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FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 5 | Caryophyllaceae

18. Cerastium Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 437. 1753. Gen. Pl. ed. 5. 199. 1754.

Mouse-ear chickweed, céraiste [Greek, ceras, horn, alluding to shape of capsule]

John K. Morton

Herbs, annual, winter annual, or perennial. Taproots slender, perennial taxa often rhizomatous, rooting at nodes. Stems ascending to erect or decumbent, simple or branched, terete. Leaves basally connate, petiolate (basal in some species) or sessile (cauline); blade 1-5-veined, linear or elliptic to broadly ovate, not succulent (except in C. bialynickii, C. regelii, and C. viride), apex acute to obtuse. Inflorescences terminal, open or congested cymes, or flowers solitary, axillary (racemosely arranged in C. axillare); bracts paired, foliaceous or reduced, herbaceous or often with scarious margins. Pedicels erect, sometimes reflexed or hooked at apex in fruit, or flowers sometimes subsessile (C. regelii). Flowers bisexual, occasionally unisexual and pistillate; perianth and androecium hypogynous or weakly perigynous; hypanthium minimal; sepals (4-)5, distinct, green (red-tipped in C. glomeratum and C. pumilum, often violet-tipped in C. alpinum, purple in C. bialynickii, turning pale orange-brown in fruit in C. texanum), elliptic to ovate, 3-12 mm, herbaceous, margins translucent to purplish, scarious, apex acute, acuminate, or obtuse, not hooded; petals (4-)5 or sometimes absent, white (purple tinged in C. pumilum and C. regelii), clawed, blade apex 2-fid 1/ 1/ 2 of length, notched, or emarginate; nectaries at base of filaments opposite sepals; stamens usually 10, sometimes 5 or 8, occasionally 4; filaments distinct, inserted at base of ovary; staminodes absent or 1-4 (via anther abortion), linear; styles (3-)5(-6), clavate to filiform, 0.5-2 mm, glabrous proximally; stigmas (3-)5(-6), subterminal to linear along adaxial surface of styles, roughened to papillate (30×). Capsules oblong or cylindric, usually ± curved, opening by 10, or occasionally 6 or 8, erect or spreading, convolute or revolute teeth, longer than sepals; carpophore absent. Seeds 15-150+, orange to brown, angular-obovate, often with abaxial groove, laterally compressed, papillate-tuberculate, marginal wing absent, appendage absent. x = [9?, 13, 15] 17, 18, 19.

Species ca. 100 (27 in the flora): worldwide, but mainly north-temperate region.

Two names that appear in many North American treatments, Cerastium viscosum Linnaeus and C. vulgatum Linnaeus, have been proposed for rejection (N. J. Turland and M. Wyse Jackson 1997) because they have been a long-standing source of confusion. American authors have frequently applied C. viscosum to C. glomeratum Thuillier but most of the possible lectotypes are referable to C. fontanum. Similarly C. vulgatum has been used for C. fontanum Baumgarten. However the possible lectotypes of C. vulgatum are mixed and most are referable to C. arvense, C. fontanum, and C. glomeratum.

I have not attempted to present an infrageneric classification for Cerastium. Several species groupings can be recognized based on capsule structure. Examples include species with the capsule teeth revolute (coiled outwards like a watch spring), e.g., C. maximum and C. texanum, whereas in most of our species the teeth are erect with their margins outwardly rolled (convolute). Also C. cerastoides is anomalous in having three styles, a straight ovoid-conic capsule, and deeply bilobed petals—characters that have led some authors to place it in the genus Stellaria. Accepting the most recent infrageneric classification (B. K. Schischkin 1936), even with subsequent modifications, does not appear to be warranted. Additional study is needed to determine relevant species relationships within the genus.

While the base chromosome number for Cerastium is often cited as x = 9, only a single count of 2n = 18 is known; see C. Favarger and M. Krähenbühl (1996) for a discussion of the diverse cytological conditions found in Cerastium.


Böcher, T. W. 1977. Cerastium alpinum and C. arcticum, a mature polyploid complex. Bot. Not. 130: 303-309. Brysting, A. K. and R. Elven. 2000. The Cerastium alpinum-C. arcticum complex (Caryophyllaceae): Numerical analyses of morphological variation and a taxonomic revision of C. arcticum Lange s.l. Taxon 49: 189-216. Good, D. A. 1984. Revision of the Mexican and Central American species of Cerastium. Rhodora 86: 339-379. Hultén, E. 1956. The Cerastium alpinum complex. A case of world-wide introgressive hybridization. Svensk Bot. Tidsk. 50: 411-495.

1 Capsules straight, teeth becoming outwardly coiled   (2)
+ Capsules usually curved (rarely straight), teeth erect or sometimes spreading, never coiled, margins convolute   (3)
2 (1) Petals less than 10 mm   24 Cerastium texanum
+ Petals (15-)18-25 mm   18 Cerastium maximum
3 (1) Plants annual, with all shoots producing flowers   (4)
+ Plants perennial, often with nonflowering shoots   (15)
4 (3) Styles 3-4(-5); capsules with 6, 8 (10) teeth   (5)
+ Styles 5; capsules with 10 teeth   (6)
5 (4) Styles 4(-5); stamens 4(-5); capsules 1-1.5 times as long as sepals; cauline leaves ovate to oblong-ovate   12 Cerastium diffusum
+ Styles 3(-4); stamens 10; capsules ca. 2 times as long as sepals; cauline leaves linear to linear-lanceolate   13 Cerastium dubium
6 (4) Bracts, at least distalmost, with scarious margins   (7)
+ Bracts all completely herbaceous   (9)
7 (6) Stamens 10   16 Cerastium fontanum (in part)
+ Stamens 5   (8)
8 (7) Sepals and distal bracts with broad, scarious margins; petal veins not branched   22 Cerastium semidecandrum
+ Sepals and distal bracts with very narrow, scarious margins; petal veins branched   20 Cerastium pumilum
9 (6) Sepals with long hairs exceeding sepal tips   (10)
+ Sepals with hairs shorter than sepal tips   (11)
10 (9) Pedicels shorter than capsules; cauline leaf blades broadly ovate or elliptic-ovate   17 Cerastium glomeratum
+ Pedicels longer than capsules; cauline leaf blades lanceolate or elliptic   8 Cerastium brachypetalum
11 (9) Flowers racemosely arranged singly in axils of foliaceous bracts along length of stem   5 Cerastium axillare
+ Flowers in terminal dichotomous cymes or clusters   (12)
12 (11) Capsules narrowly conic, straight; stamens 5; pedicels shorter than sepals   11 Cerastium dichotomum
+ Capsules cylindric, curved; stamens 10; pedicels shorter than, equaling, or usually longer than sepals   (13)
13 (12) Pedicels equaling or shorter than capsules, often becoming deflexed proximally   9 Cerastium brachypodum
+ Pedicels longer than capsules, sharply deflexed distally   (14)
14 (13) Sepals ovate-lanceolate, apex broadly acute to obtuse, inner with broad, scarious margins (ca. as wide as herbaceous center); mid-stem leaf blades lanceolate to narrowly elliptic, 10-60 × 3-15 mm; capsules (9-)10-12(-13) mm   19 Cerastium nutans
+ Sepals narrowly lanceolate, apex sharply acute to acuminate, inner with narrow, scarious margins (narrower than herbaceous center); mid-stem leaf blades linear-lanceolate, 20-70 × 1.5-6 mm; capsules (5-)7-10(-11) mm   14 Cerastium fastigiatum
15 (3) Styles 3 (rarely to 6); capsules straight, ovoid-conic, oblong after dehiscence, teeth 6 (rarely to 12 )   10 Cerastium cerastoides
+ Styles 5; capsules usually curved, rarely straight, cylindric (rarely broadly conic), teeth 10   (16)
16 (15) Small tufts of leaves in axils of mid and proximal stem leaves   (17)
+ Small tufts of leaves usually absent from axils of mid and proximal stem leaves (normal leafy shoots may be present)   (20)
17 (16) Petals 7.5-9 mm; sepals 3.5-6(-7) mm; flowering stems 5-20(-30) cm; anthers 0.8-0.9 mm   4 Cerastium arvense (in part)
+ Petals 10-15 mm; sepals 5-9 mm; flowering stems 15-45 cm; anthers 0.9-1.2 mm   (18)
18 (17) Plants taprooted, tufted, with or without short, nonflowering, leafy shoots; pubescence on proximal stem spreading; e North America   26 Cerastium velutinum
+ Plants with long-creeping rhizomes; pubescence on proximal stems deflexed   (19)
19 (18) Capsules 2.5-4 mm wide; sepals 5-7 mm; seeds 0.6-1.2 mm; introduced lawn weed   4 Cerastium arvense (in part)
+ Capsules 4-5 mm wide; sepals 6-9 mm; seeds 1-1.5 mm; Pacific coastal region   27 Cerastium viride
20 (16) Leaf surfaces obscured by dense white tomentum   25 Cerastium tomentosum
+ Leaf surfaces clearly visible through pubescence or leaf blades glabrous   (21)
21 (20) Long flexuous hairs present on stems and/or leaf blades   2 Cerastium alpinum
+ Long flexuous hairs absent, pubescence of straight or deflexed, short or long hairs   (22)
22 (21) Gland-tipped hairs absent, pubescence eglandular throughout   (23)
+ Gland-tipped hairs present at least in inflorescences   (24)
23 (22) Inflorescences with 3+ flowers; stems 10-45 cm; leaves not marcescent; ubiquitous weed   16 Cerastium fontanum (in part)
+ Inflorescences with 1(-3) flowers; stems 3-7 cm; proximal leaves marcescent; w arctic native   1 Cerastium aleuticum
24 (22) Testa of seeds inflated, loose (rubs off when rolled between finger and thumb); Newfoundland   23 Cerastium terrae-novae
+ Testa of seeds not inflated, closely and firmly enclosing seed; North America, rarely in Newfoundland   (25)
25 (24) Plants pulvinate; stems 1-10 cm   (26)
+ Plants rhizomatous, mat-forming or tufted, not pulvinate; stems 5-50 cm   (27)
26 (25) Plants rarely flowering; leaf blades subglabrous or with few colorless cilia   21 Cerastium regelii (in part)
+ Plants normally flowering; leaf blades densely hispid with long, fuscous hairs   7 Cerastium bialynickii
27 (25) Petals ± equaling sepals   (28)
+ Petals 1.5-2 times as long as sepals   (29)
28 (27) Proximal bracts foliaceous   6 Cerastium beeringianum (in part)
+ Proximal bracts herbaceous, lanceolate, reduced   16 Cerastium fontanum (in part)
29 (27) Sepals 6-11 mm, narrowly lanceolate-triangular, apex acute or acuminate, scarious margins narrow   (30)
+ Sepals 3-7 mm, lanceolate to broadly elliptic, apex obtuse to ± acute, scarious margins broad   (31)
30 (29) Apices of mid and distal stem leaf blades acute; pubescence on stem and leaf blades long, dense, yellowish; inflorescences 2-10-flowered; w arctic   15 Cerastium fischerianum
+ Apices of mid and distal stem leaf blades usually round and obtuse; pubescence colorless to somewhat fuscous; inflorescences 1-3-flowered; e arctic   3 Cerastium arcticum
31 (29) Sepals with ± acute apex; leaf blades not succulent, pubescent, those on flowering shoots with ± acute apex; petals usually equaling, rarely to 2 times as long as sepals; plants taprooted, forming clumps, rarely rhizomatous   6 Cerastium beeringianum (in part)
+ Sepals with obtuse apex; leaf blades succulent, subglabrous to ciliate with long, colorless hairs, rotund, obovate, broadly elliptic, or broadly lanceolate, apex obtuse; petals 1.5-2 times as long as sepals; plants strongly rhizomatous with nonflowering, creeping shoots 6-30 cm   21 Cerastium regelii (in part)

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