Double Cone Quarterly
A Window on the Wilderness
Fall Equinox 2001 || Volume IV, Number 3

Feature Flower

David Rogers

Cynoglossum grande.
Brother Alfred Brousseau, © 1995, St. Mary's College of California.



Cynoglossum grande Douglas ex Lehmann.


W ith their large leaves and blue-flowered panicles, these perennial herbs rank among the more conspicuous of the wildflowers of the Santa Lucia Mountains, where they occur in shady or semi-shady woodlands, and sometimes in shady openings in tall chaparral, especially on north slopes. All of the above ground features wither away with onset of the dry season, and new growth commences with the winter rains; the flowering period begins in March and may last until June. C. grande is restricted to Pacific Slope of western North America (i.e., west of the axis of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Ranges, although it extends a short distance farther inland through the Columbia River Gorge), from southern British Columbia to the mountains of central California. The species reaches its most southern extent in the Coast Ranges in the Santa Lucia Mountains of northwestern San Luis Obispo County, and in Tulare County in the Sierra Nevada.

Cynoglossum grande.
Brother Alfred Brousseau, © 1995, St. Mary's College of California.

The genus Cynoglossum is comprised of about 80 species, which, collectively, are widely distributed on earth. Only three species, however, occur in California: C. grande, C. occidentale A. Gray, and the European C. officinale Linnaeus, which is weedy in some parts of the state. Carolus Linneus (the "father" of modern botany) is said to have derived the name from the Greek words kuno, dog, and glossa, tongue, on account of the shape and texture of the leaves of some species. C. grande is so named for its exceptionally large leaves, and its most frequently used common name, at least by California authors, is a simple translation of the botanical name. "Bluebuttons" is apparently a name used in the Pacific Northwest, for my only reference to it comes from "The Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest" (Hitchcock, et. al., 1955-1969). As for "Pacific Hound's Tongue," I have seen this one only on the Calphotos website; this name could also be justly applied to C. occidentale.

The type specimen was collected by the well-known botanical explorer David Douglas (1798-1834) while on his first expedition to Western North America in 1823, most likely somewhere along the Columbia River. It is probable that he also came across this species during his California explorations of the early 1830's. As for the authorship of C. grande, there seems to be some confusion, for many texts list Douglas as the author and about an equal number list Johann Georg Christian Lehmann as the author. Lehmann (1792-1860) was a former director of the botanical gardens at Hamburg, Germany, and an authority on Potentilla and other genera. I have used "Douglas ex Lehmann" on account that this is apparently the first name published, which was in "Stirp. Pug." (2: 25) in 1830. As this abbreviated journal name is useless in this age of electronic databases, it will be a challenge to find the original text. Perhaps readers who are familiar with the German language can suggest some possibilities as to what the full name is.

Cynoglossum grande along the Horse Pasture Trail.
Copyright © 2001, David Rogers.



Taprooted perennial herbs with erect or ascending stems ranging from about 3 to 9 dm. (1-3') tall. The long-petiolate leaves are large, alternate, and restricted to the lower third to one-half of the plant, the lower-most the largest. The blades are broadly ovate to elliptic, mostly about 8 to 18 cm. long and up to 11 cm. wide, and commonly broadly rounded to truncate or shallowly cordate at the base. The flowers are produced in panicles comprised of slightly coiling racemes; the inflorescence is at first compact but becomes open and elongated with age. The five-lobed and broadly salverform corollas are about 10 to 15 mm. wide, and are at first bright powder-blue, but fade to pale pinkish-lavender or whitish with age. Ringing the throat are five white and slightly two-lobed appendages (fornices). The anthers are seated in the corolla throat, and the styles are entire. The fruits consist of four spreading obovoid-globose nutlets that are about 5 to 9 mm. long, which are outwardly armed with short barbed prickles.

A Jeanne Janish illustration of Cynoglossum grande
from "The Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest"


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