Butter-and-eggs or Common Owl’s-clover

Scientific name: Triphysaria eriantha
Family: Scrophulariaceae (figwort)
Habitat: grassland (damp)
Size: plant 4 inches tall, flower 0.8 to 1.3 cm long

Fun facts: This plant is a hemi-parasite because it taps into the roots of other plants to steal nutrients.

Description: Member of the figwort family. The flowers are long tubes with three inflated (balloon-like) sacks near the top. In Butter-and-eggs, the sacks are bright yellow.

Note that the multi-lobed bracts of Butter-and-eggs are purple. The other owl’s-clovers at Mather Field have white tipped bracts or solid green bracts.

Life cycle: Butter-and-eggs is an annual. It germinates in the middle of the winter, but does not grow very much until the weather begins to warm. Butter-and-eggs blooms in March and April.

Ecology: Butter-and-eggs is a hemi-parasite on annual plants. The tips of its roots tap into the root system of the other plant to rob nutrients. Unlike the Vernal Pool Dodder (Cuscuta howelliana) which is a true parasite, the Triphysaria can only steal a portion of the nutrients it needs and has to make the rest through photosynthesis.

Most Owl’s-clovers require very specific environmental conditions for successful germination and growth. Some years there will be only a few plants and other years there might be millions! Very little is known about how Owl’s-clovers are pollinated.

Investigate: From the shape and coloration of the flower, Butter-and-eggs is probably insect pollinated. Can you figure out which insect pollinates it? Be sure to look at tiny crawling insects as well as flying ones!