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     For many years the Four Corners area was said to have two species of Corydalis: C. aurea and C. curvisiliqua.  However, research showed C. curvisiliqua is a more eastern species and that perhaps we have two subspecies of C. aurea, subspecies aurea and subspecies occidentalis. The latter is the accepted classification of the Flora of North America and John Kartesz's Synthesis of the North American Flora

William Weber's 2012 edition of Colorado Flora: Western Slope accepts C. aurea and C. curvisiliqua subspecies occidentalis.

Stanley Welsh's A Utah Flora accepts only one species, C. aurea and says, "Overlap of the two entities in Utah is complete, and whether the morphologically different entities represent taxa per se is open to investigation".

Intermountain Flora agrees with Welsh, accepts only one taxa, C. aurea, and indicates that the two proposed subspecies are "weakly defined and geographically overlapping." "Differences exist but the correlations are not good. We do not find it useful to attempt a taxonomic distinction".

     The Flora of North America separates the two subspecies shown below as follows:

C. aurea subspecies aurea: Capsules slender, pendent or spreading at maturity, usually 18–24 mm; seeds without marginal ring; leaves generally exceeding racemes.

C. aurea subspecies occidentalis: Capsules stout, erect at maturity, 12–20 mm; seeds with narrow marginal ring; racemes generally exceeding leaves.

Corydalis aurea
Corydalis aurea subspecies aurea (Golden Corydalis)
Fumariaceae (Fumitory Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, May 1, 2006.

Hikers can easily mistake Corydalis aurea for a Pea (Fabaceae), but it is not. It is in the Fumitory Family (Fumariaceae) and is a relative of the Eastern U.S. Dutchman’s Breeches. Corydalis ranges from common to uncommon in our area, but either way its numerous golden-yellow, spurred, tubular flowers attract attention and make it a treat when found.  Look for subspecies aurea in disturbed areas of the mountains and look for subspecies occidentalis in sandy areas of the high desert.

Corydalis, the Greek word for the Crested Lark bird, was named by highly respected botanist and Corydalis expert, Augustin de Candolle, in 1805. "Corydalis" refers either to the crested hood of the upper petal or to the spur of the flower  --  either of which could have reminded de Candolle of the Crested Lark's spur on its foot.  "Aurea" is Latin for "golden".

Corydalis aurea

Corydalis aurea

Corydalis aurea subspecies aurea (Golden Corydalis)
Fumariaceae (Fumitory Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, May 1, 2006, Bear Creek Trail, May 12, 2009, and near Haviland Lake, June 17, 2009.

Tightly packed clusters of flowers elongate to loose racemes.  Leaves are small and finely dissected. Notice that the spur at the back of the flower is less than half the length of the flower.  This is especially visible at the left side of the second photograph.  Corydalis aurea subspecies occidentalis, shown below, has a spur about half the length of the flower. The Flora of North America does not mention this distinction between our subspecies; Weber does.

Seed pods of both subspecies can be curved upward.

Corydalis curvisiliqua
Corydalis aurea subspecies occidentalis. Synonym: Corydalis curvisiliqua. (Corydalis)
Fumariaceae (Fumitory Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
BLM lands near the San Juan River, Utah, April 6, 2005.

This Corydalis is distinguished from the above subspecies in several ways: it is found at lower elevations, and its flowers are more robust, have longer spurs, and stand higher above the leaves. Also see the points of distinction discussed at the top of this page. 

In sandy areas, even those disturbed by cattle, Corydalis aurea subspecies occidentalis can be abundant, especially in the sheltered protection of such shrubs as Sagebrush. From a distance then, the shrubs seem to be flowering bright yellow.

Corydalis aurea subspecies occidentalis. Synonym: Corydalis curvisiliqua. (Corydalis)
Fumariaceae (Fumitory Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah, April 12, 2005.

The strongly curved seed pod can be seen at the bottom center.

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

Corydalis aurea subspecies aurea subspecies aurea

Range map for Corydalis aurea subspecies aurea

Corydalis aurea subspecies aurea subspecies occidentalis

Range map for Corydalis aurea subspecies occidentalis

Corydalis curvisiliqua

Range map for Corydalis curvisiliqua