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Both species of Parnassia shown below are quite delicate and slender with bright white flowers.  Both plants are fond of streamsides and other wet habitats.

Parnassia fimbriata
Parnassia fimbriata  (Grass of Parnassus)
Parnassiaceae (Grass of Parnassus Family)
formerly Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Streamsides, wetlands. Summer.
Lake Hope Trail, August 6, 2010.

Grass of Parnassus is not rare but it is uncommon enough to be a pleasant surprise when found.  Tall, delicate, almost leafless stalks are surmounted by brilliant white five-petaled flowers.  Five white stamens alternate with five sterile yellow stamens.  The lower sides of each petal are delicately fringed.  The small, basal, heart-shaped leaves often are folded almost cup-like.  Grass of Parnassus likes subalpine and alpine stream-sides and damp areas.

Linnaeus named this genus in 1753, and Karl D. Koenig named this species in 1804 from a specimen collected by Archibald Menzies in the present day state of Washington in the late 1780s.

"Parnassus" is a famed mountain in Greece sacred to Apollo and the muses, and, according to Intermountain Flora, Dioscorides described a member of this genus he found on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.  He gave it a Greek name which translates as "Grass of Parnassus".  "Fimbriata" means "fringed". 

Parnassia fimbriata

Parnassia fimbriata

Parnassia fimbriata

Parnassia fimbriata  (Grass of Parnassus)
Parnassiaceae (Grass of Parnassus Family)
formerly Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Streamsides, wetlands. Summer.
Lake Hope Trail, August 6, 2010 and August 11, 2014.

Parnassia fimbriata

Parnassia fimbriata

Parnassia fimbriata  (Grass of Parnassus)
Parnassiaceae (Grass of Parnassus Family)
formerly Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Streamsides, wetlands. Summer.
West Fork of the Cimarron Trail, Uncompahgre Wilderness, August 22, 2004 and July 21, 2009.

In the top photograph at left, Grass of Parnassus shines white over the sparkles of a small stream. In the bottom you can see both the fertile (long and white) and infertile (short and green) stamens.

Parnassia fimbriata

Parnassia fimbriata

Parnassia fimbriata  (Grass of Parnassus)
Parnassiaceae (Grass of Parnassus Family)
formerly Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Streamsides, wetlands. Summer.
Lake Hope Trail, September 20, 2011.

Seed pods have a symmetry and beauty of their own.

Parnassia parviflora
Parnassia parviflora. (Grass of Parnassus)
Parnassiaceae (Grass of Parnassus Family)
formerly Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine. Streamsides, wetlands. Summer.
Wildcat Trail, August 15, 2007.

Parnassia parviflora is much less common in the Four Corners area than Parnassia fimbriata and, in fact, the plant pictured is probably the first recorded in Montezuma County, Colorado.  P. parviflora grows from three-to-fourteen inches tall with mostly basal leaves which are often buried, as in this photograph, in a mass of other greenery since P. parviflora typically grows in lush wetlands.  Weber indicates that the plant grows in subalpine wetlands, but this photograph was taken at about 8,000 feet in the flood plain of a small creek.  Welsh indicates that in Utah the plant grows from 6,000 feet to tree-line.  

This plant is widely distributed around the world; Linnaeus named this species Parnassia palustris in 1753 from a specimen collected in Europe.  De Candolle renamed it Parnassia parviflora in 1824.  "Parviflora" means "small flowered".

Parnassia parviflora
Parnassia parviflora. (Grass of Parnassus)
Parnassiaceae (Grass of Parnassus Family)
formerly Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine. Streamsides, wetlands. Summer.
Wildcat Trail, August 15, 2007.

Basal leaves of P. parviflora.

Parnassia parviflora

Parnassia parviflora

Parnassia parviflora. (Grass of Parnassus)
Parnassiaceae (Grass of Parnassus Family)
formerly Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine. Streamsides, wetlands. Summer.
Wildcat Trail, August 15 and 28, 2007.

Brilliant white flowers attract your attention and then a close examination with a hand lens enthralls you.  Pictured below are several stamens and in between them, several staminodes (non-functional stamens).  They are the yellow finger-like projections with glistening yellow spheres at their tips.  In the photograph at lower left, the staminodes are encased in rain droplets.

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 Parnassia fimbriata

Range map for Parnassia parviflora