Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata)

Although you may have some sympathy for this innocuous-looking plant with the rude name, I assure you, the disparaging epithet is well earned. While it appears unassuming and inoffensive, adorned with attractive oval leaves and oddly-shaped green berries, it is actually a duplicitous leech, and a bane to its neighbours. Bastard toadflax is hemiparasitic. That is, even though it has the capacity to produce its own sustenance through photosynthesis, it also obtains a free lunch by digging into the roots of unsuspecting adjacent plants to drain their water and nutrients.

The plant has merited its inclusion on the list of plant names that double as sharp personal insults, along with knobweed, skunk cabbage, stinking hellebore, and hoary puccoon.

For those of us who are not adjacent plants though, bastard toadflax is fine. It’s a common sight on the rocky ledges near Lookout Point.

Many sources list the fruit as edible, but I have so far found it to be unpalatable.

Other Common Names:

  • Umbellate bastard toadflax, common comandra, star toadflax

Characteristics:

  • Herbaceous perennial, up to 300mm tall, with unbranched to slightly branched stems.
  • Leaves are simple, alternate, oblong-elliptic, up to 2.5cm long, entire, hairless, sessile (no stem) or on very short stems, occurring along entire length of stem.

Reproduction:

  • Flowers are in terminal clusters, individual flowers have both male and female characteristics, roughly 6.5mm wide with 5 white-to-pink petal-like sepals, and 5 stamens.
  • Insect-pollinated
  • Fertilized flowers turn into round fruit with an elongated tip, turning green to blue to brown, with a single seed.
  • Reproduces via seed or rhizomes.

Similar Species:

  • Leaf shape is superficially similar to blueberry. Can be distinguished by berry shape, and by plant shape: blueberry is widely branching, while bastard toadflax has a single, unbranching stalk.

Ecological Role:

  • Attracts various bees, moths and flies
  • Fruits are eaten by various birds and rodents.

Edibility:

  • Fruit

Other Uses:

Etymology:

Other:

  • Often succumbs to comandra blister rust, a fungal disease.
  • Bastard toadflax is hemiparasitic – its roots send out suckers that attach to other plant’s roots, stealing nutrients.

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