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   Lithophragma glabrum and its two relatives, L. parviflorum and L. tenellum, have quite small, but unusual and attractive flowers atop very slender stems.  All three species grow in similar environments and may be found near each other -- if you can find them.  They blend into the forest floor and only a slow pace with wide open eyes will reveal them.  Once found, they can be most easily distinguished from each other first by whether they have bulblets near the flower (L. glabrum has bulblets) and then by the number of cuts in the flower petals (L. parviflorum usually has three cuts in the petals and L. tenellum usually has five or more cuts).

Lithophragma parviflorumThe basal leaves of the Lithophragmas shown below can easily be confused with those of Delphinium nuttallianum which is often found growing in the same habitat and blooming at the same time.  The larger leaf at left is from D. nuttallianum and the other is from L. parviflorum.

   John Torrey and Asa Gray named this genus of nine western species.  "Lithophragma" is from the Greek for "stone" and "fence", and is according to Intermountain Flora, "an unsuccessful attempt to render [the word] Saxifraga [into] Greek."  The Latin "Saxifraga" means "rock breaker".  See more Saxifrage.

Lithophragma glabrum
 
Lithophragma glabrum  (Smooth Woodland Star)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 8, 2009.

Lithophragma glabrum typically grows in scattered ones and twos, but it is also found in small patches.

Lithophragma glabrum
 
Lithophragma glabrum  (Smooth Woodland Star)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 10, 2006.

Basal leaves of L. glabrum are one half to an inch in diameter and far more easily noticed than the flowers.

The maroon-red bulbous growths are "bulblets": L. glabrum commonly reproduces from bulblets rather than from seeds.  It is thus said to be viviparous, i.e., it asexually produces plants genetically identical to itself as sprouts on itself.  These bulblets fall to the ground, root, and produce new plants.  (See also Bistorta vivipara.)

Lithophragma glabrum  (Smooth Woodland Star)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 10, 2006.

"Glabrum" is Latin for "smooth" and perhaps refers to the relative smoothness of the basal leaves.  (Most of the plant is, however, often very hairy as the photographs show.)

Thomas Nuttall named the species from a specimen he collected in Oregon in 1834 on the Wyeth Expedition.  The plant is common in the Four Corners area of Colorado and Utah but does not exist in New Mexico or Arizona.

Lithophragma parviflorum
Lithophragma parviflorum variety parviflorum (Small Woodland Star)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 18, 2007.

Lithophragma parviflorum inhabits the same areas that its close cousin L. glabrum does: moist, open Ponderosa and Aspen woods.  Its flowers are usually bright white, whereas those of L. glabrum are often light pink.  Both plants scatter themselves widely over broad areas and you will often see them all day long as you walk a woods that favors their growth.  L. parviflorum reproduces from seeds rather than bulblets.  Although the plant is common in Montezuma County, Colorado, it is not found in any other counties in the Four Corners area.

William Jackson Hooker named this plant Tellima parviflora in 1832 from a specimen that David Douglas collected in Washington in 1825.  Thomas Nuttall renamed it Lithophragma parviflorum in 1840.

Lithophragma parviflorum variety parviflorum (Small Woodland Star)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 18, 2007.

L. parviflorum's flower petals are cut in threes and are generally bright white.

Lithophragma tenellum
 
Lithophragma tenellum (Delicate Woodland Star)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Upper Bear Creek Trail, May 31, 2007.

With its basal leaves hidden in grasses and Blue-Eyed Mary flowers, tiny L. tenellum stands out primarily because of its cluster of white flowers.  In more open meadows, it is often easier to spot this plant by looking for masses of its basal leaves than by looking for its tiny flowers.  Carpets of the basal leaves give rise to few flowering stems.

Thomas Nuttall named this species in 1840 from a specimen he collected in Wyoming on the Wyeth Expedition in 1834.  The Latin "tenner" means "soft, delicate" and "ellum" means "small".

Lithophragma tenellum

 
Lithophragma tenellum (Delicate Woodland Star)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Upper Bear Creek Trail, May 31, 2007
Boggy Draw , May 6, 2009
.

The shape of the hypanthium (the swollen cup-like structure formed by the fused bases of the stamens, petals, and sepals) is one factor that distinguishes L. parviflorum from L. tenellum: The hypanthium of L. parviflorum (photograph below) gradually tapers both upward and downward from a central bulge; the hypanthium of L. tenellum (top photograph at left) is almost spherical.

As the photographs at left show, the petals of L. tenellum are cut five or six times.  The number of petal cuts is difficult to tell from the above photograph of L. parviflorum, but if you scroll up you will see that the petals of L. parviflorum are cut in three.

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 Lithophragma glabrum  

Range map for Lithophragma parviflorum

Range map for Lithophragma tenellum