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     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.

     The Chickweeds shown on this website share 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 Flora of North America, the Synthesis of the North American Flora, the USDA Plant Database, the Intermountain Flora, A Utah Flora , Flora of the Four Corners Region, and Flora of Colorado all place the plants shown on this page in Caryophyllaceae (the Pink Family). Weber and Wittman's Colorado Flora 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". All other floras recognize that sepals can be separate versus united, but they indicate this morphological difference is just one characteristic that separates the various genera within Caryophyllaceae; it does not require splitting the plants into two families.

     "Alsinaceae" is the ancient Greek name for similar plants.  "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 some species of Chickweeds in Alsinaceae, not Caryophyllaceae.
Click to see more Chickweeds.

This is a native species.

Cerastium arvense
Cerastium arvense subspecies strictum

Cerastium arvense subspecies strictum.   Synonym: Cerastium strictum. (Mouse-ear Chickweed).
Caryophyllaceae  (Pink Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows. Spring.
Above: Colorado Trail above Hillside Drive, June 17, 2021.
Left: Bear Creek Trail, June 14, 2005.

Cerastium arvense is a common, small, cute Chickweed with notched petals topping straight floral stems with few, widely-spaced, narrow, and deeply veined leaves.  Cerastium arvense is found on mountain and subalpine meadows and rocky soils. In dry conditions it may be just two inches tall and a few inches around. As pictured at left in a moist meadow, it is six inches tall, still growing, and in a mass about eight feet in diameter. Flower stems are considerably taller than the mass of lower leaves which form a loose mat several inches deep.

Weber believes that this plant is often, and incorrectly, called Cerastium arvense, which is, he maintains, an invasive species that occurs only at low elevations. C. strictum is "related to, if not identical to ... C. strictum of the high mountains of Eurasia". The Flora of North America and the Synthesis of the North American Flora join many others in calling this species Cerastium arvense subspecies strictum. According to the Flora of North America, the species is "remarkably variable... and grows in a diversity of habitats, making it difficult to circumscribe and distinguish, both from subspecies arvense and from forms of C. beeringianum, C. velutinum, and C. viride".

Cerastium arvense subspecies strictum
Cerastium arvense subspecies strictum.    Synonym: Cerastium strictum. (Mouse-ear Chickweed).
Caryophyllaceae  (Pink Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows. Spring.
Bear Creek Trail, June 14, 2005.

Notice the hairs on the flower stem and the deeply inset leaf veins.

Linnaeus named the genus in 1753; the genus name means "horned" and refers to the curved seed capsule. "Strictum" means "straight, upright" and "arvense" means "of the fields".

 

More Cerastium arvense photographs.

 

This is a native species.

Cerastium beeringianum

Cerastium beeringianum

Cerastium beeringianum

Cerastium beeringianum Cerastium beeringianum
Cerastium beeringianum (Beering's Chickweed)
Caryophyllaceae  (Pink Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Tundra, meadows. Summer.
Above and left: Colorado Trail near Stony Pass, July 27, 2017 and
Colorado Trail above Hillside Drive, August 3, 2017 and June 17, 2021.

Cerastium beeringianum grows to 10 inches tall (5-7 inches as shown here), and often many plants are found near each other from a branching caudex. In the photograph immediately above, two flowers and several dozen buff/yellow seed capsules show. The top photograph shows that a week later and 800 feet lower many plants were still in flower.

Cerastium beeringianum is quite similar to Cerastium arvense, and when the two come into contact in their overlapping elevation range of about 11,500' to 12,500' they can, in Weber's words, "presumably hybridize... in which case there is no sure way to distinguish them". Most floras point out that C. arvense does not often grow in the high subalpine or alpine zones, so the hybrids are not common, and elevation, can, therefore help in identifying the two species.

Leaf characteristics can also assist in separating the two species: C. arvense has bundles of smaller leaves in the axils of its middle and lower leaves. (Click to see the bundles in an excellent Ben Legler photograph.) C. beeringianum has no bundles of smaller leaves in the axils of the middle leaves, but bundles of leaves may be "present only at the lowest nodes" (This is a quotation from Intermountain Flora and agreed upon by A Utah Flora and Colorado Flora, but Flora of the Four Corners Region and Flora of Colorado indicate that C. beeringianum has no axillary bundles of leaves". See the red arrows in the second photograph below.)

There is little agreement on other distinguishing characteristics.

1) Intermountain Flora suggests that "the main stem leaves of C. arvense are usually narrower than those of C. beeringianum. Descriptions of the size and shape of the leaves differs from flora to flora.

2) Weber indicates that "the bracts of the inflorescence [of C. beeringianum] are not at all scarious", but the bracts of C. arvense are "scarious-margined". This is generally agreed on in other floras, but some make a distinction between the margins of the upper and lower bracts.

3) Flora of the Four Corners Region agrees with Weber about the scarious margins of the bracts but adds that the petals of both species are "at least 1.5x the sepal length" which Weber disagrees with, saying, "Petals about as long as the sepals", which Ackerfield disagrees with, saying of C. arvense, "petals twice as long as the sepals" and of C. beeringianum, "petals equal to or slightly longer than the sepals" and "petals about equaling the sepals in length or rarely to twice as long".

4) A Utah Flora indicates that the distinguishing characteristic between the two species (in addition to the tuft of leaves mentioned above) is the shape of the leaves: C. arvense has linear or lance-linear, oblong, or narrowly elliptic leaves. C. beeringianum has lanceolate to elliptic, oblong, or oblanceolate leaves.

Linnaeus named the genus in 1753; the genus name means "horned" and refers to the curved seed capsule.  In 1826 Chamisso and Schlechtendal named this species for Graf von Beering from a collection made by Chamisso in Kotzebue Sound, Alaska in 1816. I can find no information about Graf von Beering.

Flower petals of C. beeringianum, like those of C. arvense shown at the top of this page, are notched and both, therefore, are commonly known as "Mouse-eared Chickweed".

Cerastium beeringianum

Cerastium beeringianum (Beering's Chickweed)
Caryophyllaceae  (Pink Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Tundra, meadows. Summer.
Colorado Trail near Hillside Drive, August 3, 2017.

Most floras indicate that the sepals of C beeringianum are glandular, as shown in the photograph at left. Sepals of C. arvense are hairy, but not glandular.

Cerastium beeringianum

Cerastium beeringianum (Beering's Chickweed)
Caryophyllaceae  (Pink Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Tundra, meadows. Summer.
Colorado Trail near Stony Pass, July 27, 2017.

The two arrows on the left point to the the upper and middle stem leaves that do not have bundles of smaller leaves at the point where the leaves grow from the stems. The lower arrow points to a bundle of five tiny leaves in the axil of the main leaves at the base of the stem. According to several botanical floras, C. beeringianum sometimes has these bundled small leaves in the axil of the lowest regular leaves.

 

This is a native species.

Pseudostellaria jamesiana
Pseudostellaria jamesiana

Torreyostellaria jamesiana. Synonyms: Stellaria jamesiana, Pseudostellaria jamesiana, Schizotechium jamesianum (Tuber Starwort) 
Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, opening. Summer.
Above: Robertson Pasture Trail, Abajo Mountains, Utah, July 29, 2019.
Left: Mesa Verde National Park, Prater Ridge Trail, June 19, 2005.

Tuber Starwort most often occurs in clusters in scattered patches (because it spreads and sprouts from underground tubers). You will find it in drier lowlands and in montane moist forests.  It usually grows narrowly erect with leaves standing out at stiff right angles from the stem. Leaf tips gently curved downward.  Tuber Starwort is tall for a chickweed, commonly growing from eight to fourteen inches.

A number of plants have "pseudo" ("false") in their name (Pseudocymopterus, Pseudotsuga, False Solomon’s Seal) to indicate that although they may resemble another plant, that resemblance is superficial.  In this case, "Pseudostellaria" refers to Starwort’s resemblance to the Stellaria genus of Caryophyllaceae. I do not like calling any plant "false" and am pleased that molecular analysis in 2023 indicated that this taxon should not be called "Pseudostellaria" but instead should be put into a new genus, Torreyostellaria, honoring the great 19th century botanist, John Torrey.

Torrey named and described Stellaria jamesiana in 1827 from a collection made by Edwin James in 1820 in "moist situations within the Rocky Mountains" (James' words). In 1979 Weber and Hartman moved this taxon to the Pseudostellaria genus (named by Ferdinand Pax in 1934). Molecular work in 2022 placed this species in the Schizotechium genus, but just a year later, as published in Frontiers in Plant Science the name was again changed: "Both molecular phylogenetic and morphological evidence supported the Asian species Stellaria bistylata and the two North American species Pseudostellaria jamesiana and Stellaria americana all should be recognized as new monotypic genera respectively, and three new genera ReniostellariaTorreyostellaria, and Hesperostellaria were thereby proposed here."

The accepted name is now Torreyostellaria jamesiana, the first genus named for John Torrey, the first professional botanist in the United States, teacher of Asa Gray at Columbia, and master of American botany with Gray through the 1800s.

If Torryeo... seems odd and awkward, it really isn't. The "o" is a connective and is very familiar to all of us: "therm o meter", "speed o meter", "hyp o thermia", and, of course, "pseud o stellaria". Click to read more about connectives.

Click for more biographical information about Torrey.  

"Jamesiana" is for the naturalist Edwin James of the Long Expedition. Click for more biographical information about James.

Pseudostellaria jamesiana

Torreyostellaria jamesiana. Synonyms: Stellaria jamesiana, Pseudostellaria jamesiana, Schizotechium jamesianum (Tuber Starwort) 
Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, opening. Summer.
Mesa Verde National Park, Prater Ridge Trail, June 5, 2004.

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 Cerastium arvense

Range map for Torreyostellaria jamesiana