Boraginaceae: Borage Family – Fiddleneck

Most members of the Borage family have their flowers arranged in coiled (scorpiod) cymes.  These flower from the base upwards, gradually unfurling like a scorpion’s tail or caterpillar, as new flowers emerge.   Fiddlenecks are a classic illustration of this, the name deriving from the shape of the top of a violin or fiddle.  They should not be confused with Fiddleheads, which are immature fern fronds.  Fiddlenecks fall into two broad categories, those with 2–4 calyx lobes, unequal in width and those with 5 calyx lobes of equal width.  Careful examination is usually needed to identify the different species, they are difficult if not impossible to identify from a distance.

Douglas’ Fiddleneck – Amsinckia douglasiana

Blooms:

Mar–June

Plant Height:

20–120 cm

Flower Size:

Small-medium (in clusters)

Origin:

Native

Rare or Endangered?

Yes – 4.2

Habitat:

Unstable shaly soils in interior and southern parts of county

Notes:

One of a minority of fiddlenecks with 2–4 calyx lobes of unequal width.  This has comparatively large, bright orange flowers, 14–22 mm long and 10–16 mm across, each lobe with 5 darker spots.  The stem is slender and branched in the upper half.  Forms impressive displays along the side of the Jolon/ Bradley road in Hames Valley.

Common Fiddleneck – Amsinckia intermedia

Blooms:

Apr–Aug

Plant Height:

20–120 cm

Flower Size:

Small (in clusters)

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Grassland, disturbed areas

Notes:

As its name suggests, this is the most commonly found Fiddleneck, certainly in the Monterey Peninsula where it is often found in great profusion. Individual flowers  are 7–11 mm long and 4–10 mm across, with a long, exserted tube.  Usually, they have orange spots at the base of the lobes.  There are 5 narrow calyx lobes, equal in width and fused only at their base.  Leaves are wavy-edged and bristly.  Except for the size of its flowers, this is similar to Small-flowered Fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii, see below), and Jepson suggests that they might be better regarded as a single species.

Small-flowered Fiddleneck – Amsinckia menziesii

Blooms:

Mar–July

Plant Height:

20–120 cm

Flower Size:

Very small (in clusters)

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Open/disturbed areas at woodland edges

Notes:

This is similar to Common Fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia, see above), but with smaller and paler flowers (4–7 mm long, 1–3 mm across), more or less exserted from the calyx tube.  Stems have two kinds of hairs, some short and appressed, others longer and spreading.  The finger nail is included for scale, it is exactly 1 cm across at its widest point.

Seaside Fiddleneck – Amsinckia spectabilis var. spectabilis

Blooms:

Mar–June

Plant Height:

10-60– cm

Flower Size:

Small-medium (in clusters)

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Sandy places, mainly coastal

Notes:

Although immediately recognizable as a fiddleneck, this species has several distinct features.   First, the stems are generally (though not always) decumbent, and second the leaves are more or less succulent, with fine teeth, each ending with a bristly hair.  Flowers are 7–15 mm long, 5–12 mm wide with 5 calyx lobes of equal width.

Carrizo Fiddleneck – Amsinckia tessellata var. gloriosa

Blooms:

Mar–June

Plant Height:

20–120 cm

Flower Size:

Small-medium (in clusters)

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Sandy or shaly soils, inland and south county

Notes:

Like Douglas’ Fiddleneck (Amsinckia douglasiana, see above) , this has 2–4 calyx lobes of unequal width and with a distinct notch at the tip.  Its flowers are a little smaller (12–16 mm long and 10–16 mm across).  A subtle difference is that the length of the style in this species is constant whereas it varies in Douglas’ Fiddleneck.  Occasionally found near eastern end of Carmel Valley Road.  Can form expansive populations in the Carrizo Plains area.

Waxy Fiddleneck – Amsinckia vernicosa

Blooms:

Mar–May

Plant Height:

20–120 cm

Flower Size:

Small (in clusters)

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Shaly slopes

Notes:

This uncommon fiddleneck has 2–4 calyx lobes of unequal width, just like Carrizo Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tesselata var. gloriosa, see above), which likes similar conditions.  But this is easily distinguished by its smaller flowers (8–12 mm long and 2–6 mm across), its white-to-pinkish nearly-glabrous stem, and its glaucous leaves.