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Paxistima myrsinites
Paxistima myrsinites (Mountain Lover)
Celastraceae (Staff-tree Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring.
Mesa Verde National Park, Prater Ridge Trail, May 14, 2004.

Sometimes common, sometimes even abundant, Mountain Lover is almost always unnoticed.  Once you become aware of it though, you will find it often.  Looking like a miniature Boxwood, it hugs the ground or grows to over a foot tall with slender branches up to several feet long.  It often grows under trees and taller bushes; here it is pictured growing from a crack in a rock face.  Its tiny, evergreen, leathery, slightly toothed leaves are a light yellow/green when they begin growing; they change to a shiny, deep, luxuriant green (more noticeable in the next photographs).  If you get down on your knees you will find, tucked into the leaf axils, tiny tubular flowers with red, flared petals.

Meriwether Lewis collected the first specimen of this plant for science in the Rockies in present-day Idaho in 1806.  The plant was at first named Ilex myrsinites by Frederick Pursh in 1814 and was renamed Paxistima myrsinites by Constantine Rafinesque in 1838.  "Paxistima" is Greek for "thick stigma"; "myrsinites", Greek for "myrtle", was applied to Mountain Lover for its resemblance to members of the Myrtle Family (Myrtaceae).

Paxistima myrsinites

Paxistima myrsinites

Paxistima myrsinites

Paxistima myrsinites (Mountain Lover)
Celastraceae (Staff-tree Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring.
Mesa Verde National Park, September 26, 2010, Can Do Trail, April 22, 2009, and Ryman Creek Trail, June 14, 2011.

Minute flower buds are formed in the leaf axils during the summer and open the following spring.

 

Paxistima myrsinites (Mountain Lover)
Celastraceae (Staff-tree Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring.
Bear Creek Trail, June 14, 2005.

Numerous, but extremely small, cross-shaped flowers, dot the stems.  Again, notice the very light, soft green of the new growth at the top of the stem.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Paxistima myrsinites