Plant of the day: Chinese houses

Collinsia heterophylla, or Chinese houses, is a pretty little flower with multicolored purple flowers stacked in whorls. Each flower has two bright purple bottom petals that sandwich a third spurlike petal that points toward the ground like the keel on a ship. This petal is actually a pouch, and the reproductive organs (stamens and pistil) are stowed away inside. The two upper petals are a pale lavendar, decorated with a burgandy pattern of dots. On my specimen those formed a line, arching overĀ  the mouth of an inner chamber that – when pried open – proved to be lined with pale hairs.

Collinsia is in the Plantaginaceae family, which didn’t exist back when I was learning my plants. That’s the thing about botany – as science progresses, names are changed to indicate our changing understanding of different species’ relationship to one another. So what now is Plantaginaceae once was Scrophulariaceae, which still exists but just with fewer members. Anyway many of the species found in the Plantaginaceae family are assymmetrical, like this one. Snapdragons are also notable members of the Plantaginaceae, but I’m getting a bit off-topic here.

Chinese houses tend to like open, brushy or wooded slopes in partial shade, according to the guidebook, but I saw it growing on a hot, rocky landslide face that the trail cut across.

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