Common Eucrypta

Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia

Green bush with small white flowers
Nature Center | April 2018

Common eucrypta (Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia) is a common but inconspicuous annual native plant that sprawls in the shade of surrounding vegetation. It is one of a trio of related and superficially similar spring plants, the others being white fiesta flower and San Diego fiesta flower (Pholistoma racemosum and P. membranaceum).

In the field common eucrypta can most easily be distinguished from the two look-alikes by its lower leaves, which are deeply divided into segments; the margins of the segments are further divided or lobed. These leaves resemble those of the chrysanthemum, giving the plant its second – hard to pronounce – Latin name, chrysanthemifolia.

Other Common Names:

spotted eucrypta, spotted hideseed

Description 4,11,41,59,486

Common eucrypta is a brittle-stemmed annual with a few erect or leaning stems. The plant tends to climb through or lean on  woody species, using them for support.  Stems may be up to three feet (1 m) in length, although the plant itself is usually lower in height. Leaves are oval or ovate, once or twice pinnately divided, the smallest divisions often lobed, giving the leaves a fern-like appearance. The lower leaves are opposite, up to 5 inches (13 cm) long; upper leaves become smaller and alternate along the stem. Their long petioles are flared at the base into wings that clasp the stem, fusing with an opposite petiole. The plant is densely hairy; many hairs are glandular giving the plant a scent, which some find pleasant59 and others do not.399

Small white flowers occur in loose, terminal or axillary clusters. Usually less than fifteen flowers are open at the same time. The flowers are bisexual and radially symmetrical, between 1/8 and 1/4 inch across (0.4-0.55 mm). The calyx and corolla are open-bell shaped, each with five rounded lobes. The white corolla often has fine red-purple lines extending into the throat. There are five stamens with white anthers that extend to the corolla top. The pollen is white. The single pistil has a one-chambered, spherical superior ovary and a single style with  two short branches that extend just beyond the anthers and bear minute stigmas. The plant generally blooms between February and June.468

The fruit is a dry, rounded, hairy capsule that develops surrounded by spreading sepals and topped by a persistent style. Each fruit has a few seeds of two types: the outer seeds are larger, wrinkled and irregular in texture; inner seeds are smaller and  smoother, “hidden” behind the larger ones.

Green leaves and white flowers

Rios trailhead | February 2019

White flowers with purple streaks through the petals

Rios trailhead | March 2015

Microscopic photo of maturing fruit with small hairs

Maturing fruit | Rios Trailhead | May 2019

Distribution 7,59,89

Common eucrypta is native to southwestern United States, below 4000 feet. It is found mostly in south-western Arizona, south-central California, and north-western Mexico. In California it occurs across the southern portion of the state and along the coast to San Francisco Bay. It avoids the Central Valley, the higher mountains and the lower deserts. It occurs in several vegetation types, from coastal sage scrub and chaparral to oak woodlands, preferring full or partial shade, often in slightly moist areas.

In the Reserve, common eucrypta is a common but inconspicuous plant throughout the Reserve, especially in the shade beneath larger shrubs. It disappears rapidly as the soil dries out. The spring following the fire in 2019, several large plants emerged in the burned area.

Classification 2,59,486

Common eucrypta is a dicot angiosperm in the borage family (Boraginaceae).2 Plants in this family often have flowers produced along a coiled stalk (a “scorpioid cyme”). As the stalk unfurls, new flowers open at the top of the coil while seedpods develop along the older stalk. Plants often have small, stiff hairs. Perhaps the best known members of the Boraginaceae are borage, which is an annual herb native to central and eastern Europe and used in soups and salads, and the garden forget-me-not.41 Other plants in the borage family that are found in the Reserve include common phacelia (Phacelia distans), coast fiddleneck (Amsinkia intermedia) and fiesta flower (Pholistoma auritum).48

Species of Eucrypta were previously placed in the waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae), based on morphological characteristics. Subsequently, the availability of molecular data led to several reinterpretations of this relationship and resulted in the merging of the two families. This is the system currently used by Jepson,2 the authority for this Plant Guide. In 2016, the Boraginales Working Group reevaluated the borage complex and again recommended a separate waterleaf family.422 Many botanists have accepted this revision and Eucrypta is found listed in the Hydrophyllaceae in both oldest and most recent literature. Research into the relationships between the two families is continuing.

The genus Eucrypta is a small genus with just two species; the second species (E. micrantha) is found in the desert. Two varieties of common  E. chrysanthemifolia are currently recognized. Ours is E. chrysanthemifolia var. chrysanthemifolia, which occurs coastally. A second variety (var. bipinnatifida) is found inland.

Alternate Scientific Names:

Ellisia chrysanthemifolia

Jepson eFlora Taxon Page
Green rosette leaves

Rios trailhead | March 2015

stems and white flower buds

Nature Center | April 2018

microscope view of stem

Plants in the borage family often have small stiff hairs | Nature Center | April 2018


The only ecological references that we can find are a few reports that include common eucrypta in a list of fire-following annuals.36,170,281 It is not dependent on fire in the strictest sense, but sprouting and growth is enhanced by something associated with fire.

A question that appaently remains unaddressed is whether or not the two morphological types of seeds represent functional differences (as, for instance, in telegraph weed, Heterotheca grandiflora).

Small white flowers

Nature Center | April 2018

stems and flowers

Developing fruit | Nature Center | April 2018

Small white flowers with five petals

Nature Center | April 2018

Human Uses

As one researcher wrote: common eucrypta “is one of those plants that while recognized in botanical literature dating as far back to the early plant explorers of the 18th century, has largely been ignored.”486 This is certainly true in the ethnobotanical literature where we have found no mention of this plant.

Small white flowers

Rios trailhead | April 2017

Microscope view of small white flower with five petals

Rios trailhead | March 2019

Green rosette leaves

Rios trailhead | December 2018

Interesting Facts 21,59

The genus name Eucrypta  derives from the Greek words “eu”, meaning well or true, and “crypta”, meaning secret, alluding to the two types of seed, the smaller, inner seeds hidden inside by the outer.

close up of small white flowers

Nature Center | April 2018

microscope view of white flower with five petals

Nature Center | April 2018

Green rosette leaves

Nature Center | April 2018

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