Pink family (Caryophyllaceae)
This herbaceous perennial plant develops dense clusters of stems up to
8" long (excluding any inflorescences); they often branch at their
bases. The stems are erect to ascending; they are light green or
yellowish red, and glabrous. Pairs of opposite primary
leaves occur along these stems; they are more densely distributed below
than above. In addition to the primary leaves, there are sessile
fascicles of secondary leaves that develop from the axils of the lower
primary leaves. Relative to the orientation of their stems, these
leaves are ascending.
Individual leaves are ½–¾" long and up to 2 mm. across; they
are linear to narrowly linear-lanceolate in shape, while their margins
are entire. The leaf bases are narrowly connate, enclosing the adjacent
stems, while the leaf tips taper gradually into needle-like points. The
leaves are yellowish green to medium green, glabrous, and stiff; their
upper surfaces are flat, while their lower surfaces are increasingly
convex toward their bases. Many stems terminate in large airy cymes of
5-50 flowers; these cymes are dichotomously or trichotomously branched.
The branches of each cyme are slender, and glabrous; solitary
are borne on slender glabrous pedicels up to 2" long.
Each flower spans
about 1/3" (8 mm.) across when it is fully open, consisting of 5 white
spreading petals, 5 green sepals, 10 stamens with white filaments and
white anthers, and a light green ovary with 3 white styles. The petals
are oblong to oblanceolate in shape with either rounded or slightly
notched tips; they are longer than the sepals. The sepals are 4-5 mm.
long, lanceolate in shape with acute tips, and 3-5 veined. The blooming
period occurs from late spring to mid-summer, lasting about 1-2 months.
Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by ovoid seed capsules about 3-4
mm. tall. These capsules open up at their apices, where they are
3-toothed, releasing numerous tiny seeds. The seeds are about 1 mm.
long, compressed-reniform in shape, dark brown to black, and minutely
tubercled. The root system consists of a taproot or thickened crown
with fibrous roots.
The preference is full sun, dry conditions, and calcareous soil
containing and abundance of sand, gravel, or rocky material. Partial
shade is also tolerated. This plant is a potential candidate for rock
gardens, although it is difficult to transplant. Competition from
taller and more aggressive plants is not tolerated.
& Habitat: The native Stiff Sandwort is
found primarily in northern
Illinois, where it is uncommon (see Distribution
As a result of
development and habitat destruction, populations of this plant have
declined. Habitats include sandy open woodlands, dry sandy
savannas, dry sand prairies, dry gravel prairies, hill prairies,
limestone glades, ledges along cliffs, exposed slopes of bluffs, sandy
ridges along Lake Michigan, and low sand dunes along Lake Michigan.
This plant is found in high quality natural areas where there is sparse
Faunal Associations: Little information is
available about floral-faunal relationships for this plant. The flowers
probably attract small bees and flies.
sandy savanna and low sand dune along Lake Michigan at the
Illinois Beach State Park in NE Illinois.
Comments: Because of
the mats of stiff prickly foliage, this is a very distinctive plant.
Stiff Sandwort (Minuartia michauxii) is similar in
appearance to a
closely related plant, Slender Sandwort (Minuartia patula).
plant usually has opposite leaves that are spaced more evenly along its
stems and fascicled secondary leaves are either absent or poorly
developed. In addition, the leaves of this latter plant are more
succulent and terete than those of Stiff Sandwort. Slender Sandwort is
typically found in wooded areas, rather than the open and exposed
locations that Stiff Sandwort prefers. Other similar species in the
Pink family (Caryophyllaceae) have either wider or shorter leaves,
their opened seed capsules have more than 3 teeth at their
apices, or their flowers are smaller in size and less showy. Two
scientific synonyms of Stiff Sandwort are Minuartia stricta
and Arenaria stricta. Other common names of this
include Rock Sandwort and Michaux's Stitchwort.