Spring Scorpion Grass
Borage family (Boraginaceae)
Description: This wildflower is a winter annual or biennial about ½–1½' tall that is unbranched or branches occasionally. The stems are light green, terete or angular, and covered with long white hairs. The alternate leaves are ½–2" long and about one-third as wide; they are light green, oblong or oblanceolate, smooth and ciliate along the margins, and usually hairy on both the upper and lower surfaces. Each leaf has a prominent central vein. The leaves are mostly sessile against their stems; the lowest leaves taper to petiole-like bases. The central stem and upper lateral stems (if present) terminate in elongated racemes of small white flowers about 2-8" long. Each raceme has about 8-24 flowers on a hairy stalk; there are no bracts alongside the flowers. The flowers bloom toward the apex of each raceme, where it is typically curled like a scorpion's tail; the hairy ovoid fruits develop below. Each flower is 1/8" across, consisting of a white corolla with 5 rounded lobes, a hairy calyx with 5 lanceolate sepals, 5 stamens (inconspicuous), and a pistil. Sometimes the hairs of the calyx are hooked at their tips. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring to early summer and lasts about 2 months. The racemes become longer as their dry fruits (seed capsules) develop; these fruits have pedicels that are more or less erect. At this stage of development, the pedicels are a little shorter than their fruits. Each fruit contains 4 seeds. The root system consists of a taproot and secondary fibrous roots. This wildflower reproduces by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: The preference is full sun to light shade, moist to dry conditions, and barren soil containing sand, gravel, or clay. Most growth and development occurs during the spring.
Range & Habitat: The native Spring Scorpion Grass is occasional to locally common in the southern half of Illinois, while in the northern half of the state it is uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include upland open woodlands, barren wooded slopes, areas along woodland paths, sandy savannas, sand prairies, fields, roadside embankments, and areas along railroads. This little wildflower occurs in barren areas where there is little ground vegetation – frequently where there is some history of disturbance. Occasionally, it is found in damp areas.
Faunal Associations: Small bees and small butterflies visit the flowers for nectar. Robertson (1929) observed only two floral visitors: the Halictid bee Augochlorella striata and the butterfly Pontia protodice (Checkered White). The flea beetle Longitarsus melanurus feeds on the foliage of Spring Scorpion Grass and other species in the Borage family. LeConte's Sparrow and possibly other birds eat the seeds of this wildflower and the closely related Myosotis macrosperma (Big-Seeded Scorpion Grass); this was observed at Tucker's Prairie in Missouri. The hairy fruits can cling to the fur of mammals and clothing of humans; this helps to distribute the seeds to new locations.
Photographic Location: A wooded slope near Charleston, Illinois.
Comments: This wildflower has small flowers and is fairly easy to overlook. In spite of its common name, Spring Scorpion Grass is a member of the Borage family, rather than the Grass family (Poaceae). This species is very similar to Myosotis macrosperma (Big-Seeded Scorpion Grass); sometimes they are considered different varieties of the same species. According to Mohlenbrock (2002), Spring Scorpion Grass has fruits with more erect pedicels and smaller seeds than Big-Fruited Scorpion Grass; in Illinois, the latter is restricted to a few southern counties. Another similar species is Buglossoides arvense (Corn Gromwell). Corn Gromwell has leafy bracts alongside its flowers, while the flowers of Spring Scorpion Grass (and other Myosotis spp.) lack such bracts. There are also several Myosotis spp. (Forget-Me-Not species) from Europe that occasionally escape from cultivation. These introduced species have blue flowers. Another common name of Myosotis verna is White Forget-Me-Not.