This herbaceous perennial plant produces one or more unbranched stems
from its root system; these stems are 4-14" long, erect to ascending,
whitish green, terete, and densely covered with appressed hairs.
Alternate leaves occur along the entire length of each stem; they are
¾–2½" long, 2-6 mm. across, linear-oblong in
shape, entire (toothless) along their margins, and sessile.
The leaf blades have a tendency to become larger in size as they ascend
up the stems. The upper leaf surface is grayish green and more or less
covered with appressed hairs, while the lower leaf surface is whitish
green and densely covered with appressed hairs. The leaves have
prominent central veins.
Each mature stem
terminates in a cluster of nearly sessile flowers. Each flower consists
of a pale yellow to yellow corolla, a whitish green calyx with 5 linear
teeth, 5 inserted stamens, and a pistil with a single style. The
trumpet-shaped corolla is ¾–1¼" (18-32 mm.) long and 10-18 mm. across;
it has 5 rounded
spreading lobes, a narrowly cylindrical base, and a throat with a
narrow opening. The lobes of the corolla are ruffled or fringed.
The calyx (including its teeth) is up to 8 mm. long; it is more
or less covered with appressed hairs. At the flower bases,
there are small leafy bracts up to 8 mm. long; except for their small
size, they resemble the leaves. The blooming period for these flowers
occurs from late spring to early summer, lasting about 3 weeks. In
addition to these showy flowers, this plant also produces small
cleistogamous flowers later in the summer. These latter flowers are
about ¼" long and inconspicuous; they are self-fertile. Afterwards,
fertile flowers are replaced by small nutlets (4 nutlets per flower).
Mature nutlets are 3–3.5 mm. long, ovoid in shape, light gray to white,
shiny, and sparsely pitted. Individual nutlets are keeled along one
side, while their bottoms are truncate and their apices are somewhat
pointed. The root system consists
of a deep taproot. This
plant reproduces by reseeding itself.
The preference is full sun, dry-mesic to dry conditions,
and barren soil that is stony or sandy. Seed germination requires no
pretreatment involving winter dormancy. As a perennial, this plant is
moderately short-lived (typically surviving about 5 years), but its
seeds are easier to germinate than many other native puccoons
The native Fringed Puccoon occurs in
northern and western Illinois, where it is uncommon.
Illinois lies along the eastern range-limit of this species. Habitats
include upland prairies, gravel prairies, sand prairies, hill prairies,
sandy or rocky savannas, limestone glades, and pastures.
Fringed Puccoon has a tendency to increase in response to light or
moderate grazing by cattle. Occasional wildfires are probably
beneficial by reducing competition from woody plants and by removing
the accumulation of smothering debris from dead herbaceous plants. In
Illinois, Fringed Puccoon is found in higher quality natural areas.
The structure of the large showy flowers
that they are cross-pollinated by butterflies, skippers, and
possibly the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (in Illinois). A small
number of insects are known to feed on the leaves, roots, and other
parts of Fringed Puccoon and other puccoons (Lithospermum
) that are found in prairies. They include larvae of a
), larvae of a moth, the Gray Ethmia
), and larvae of a Sesiid moth (Carmenta
); see Yanega (1996), Powell (1973), and BugGuide
bugguide.net) for more information. However, the range of the Sesiid
moth extends eastward
to Kansas and Nebraska; it has not been found in Illinois. Several
grasshoppers are known to feed occasionally on Fringed Puccoon. They
include the Two-striped Grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus
), Yellowish Grasshopper (Melanoplus
), and Gladston's Grasshopper (Melanoplus gladstoni
Campbell et al. (1974), Brust et al. (2008), and Joern (1985) for more
A sandy hill prairie in Cook
County, Illinois. The photographs were taken by Bill Johnson (Copyright
This is one of three puccoon species (Lithospermum spp.
Illinois that inhabit prairies. They all produce showy flowers at about
the same time each year that vary in color from pale yellow to
orange-yellow. Fringed Puccoon can be distinguished from these other
species by the fringed or ruffled lobes of its corolla and very narrow
mm. across). It also produces small cleistogamous (self-fertile)
flowers, unlike the others. Similar to other puccoons, a blue dye can
be obtained from its roots.