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     Draba aurea, Draba spectabilis, and Draba helleriana (not yet shown on this web site) can be difficult to tell apart, because they are similar in most aspects of their structure, even in their variations in leaf shape, hairiness, and height. Making identification even more difficult is the fact that D. aurea hybridizes with D. streptocarpa (an East Slope Species) and, according to the Flora of the Four Corners Region, "both D. cana and D. helleriana contribute genes to the complex..., and D aurea is sometimes difficult to distinguish from both".

The Flora of Noth America separates the three species as follows:

Stem and leaf trichomes sessile, 2 rays parallel to long axis of stem or mid-vein, some trichomes malpighiaceous........D. spectabilis

Stem and leaf trichomes stalked, rays not parallel to long axis of stem or mid-vein, not malpighiaceous.....D. aurea and D. helleriana

To separate D. aurea from D. helleriana:

Fruits appressed or subappressed to rachises; proximal-most flowers bracteate.......D. aurea

Fruits not appressed to rachises; proximal-most flowers ebracteate.

Weber separates the three species as follows:

Lower leaf surface with appressed (usually sessile) cruciform hairs with greatly unequal arm lengths; pubescence usually not dense; cauline leaves dentate or denticulate...D. spectabilis.

Lower leaf surface with stalked, equal-armed cruciform or stellate hairs; pubescence of leaves usually dense; cauline leaves entire or dentate.....D. aurea and D. helleriana.

To separate D. aurea from D. helleriana:

Longest styles usually 1.5-3.5 mm long; cauline leaves usually toothed; seeds averaging 1.3 mm; petals 4-8 mm. long...D. helleriana

Longest styles less than 1.5 (0.5-1.5) mm long; cauline leaves usually toothed; seed averaging 1.3 mm; petals 4-8 mm long...D. aurea

Although all floras indicate that all three species are found from approximately 8,000 to 12,500 feet, I have found that in the Four Corners area, D. spectabilis is much more common than D. aurea at the lower elevations, and D. aurea is much more common at the higher elevations.

I also find that D. spectabilis and D. aurea can sometimes quickly be separated by noting the overall color. Because of an abundance of hairs, D. aurea leaves tend to be gray/green. D. spectabilis tends to be bright green because it is often nearly glabrous (smooth, not hairy) or has few, forked hairs. Seeing the hairs can be difficult and requires a steady hand, a minimum of a 10 power hand lens or, preferably, a microscope.  

I find that the following are the easiest characteristics to observe to separate D. aurea from D. spectabilis:

1) The styles of D. aurea are .5-1.5 mm long and those of D. spectabilis are 1-2.7 mm long.

2) D. aurea seed pods are on short stems and are hairy and sometimes twisted; seed pods of D. spectabilis are on long stems and are glabrous and usually straight (but can be twisted).  

3) The sepals of D. aurea are hairy and green with pale margins; those of D. spectabilis are glabrous and yellow.

4) Fruiting pedicels, the seed pod stems, of D. aurea are 3-10 mm long; those of D. spectabilis are 5-26 mm long.

The Draba genus was named by Linnaeus in 1753.  "Draba", Greek for "acrid", was a name applied to similar Mustards known to the Greeks thousands of years ago. The Draba genus is large and identifying species is often difficult, but worth the effort and quite botanically educational.

Draba aurea

Draba aurea (Golden Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Above: Colorado Trail above Hillside Drive, August 6, 2014.
Left: Lake Hope Trail, July 15, 2008.

Both Drabas shown on this page are slender and lanky with a tuft of many basal leaves and few, somewhat clasping, nearly vertical stem leaves. Leaves can vary considerably in length, width, hairiness, and smoothness of edges (ranging from smooth to dentate). Both often grow in bright, attractive masses.

Draba aurea was named by Martin Vahl in 1806 from a specimen collected in Greenland.  "Aurea" is Latin for "golden".

Draba aurea (Golden Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Cinnamon Pass, August 1, 2007.

Draba aurea leaves range from smooth-margined to dentate but either way they are usually quite hairy. In this photograph the hairs are especially noticeable as a gray area on the edges of the leaves. 

Draba aurea (Golden Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Lake Hope Trail, July 15, 2008.

The sepals of D. aurea are hairy and green with pale margins.  

Draba aurea

Draba aurea (Golden Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Lake Hope Trail, July 15, 2008.

Draba aurea seed pods (siliques) are usually heavily clothed in numerous straight and branched hairs. 

 

Draba spectabilis (Showy Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Horse Creek Trail, June 6, 2004.

Basal leaves of both Drabas shown on this page are generally long and narrow, those on the stem are wedge-shaped. Basal and stem leaves can have petioles or be sessile and can have teeth or be smooth margined. (The toothed leaves against the bottom of the ruler are not from Draba spectabilis; they are the leaves of Fragaria virginiana, Wild Strawberry.)

Draba spectabilis was named by Edward Greene in 1899 from a specimen collected by C. F. Baker in the La Plata Mountains near Mancos, Colorado in 1898.

Draba spectabilis (Showy Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Horse Creek Trail, June 6, 2004.

The vivid golden yellows of both Drabas shown on this page and the numerous clusters of flowers make the plants easy to spot.  

Draba spectabilis (Showy Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Lake Hope Trail, July 15, 2008.

Seed pods are usually glabrous, flattened, not twisted, and 6-13 mm long, about the same size as those of D. aurea. Fruiting pedicels (the seed pod stems) of D. spectabilis are 5-26 mm long, about twice as long as the 3-10 mm long pods of D. aurea. Notice the pointed projection, the style, at the tip of the seed pod. The style of D. spectabilis is 1-2.7 mm long, that of D. aurea is .5-1.2 mm long.

 

Draba spectabilis (Showy Draba)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Meadows, woodlands. Summer.
Lake Hope Trail, July 15, 2008.

Leaves appear shiny green because they are nearly glabrous, but as the second photograph shows, they do have some hairs. (Look at the leaf edges.) The underside of the leaves is often, in fact, moderately covered in branched hairs.

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 Draba aurea

Draba helleriana

Range map for Draba helleriana

Range map for Draba spectabilis