A number of Chickweeds are common in the Four Corners area, and although it is usually fairly easy to identify them as "Chickweeds", it requires time, patience, field guides, and a magnifying glass to identify their exact genus and species.

     All the Chickweeds shown below share Caryophyllaceae characteristics: small, bright, white flowers and narrow, long, opposite leaves.  Chickweeds generally are matted quite low to the ground, but several do grow to a slender 20 inches.  They also, according to Weber, share a high degree of structural variability in petal length and showiness and in "size and development of the stamens and carpels".   Further, "Plants with small petals... will tend to have abortive and nonfunctional anthers and well-developed ovaries, while plants with showy petals often have well-developed anthers and poorly developed ovaries".   In other words, some plants, even some flower clusters on the same plant, will have developed male sexual parts and aborted female parts and some will have just the opposite.  This phenomenon is common in the Chickweed and Parsley Families.

    The 2005 Flora of North America, the Synthesis of the North American Flora, the on-line USDA Plant Database, the Intermountain Flora, and A Utah Flora all place the following plants in Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family).  Weber places the plants in Alsinaceae, not Caryophyllaceae, because they "differ obviously in having... flowers constructed differently, with separate instead of united sepals, and petals without narrow basal claws".

    "Caryophyllaceae" is from the Greek "karya" ("walnut") and "phyllon" ("leaf") which, according to botanical Latin expert William Sterns, "refer to the aromatic smell of walnut leaves, which led to the use of the name for the [aromatic] clove and thence to the [aromatic] clove pink (Dianthus microphyllus)".   The latter is a member of Caryophyllaceae, the Pink Family.

Weber places the species on this page in Alsinaceae, not Caryophyllaceae.

Arenaria lanuginosa subspecies saxosa

Spergulastrum lanuginosum

Arenaria lanuginosa subspecies saxosa. Synonym: Spergulastrum lanuginosum subspecies saxosum. (Woolly Chickweed)
Caryophyllaceae.  (Pink Family).

Montane, subalpine. Open woodlands. Summer, fall.
Horse Creek Trail, August 31, 2005 and Taylor Mesa, July 6, 2010.

In the Four Corners region, Arenaria lanuginosa most often sprawls along the ground making very loose, open mounds with 3-7 inch stems topped by bright white flowers.  Stems can be much longer (to 18 inches) and the stems can be upright. Rounded white petals are slightly longer than the pointed green sepals and the pink anthers of the stamens are arched back over the petals.  As the second photograph at left shows, in the very center of the flower there are three arching styles . 

This fairly common Chickweed occurs scattered along trails through open Spruce forests.  What you will notice first are the bright white flowers.

Although most Arenaria lanuginosa in the Four Corners area are fairly uniform in their morphology, the Flora of North America indicates that this species "is morphologically diverse... and is in serous need of comprehensive study."

The Spergulastrum genus was named by Michaux in 1803 and Michaux also named this species.  "Lanuginosum", from the Latin for "wool" and "full of", perhaps refers to the densely hairy leaves and stems.

Linnaeus named the Arenaria genus in 1753 and Paul Rohrbach (1846-1871) posthumously renamed Michaux's Spergulastrum lanuginosum to Arenaria lanuginosa in 1872.  The Flora of North America, the Synthesis of the North American Flora, and A Utah Flora place this species in the Arenaria genus.  "Aren" is Latin for "sand" and is aptly applied because of the often sandy areas the genus grows in.

Stellaria longipes subspecies longipes
Stellaria longipes subspecies longipes (Long-stalked Starwort)
Caryophyllaceae.  (Pink Family). 

Foothills to alpine. Meadows, moist areas. Summer, fall.
Horse Creek Trail, August 31, 2005.

Stellaria longipes grows to a very slender four-to-eight inches tall.  It enjoys open meadows, dry forests, and wet areas and thrives from the foothills to the alpine zones.  Its leaves are narrow, cupped, and lustrous green, generally angling upward. 

Stellaria longipes subspecies longipesWhite flower petals are deeply cut and about twice as long as the sepals (green, behind the white petals).

The genus name, Stellaria, is Latin for "star" and was given by Linnaeus in 1753.  "Longipes", a name given by John Goldie (1793-1886), is Latin for "long limbed", referring to the plants very skinny stature.  Click to see the very similar Stellaria longifolia.

Minuartia rubella

Minuartia rubella. (Red Sandwort).  SynonymTryphane rubella.
Caryophyllaceae.  (Pink Family).

Subalpine, alpine. Scree, tundra. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, August 18, 2005.

Minuartia rubella reclines upon the ground as if it were wind-swept  --  and it does usually grow in windy alpine areas, but its prostrate position is just the way it enjoys growing.  The reclining stems are about one-to-four inches long (those pictured are two inches) and a typical plant is about four inches in diameter.  Bright white, five-petaled flowers turn upward at the end of the stems.  The tiny 1/4 to 1/3 inch stiff, three-veined leaves are in four clusters evenly spaced on the stem.  Since the plant is only about an inch high, it is very easy to pass by.  Don't.  Get down to its level and marvel at its beauty.

"Tryphane" is Greek for "delicate" and "rubella" is Latin for "somewhat red", referring to the stem color.

Minuartia rubella is circumpolar and is found from the Arctic at sea level to 12,000 foot alpine ridges.  It is found in all western states and in all Canadian provinces.

Linnaeus named the Minuartia genus in 1753 in honor of Juan Minuart (1693-1768), a Spanish apothecary and botanist.  This species was first named Alsine rubella in 1812 by George Wahlenberg (1780-1851), Weber accepts Heinrich Gottlieb Reichenbach's (1793-1879) 1841 name of Tryphane rubella, and The Flora of North America and Synthesis of the North American Flora accept William Hiern's (1839-1925) Minuartia rubella designation of 1899. (Click for more biographical information about Minuart)

Minuartia rubella
Minuartia rubella. (Red Sandwort).  SynonymTryphane rubella.
Caryophyllaceae.  (Pink Family).

Subalpine, alpine. Scree, tundra. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, August 18, 2005.

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
Questionable presence

Range map for Arenaria lanuginosa

Range map for Minuartia rubella

Range map for Stellaria longipes