Bastard Toadflax
Comandra umbellata
Sandalwood family (Santalaceae)

Description: This is a native perennial plant up to 1' tall, which may be branched or unbranched. The stems are light green and smooth. The alternate leaves are up to 2" long and ¾" across. They are light green, hairless, and have smooth margins. Their shape may be oval or oblong, and they have short petioles or are sessile.

Some of the stems terminate in a rather flattened cluster of a dozen or more small white flowers. Each shallow, tube-shaped flower is about ¼" across, and has 5 sepals that flare outward. The sepals are usually white, but may have light green or rose accents, particularly when the flower is still unopened. In the center, there are several yellow stamens. There is no noticeable scent. The blooming period occurs during the late spring or early summer and lasts about a month. Later, small oily fruits develop that are each about ¼" across, containing a single globular seed. They change in color from green to brown, and are said to have a sweet taste while still immature. The root system is fibrous, and it sends out slender underground suckers that parasitize other plants. Consequently, Bastard Toadflax is semi-parasitic. Deep horizontal rhizomes are also produced, causing the vegetative spread of this plant.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and average to dry conditions. This plant normally occurs in soil that is either loamy or rocky. It doesn't appear to be affected significantly by foliar disease. There is a preference for an acid pH.

Range & Habitat: Bastard Toadflax is widely distributed, but is less common in Southern Illinois. Sometimes, large populations of this plant occur locally at high quality sites. Habitats include mesic to dry black soil prairies, hill prairies, rocky open woodlands, lightly wooded ridges, and barrens with small stunted trees. Bastard Toadflax can parasitize a large variety of plant species, including some woody shrubs and trees.

Faunal Associations: The most important visitors to the flowers are flies, including Soldier flies, Syrphid flies, Flesh flies, Blow flies, Muscid flies, and Anthomyiid flies. Various bees, butterflies, and beetles visit the flowers occasionally. All of these insects usually seek nectar. The small fruit is probably eaten by small mammals (e.g., mice), by which means the seeds are distributed.

Photographic Location: The photograph was taken at Loda Cemetery Prairie in Iroquois County, Illinois.

Comments: This is one of the few herbaceous plants of the prairie that produces edible fruit, although they are small-sized.

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