Geocaulon lividum (Northern Comandra)

Plant Info
Also known as: False Toadflax, Timberberry, Pumpkinberry, Red-fruited Bastard Toadflax
Family:Comandraceae (Bastard Toadflax)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist to dry sandy or rocky soil; boreal forest, thickets, bogs, fens
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:4 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: none MW: none NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals

[photo of flower cluster] Cluster of 1 to 5 flowers at the tip of a stalk arising from leaf axils in the upper half of the plant, the cluster stalk shorter than the attending leaf. 3-flowered clusters are common, with the lateral flowers essentially staminate (male), often dropping off early and only the center flower fertile and persisting to maturity. Flowering plants typically have 1 to a few clusters.

[photo of flowers] Flowers are about 1/8 inch across, green to purple, star-shaped with 5 triangular, petal-like sepals. In the center is a 5-lobed nectary disk, the lobes alternating with the short, creamy yellow stamens, and a single stubby style in the center. Flower stalks are short; all parts are hairless.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate, 3/8 to 1½ inches long, up to ¾ inch wide, oval-elliptic to narrowly egg-shaped, rounded or blunt at the tip, toothless, hairless, and short-stalked. The veins are initially obscure but may become bright yellow. Stems are erect to ascending, mostly unbranched, hairless and smooth.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a round berry-like drupe, ¼ to 1/3 inch diameter with the remains of the sepals at the tip, and ripens to a bright orange or red. Inside is a single seed.


Northern Comandra is a parasitic plant, its rootlets attaching to the roots of a wide variety of host plants including spruce, pine, birch, willow, alder, twinflower, bearberry and asters. The inconspicuous flowers, blueberry-like leaves, and relatively short stature make it easily overlooked early in the season, but the bright orange-red fruits are much more eye-catching in late summer. The yellowing of leaf veins is caused by the Comandra blister rust, a fungus affecting about 30 Pinus species (including Jack pine), though according to the USDA Forest Service it is not as problematic here as it is in the west so the effect may not be often encountered in Minnesota. Northern Comandra is an alternate host for the fungus.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cook and Lake counties. Geocaulon lividum leaves with yellowed veins by Alfred Cook used under CC BY 3.0.


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