Geocaulon lividum northern comandra

Alaska Wildflowers | Green and Other Color Flowers

The plant, northern comandra (Geocaulon lividum) with green leaves with purple edges and small green flowers with 5 triangular spreading lobes.

Geocaulon lividum northern comandra

Common Names

comandre livide
géocaulon livide
northern comandra
earthberry
false toadflax

Synonyms

Comandra livida
Hamiltonia sarmentosa

Subspecies

none

Genus: Geocaulon (false toadflax)
Family: Comandraceae
Order: Santalales
taxonomic heirarchy

Etymology

Etymology of Geocaulon lividum

The scientific name Geocaulon lividum derives from Latin and Greek roots. The genus name Geocaulon combines “geo-” meaning “earth” or “ground” from Greek, and “-caulon” meaning “stem,” referring to the plant’s growth habit with stems emerging from the ground. The species name lividum comes from the Latin word “lividus,” meaning “bluish” or “lead-colored,” likely referring to the plant’s distinctive coloration.



Common Names: Northern Comandra and False Toadflax

The common name “northern comandra” reflects the plant’s resemblance to species in the Comandra genus and its northern habitat. The term “comandra” itself is derived from the Greek words “kome” (hair) and “aner” (man), though its application here is more about plant resemblance than literal meaning.

The name “false toadflax” indicates that while this plant resembles true toadflax, it does not belong to the same botanical family. “False” denotes this difference, and “toadflax” traditionally refers to plants in the genus Linaria known for their similar appearance.

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

Identification and Information

Geocaulon lividum, commonly known as northern comandra or false toadflax, is a hemiparasitic perennial herb that grows from creeping, threadlike, reddish rhizomes. It absorbs nutrients from the roots of nearby plants, particularly bearberry and asters, by attaching a sucker-like organ on its fibrous roots to the roots of other plants. It grows 10-25 cm tall (up to 30 cm) from erect and unbranched stems (aerial shoots), often 1 to several in a clump. Lacking basal leaves, the cauline leaves are alternate, narrowly elliptic to oval, or widely egg-shaped, with entire margins (not serrated or dentate). The leaves are green, greyish-green, or purplish. The veins frequently turn yellow with age.

The inflorescence comprises axillary or subterminal cymose clusters of 2-3 flowers along the stem. The flowers have a bell-shaped calyx with five triangular lobes, 1.5 mm long and spreading. Only the middle flower of each cluster is perfect, while the lateral flowers are typically staminate and often deciduous. The fruit is a drupe-like pseudodrupe, round, fleshy, and red, measuring 5-10 mm in diameter. It turns yellowish-orange to scarlet as it matures. The fruits contain a single seed and are edible but generally considered unappetizing (more info in the uses section below).


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Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

While edible, these berries are generally not considered palatable. Despite their unpleasant taste, they have historically been used as a food source. According to traditional medicinal practices, the plant has had various applications. For instance, chewed leaves were applied directly to wounds as a poultice – a soft, moist mass of plant material used to relieve pain and inflammation. Additionally, a decoction (a concentrated liquid made by boiling down the plant material) of the chewed leaves and bark was consumed as an emetic, a substance that induces vomiting.


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Distribution and Habitat

Map data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), NatureServe Explorer, and Kew

Geocaulon lividum is found only in North America, primarily in Canada and Alaska. In Canada, it is absent in Prince Edward Island. Its range extends into some of the northern United States.

It can be found in coniferous forests and sphagnum bogs.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
ClassEquisetopsida
SubclassMagnoliidae
SuperorderSantalanae
OrderSantalales
FamilyComandraceae (bastard toadflax)
formerly Santalaceae (sandalwood)
GenusGeocaulon (false toadflax)
SpeciesGeocaulon lividum (northern comandra, false toadflax)

Summary on Comandraceae:

Comandraceae is a family that was not recognized at the family rank in past classifications. It includes the genera Comandra and Geocaulon.

Taxonomy and Classification (from FNA):

  • Molecular Phylogeny: Recent molecular phylogenetic studies have shown a strong clade comprising Comandra and Geocaulon, which led to the recognition of Comandraceae as a family by Nickrent et al. in 2010.
  • Comparison with Santalaceae: Comandra and Geocaulon share morphological features with many genera in Santalaceae in the broad sense but also have distinctive embryological and molecular features justifying their separation.

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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Pratt, V. E. (1989). Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways (p. 77). Alaskakrafts, inc.

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 192). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Brandenburg, D. M. 2010. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. Sterling Publishing. (p. 493)

Classification and Taxonomy

VASCAN. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/name/Geocaulon%20lividum

eFloras. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=20935

ITIS. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=895559

USDA. (2024). Geocaulon lividum (L. Livido). Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=GELI2

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/1721/

Map and Distribution

GBIF. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://www.gbif.org/species/2889770

NatureServe Explorer. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.153775/Geocaulon_lividum

Kew Science. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:108804-2

Description and Information

Flora of North America. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from http://floranorthamerica.org/Geocaulon_lividum

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 373). Stanford University Press.

Ecological Atlas of Denali’s Flora. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=912

UBC Herbarium. (2024). Geocaulon lividum. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Geocaulon%20lividum

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