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    Four former species of the genus Besseya, now Veronica, are found in one or more of the Four Corners states. Veronica alpina is found in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico and is distinct in its minute size, red/purple flowers, and sole habitat of alpine tundra. Veronica wyomingensis is found in a few northern counties of Colorado and Utah. Veronica plantaginea is widely distributed in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona and overlaps the limited range of Veronica ritteriana, which is a Colorado endemic found only in a few counties in southwest Colorado.

   The last two species (the species shown on this page) are quite similar, having almost identical measurements for plant height, leaf length and width, flowers, seeds, etc. The primary characteristic used by professional floras to separate the two species is the color of their corollas; V. ritteriana corolla is said to be yellow; V. plantaginea corolla is said to be white. However, as the photographs on this page indicate, the yellow is very light and the white is commonly cream-colored. In bright sunlight the yellow corolla looks white.

     In addition to color, the two are supposed to be distinguished by the hairiness of their corolla and the relative length of the lobes of their petals and the structure of their of their calyx.

    In my experience, however, plants can have characteristics of both V. ritteriana and V. plantaginea. For instance, the plant on this page from Ryman Creek have white flowers and should, therefore, be Veronica plantaginea, but they possess two of the other four distinguishing characteristics of Veronica ritteriana.

Veronica plantaginea
Veronica plantaginea (White River Kitten Tails; White River Coral Drops). Synonyms: Synthyris plantaginea, Besseya plantaginea.
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, July 8, 2019.

Since both Kitten Tails shown on this page bloom early and tend to grow scattered in low to high meadows, often among much taller or showier plants, they are known to few hikers.  Find them and take a close look and you will see them to be a fascinating member of the Plantain Family. Their tiny white or yellow flowers cluster tightly at the top of sturdy stems.

On the 1820 Long Expedition, Edwin James collected this plant for science, and he named the plant Veronica plantaginea. James collected as the Expedition made the first recorded climb of what we now call Pikes Peak, but which was then named, "James' Peak".

Per axel Rydberg renamed the plant Besseya plantaginea in 1903.

In 2004, Alback, Martinez-Ortega, Fischer, and Chase presented evidence that all Besseya species do indeed belong in the genus Veronica, a genus which a number of botanists (certainly James) in the past had seen was very closely related to Besseya. See JSTOR.

Click to see Veronica besseya, the tiny alpine cousin of Veronica ritteriana.

Besseya ritteriana
Veronica plantaginea (White River Kitten Tails; White River Coral Drops). Synonyms: Synthyris plantaginea, Besseya plantaginea.
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 10, 2016.

It is clear from the beginning of the growth of these Veronicas that something is unusual, cute, and strange.

Veronica plantaginea

Veronica plantaginea

Veronica plantaginea (White River Kitten Tails; White River Coral Drops). Synonyms: Synthyris plantaginea, Besseya plantaginea.
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, July 8, 2019.

Scores of minute flowers (4-8 millimeters long) are densely crowded into a flower head about 5 centimeters tall. The green calyx is quite visible but the corolla petals are difficult to make out, even with a 10x hand lens, because they are compressed into a tight cylinder by the calyx and by the presence of so many other flowers squeezed next to them.

Besseya ritteriana
Veronica plantaginea (White River Kitten Tails; White River Coral Drops). Synonyms: Synthyris plantaginea, Besseya plantaginea.
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 13, 2007.

After flowers fade, the seed stalks elongate.

Veronica ritteriana
Veronica ritteriana
Besseya ritteriana
Veronica ritteriana (Ritters' Kitten Tails; Ritters' Coral Drops). Synonyms: Synthyris ritteriana, Besseya ritteriana.
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Above: Road to Spiller Peak/Helmet Peak, July 10, 2019 and Cross Mountain Trail, August 5, 2019.
Left: Horse Creek Trail, June 6, 2004.

The type specimen of Veronica ritteriana was collected in Columbia Basin in the La Plata Mountains just west of Durango by Alice Eastwood in August of 1892 "in the alpine meadow where moisture was abundant". Eastwood indicated that she named the plant for "Mr. and Mrs. B. W. Ritter of Durango, Colo., to whose kindness I owe the opportunity of visiting these mountains". (For Alice's description of the new species click to see the "Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences", Third Series, Botany, Volume I, Number I, bottom of page 123.)   Alice had actually discovered the species in July of 1889 on Mt. Kendall near Silverton, but that specimen she incorrectly identified as Synthyris plantaginea. Click to see the specimen. I have been unable to locate the 1892 specimen.

Eastwood described the Columbia Basin plant and named it Synthyris ritteriana. Per Axel Rydberg moved this species from the Synthyris genus to a new genus, Besseya, which he named in 1903. In 2004, Alback, Martinez-Ortega, Fischer, and Chase presented evidence that all Besseya species belong in the genus Veronica, a genus which a number of botanists in the past had seen was very closely related to Besseya. See JSTOR.

(Click for more biographical information about the Ritters.)

"Besseya" honors Charles Bessey, Professor, collector, plant taxonomist, and teacher of Rydberg. (More biographical information about Bessey.)

Click to see Veronica besseya, the tiny alpine cousin of the two Veronica shown on this page.

Besseya ritteriana

Besseya ritteriana

Veronica ritteriana (Ritters' Kitten Tails; Ritters' Coral Drops). Synonyms: Synthyris ritteriana, Besseya ritteriana.
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Below Helmet-Spiller Ridge, June 22, 2009.

Besseya ritteriana
Veronica ritteriana (Ritters' Kitten Tails; Ritters' Coral Drops). Synonyms: Synthyris ritteriana, Besseya ritteriana.
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, August 31, 2004.

By fall, leaves often are eight inches long and lovely maroons dominate.

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

Veronica plantaginea

Range map for Veronica plantaginea

Range map for Veronica ritteriana