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Bellyflowers

Updated on August 20, 2014

What in the WORLD Are Bellyflowers?

Bellyflowers grow on plants that remain small and close to the ground. The flowers are so tiny, you have to get on your belly to see them. Hence, they are called "bellyflowers." Quite simple, actually. I got the idea from a book called "Bellyflowers" which appears to be totally out of print and unavailable. This is unfortunate, because it is a very good book.

These flowers and their plants are so small that unless you are really looking, you will probably miss them altogether. They're not huge, like little wildflowers on plants that grow a few inches tall. The flowers are well under an inch in length or diameter.

These bellyflowers are part of the flora of the Sonoran Desert, which covers most of southern Arizona, as well as parts of California, Sonora, and Baja California.

This flower is the Threadplant. The flower is about 1/4 inch long, I'd guess. I was actually able to taste the nectar, and it is quite good, but it would take a lot of work to harvest enough for anything more than a taste.

After telling you about bellyflowers, I will tell you about tiny flowers on taller plants, and bigger flowers on tiny plants. In many cases, you still have to get on your knees, at least, to see the flowers.

(Photo credits: Pat Goltz)

Glandular Threadplant

Nemacladus glanduliferus

This is the same species as above. To get this picture, I reverse-mounted a 55mm lens on my Pentax film camera, and ganged up four close-up "filters" in between. This flower was only an inch or two off the ground. This was before I had a macro lens. To use this technique, you need a part that will allow reverse-mounting. I don't know if you can do this on a digital SLR or not. I have never tried it.

Offhand, I am unaware of anything in particular this plant is good for, except to enjoy. But you have to walk carefully and look down a lot to find it.

Sand Spurge

Chamaesyce polycarpa

Also known as Smallseed Sandmat or Prostrate Spurge. The flowers are even smaller than the Threadplant. It is a very common plant at the right time of year, and grows widely.

There is some variation in the appearance of this plant, but they all have the same medicinal value, provided they are juicy.

This plant is a Euphorbia. This means it has milky juice and is probably poisonous. It grows in spread mats right on top of the ground. If you crush the stems and leaves, to release the juice, and then apply it to your skin, it will take the sting right out of an ant bite of insect sting. It is alkaline, and most venoms are acidic. (Baking soda poultices work well, too, which is important to know, because these plants only grow when there has been rain, in the summer, while the insects are around all the time.)

Rock Daisy

Perityle emoryi

Where I live, this plant grows so close to the ground that probably nothing sticks up more than an inch or so. The flowers grow right down on the leaves. The entire plant may be three inches in diameter. This plant is obviously larger. The photo was taken at a higher altitude. Plants at higher altitudes grow larger, because the temperature is lower. The purple flowers are probably Phacelia. I'll talk about that plant later.

Foothill Deervetch

Lotus humistratus

It took me forever to find out what this one was. This is not uncommon with the littlest flowers, because most people don't pay attention, and they publish information on the big, showy ones first. I have only seen this plant once.

Gordon's Bladderpod

Lesquerella gordonii

This is one of the few bellyflowers that will form carpets in the spring, coloring the ground yellow. The fact that it is so small shows how remarkable that is. This is another one I didn't know the name of for the longest time. I would see carpets of these on the highway to Kitt Peak and I would wonder about them. But you know, if you don't know the name of something, it's often hard to find information about it on the internet. Pictures don't help much. The flower is so named because the seed pod looks like a tiny bladder.

Bladderpod Carpets

The first one was photographed on the way to Kitt Peak. The second one was in the Tucson Mountains, just after you go through the pass that becomes Picture Rocks Road.

Buckwheat

Erigonum deflexum

Also known as Flatcrown Buckwheat, Flat Topped Buckwheat, and Skeleton Weed. These flowers are no more than 1/8 of an inch in size.

Cranesbill

Erodium texanum

Also known as Filaree, Texas Stork's Bill. Notice the horizontal thread (one of three in the photo) on the right. The seed pod resembles a long, thin bill of a bird, hence the name. This plant has medicinal uses. I'll write about that later. I found this plant at Lake Pleasant, northwest of Phoenix, but I have often seen them on my property. The flowers are not quite the intense shocking pink, and not as large, on my property. Though these flowers are somewhat larger, they're never even as big as an inch.

Desert Evening Primrose

Oenothera primiveris

This plant puzzled me until today, when I finally found out what it was. I have only photographed this plant once. The flower is larger, but the plant is still very tiny. I found this in the Tucson Mountains.

Lithops

Other countries have bellyflowers, too. This one is native to South Africa. It is grown as an ornamental in Arizona. I will put up the species when I have time.

Notice that the "leafy" part of the plant has a flat surface on the end. This is actually transparent, and lets in sunlight so the plant can engage in photosynthesis. The word "lithops" means "stone face" because these plants resemble rocks. The flowers are maybe 1/2 inch wide, if that. There are many varieties, and these are classified with the Ice Plants. It is a succulent, which means it stores water in its flesh for times of drought.

Mystery Plant

I found this by my gate. I haven't figured out what it is yet. If you know, please leave me a note or a comment. Thank you!

This plant is somewhat taller, but the flowers are so inconspicuous I didn't see it at first.

PS elsahc identified this as a gilia. That said, it seems most likely to be a Transmontane Gilia, Gilia transmontana. It's a little paler than the pictures I saw, but otherwise the same. Thank you!

Resource

This is the best site I have found for identifying the flowers of eastern Arizona and the Sonoran Desert. There are other good sites, but this has many more species.

Fireflyforest

Esteve's Pincushion

This plant is usually a few inches tall. The flowers are conspicuous because they grow in clusters. But take a look at the upper left. You can see the individual flowers around the outside rim most clearly.

The flower clusters are white to deep pink.

Henbit Deadnettle

Lamium amplexicaule

Another new one for me. I have only seen this plant once or twice.

Lyreleaf Jewelflower

Streptanthus carinatus

A slightly larger plant, a few inches tall, with flowers about 1/2 inch long. They grow reliably by my gate every spring we have had decent rain.

Popcorn Flower

Cryptantha sp.

Also known as Cryptantha.

Here I am starting to show you taller plants with tiny flowers. These plants usually are a few inches tall. The flowers are no more than 1/8 inch wide.

Chia

Salvia columbariae

These plants grow about a foot tall. The flowerhead is somewhat conspicuous, but at any given time, there will only be a few flowers, as you can see here. This is the plant from which the nutritional chia seeds are harvested. In the desert, there are never very many of them, and each plant will only hold a few seeds. In other parts of the world, they grow much more vigorously. This is also the plant that is used in Chia Pets.

Ephedra

Ephedra viridis

This plant is also known as Mormon Tea and Jointfir. The plant itself is actually quite tall. This is not considered to be a flower. It is called a Pollen Cone. It has no petals. The length of this is less than an inch. This plant has nothing but stems and pollen cones, any time I have ever seen it. It was used to make tea by the Mormons, who are not allowed to drink tea or coffee. It is the source of ephedrin, a substance that helps with respiratory troubles. The drug Pseudephedrin is a synthesized form. Some people claim they get a buzz from the tea, but it never affected me or any of my family. It just tastes good. This photo was taken at Picacho Peak, but I know where there are large stands closer to my home, and I have seen it in a number of other places.

I have hundreds of photos of different species, so I will be adding to this Lens. Some of them will fit here, and others I will write about elsewhere.

Have you ever seen a bellyflower? Tell me about it!

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    • Pat Goltz profile image
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      Pat Goltz 3 years ago

      @TheDeeperWell: It looks like you're right! Thank you!

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      TheDeeperWell 3 years ago

      Your mystery plant looks like it could be a gilia.