Plant of the Month
RSABG Volunteer, Nature Interpreter
The seep-spring monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) is a variable plant ranging from spindly and tiny to large and bushy, between one and three feet tall. The two-lipped yellow flowers have red, or reddish-brown spots and can range from about one-half inch to almost two-inches in length. Described as a plant that likes to get its feet wet, it is found in moist places throughout most of California below 10,000 feet and flowers from March until August.
My field guides place it in the Scrophulariaceae (figwort family). Newer references, such as Jepson eFlora, have it in the Phrymaceae (lopseed family). The name monkeyflower comes from the supposition that the flowers look like little faces when viewed from the front. I have never seen a monkey’s face, but have noted that the blossoms close their stigmas after pollination. Most years it blooms across from the California Container Garden, so you may want to look for it yourself.
These are not just plants lovely to look at—monkeyflower leaves were eaten as a salad. The stems and roots were brewed as a tea and used to treat diarrhea and kidney problems.
Mimulus guttatus is also known as the common monkeyflower. I tried to research the reason for this. Is it because it is more readily found than other species, or because it is plainer than its relatives? None of the sources I found shed any light on that subject. What I did find out is that it may not be a Mimulus at all.
Recent molecular analysis seems to indicate that almost all Mimulus species in western North America should be reassigned to the species Erythranthe, and eventually Mimulus guttatus will be called Erythranthe guttatus. RSABG’s very own Naomi Fraga is one of the coauthors of a paper discussing this and other revised classifications.