FlowersPale blue to purple, small, irregular, in slender spikes. Calyx 5-pointed; corolla 2-lipped, with curved spur longer than its tube, which is nearly closed by a white, 2-ridged projection or palate; the upper lip erect, 2-lobed; lower lip 3-lobed, spreading. Stamens 4, in pairs, in throat; 1 pistil. Stem: Slender, weak, of sterile shoots, prostrate; flowering stem, ascending or erect, 4 in. to 2 ft. high. Leaves: Small, linear, alternately scattered along stem, or oblong in pairs a threes on leafy sterile shoots.
Preferred HabitatDry soil, gravel, or sand. Flowering SeasonMayOctober. DistributionNorth, Central, and South Americas.
Sometimes lying prostrate in the dust, sometimes erect, the linaria’s delicate spikes of bloom wear an air of injured innocence; yet the plant, weak as it looks, has managed to spread over three Americas from ocean to ocean. More beautiful than the rather scrawny flowers are the tufts of cool green foliage made by the sterile shoots that take complete possession of a wide area around the parent plants.
Unlike its relative butter-and-eggs, the corolla of this toadflax is so contracted that bees cannot enter it; but by inserting their long tongues, they nevertheless manage to drain it. Small, short-tongued bees contrive to reach only a little nectar. The palate, so valuable to the other linaria, has in this one lost its function; and the larger flies, taking advantage of the flower’s weakness, pilfer both sweets and pollen. Butterflies, to which a slender spurred flower is especially attractive, visit this one in great numbers, and as they cannot regale themselves without touching the anthers and stigma, they may be regarded as the legitimate visitors.
Wolf, rat, mouse, sow, cow, cat, snake, dragon, dog, toad, are among the many animal prefixes to the names of flowers that the English country people have given for various and often most interesting reasons. Just as dog, used as a prefix, expresses an idea of worthlessness to them, so toad suggests a spurious plant; the toadflax being made to bear what is meant to be an odious name because before flowering it resembles the true flax, linum, from which the generic title is derived.