Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Also called "moss phlox," plains phlox is found in most North Dakota counties south and west of the Missouri River and also in Emmons County. Elsewhere, the plant can be found from Montana south to Colorado and Kansas at elevations up to about 5,200 feet.
Plains phlox is perennial from a taproot and woody rootcrown. Multiple spreading stems form low mats of plants about three inches tall. Leaves are opposite, narrow, and about one half inch long. The white, or sometimes pale blue, five-petalled flowers are numerous and about one half inch wide. The plant bears its seeds in small, three-celled capsules and also spreads by rhizomes.
Look for plains phlox from early May to mid June near the tops of dry, gravel or clay hills. The plant seems to be slightly more abundant where grazing is heavy, perhaps because of reduced shading from other plants or the creation of bare spots where seeds can readily germinate.
The plant is, of course, a member of the phlox family Polemoniaceae. This is a small family, containing only about 275 species. Most are found in western North America. A few are cultivated for ornament and others are small trees. Phlox is Greek for "flame," as most phloxes have bright red to purple flowers. There are about 50 species in the genus Phlox. The specific epithet andicola means "dweller in the Andes" in botanical Latin. Plains phlox was first described for science in 1818 by the eminent English botanist-naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). He visited the Mandan villages along the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota in 1810-1811.
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