundance in heavily grazed pastures in our area. Though small, the fruits have a sweet taste and were consumed by native Americans during times of want.
Bastard toadflax belongs to the sandalwood family (Santalaceae), which is chiefly tropical. In addition to herbs, the family contains shrubs and also the trees whose fragrant wood is used to manufacture footwear in the East Indies. The generic name Comandra was compounded from the Greek words kome, "hair," and aner, "man" in allusion to the hairs that attach the flower lobes to the anthers or male reproductive organs. As with many plants, bastard toadflax was first described by the renowned Swedish naturalist and father of modern plant taxonomy Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) in his Species Plantarum of 1753.