Campanulaceae – Harebell family
With twelve genera across North America, the Campanulaceae family produces small, delicate flowers that are almost always regular and perfect (bisexual).[i] A notable exception are members of the Lobelia Subfamily, which includes the genera Downingia and Lobelia, that have distinctive, irregular flowers displaying lateral symmetry and are common in Willamette Valley wetland prairies.[ii] Flowers have five separate sepals, five blue (or white) united petals and five stamens. Ovaries are inferior and mature dry seed capsules can have 2, 3, or 5 chambers.[iii] In the Pacific Northwest, members of the Campanulaceae family are herbaceous with simple, alternate leaves and plants produce a distinguishing milky latex.
Downingia elegans – Showy DowningiaSpecies Code: DOEL
Habit: Delicate, glabrous, (usually) short, annual forb growing 4 to 20 inches tall, single stem or highly branched, many-flowers at the top, fibrous roots.
Leaves: ½ to 3 centimeter long, linear to lanceolate shaped leaves attached directly to stem (sessile) in opposite pairs arranged alternately.[iv]
Flowers: Single flowers are sessile (stalk less) and located at the ends of stems. Bilaterally symmetric corollas are 2-liped (bilabiate), 5 to 18 mm across, with showy purple petals and a white center. Upper petal lip is divided into two long teeth. Lower lip is wider than top, with a three pronged forked edge. Petals fuse together at the base into a small tube leading to the sepals and receptacle.[v] 2 short, 3 long blueish-gray, curved anthers extend past the corolla and are supported by white filaments, inferior ovary 1-chambered.[vi]
Fruits: Dehiscent, elongated capsules are 2 to 5 centimeters long with papery walls that are easily ruptured when dry. Capsules contain many tiny seeds that are are longitudinally striate, that is, covered with lines or grooves.[vii]
Ecology: Obligate Wetland Species, grows in vernal pools and pond edges within wetland prairies.[viii]
Notes: May be confused with Willamette Downingia (Downingia yina).[ix] However, the difference between the two is observable when plants are in flower. D. yina has comparably smaller, purple flowers, with a yellow center and straight, rather than curved anthers. Both species’ irregular flowers have a triton shaped lower lip, but D. yina is noticeably more rounded tips as compared to the sharp forks of D. elegans.
Downingia yina – Willamette Downingia
Heterocodon rariflorum – Western Pearl Flower
[i] Simpson, M. Plant Systematics 2nd ed. Academic Press, Burlington, MA. 2010.
[ii] Simpson, M. Plant Systematics 2nd ed. Academic Press, Burlington, MA. 2010.
[iii] Pojar, J., Mackinnon, A., Editors Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, Canada. 2004
[iv] Gilkey, H. Handbook of Northwestern Plants, Revised Edition. Oregon State University Press; Corvallis, OR. 2001. 396
[v] Guard, J. (1995). Wetland Plants of Oregon and Washington. Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, Alberta. 131.
[vi] Gilkey, H. Handbook of Northwestern Plants, Revised Edition. Oregon State University Press; Corvallis, OR. 2001. 396
[vii] City of Eugene, Parks Seed Collection Manual, Downingia elegans, 2009.
[viii] USDA Plants Database: < https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=STCA>
[ix] City of Eugene, Parks Seed Collection Manual, Downingia elegans, 2009.