Sandworts are low plants with short opposite leaves and small white flowers in a terminal cluster. Blunt-leaved Sandwort grows on weak green stems, erect or reclining, that are up to 10 inches high and have fine hair. They are often branched.
The leaves are in opposite pairs, usually not stalked, sometimes with very short stalks and are broadly oblong-elliptic with a blunt tip. Leaves have 1 to 3 veins, are 1/3 to 1 inch long - about 1/3 as wide as long. Margins are usually without teeth but with fine hair and hair on the underside of the veins.
The inflorescence is a long stalked flower stem rising from a leaf axil with 1 to 5 flowers, each additional flower branching off the first flowers stem on a separate stalk. A pair of small bracts are on the flower stalk at the midpoint.
The flowers are 5-parted, about 1/3 inch+ wide with 5 white oblong petals that have rounded tips. Beneath are 5 green sepals that are oblong to elliptic in shape with rounded to blunt tips. These are only half the length of the petals. The reproductive parts include 10 stamens with whitish-yellowish anthers, and 3 styles connecting to a light green globose shaped ovary.
Fruit: Fertile flowers produce a ovoid capsule that has 6 teeth at the top which is where the capsule splits open at maturity to release seeds. The seeds are small, kidney shaped, with smooth surfaces.
Habitat: Blunt-leaved Sandwort grows from a fibrous and rhizomatous root in moist to dry woodlands, prairie meadows and gravely riverbanks. In the Garden it will be found growing in several small groups along the Upland path leading from station 36 to 44.
Names: The common name, Sandwort, refers to the plant frequently being found in gravelly places. The genus Moehringia is an honorary created by Linnaeus and named for Danzig naturalist Paul Heinrich Gerhard Moehring (1710-1754). The species lateriflora refers to flowers at the side which refers to the branching of flower stalks off of the stalk of another flower - hence the common alternate name of "side-flowering sandwort."
For the author names for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy, who originally classified this species in 1753. His work was amended by ‘Fenzl.’ which is for Eduard Fenzl (1808-1879, Austrian botanist who was Professor of Botany and Vice President of the Vienna Horticultural Society, and contributor to several botanical publications and who further described this species. In previous times the plant was classified as Arenaria lateriflora.
Comparisons: The most similar plant is the Large-leaved Sandwort, Moehringia macrophylla, but there the leaves are much longer -up to 2 inches long and the sepals have pointed tips. This species is also rare. Other small plants of the same family with white flowers are the chickweeds of which two are common - Mouse-ear Chickweed, Cerastium fontanum, but there the petals are notched and the leaves are lance-shaped; and Long-leaved Chickweed, Stellaria longifolia where the flower petals are deeply cleft and the leaves 5x as long as wide.
Above: Blunt-leaved Sandworts are delicate low growing plants that frequently recline on other plants due to weak stems. The small size of the plant and the covering of fine hair can be seen in the 2nd photo.
Below: The origin of the species name and the alternate common name of "side-flowering" is illustrated in the photo and the drawing: Flower stems rise from a leaf axil and then additional flowers can rise on separate stalks from the stalk of the first flower. Each stem has a pair of small bracts midway on the stem and a pair of small stipules at its base. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: The flowers are about 1/3 inch wide with 10 stamens and 3 styles that are connected to a rather large ovary.
Below: The green sepals of the flower are only half as long as the white petals. The entire calyx is quite short.
Below: The small opposite leaves have fine visible hair on the margins and on the underside of the main rib.
Notes: Eloise Butler first observed this plant growing in the Garden on April 26, 1908. The botanical name in use in her time was Arenaria lateriflora. This plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. She had also made note of it in bloom in 1938 and '39. It is native to most counties in Minnesota except those in the SW, a few in the far north and Cook. In North America it is found in all the temperate parts north to the arctic circle, north of a line from Virginia to Missouri to Nevada.
M. lateriflora is one of two species of Moehringia found in Minnesota. The other is Moehringia macrophylla, the Large-leaf Sandwort which is rare and is on the state threatened list.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"