Flora Fact: Rare Beauty
Leoncita false foxglove grows as a pink candelabra in desert wetlands.
By Jason Singhurst
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to explore the ciénega and flora of the Nature Conservancy’s Diamond Y Preserve in Pecos County. I parked my truck on a limestone ridge. As I took in the vast expanse of bright yellow Pecos sunflowers and clasping yellowtops, I was delighted to have my first observation of a profusion of pink candelabra-like flower structures, Leoncita false foxglove.This globally rare plant species is restricted to a few ciénegas (desert bogs and springs) in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Leoncita false foxglove is a member of the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae) and the genus Agalinis, a large group of 60 herbaceous plant species in warm-temperate climates of North and South America.
Leoncita false foxglove was first discovered at Leon Spring in West Texas in 1852 by John Milton Bigelow, who was employed as a surgeon and botanist for the United States and Mexican boundary survey. In Texas, Leoncita false foxglove was recently (1988) rediscovered.
Leoncita false foxglove is a hemiparasitic (obtains nourishment from a host) annual plant about 20 inches tall, with numerous ascending green or purplish branches and clusters of pink flowers with dark pink speckles on the floral tube. The plant flowers from August through September. The ephemeral flowers open in the morning and are withered or falling from the plant later the same day.
Leoncita false foxglove grows around large spring features that are permanently saturated in the root zone by groundwater surfacing at spring seeps or spring runs. Both Leoncita false foxglove and Pecos sunflower are obligate wetland species with similar soil-water requirements and may grow side by side. At Diamond Y Preserve, Leoncita false foxglove also grows with clasping yellowtops, chairmaker’s bulrush, Trans-Pecos sea lavender, limewater brookweed, saltgrass and Mexican rush.
In Texas, Leoncita false foxglove varies year to year from a few hundred to thousands of individuals at the preserve, one of the last remaining large spring cienegas in the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas.
The plant’s blooms are heavily visited by multiple bee and butterfly species that contribute to pollination with mature capsules in October. Each capsule releases numerous small seeds.
From time to time the Texas chapter of the Nature Conservancy holds field trips to its West Texas preserves, where you can join in the opportunity to observe one of the rarest plants in North America.
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