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U.S. Forest Service

Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the species may be found. Ipomopsis spicata range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Spiked Ipomopsis (Ipomopsis spicata) Spiked ipompsis. Photo by Charmaine Delmatier.

Spiked Ipomopsis (Ipomopsis spicata) habitat Spiked ipompsis habitat. Photo by Charmaine Delmatier.

Spiked Ipomopsis (Ipomopsis spicata)

By Charmaine Delmatier (2016)

Spiked ipomopsis (Ipomopsis spicata) is mostly an erect perennial herbaceous forb anchored with a taproot, but it sometimes tends to lean over with age. A native to North America, it is distributed in several of the central states: Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, and Utah. Unlike some of its close cousins that prefer a wet environment, spiked ipomopsis is usually found in drier local environments on mid-slopes, foothills, and plains. Reaching a height up to 30 centimeters (one foot), there can be one to several stems housing a spike-like dense cluster of cream to light yellow flowers. Stems and calyx are usually covered with cobwebby-woolly hairs and the majority of the plant is sticky with resin glands. The longer basal leaves outnumber the stem leaves and can reach a length of 2 ½ inches. Both the narrow basal and stem leaves are divided into three long linear leaflets.

Spiked ipomopsis is a member of the Phlox family (or Jacob’s-ladder family), Polemoniaceae. There are close to 25 genera and 400 species worldwide, both annuals and perennials, including herbs, shrubs, small trees, and vines. Much of its diversity occurs in California. Some of the key family features include five sepals, five fused petals that often form a tube (corolla), and five stamens that alternate between each corolla lobe. In most species, the stamens are also fused into the corolla tube, placed symmetrically between each petal lobe. Another distinguishing family feature is that the ovary’s three carpels are usually fused while retaining three individual chambers.

The tubular flowers of spiked ipomopsis have five petals, fused at the base and free at the apex, with five stamens and one pistil contained within the flower tube. The free terminal petal lobes are 2.5 to 5 millimeters long. Seeds are borne in capsules and released when the capsules dry out and ultimately open, allowing the seeds to disperse into their surrounding environment.

The tubular morphology and flower structure in the Phlox family has been a popular study for pollination biology and evolutionary patterns. There are several correlations between tubular length, width, and shape with corresponding pollinator vectors such as bats, hummingbirds, beetles, butterflies, and moths. Assessing associated variations over time have generated insightful correlations to plant speciation and much study.

The role of Polemonium as a crucial medicinal treatment and cure has been a popular belief, and for some, a systematic solution; including treating colds, coughs, several lung disorders, and an aid to induce perspiration. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), an interesting English botanist, physician, astrologer, and dedicated herbalist, professed several treatments in his well-remembered book, Astrological Judgement of Diseases from the Decumbiture of the Sick. Under the uncommon discipline of medical astrology, he had Polemonium correlations for the following conditions: alexipharmic (for poisons or infections), malignant fevers, contagious distempers; nervous complaints, headaches, trembling, palpitations of the heart, hysteric cases, and epilepsy. Some of those still hold today.

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