A perennial herb with yellowish-green foliage and smooth, upright stems. Grows and flowers under the hottest conditions. Flowers whitish or cream-colored, in small, flattened clusters at the tops of stalks; each small flower with 5 sepal lobes resemble petals, these emerge from a disk around the ovary; 5 stamens are inserted in the disk. Blooms May–July. Leaves narrow, oblong, alternate, stalkless, to 1½ inches long, green on both sides.
Comandra umbellata (formerly C. richardsiana)
Common Name Synonyms
Height: usually about 1 foot.
Where To Find
Statewide except Southeast Lowlands.
Occurs on dry or rocky uplands, glades, and prairies, usually on acid soil. This plant has a horizontal underground rhizome that sends out slender root suckers that attach to the roots of other plants, "stealing" moisture and perhaps nutrients. Bastard toadflax is therefore parasitic, but with its own green leaves to manufacture nutrients, it can live without parasitizing other plants.
The common names announce that this is not a "true" toadflax. So what is a toadflax? True toadflaxes are in the genus Linaria, and the foliage is rather similar. One example is common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), a pretty but weedy Old World plant whose flowers resemble yellow snapdragons. "Linaria," in turn, means "looks like Linum." Linum is the genus name for flax, the Old World plant that gives us flax seed, linseed, and fiber. Again, the resemblance is in the foliage, not the flowers.
Despite its coarse-sounding name, bastard toadflax is one of the hundreds of wildflowers that bejewel our native prairies. The small, urn-shaped fruits are edible, if eaten in moderation, and Native Americans appreciated their rather sweet flavor. The plant had medicinal uses, too.
This species is the alternate host for comandra blister rust, a fungus that affects pines. This rust is something like the familiar cedar-apple rust, which alternates between cedars and apple trees. So bastard toadflax, which parasitizes other plants, is itself parasitized by this rust!
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!