Lithospermum canescens (Michx.) Lehm.

Hoary Puccoon


CC = 6
CW = 5
MOC = 81

© SRTurner

Family - Boraginaceae

Habit - Perennial forb with rhizomes or a short, woody rootstock.

Stems - Ascending to erect, to 40, solitary to several, unbranched or sparsely branched toward the tip, densely pubescent with loosely ascending to spreading, soft, slender, mostly nonpustular-based hairs.

Lithospermum_canescens_stem.jpg Stem and nodes.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Alternate, simple, entire, sessile. Blades 1-5 cm long, 3-12 mm wide, narrowly oblong to lanceolate, relatively thick, angled to narrowly rounded at the base, rounded or angled to a usually bluntly pointed tip, sometimes with an abrupt, minute, sharply pointed tip, the surfaces densely pubescent with short, loosely ascending, sometimes minutely pustular-based hairs, grayish green, without noticeable lateral veins.

Lithospermum_canescens_leaf1.jpg Leaf adaxial.

© SRTurner

Lithospermum_canescens_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Inflorescence - Dense terminal clusters, these subsequently elongating into ascending, scorpioid, spikelike racemes 3-10 cm long. Pedicels to 1.5 mm.

Lithospermum_canescens_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Plants distylous. Calyces 3-6 mm long at flowering, elongating to 6-9 mm at fruiting. Corolla salverform, 12-18 mm long, broadly funnelform, yellow to orange, the tube 7-10 mm long, the lobes 3-6 mm long, pubescent externally, glabrous internally, 5-lobed, entire. Expanded portion of corolla 1.0-1.5 cm broad, 1.2 cm long. Tube of corolla 7 mm long, 2.5 mm in diameter. Stamens 5, attached just below the midpoint of the corolla tube in long-styled flowers, just above the midpoint in short-styled flowers. Style 5-9 mm long in long-styled flowers, 1-2 mm long in short-styled flowers. Ovary 4-parted, glabrous. Style 1, 5-10 mm long, sometimes weakly exserted. Cleistogamous flowers not produced.

Lithospermum_canescens_calyx.jpg Calyx and corolla tube.

© SRTurner

Lithospermum_canescens_flower.jpg Flowers.

© DETenaglia

Lithospermum_canescens_corollas.jpg Corollas.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Nutlets 2.5-3.0 mm long, the tip more or less symmetrical, usually with a short, scoop-shaped appendage at the attachment point, hard and shiny, smooth, yellowish white to pale yellowish brown.

Lithospermum_canescens_fruit.jpg Developing fruits.

© DETenaglia

Flowering - March - June.

Habitat - Glades, savannas, prairies, ledges and tops of bluffs, upland forest openings, pastures, railroads, roadsides, and open, disturbed areas.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - L. caroliniense.

Other info. - The rich, bright colors of the flowers on this plant more than compensate for its small stature. The plant is common throughout the upper Midwest, somewhat less so in the eastern U.S. and into Canada. The highly saturated yellow-orange color of the flowers is distinctive; however, the plant can be confused with L. caroliniense. That species is somewhat larger and more robust, and has slightly larger flowers and leaf hairs which are stiffer and pustular-based.

This and other species of Lithospermum have a long history of medicinal and ceremonial use by various cultures in North America and Asia. Various species with roots producing a purple or red juice have been used to dye fabrics, for body decoration, and as food coloring. The common name puccoon apparently was derived from a Native American word for a dye plant. The genus name Lithospermum means "stone-seeded," which is appropriate. The nutlets are very hard when mature and resemble small polished stones. Flowers of the plant have one of two different lengths of styles, short or long, and also differ in the placement of the stamens. This condition is termed "heterostyly" and is found in a number of different plant species.

Photographs taken off Hwy 106, Shannon County, MO., 5-23-03, and at Danville Conservation Area, Montgomery County, MO., 3-30-04 (DETenaglia); also at Washington State Park, Washington County, MO, 4-21-2014, and Little Lost Creek Conservation Area, Warren County, MO, 4-15-2017 (SRTurner).