Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A plant found in North Dakota westward from Bottineau, Burleigh, and Emmons Counties, butte candle also can be found in the arc of dry grasslands that stretches from Alberta to eastern Colorado, at elevations up to 5,000 ft.
Butte candle is a rough hairy biennial (lives for two years) from a taproot. First-year plants may have numerous stems, but second-year plants usually have a single large stem about a foot long surrounded by a few shorter stems half that height. The upper half of each stem is covered with dense clusters of tiny white flowers, hence the common name.
The plant likes bare clay soils on buttes and dry hillsides. Plants seem to be more abundant under heavy grazing. There are no known economic uses for butte candle. This is true for many of our prairie plants whose ethnobotanical history has been lost.
This plant is a member of the borage family (Boraginaceae). Borage is an old name, presumably of folk-origin, for a European plant in this family. The genus Cryptantha has about 65 species, found mostly in the western states. The generic name was compounded from the Greek cryptos, "hidden," and anthos, "flower," because the first species described had extremely small flowers. The specific epithet celosioides means "like Celosia" (another genus) in botanical Latin. Butte candle was first described for science by the early Canadian-born California botanist Alice Eastwood (1859-1953). She curated the herbarium at the California Academy of Sciences for 58 years.