Zeltnera venusta

bright pink flowers with white centers
Stonebridge Mesa | May 2020

 “a charming pink flower nestling close to the earth amid the grasses . . .
their pink blossoms have a peculiarly clean, fresh, wide-awake appearance . . .399


The brightest pop of color in the Reserve may well be canchalagua (Zeltnera venusta), with their florescent magenta petals. Each bright pink flower has a white pattern around the throat, contributing to its alert appearance. Recently they have been found primarily on Stonebridge Mesa. You can’t miss a patch of them peeking out from a shallow ditch or from under a lemonade berry.

The name, canchalagua, comes from two Spanish words: “chancal”, or rocky place, and “aqua” or water, reflecting its preference for clay or rocky soil with a little extra water

Other Common Names:

Charming centaury, beautiful cantaury, California centaury

Description 4,8,11,23,59,517  

Canchalgua, Zeltnera venusta, is a small annual plant, usually less than 12 inches (30 cm) high, from a ridged stem that is single at the base and branches above. Leaves are bright green, oblong to lanceolate, up to an inch and a half (3.8 cm) long and attached directly to stem in opposite pairs. Leaf margins are smooth.

Radially symmetrical, bisexual flowers occur in loosely branched clusters. The green calyx is five (sometimes four) lobed, ridged and forming a narrow fusiform tube that conforms to the shape of the ovary. The corolla is trumpet-shaped with broad, flat, bright magenta lobes.  White at the upper throat of each flower and bases of flower lobes form an “eye”. Some authors describe white petals8,59 or red spots on the white throat.23 There are five (occasionally four) stamens, extending above the flower. Anthers are bright yellow, with yellow pollen. After the pollen is shed, the anthers coil into a cork-screw shape. The single pistil has a superior ovary with a slim, two-branched style and two fan-shaped stigmas that are initially appressed to each other, separating on maturity to expose the inner and presumably receptive surfaces. Bloom times reported in the literature range from April – August or later;7,468 in the Reserve the peak flower is May and June.

The fruit is a narrowly-fusiform capsule that develops within the sheath of the persistent calyx. It opens along its length into two valves and releases many tiny, dark, reticulated seeds.


Canchalagua is native to California and little where else. 7,89 Within California, the plant has two centers of distribution, one in the southwestern part of the state and the other east of the Central Valley in the foothill woodlands and lower Sierras below 6000 feet (1800 m). It is associated with coastal sage scrub, chaparral, grasslands, woodlands and yellow pine forests.7

It is reported as preferring rocky or heavy soils, streamside59 or in seasonally wet drainage.11

Canchalagua is not common in the Reserve. In the past, it has been reported on the south side of the lagoon, east of the Santa Helena-Stonebridge access road. Recent observations come from Stonebridge Mesa where some years there are patches near the entrance from the development.

Classification 2,11,143

Canchalagua (Zelterna  venusta) is a dicot annual in the gentian family (Gentianaceae). This is a small family with only three representatives in San Diego county.8 The typical gentian has a bell shaped or tubular flower with parts in fives (sometimes fours) and opposite leaves. They are further characterized by the structure of the ovary and seed capsule.

Canchalagua is the only gentian reported from the Reserve. The flower is unlikely to be confused with any other; the bright magenta flowers with their white eyes and spiraled anthers are quite unique.

Alternate Scientific Names:

Centaurium venustum, Erythreae venusta

Jepson eFlora taxon page
bright pink flowers in the grasses

Stonebridge Mesa | June 2019

bright pink flowers in grasses

Stonebridge Mesa | May 2020

bright pink flowes with white center and spiralled anthers

Stonebridge Mesa | May 2017


We have been unable to find any reports specifically (or peripherally) about the natural history or ecology of canchalagua. It is surprising that such a striking flower, with such unusual characteristics, has not attracted some study.

bright pink flowers

Stonebridge Mesa | June 2019

Stonebridge Mesa | May 2017

bright pink flowes with white center

Stonebridge Mesa | May 2019

Human Uses

No well-regulated household among these people
[Spanish-Californians] is without bundles of these herbs strung upon the rafters-for they
are considered by them an indispensable remedy for fevers;399

Both the local native Americans and the white settlers used canchalgua for medicinal purposes,15,382 but there is disagreement as to where this usage originated.15 We have found no reports of use by the local Kumeyaay, but, to our north, the Luisaño made a tea from the leaves to reduce fevers, while the Chumash drank the tea as a tonic and blood-purifier as well as for fevers.

bright pink flowers in the sage scrub

Stonebridge Mesa | June 2020

patch of young plants

young plants | Stonebridge Mesa | May 2020

bright pink flowes with white center

Stonebridge Mesa | May 2020

Interesting Facts

The common name, Canchalagua , has Spanish roots,41,59 being  derived from “Chancal”, meaning the moraine of a glacier284 or a rocky place, and “Agua”, meaning  water. This combination refers to the flower’s tendency to grow in rocky or hard soils near water.59 (Curiously, “canchal” has no Spanish equivalent while “cancha” means a playing field.284)

bright pink flowers in grasses

Stonebridge Mesa | May 2020

bright pink flowers with white centers

Stonebridge Mesa | June 2019

a patch of bright pink flowers

Stonebridge Mesa | June 2011

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