Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Search Challenge: What's that flower? (Nov 23, 2011)

You've probably asked a question like this before:  What's that flower?  

Unless you're botanically inclined, or have a friend who's horticulturally minded, it's often kind of hard to figure these things out... especially for wildflowers that are unrelated to anything you'd see in a domesticated garden.

As you might guess, this happens to me all the time.  

This past March I was out for a leisurely hike at lat/long 37.1540, -121.4200 when I noticed a pretty blue flower.   Here are a couple of pictures so you can get an idea of what I saw.  
It was about 3 feet high and was growing in open grassland--nothing especially odd or strange about where it was growing.  Just along the trail, sticking it's head up 

When I got home I looked it up based on what I saw. 

To make your task slightly easier, I'll tell you that the flowers were blue, but that there were some variation in flower color between the plants.  They were blue, blue-purple, or white.  The flower tube was around 12–25 mm long, with the petals ranging from 8–20 mm in length.  The flowers are cone-shaped and are made up of 6 petals that are fused together at the bottom.  In the flower there are 6 stamens, 3-lobed stigma atop a single triple-chambered ovary.  In the flower,  filaments attached at 2 levels, and the anthers ranged from 2–5 mm.  As you can see, individual flowers were arranged in clusters of 4 - 8 flowers at the end of longish stalk, roughly 100 mm long.   The leaves are long and grass-like in appearance.  

When I figured out what it was, I was surprised to discover was that its common name is the name of a weapon that's used by a particular angel!  (Do angels normally carry weapons??)  

Question:  Can you figure out what the Latin and common names of this flower are?  

For extra credit on this one--be sure to write down HOW you figured this one out, and how long it took you.  I'm curious to see if you find this one hard or very simple.  Let me know! 

Search on! 


  1. About 5 minutes.

    I tried image search (no luck).
    I looked for wildflower identification sites, doing a google search for
    bell-shaped wildflowers
    I found
    moved to and saw
    "Grass Nut
    AKA Wally's Basket, Ithuriel's Spear
    Triteleia laxa
    Lily family"
    It looked somewhat similar (having 6 petals), so I did a google search for Ithuriel's spear
    One picture looked quite similar, taking me to

    Another link was to
    "The spear of the the angel Ithuriel, the slightest touch of which exposed deceit. Hence, when Satan squatted like a toad “close to the ear of Eve,” Ithuriel only touched the creature with his spear, and it resumed the form of Satan."

    This would have taken me somewhat longer if you had not mentioned angels, as I was uncertain about the identification in the first picture.


    5 minutes. Image search was a waste of time (surprise!). I then input the lat/long and noted the name of the state park. One search on the name of the park + "flowers" led me to a photo album. Then I matched the names with the clue about an angel's weapon.

  3. Using the last fact you asked, I was able to track it down in one search, doing a second with the Latin term to confirm it on a more reliable site. But maybe I was cheating ... were we only to use the descriptive info?

  4. Common name: Ithuriel's Spear, Wally Basket, Grass Nut
    Latin name: Triteleia laxa

    How I did it:

    A search on 37.1540, -121.4200 in Google brought me to: Henry W. Coe State Park

    A Google search on Henry W. Coe State Park flowers brought me to: A Photograph Album of Wildflowers in Henry W. Coe State Park []

    In this album the flowers are arranged by color, in the blue section I found Ithuriel's Spear

    It took me about 5 minutes.

    An illustration of the Angel Ithuriel with his spear :[]

  5. My approach was quick (~5 min.), but sloppy. At first I thought it was a species of Agapanthus, but a Google Image search on that name didn't turn up anything that looked like this plant. So I went with the hint about the name and did image searches on "St. Michael sword flower" and "St. Michael spear flower," St. Michael being the only angel I knew of who goes around armed. Despite having the wrong angel, the "spear" search turned up a picture that looked like the flower in question, labeled as Triteleia laxa or Ithuriel's Spear. I checked my work by looking it up in the USDA PLANTS database. I also looked up the lat/long coordinates using Google Maps to see if the location was within the range given in PLANTS.

  6. Great detective work, Ron, Hans and GasStationWithoutPumps! I'll post the answer later today, but you all got it right. 5 minutes is a very respectable time.