An Unlikely Name for a Beautiful Flower

No spring assemblage of plants from a sandy area in East Texas would be complete without Blue Toadflax.

copyright D. Tenaglia

These plants used to be grouped with the true toadflaxes in the genus Linaria, but now they enjoy their genus, Nuttallanthus, named after one of the pioneers of Texas botany. (I learned them as Linaria and had to retrain my middle-aged brain.) There are some subtle differences in the shape of the corolla, but both genera boast a long, tubular spur which emerges from the back/bottom of the corolla and houses a nectary that offers treats for long-tongued pollinators.

These plants have slender stems that are largely unbranched. At the base, smaller stems with pairs of opposite leaves look like compound leaves.

But why “Toadflax”? Supposedly, the flowers resemble little toads, or else the broad, two-lipped corollas are reminiscent of the mouth of a toad.

Yeah, I don’t see it either.

There are two species locally, N. canadensis and N. texanus. At one time, N. texanus was viewed merely as a variety of N. canadensis, but they are sufficiently distinct to be considered separate. The flowers of N. texanus are bigger overall, but the surefire way to tell them apart is by looking at the seeds under high magnification. They’re bitty little things, and more or less trapezoidal. Those of N. texanus are round-edged and minutely pebbled…


while those of N. canadensis are sharp-angled and smooth to only sparsely pebbled.

Interestingly, sometimes these plants skip making showy flowers altogether and make very reduced, self-pollinated flowers instead.

But enough about the botany–what about the stitching? I drew one plant. I’ve tried my best to keep all my drawings to the same scale so that the plants can all be stitched together in a single piece, but I’m sure there’s enough “slippage” that this could be either species.

This is the chart. Skinny leaves are not fun, and there’s a lot going on in the pedicel-spur-bract region of each flower. There ought to be more buds up top, but that would end up as just a wad of green and bluish-purple, so I reduced the number and separated them.

(You can see a bit of the Triodanis on the left of the same sheet. Why waste graph paper?)

After I charted up one plant, I mirrored it and made the second one taller by adding some more stem between the leaves and the flowers.

This is a close-up of the inflorescences:

The one on the left is too pink. The one on the right is too blue. DMC desperately needs to make a color family of blue violets, from very pale to very dark. Each flower needs three shades to differentiate the upper lip from the lower lip, the center of the lower lip from the turned-back portion, and the spur from the rest of the corolla. In real life they are much more nearly uniform in color. It might be interesting to see if a) brands other than DMC have a color that more nearly matches anthocyanin plant pigments or b) whether there exists a variegated or overdyed floss with a long enough repeat that different sections that are a bit closer to one another in shade could be separated out and used for the three colors.

Also, the flowers look very, very large, don’t they? I guess this is N. texanus after all. Drat. Now I think they’re too big.

And, finally, here is what they might look like stitched.

The idea is for these to be tall-plants-in-the-background in the large composite work. I think, with their very basic stem and leaves and complicated flowers that will be held above shorter plants in the foreground, they will do very nicely.

I’m not sure these are Gerda-ish at all, but they are recognizably Nuttallanthus, so I give them at least a six out of ten.