Cerastium brachypodum (Short-stalked Chickweed)

Plant Info
Also known as: Short-stalk Mouse-ear Chickweed, Western Chickweed
Genus:Cerastium
Family:Caryophyllaceae (Pink)
Life cycle:annual
Origin:native
Habitat:sun; seasonally wet rocky or sandy soil; grasslands, rock outcrops, roadsides, open woods
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:2 to 8 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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 Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Open cluster of 3 to 30+ flowers, usually in groups of 3 flowers at the tips of forked branches and arising from the uppermost leaf axils. Flowers are 1/8 to 1/6 inch across, the 5 white petals notched half or less their length into 2 rounded lobes. In the center are 10 stamens and 5 styles on the ovary. Self-pollinating, petal-less flowers that do not open (cleistogamous flowers) may also be produced.

[photo of sepals] The 5 sepals are half to about as long as the petals, lance shaped with spreading glandular hairs on the outer surface, the outer sepals solid green and the inner usually with more obvious white edging. Sepals may become hairless with age. Flower stalks are also glandular hairy; at flowering time they are erect to ascending and half to 1¼ times as long as the sepals, elongating some and often becoming angled downward in fruit.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are opposite, mostly on the lower half of the stem, toothless, stalkless, pointed at the tip, mostly lance-elliptic, up to 1¼ inches long and up to about 1/3 inch wide, the upper leaves becoming smaller. Surfaces are hairless to sparsely soft-hairy, with sparse hairs around the edges. The lowest leaves are often crowded and may form a loose rosette around the base of the stem, and may be narrowly spatula-shaped, broadest near the tip.

[photo of glandular stem hairs] Stems are erect, unbranched except in the flower clusters or branched from the base, and covered in glandular hairs, especially dense in the upper plant.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a slightly curved, narrowly cylindric capsule, up to about ½ inch long, twice or more as long as the sepals at maturity, with 10 teeth around the tip. Inside are golden brown seeds less than 1mm long. As fruit matures, the flower stalk elongates some, to about as long as the mature capsule, and often angling downward (deflexed) from the base.

Notes:

Short-stalked Chickweed was once considered a variety of the related Nodding Chickweed (Cerastium nutans), at that time known as C. nutans var. brachypodum. When attempting to hunt down C. nutans we visited a number of sites noted in herbarium records, but what we found there was actually C. brachypodum. Perhaps we now know why—many herbarium records, especially older ones, do not identify specimens to a particular var. so the C. nutans name is all that's noted. This issue will remain until someone examines the actual specimens and makes corrections to the herbarium database.

Short-stalked Chickweed is distinguished from Nodding Chickweed by its overall smaller size—about half the size in most respects—in height, leaf size and somewhat smaller flowers than Nodding Chickweed. It is most distinct in fruit, where the flower stalk elongates only to about the length of the mature capsule, and the stalk tends to angle downward at its base (becomes deflexed), where Nodding Chickweed stalks are 2 to 3 times as long as the capsule, often forms a 90° angle with the stem, then angles downward just below the fruit so the fruit nods. Also somewhat similar is Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium fontanum), which has similar leaf sizes but is rarely glandular-hairy, is mat-forming and much leafier.

An interesting observation we made that isn't noted in any of the literature is the presence of cleistogamous flowers. Open flowers were not seen in any of the Minnesota populations we visited, regardless of time of year. And plants grown from seed we collected did not produce open flowers, either, only cleistogamous flowers. It wasn't until we came upon it in South Dakota when we finally saw blooms.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Big Stone County and in South Dakota.

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