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Orthocarpus luteus (Owl-clover)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Foothills, montane. Openings. Summer.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, August 11, 2005.

Growing across most of the Western U.S. to the upper Midwest, Orthocarpus luteus is the most wide ranging Orthocarpus.  It grows in sagebrush meadows and open Aspen/Gambel Oak/Ponderosa woodlands and is shown on this page in such a woodland with its close cousin, Orthocarpus purpureoalbus.  The two often grow within a few feet of each other.  Both plants are slender, with narrow, linear leaves and a terminal spike of strangely club-shaped flowers.

Genetic research over the past decades has shown that Orthocarpus belongs in the Broomrape Family (Orobanchaceae), not in the Snapdragon Family (Scrophulariaceae).

Thomas Nuttall collected the first specimen of this strangely lovely plant "in humid situations on the plains of the Missouri, near Fort Mandan" in 1812 (as quoted in Intermountain Flora) and named it in his 1818 Genera of North America Plants.  Nuttall called the genus "Orthocarpus" because of its straight ("ortho") fruit ("carpus").  "Luteus" is Latin for "yellow".

Orthocarpus luteus

Orthocarpus luteus (Owl-clover)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Foothills, montane. Openings. Summer.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, August 11, 2005.

Orthocarpus luteus

Orthocarpus luteus (Owl-clover)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Foothills, montane. Openings. Summer.
Near the Wildcat Trail, August 15, 2007.

Orthocarpus luteus

Orthocarpus luteus (Owl-clover)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Foothills, montane. Openings. Summer.
Lone Mesa State Park, August 23, 2008.

Orthocarpus purpureoalbus (Owl-clover)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Foothills, montane. Openings. Summer.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, August 11, 2005.

Even though this is a very slender plant, it catches attention with its very flashy purple/white ("purpurero/albus") flowers.  As the last photograph shows, the plant sometimes grows in large clusters (as does Orthocarpus luteus), attracting even more attention.  One often notices the dark stems of the plant before the very small flowers.

Orthocarpus purpureoalbus was first collected in New Mexico by Woodhouse, Newberry, and Parry probably in the late 1860s and was named by Gray in 1871.

Orthocarpus purpureoalbus
Orthocarpus purpureoalbus (Owl-clover)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Foothills, montane. Openings. Summer.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, August 11, 2005.

Orthocarpus purpureoalbus
Orthocarpus purpureoalbus (Owl-clover)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Foothills, montane. Openings. Summer.
Madden Peak Road, July 19, 2008.

Purple stems are topped by seemingly floating bits of lavender/white flowers.

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 Orthocarpus luteus

Range map for Orthocarpus purpureoalbus  

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