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Environmental Studies

Comandra umbellata (Bastard toadflax) Santalaceae

Comandra umbellata gets its scientific name from the hairs at the base of its stamens (comandra means “male hairs” in Greek) and the shape of its inflorescence. The common name, bastard toadflax, was given because the leaves were thought to look similar to the leaves of the toadflax plant.

Photo by Darel Hess

Physical characteristics

Leaf: The hairless elliptical shaped leaves are simple and arranged alternately on the stem.  The leaves are attached by very short petioles or are sessile, attached directly to stem with no petiole. The leaves have smooth margins and can be up to 1.5–2 inches long and .75 inches wide. 

Flower | Seeds: The cluster of small white, sometimes greenish to pinkish flowers   which bloom from mid spring to early summer are at the tips of the main stems.  Each flower consists of five sepals that are fused together at the base and form a short tube. The fruit is a small, .25 inch, drupe fruit which is a fleshy fruit with one seed enclosed in a pit, or hard endocarp (like a cherry).  

Stems| Roots: The stems are light green and the flowers appear at the end of the main stems. Comandra umbellata has fibrous roots. The roots of this hemiparasitic plant send suckers out to take nutrients from the roots of other plants. In addition to producing seeds to create more plants, Comandra umbellata produces rhizomes, or underground stems, to produce roots and stems for a new plant.

Life span: Bastard toadflax is perennial, living for two or more years.  

Ecological characteristics

Bastard toadflax is found throughout the United States and Canada in several types of habitats including prairies, wetlands, and open woods. The light green in the map below indicates counties where Comandra umbellata has been found and is native. The dark green indicates where it has been found, and the brown indicates where is has not been found.

Source: Prairie Moon Nursery


Relationship with other species

Non-human: Several insects seek the nectar of the small white flowers of the bastard toadflax plant including several species of flies, bees, beetles, and butterflies such as the Mitoura grynea barryi/nelsoni pictured below.  Small rodents eat the fruit.

Photo by Paul Slichter

Humans: Several parts of this plants are useful to humans. Native Americans ate the fruit of the bastard toadflax. The fruits are said to be sweet and juicy. Native Americans also used other parts of the plant  for medicinal purposes,  such as treating colds with an infusion of leaves and treating headaches with the roots.

Pests: Comandra umbellata is affected by pests, such as the comandra-pine blister rust fungus and it is a parasite itself.  It has specialized roots that attach to the roots of other plants to steal nutrients from them, but it also uses photosynthesis for making food so it is not a total parasite, just a hemiparisite or semiparasite.  


Photo by Keir Morse


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 Page drafted by Lalainya Goldsberry