Linnaeus named this genus in 1753 using a name given several thousand years ago by Theophrastus to another genus in this family. The meaning of "Oenothera" is not agreed on: Greek gives us both "oenos" for "wine" and "thera" which is variously translated as "to seek", "to imbibe", "to catch", "to hunt". "Thera" could indicate that the plant (really just the root) was used to flavor wine, or the root was used to absorb wine and was then fed to animals to calm them, or the juice of the root was put in wine to seduce, or the root in wine just plain made people happy.

    See white Oenotheras  and  more yellow Oenotheras.   

Oenothera elata

Oenothera elata

Oenothera elata subspecies hirsutissima.  Synonyms: Oenothera elata, Oenothera hookeri, Oenothera elata variety hirsutissima. (Hooker's Evening Primrose)
Onagraceae (Evening Primrose Family)

Foothills, montane. Wet meadows and roadsides. Summer.
Above: Taylor Mesa Road, July, 2015.
Left: Taylor Mesa Road, July 28, 2005.

This very showy Evening Primrose commonly grows over three feet tall (sometimes to five feet) and has 2-3+ inch wide bright yellow flowers. 

It also has a half dozen or more main stems, vertical and leaning outward, so it is very wide and even more obvious.  Flowers fade to orange with the heat of the sun.

O. elata is very similar to O. longissima. The flowers of each species are about the same size so a good way to distinguish between the two species is to observe the relative size of the flowers to the hypanthium in each species. The sepals and petals of O. elata are about the same length as the hypanthium; the sepals and petals of O. longissima are about the same size as those of O. elata but the hypanthium is typically two-to-three times as long.

Latin gives us both "elata" ("tall") and "hirsutissima" ("hairy"  --  notice the hairy buds in the picture at bottom left).

This plant has a convoluted collection and naming history:

Kunth named O. elata from a specimen collected by Humboldt in Mexico in 1803;

Torrey and Gray named O. hookeri in 1840 from a specimen collected by David Douglas in California in the early 1800s. This taxa is now considered a California endemic, O. elata subspecies hookeri, as named by Dietrich & Wagner in 1987;

Asa Gray named O. hookeri variety hirsutissima but this taxa was renamed O. elata variety hirsutissima by Cronquist and this variety was given subspecies status by Dietrich in 1983 -- all three from collections by Augustus Fendler near Santa Fe in 1847.

(Click for biographical information about William Jackson Hooker.)

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
Questionable presence

Range map for Oenothera elata