Thursday, November 24, 2011

Answer: What's that flower?

The quick answer is that it's Ithuriel's Spear, aka Wally Basket, aka Grass Nut.

Latin name: Triteleia laxa.

Regular reader Hans nicely provided a link to an illustration of Ithuriel and the spear he used to reveal that the frog he's threatening was actually the devil in disguise.  (Who knew?) 

To solve this challenge... I first looked up where I (were the flower) was.  If you enter the lat/long into Google Maps, 37.1540, -121.4200, you'll find that you're in the middle of Henry Coe State Park. 

Why does this matter?  Because when locating things like wildflowers, birds, animals, insects (etc.) the geo-location matters a great deal.  There are many thousands of blue wildflowers in the world, but your first big clue in figuring out which one it might be is location.  

Once I knew that this flower was in a State Park, I figured that this might be useful in doing my search.  So I did: 

I could have used a search term like "northern california," but I went with Henry Coe because I know that state parks often have volunteer organizations that publish things like collections-of-wildflower-photos.

Once I did that search, I saw that one of the top hits was "Album of Blue Wildflowers from Henry Coe State Park."  

Ah ha!  Since I had a couple of good pictures (see yesterday's challenge page), it was pretty easy to compare with each of the photos in that album.  And, sure enough, the 13th image down is a match.  

But matching flowers based on just an image can be tricky, so I copied the Latin name (Triteleia laxa) and did another search on just that.  

which led me to the Wikipedia page for Triteleia laxa (which wasn't all that helpful, but did give me another image to compare).  It ALSO led me to the Calflora site entry for Tritelia laxa, which IS a great, very authoritative site.  (Why is it authoritative?  Because it links to very well-known herbarium sites such as the Jepson Manual and the USDA plant manual.)  

That pretty much confirmed it for me, but to be triply sure, I ALSO checked the Jepson Manual entry for Triteleia laxa... which was consistent with my field observations about number-of-stames, descriptions of anthers, flower composition, etc.  

A quick search for [ Ithuriel's Spear Milton ] confirmed that the story of Ithuriel's spear and the devil-disguised-as-frog appear in Book IV of Paradise Lost by the 17th century English poet John Milton.  

Search moral:  There are a couple of takeaways.  
1.  When searching for animals, plants, and similar localized things, consider starting your search with a geo-reference.  In this case I used "Henry Coe State Park" -- I could have used something else (even California as a search term would have helped.)  
2.  When looking for a specific flower, you probably need to find images to verify your observation.  If you REALLY want to get into the details, you're going to need to use a wildflower identification key to verify that the flower you're looking at really is what you think it is.  Note that most keys are region specific--be sure the key you're using is for the location the flower is in!  

Search on! 


  1. Ha - I thought it was the angelsword flower (lobelia gibbosa) - also purple!

  2. Kristin -- What search strategy did you use? Did you search for [ blue flower angel sword ]?

  3. i searched google images as I figured the best way to identify a potential match would be visually rather than by verbal description. "henry coe park blue flower march" - adding march hoping it would filter flowers that bloomed in march as that was the time of year of your hike.

    The third row had a promising result - I followed that result to its page hoping that the image was captioned and it was: "Back sides of Ithureil’s spears look very cool, too." Immediately I knew this was the likely candidate as you mentioned its common name was similar to angel weapons. I then googled the common name to find its latin name and returned here.

    Total time was about 5 minutes, mostly refining the image search term. Once I used the the above search term I had the answer within 30 seconds.

    Very fun challenge!