Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A May-blooming plant of extreme northwestern North Dakota, alyssum-leaved phlox is mostly at home in the dry grasslands that stretch from Wyoming to Alberta.
This plant is a tufted, much-branched, taprooted perennial only about two to four inches tall. Leaves are mostly opposite, and about three quarters of an inch long and one eighth inch wide . The lower branches are woody, with shreddy white bark, and intermixed with numerous silvery leaves from previous years growth. Flowers arise in clusters of 2-3 at the tips of about 5-10 of the largest branches. The tubular-based flowers are about three quarters of an inch long, 5-petaled, white, or commonly tinged with pink or violet. Only a few seeds are set in tiny capsules formed at the flower bases.
Look for alyssum-leaved phlox in dry sands, clays, or gravels on open prairie hilltops and benches. The plant is of little forage value, but is quite showy and likely would make a good ornamental border plant in very dry sites.
This plant is a member of the phlox family (Polemoniaceae), which contains about 275 species, found mostly in western North America. Phlox is Greek for "flame", as most phlox species have bright red to purple flowers. There are about 50 species in this genus. The specific name alyssifolia means "leaves like Alyssum" which is a small mustard. Alyssum is an old Greek name for a plant reputed to check rabies (lyssa). Alyssum-leaved phlox was described for science in 1896 by the distinguished California professor Edward Lee Greene (1842-1915), who later held positions at the Catholic University of America and the Smithsonian Institution.