Blue Trumpets — August 2009

blue trumpets

   It only takes one look at the flowers of Ipomopsis longiflora to understand why the name blue trumpets is so appropriate for this plant. Still I prefer the common name pale trumpets because it is more suggestive of the delicate appearance of the plant and the subtle color of its flowers. Other common names for this plant are flax-flowered ipomopsis, long- flowered gilly, trumpet gilia, blue gilia, and pale-flowered gilia (Ipomopsis longiflora had previously been classified as Gilia longiflora, which helps explain some of its common names). Whatever common name you prefer, it denotes a plant with a wispy character and a delightfully shaped flower. The unusual flower shape is the basis for its species epithet, longiflora, and its genus name, Ipomopsis, implies a resemblance to flowers in the genus Ipomoea, which contains the morning glories.

blue trumpet plant

   Blue trumpets are annual, or sometimes biennial plants that occasionally reach two feet in height. They tend to branch extensively at the base, producing many thin stems. The open branching pattern makes the plants appear spindly, usually growing more outward than upward. The leaves are quite thin and sparsely positioned in an alternate arrangement on the stems. Overall blue trumpet plants have a flimsy, almost frail appearance which belies their hardy nature. The plants are actually very drought resistant and flourish in semi-desert hillsides and dry woodland openings.

blue trumpet flower

   Flowers appear at the tips of most branches forming loose clusters starting in June and continuing through the end of summer. Each flower has five sepals fused into a short tube. The five petals are also fused forming a long, thin tube up to two inches in length. At the end of the tube, the five petals flatten out forming individual lobes with pointed tips. Flower color ranges from white to light violet blue. There are also five stamens of uneven length some of which may just barely protrude from the floral tube. The single pistil has a three-lobed stigma (the surface that receives pollen). The light color and tubular shape suggests blue trumpets are moth pollinated. Successful reproduction leads to the formation of a capsule about long containing numerous seeds.

blue trumpet field

   2009 has been a particularly good year for Ipomopsis longiflora on the Preserve as we have enjoyed expansive stands of flowering plants all summer long. I. longiflora is one of 13 species of Ipomopsis that are native to New Mexico; to date I have found three other species growing at Deer Canyon. A member of the phlox family (Polemoniaceae), blue trumpets have been used in Native American medicine for stomachache and other intestinal problems, as a disinfectant and a hair tonic, and for treating arthritis. Contrary to their trumpet moniker (which would imply a bold, even daring announcement), the presence of blue trumpets in the landscape makes a very light, almost whimsical statement adding a most valuable component to our ensemble of southwestern native wildflowers.

A Botanical View – Plant diversity in New Mexico.

   As I begin the second year of these monthly native plant descriptions, it seems appropriate to consider the topic of plant diversity. The botanist in me made it important to have the first 12 plants in the series represent different families. I can’t explain exactly why that was an important goal, but it somehow satisfied a need to pay tribute to the diversity of plants at Deer Canyon Preserve, a diversity that is much higher than one might expect (especially in light of the fact that probably over 95% of the trees on the Preserve are one of only two species). This month we encounter the first repeat family, Polemoniaceae, the phlox family.

   Plant diversity is usually measured in terms of the number of different species growing in a given space so one of the things I have been working on is accumulating a species list for the Preserve (I had a great start on this project during my second year here from Gene Jercinovic, author of “Wildflowers of the Manzanos,” who helped me identify over 150 species, primarily in Goat Canyon). My list is currently over 225 species and the end is nowhere in sight. Botanists have traditionally focused at the family level in describing diversity and I can report that my list includes 51 plant families.

   The diversity of plants in the state of New Mexico is also quite high with a total of 156 families and 3,696 species of vascular plants growing in our state. If we exclude the 12% of species that are exotic, the numbers of native plants are 148 families and 3,236 species. It is noteworthy that among those native plants are 104 species endemic to New Mexico from 30 different families. This rich diversity of native plants is largely a result of the fact that a variety of plant communities from surrounding states converge in our state. So New Mexico has portions of the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, Chihuahuan Desert, Mogollon Mountains, and the Colorado Plateau. Our elevation ranges from 2,817 to 13,161 feet and average annual precipitation from about 8 inches to 30 inches. These and many additional geological, topographic, and climatic factors combine to produce a surprising range of habitats supporting such an impressive array of plant species in our state.

Reference - Kelly W. Allred, 2008, “Flora Neomexicana I: The Vascular Plants of New Mexico,”

© 2009 Jerry Melaragno

PDF of this essay here.

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