Odontites vernus (Red Bartsia)
|Also known as:||Red Rattle, Late-flowering Eyebright|
|Habitat:||sun; disturbed soil; lawns, roadsides, waste places, fields|
|Bloom season:||July - September|
|Plant height:||6 to 15 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Spike-like raceme of short-stalked flowers at the top of the plant and tips of branching stems, elongating with age, the flowers blooming from the bottom up. The raceme is often nodding and flowers may be arranged oppositely, alternately, or along only one side of the stem.
Flowers are about 3/8 inch long, pink to purplish, tubular with 2 lips, the lower lip 3-lobed. The 4 yellow-tipped stamens and a single pink style hug the inside of the upper lip. The calyx cupping the flower is about half as long as the flower with 4 triangular lobes. Flower stalks are very short; at the base of the stalk is a leaf-like bract. The calyx, stalk, and bract are all hairy and purplish-green to dark purple.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are opposite, narrowly lance-oblong to lance-elliptic, up to about 2 inches long, to 3/8 inch wide, stalkless, may be widely spaced, and are commonly droopy. Edges have a few blunt teeth, surfaces are rough hairy. Stems are branched, weakly 4-sided and rough-hairy with downward pointing (retrorse) hairs. The whole plant can take on a purple cast.
Red Bartsia is a recent introduction to Minnesota with only 3 reports to-date, but like many other weeds, is likely under-reported. It is considered a noxious weed in Canada; according to the Alberta Invasive Species Council, it first infested livestock pastures then moved into native grasslands, suspected to be transported by hunters on their ATV tires. Its taxonomy is confusing; as of this writing, Flora of North America states North American specimens appear to be Odontites vulgaris, but most other references are calling it O. vernus, some calling O. vulgaris a synonym and others keeping them separate species. Any distinctions between the two are vague and not well documented; there are also reportedly multiple vars or subspecies which are also not well documented. We're going with majority rule here and will call it O. vernus until better documentation is available.
Red Bartsia is not likely to be confused with other species. It is a relatively short plant, not much over a foot tall, hairy all over and often purple-tinged all over. The racemes are frequently nodding at the tip and the small, pink, tubular flowers may appear one-sided. The hairy capsules are said to stick to animal fur, which can transport it to new locations. Like other members of the Orobanchaceae family, it is hemiparasitic with apparently a wide range of grass and forb hosts that it feeds on in adverse conditions.
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Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Kanabec County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?