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Vascular Plants of California
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Cistanthe ambigua


Higher Taxonomy
Family: MontiaceaeView DescriptionDichotomous Key
Habit: Annual to perennial herb; generally fleshy. Stem: 1--many, generally glabrous. Leaf: simple, alternate or opposite. Inflorescence: axillary or terminal; cyme, raceme, panicle, umbel, or flower 1. Flower: bisexual, radial; sepals generally 2(9), free; petals (1)2--19, free or +- fused; stamens 1--many, epipetalous or not, anthers pink, rose, or yellow; ovary superior, chamber 1, ovules 1--many, placenta basal or free-central; styles (0)1--8, generally fused at base, branched. Fruit: capsule, circumscissile or 2--3-valved. Seed: 1--many, shiny or +- pebbly or sculptured, black or gray, generally with oil-filled appendage as food for ants.
Genera In Family: +- 22 genera, +- 230 species: generally temperate America, Asia, Australia, Europe, Kerguelen Is, New Zealand, southern Africa, poorly represented in Europe; some cultivated (Lewisia, Calandrinia). Note: All CA genera previously included in Portulacaceae; details of flowers, seeds require 20× magnification.
Unabridged Note: May include Hectorellaceae.
eFlora Treatment Author: John M. Miller, except as noted
Scientific Editor: Thomas J. Rosatti.
Genus: CistantheView DescriptionDichotomous Key

Habit: Annual [perennial herb], +- fleshy, from taproot or fibrous roots, generally glabrous. Stem: generally several, generally spreading to ascending. Leaf: cauline [basal and cauline], simple, linear to spoon-shaped, fleshy; basal rosetted. Inflorescence: scapose, raceme, panicle, or umbel, bracts leaf-like or not; bracts generally < sepals, scarious; flowers generally on 1 side of axis, deciduous or not in fruit. Flower: sepals 2, ovate, green, scarious-margined or not, persistent in fruit; petals 5, > sepals; stamens 5--10, anthers yellow; style 1, stigmas 3. Fruit: 3-valved, ovoid. Seed: 6--many, shiny or dull, black or gray [dark brownish red].
Etymology: (Greek: rockrose-flower)
eFlora Treatment Author: John M. Miller & C. Matt Guilliams
Reference: Hershkovitz 2006 Gayana Bot 63:13--74
Unabridged Reference: Hershkovitz 1990 Phytologia 68:267--270; Hershkovitz 1991a Ann Missouri Bot Gard 78:1009--1021; Hershkovitz 1991b Phytologia 70:209--225; Hershkovitz 1992 Syst Bot 17:220--238; Hershkovitz & Zimmer 2000 Molec Phylogen Evol 15:419--439; Hinton 1975 Brittonia 27:197--208; Kelley et al. 2003 FNANM 4:460--464.
Cistanthe ambigua (S. Watson) Carolin ex Hershk.
Stem: spreading to erect. Leaf: 1.5--6 cm, linear to +- spoon-shaped, +- cylindric. Inflorescence: panicle of umbel-like clusters, compact; bracts scarious; pedicel 1--3 mm, straight in fruit. Flower: sepals 2--5 mm, glabrous, margins white-scarious; petals 3--5, 2--5 mm; stamens 5--7(10). Fruit: < calyx. Seed: 6--15, 1--2 mm wide, +- elliptic to ovate, shiny, glabrous, black.
Ecology: Desert scrub, sandy to silty soil, often alkaline; Elevation: < 1000 m. Bioregional Distribution: D; Distribution Outside California: southwestern Arizona, northwestern Mexico. Flowering Time: Feb--May
Synonyms: Calandrinia ambigua (S. Watson) Howell
Unabridged Note: Belongs in neither Calandrinia nor Cistanthe, and might better be treated as a separate, monotypic genus, according to Hershovitz (pers. comm.).
Jepson eFlora Author: John M. Miller & C. Matt Guilliams
Reference: Hershkovitz 2006 Gayana Bot 63:13--74
Index of California Plant Names (ICPN; linked via the Jepson Online Interchange)

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Botanical illustration including Cistanthe ambiguabotanical illustration including Cistanthe ambigua

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Citation for this treatment: John M. Miller & C. Matt Guilliams 2012, Cistanthe ambigua, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on July 22, 2024.

Citation for the whole project: Jepson Flora Project (eds.) 2024, Jepson eFlora,, accessed on July 22, 2024.

Cistanthe ambigua
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©2010 Neal Kramer
Cistanthe ambigua
click for image enlargement
©2010 Neal Kramer
Cistanthe ambigua
click for image enlargement
©2010 Neal Kramer
Cistanthe ambigua
click for image enlargement
©2010 Neal Kramer
Cistanthe ambigua
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©2009 Barry Breckling

More photos of Cistanthe ambigua
in CalPhotos

Geographic subdivisions for Cistanthe ambigua:
1. You can change the display of the base map layer control box in the upper right-hand corner.
2. County and Jepson Region polygons can be turned off and on using the check boxes.
map of distribution 1

(Note: any qualifiers in the taxon distribution description, such as 'northern', 'southern', 'adjacent' etc., are not reflected in the map above, and in some cases indication of a taxon in a subdivision is based on a single collection or author-verified occurrence).


Data provided by the participants of the  Consortium of California Herbaria.

View all CCH records
All markers link to CCH specimen records. The original determination is shown in the popup window.
Blue markers indicate specimens that map to one of the expected Jepson geographic subdivisions (see left map). Purple markers indicate specimens collected from a garden, greenhouse, or other non-wild location.
Yellow markers indicate records that may provide evidence for eFlora range revision or may have georeferencing or identification issues.

CCH collections by month Flowering-Fruiting Monthly Counts

Duplicates counted once; synonyms included.
Species do not include records of infraspecific taxa, if there are more than 1 infraspecific taxon in CA.
Blue line denotes eFlora flowering time (fruiting time in some monocot genera).