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     Cryptanthas and Oreocaryas are lovely plants with an abundance of tiny flowers, hairy leaves very evident in early spring, and persisting dried flower stalks. 

    Stanley Welsh (A Utah Flora) says of Cryptantha, "This is one of the most perplexing genera in [Boraginaceae]". It is made even more perplexing because of the similarity of the Cryptantha genus to the Oreocarya genus. In 1927 Edwin Payson moved many Oreocaryas to the Cryptantha genus and most botanists accept this classification; Colorado plant authority William Weber does not and retains the Oreocarya designation for most species in the Four Corners area. John Kartesz, the ultimate authority for plant names on this web site, now accepts Weber's split between Cryptantha and Oreocarya.

    Weber separates the two genera as follows:    

    Oreocarya: "Biennial or perennial from rosettes of basal leaves; flowers more than 5 mm in diameter, often distinctly long-tubular with prominent yellow eye."

     Cryptantha: "Annual without rosettes of basal leaves; flowers minute, less than 5 mm diameter, short-tubed with inconspicuous eye."

    For either genus, it is somewhat difficult to determine the exact species; often the distinguishing characteristic is the shape and markings of the tiny nutlet, observable only with a hand lens or microscope. 

     "Oreos" is Greek for "mountain" and "caryum" is Greek for "nut".

     "Cryptantha" is Greek for "hidden flower" and probably refers to the very small size of the flower.

     The Cryptantha genus was named by Lehman in 1837 and the Oreocarya genus was named by Edward Greene in 1887.

     Click for more Cryptanthas and Oreocaryas.

Cryptantha crassisepala
Cryptantha crassisepala
Boraginaceae (Forget-Me-Not Family)

Semi-desert. Sandy areas, openings. Spring.
Near the Hogback, New Mexico, April 24, 2007.

This little guy can dot large areas of sand and Mancos Shale with hundreds of plants.  It has numerous stems, each producing numerous, tiny, white flowers.  

John Torrey and Asa Gray named this plant Eritrichium crassisepalum in 1857 and Edward Greene renamed it Cryptantha crassisepala in 1887.  "Crass" is Latin for thick.

Cryptantha crassisepala
Cryptantha crassisepala
Boraginaceae (Forget-Me-Not Family)

Semi-desert. Sandy areas, openings. Spring.
Near the Hogback, New Mexico, April 24, 2007.

Cryptantha minima
Cryptantha minima
Boraginaceae (Forget-Me-Not Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, woodlands, openings. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 5, 2005.

Tiny plants can give great pleasures.  Cryptantha minima often grows near Cryptantha crassisepala and is distinguished from it by at least two characteristics: its flowers have bracts and one of its nutlets is completely smooth. 

 

Cryptantha pterocarya
Cryptantha pterocarya
Boraginaceae (Forget-Me-Not Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, woodlands, openings. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 5, 2005.

This slender Cryptantha is common in Pinyon/Juniper woodlands, but may be hard to spot. The plant has few stem leaves and basal leaves fade as tiny white flowers open.  Look under Junipers and Pinyons and you will find dozens of these plants, typically only two-to-five inches tall.  In the open, as in the photograph at left, the plant can grow to twenty inches tall. 

The ball-like flower cluster of Cryptantha pterocarya does not elongate in the typical coil of other Cryptantha plants.

"Pterocarya" is Greek for "winged nut" and you can see both the nut and the wings developing in the picture below.

Cryptantha pterocarya
Cryptantha pterocarya
Boraginaceae (Forget-Me-Not Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, woodlands, openings. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 5, 2005.

The sharp-sided nutlets develop quickly.

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 Cryptantha crassisepala  

Range map for Cryptantha minima

Range map for Cryptantha pterocarya