The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Calliandra eriophylla with Cottsia gracilis
Fairy duster and Janusia vine

CALLIANDRA ERIOPHYLLA below  |  COTTSIA GRACILIS here.

FAMILY:  Fabaceae — Legume family

ETYMOLOGY:  The genus Calliandra derives its name from the ancient Greek words 'kalos' (beautiful) and 'andros' (male), a combination that describes the flowers' showy red/pink/white stamens (the male reproductive structures) that extend far beyond the rest of the flower.

The species epithet eriophylla desribes the leaves, erio- (wooly) and phylla (leaves)

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE:  Found in the southernmost tip of CA, most of AZ, southwestern NM, into Mexico.

HABITAT:  Sandy washes and gravelly slopes and mesas, 2,000-5,000'.

BLOOMING SEASON:  February to May, with periodic blooms in summer and fall in response to rainfall.

DESCRIPTION:  Perennial shrub, 1-3' tall with equal spread. Thornless with rigid gray branches.

The showy puffball-like flowers are 1-2" in diameter and are actually made up of clusters of several individual flowers. Each flowers can have 20 or more long stamens that extend well beyond the corolla. The sepals and petals are small and inconspicuous when compared to the showy stamens, which are white at the base, darkening to pink with reddish-purple anthers at the tips.

Dark green leaves are 1" long and covered in fine hairs that give them a silvery cast. Bipinnately compound leaves consiste of 2-4 pairs of pinnae, each with 7-10 leaflets. Leaves are cold and drought deciduous.

Seed pods, 1.25-3.5" long, are flat and brown, covered in a soft white wool with red ridges around the margins of the pod. When pods mature, they split at the margins and curl backwards. These distinctive empty pods remain on the plant for some months.

NOTES:
Desert Adaptations:  The small size of the leaflets reduce the plant's water loss and help it avoid overheating. The fine hairs on the stems and leaves reflect sunlight and help reduce water loss. During drought conditions, the plant will drop its leaves to conserve water.

Wildlife Assocations:   Fairy duster is relished by deer and rabbits who keep the plant as a low, spreading shrub. In cultivation without predation, the plant can reach 3' in height.