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    There are nearly a dozen Physarias (Bladderpods) in the Four Corners area; Physaria acutifolia is the most common. The genus was named by Asa Gray in 1848 and is now greatly expanded with the addition of all former members of the Lesquerella genus. "Physaria" is Greek for "bladder".  

     Click for Physaria rectipes.

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia (Double Bladderpod)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Shrublands, woodlands, openings. Spring.
Above and left: Canyonlands National Park, Utah, April 14, 2004 and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 17, 2012, January 5, 2012, and August 9, 2016.

Physaria acutifolia is most often a small, low-growing plant three-to-five inches in height and diameter, but it can be, as shown in the photograph immediately above, several times that size. The plant has multiple flower stems with numerous bright flower clusters. Flower stems can be reclining to erect. In winter, the dried flower stem skeletons are often visible and the sage-green ground-hugging basal leaves are very noticeable against the barren ground.  (Also see below.)

Physaria acutifolia is the first flowering plant in many areas of the Four Corners region. You can even find it flowering in late February.

Per Axel Rydberg named this species in 1901 from a specimen collected by Alice Eastwood in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1892. "Acutifolia" is Greek for "sharp-edged foliage".

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia (Double Bladderpod)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Shrublands, woodlands, openings. Spring.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah, April 14, 2004.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 27, 2005, May 5, 2009, and May 31, 2011.

Physaria acutifolia leaf shape is distinctive, starting very narrow and then widening to a spade shape. Even more noticeable in the spring are the very bright yellow flowers on the common habitat of bare sandy soil. Physaria acutifolia spreads its seeds in a small area and the seeds are often quite successful in germinating, so when one plant is spotted, a number of others are almost sure to be within ten feet.

As they mature, the inflated seed pods range in color from green to yellow to pink to purple. Eventually, as shown in the second photograph at the top of this page, pods turn gray/white, dry, disintegrate and their one of two seeds dot the ground and give rise to colonies of plants.

Physaria acutifolia
Physaria acutifolia (Double Bladderpod)
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Shrublands, woodlands, openings. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 30, 2016 and May 21, 2011.

Physaria species have leaves covered in a thick mat of stellate (star-burst branching) hairs that give the leaves a blue-green appearance. The stems appear to be frosted because they have a thinner coating of hairs than the leaves and more of the light green stem color shows through.

Physaria acutifolia

Physaria acutifolia stellate hairsUnder magnification the blue-green leaves of Physaria appear to have black spots as if they are pitted. But these pits are actually the center of a spiral of the projecting branches of the hairs.

In the photo you can see that the star-burst pattern of the hairs make the leaf appear to be covered by thousands of minute sea anemones. Each of the star bursts is about 1/3 millimeter in diameter, has about 20 arms, and is attached to the leaf surface at one point in the center of the bottom of the pit.

At the lower left, upper center, and several other points on the highly magnified leaf, the stellate hairs have fallen off and the darker green of the actual leaf surface shows through.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color KeySpecies 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 Physaria acutifolia