The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Bastard Toadflax (Star Toadflax)


Scientific Name
Comandra umbellata (L.) Nutt. var. umbellata


Plant Family
Sandlewood (Santalaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Late Spring to Early Summer



Bastard Toadflax is a native, short erect perennial plant growing to 12 inches high on simple, light green, smooth stems, sometimes with a few branches.

The leaves are lance-like to oval, 1 to 2 inches long with pointed tips and up to 3/4 inch wide, alternate on the stem below the flower clusters, with smooth edges and surfaces, and a reticulated vein network. They may have short stalks or be stalkless.

The inflorescence is a terminal cluster of 12 or more flowers, the cluster somewhat flattened, caused by the individual flower stems having a different length, (a corymb). The flowers are small, 5-parted, with a five lobed bell shaped calyx without petals, about 1/4 inch wide, the top resembling a star, hence the alternate common name. The lower part of the calyx remains green while the lobes (the sepals) are white when the flower is open, but greenish-white prior to opening. They last two days each and do not close at night. Some flowers have only 4 calyx lobes. The five stamens are hairy with yellow anthers, are placed directly in front of the sepals and surround the pistil.

Seed: Fruit is a dry oily berry turning brown at maturity with the remains of the sepals persisting and containing a single seed.

Undesirable characteristics: The plant is parasitic on a wide range of plants and an alternate host to a fungus.

Habitat: Bastard Toadflax grows from a horizontal rhizome and sends out underground suckers to parasitize the root systems of nearby plants. It also produces food from photosynthesis, thus the plant is considered to be hemiparasitic. It can form large colonies from the root system, which is the plants' main means of reproduction. It grows in average soils, mesic to dry conditions, full to partial sun. Bastard Toadflax is the alternate host for the rust fungus Cronartium comandrae, known as the Comandra Pine Blister Rust, which affects pine species in North America.

Names: The genus Comandra is from two Greek words that mean 'male hair', a reference to the hair on the stamens. The species umbellata, is used when plants have an umbrella-like flower cluster. As to the common name, the plant is not a Toadflax but someone thought the leaves were like a Toadflax but the Toadflax are in the plant family Scrophulariaceae. 'Bastard' is not entirely correct either other than to perhaps mean 'false' Toadflax.

The author names for the plant classification are - first - 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended by “Nutt.’ who was Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) English botanist who lived and worked in America from 1808 to 1841. On his many expeditions he collected many species that had been originally collected by Lewis and Clark but lost by them. He also collaborated with French botanist Francois Andre Michaux (1770-1855) in Michaux’s 3 volume North American Sylva. Nuttall named this genus in 1818.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Toadflax Drawing

Above: Plants are usually under 12 inches high. The drawing is from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: The flowers of Bastard Toadflax lack petals. The white upper part of the calyx is the sepals that open like petals would in an ordinary flower.

Toadflax Toadflax

Below: The flowers as they begin to open giving the characteristic star shape. Not all open at once. Once open they last for two days. Some flowers have only 4 calyx lobes as seen in the 2nd photo.

Open Flowers Flower Detail


Notes: Bastard Toadflax is considered indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler noted it (as simply Comandra) in her Garden Log on May 31, 1907. It was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. She reported planting it in 1937, '46, '47, '48, and '51. It is considered native to all of Minnesota except for several scattered counties and is the only species of Comandra in the state. In North America it is resident in almost all of Canada and the eastern 2/3rds of the U.S. There are two varieties of this plant, var. pallida and var. umbellata. The latter is the one found in Minnesota according to the U of M Herbarium and the reference to the former as being in the state is considered spurious and the DNR does not make record of the variety.

Former Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden Gardener Cary George said that of all the plant identification signs that he made, the sign for this plant was one of two signs most often stolen, the other being "NO PICKING".

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.