Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blue flax (Linum lewisii) along Mt. Rose Trail

Prairie flax, Lewis flax

Blue flax is occasionally found at high elevation such as the shown plants growing on Mount Rose near the timberline. Blue flax is native to the continents of the northern hemisphere: Linum perenne L. to Eurasia and Linum lewesii Pursh to North America. Both species are known by the common name “blue flax,” but the American species is also called Lewis flax or Lewis' blue flax, wild blue flax and prairie flax for distinction [1-5]. The main difference is that L. perenne is heterostylic (varying in form or length of flower styles), while L. lewesii is homostylic (having styles of the same form or length) [2].  Linum perenne has been introduced from Europe to North America—referred to as 'Appar' blue flax [2].

Lewis' blue flax

Native Americans cultivated Lewis' blue flax, used their seeds as food source and wove the tough stem fibers into fishing nets, ropes, and other cordage [1]. Flax species typically show excellent cold winter and drought tolerance. The durable Lewis' blue flax species prefers ridges and dry slopes, including those of the montane zone of the Carson Range in Northwest Nevada. Their narrow lanceolate leaves stay in close proximity to the stems, which rarely stand straight up, but rather lean at an angle, like those in the picture above. Flowers are found to be pale or steely blue with a white-to-yellow colored center. The five petals are veined in darker blue.

Keywords: botany, systematics, taxonomy, nomenclature, Reno-Tahoe flora, Linaceae (flax family).

References and more to explore
[1] Lewis and Clark Trail: Lewis as Botanist [www.lewisandclarktrail.com/nativeplants.htm].
[2] USDA Plant Guide: Blue Flax and Lewis Flax [www.fs.fed.us/rm/boise/research/shrub/Links/Plant%20Guides/flax_plantguide.pdf].
[3] Calflora Taxon Report 4908: Linum lewisii Pursh [www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-calrecnum=4908].
[4] The University of Texas at Austin, Native Plant Database: Linum lewisii Pursh [www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LILE3].
[5] Laird R. Blackwell: Tahoe WildflowersA Month-by-Month Guide to Wildflowers in the Tahoe Basin and Surrounding Areas. A Falcon Guide, Morris Book Publishing, LLC, 2007; page 44.  

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