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     Androsace septentrionalis, Androsace occidentalis, and Androsace chamaejasme are all found in the Four Corners area.  The latter is an uncommon perennial with dense, almost stemless flower clusters found growing just an inch or so tall only on the tundra of the mountains of Utah in the Four Corners area.  

A. occidentalis and A. septentrionalis are found in all of the counties in the Four Corners area, but  A. occidentalis is far less common than A. septentrionalis. In fact, I have never convinced myself that I have found A. occidentalis in the Four Corners area and thus all the photographs below are of A. septentrionalis. 

A. occidentalis and A. septentrionalis are very similar in appearance but botanical keys do not always agree on the characteristics that distinguish the two species.  Two characteristics are, however, agreed on:

1) The involucral bracts of A. occidentalis are less than three times as long as wide, i.e., they are broad, elliptic to oval.
The involucral bracts of A. septentrionalis are at least three times as long as wide, i.e., they are long and narrow, linear to lanceolate.

2) A. occidentalis is found from about 5,000' to 7,300', perhaps even to 9,000'.
A. septentrionalis is found from 6,500' to 12,000', perhaps even higher.

Following are some less agreed on characteristics:

A. occidentalis leaves are about half the size of those of A. septentrionalis, .3-1.1  centimeters long and 1-4.5 millimeters wide.

Pedicels of A. occidentalis are 2-20 millimeters long, less than half as long as those of A. septentrionalis.  

And finally, the calyx tubes, although similar in size (around 4-5 millimeters long) are a bit different in shape and color:  A. occidentalis calyx lobes are longer than the tube, i.e., the lobes are deeply cut.  Its calyx lobes are green with a white-to-greenish white tube.  The calyx lobes of  A. septentrionalis are shorter than the tube and the calyx is usually green throughout.

Androsace septentrionalis
Androsace septentrionalis (Northern Fairy Candelabra)
Primulaceae (Primrose Family)

Foothills to alpine. Meadows, open woods. Spring, summer.
Horse Creek Trail, June 6, 2004.

It is amazing how often common things can escape notice: Androsace septentrionalis is very common and often flowers for months, but it is so delicate and tiny that it is often masked by much larger plants.  Once noticed, it is easy to spot again and again because of its densely packed basal leaves and long candelabra stems topped by numerous, tiny, gleaming white flowers.  It is common to find sub-alpine and alpine meadows dotted with scores of Androsace septentrionalis and one can find the same widespread sprinkling of the plants all the way down to the foothills.

The plant pictured is drying and dying from the stress of the drought of 2004.

Linnaeus named this genus and species in 1753.  Intermountain Flora points out that this species has an enormous range, from "Norway and the Alps to the Himalayas and the Pacific shores of Siberia, and in North America... from Alaska to Greenland, south through most of Canada and in the U.S. to California..., Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, east to North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, and Texas".

"Androsace", from the Greek "andr" ("man") and "sakos" ("shield"), refers to some properties of a now unknown plant.  "Septentrionalis" is Latin for "northern".

Androsace septentrionalis

Androsace septentrionalis

Androsace septentrionalis (Northern Fairy Candelabra)
Primulaceae (Primrose Family)

Foothills to alpine. Meadows, open woods. Spring, summer.
Horse Creek Trail, June 21, 2005 and
Bolam Pass Road, June 8, 2016
.

The top photograph at left shows that following a fall, winter, and spring of far above average rains and snows, Androsace septentrionalis plants in the same location as that pictured above, are now rich in color, three inches tall, with dozens of flowers.  This plant probably grew another 3-6 inches.

The bottom photograph at left shows two key characteristics that separate Androsace septentrionalis from other species in the genus:
1) The calyx has obvious, highly raised keels.
2) The bracts at the base of the umbel (red and papery appearing at the bottom center of the photograph at left and blown up below)
 are narrow versus broad.

                                       Androsace septentrionalis

Androsace septentrionalis
Androsace septentrionalis (Northern Fairy Candelabra)
Primulaceae (Primrose Family)

Foothills to alpine. Meadows, open woods. Spring, summer.
Lizard Head Trail, July 2, 2004.

This photo shows a plant growing in the drought year of  2004 in more moist conditions than the Androsace septentrionalis in the photograph at the top of the page.  The plant at left is growing on tundra (2,000 feet higher than the plant at the top of this page) not long after the snow melted.  A. septentrionalis can be a miniature plant at just a half inch tall or it can grow to six inches tall.

All plants show variability in their structural characteristics; some show more than others. Androsace septentrionalis  shows a remarkably wide range in its height (from a few millimeters to over 20 cm), the number of flowers per umbel (from 5-20), the length of its pedicels (from .3 to 6 cm), etc. This variability in plant morphology is due to the relative abundance of moisture and the elevation, exposure, and amount of light. Androsace septentrionalis responds radically to these environmental factors. The Flora of North America points out,

High-elevation individuals [of Androsace septentrionalis) tend to have very short scapes and a diminutive growth habit; lowland individuals begin flowering when the scapes are barely developed, and elongate throughout anthesis, ultimately often producing robust individuals with relatively tall scapes. Shaded areas produce plants with long pedicels; exposed areas produce plants with very short ones. 

Androsace septentrionalis is thus so "extremely variable" (Flora of the Four Corners Region), that "this plasticity has resulted in a plethora of infraspecific names" (Flora of North America). But the FNA concludes, "Given the lack of coherence in morphological variation within A. septentrionalis and its environmental variation, it seems best to view the complex as a single, highly variable species".

Androsace septentrionalis

Androsace septentrionalis

Androsace septentrionalis (Northern Fairy Candelabra)
Primulaceae (Primrose Family)

Foothills to alpine. Meadows, open woods. Spring, summer.
Horse Creek Trail, June 21, 2005.

Androsace septentrionalis
Androsace septentrionalis (Northern Fairy Candelabra)
Primulaceae (Primrose Family)

Foothills to alpine. Meadows, open woods. Spring, summer.
Mesa Verde National Park, Prater Ridge Trail, June 17, 2005.

Androsace septentrionalis actually becomes more visible as it dies, for shortly after blooming, plants lose their chlorophyll and turn lovely shades of maroons.

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 Androsace septentrionalis