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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Slender-fruited Venus' Looking Glass (Triodanis leptocarpa)

A plant found mostly west of the Missouri River in North Dakota, slender-fruited Venus' looking glass ranges from Indiana to Montana southward to Arkansas and Texas, at elevations up to 5,500 ft.

This is a small annual plant that, in our area, is usually no more than 15 inches tall. Stems can be single or branched from the base. Leaves are alternate in their attachment along the stem and are about one inch long and 1/4 inch wide. Several flowers are borne above leaflike bracts on the upper half of the plant. Flowers are about 1/2 inch long, with purple corollas. Plants bear two types of flowers; some open for pollination by various means, whereas others are closed and self-pollinated. Fruit is a narrow capsule about 3/4 inch long containing shiny tan seeds.

Look for slender-fruited Venus' looking glass in June in sandy native pastures that are lightly or moderately grazed by livestock. No references available to me listed economic uses for the plant, but that is true for many Great Plains plants whose history of use by native peoples was unfortunately undocumented.

Slender-fruited Venus' looking glass is a member of the bellflower or "bluebell" family (Campanulaceae). Campanula is a diminutive of the Latin campana, "a bell," from the shape of the flowers. The family contains about 600 species, mostly found in temperate zones. The derivation of the generic name Triodanis is a mystery, as it was coined by the eccentric Turkish naturalist Constantine Rafinesque (1783-1840). He is notorious for inventing many "scientific" names that are quite untraceable. The specific name leptocarpa means "slender-fruited" in botanical Latin. The plant was first recognized as a species of Specularia (from the Latin specularis "pertaining to mirrors") by the early English- American naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). The plant was given its current nomenclature in 1914 by a professor of botany and organic chemistry, Julius Nieuwland (1878-1936) of Notre Dame University. He is famous as founder and first editor of the scientific journal The American Midland Naturalist.

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