CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Cryptantha crassipes

Kathy Rice

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Cryptantha crassipes

Common Name: 
Terlingua Creek cat's-eye
I.M. Johnston
Growth Habit: 
Subshrub, Forb/herb
CPC Number: 


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Cryptantha crassipesenlarge
Photographer: Kathy Rice

Cryptantha crassipesenlarge
Photographer: Kathy Rice

Cryptantha crassipes is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Kathleen C. Rice contributed to this Plant Profile.

Cryptantha crassipes

Cryptantha crassipes, a long-lived herbaceous perennial in the Borage family, is an unusual clump-forming plant with leaves that are covered with silvery-gray hairs. Clumps develop gradually, beginning as seedlings, then forming a new ring of leaf-clusters each growing season. A black sooty fungus-like growth is found on bases of the majority of the clumps, and occasional clumps are entirely black, appearing dead. Leaves are topped with clusters of white flowers with bright yellow centers. Plants flower and fruit in April/May. The fruit consists of 4 nutlets that are egg-shaped and very hairy. (USFWS 1994).

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Cryptantha crassipes
  The species is endemic to a geologic formation of creamy yellow limestone with exceptionally high gypsum levels, which is known as 'Fizzle Flat lentil'. This limestone forms very thin plates between which can be found many fossils (Moon 1953). The majority of the formation is almost completely plant-free and has a strange unearthly appearance, with a highly reflective surface (Moon 1953), from which the plants are able to absorb much additional radiation. Around the periphery of this unique formation can be found relatively high densities of Cryptantha, with a few individuals straying onto the limestone formation. Cryptantha crassipes grows in strange patterns on the gypsum-limestone formation'. Several other rare species occur in the same habitat, including Castilleja elongata and Lycium berberioides. (Poole 1987, USFWS 1994).

Associated species, limited to the adjoining darker soil type derived from volcanic rock, include Berberis trifoliata, Dasyliron wheeleri, Amsonia longiflora, Krameria sp., Dyssodia sp., Leucophyllum candidum, Larrea tridentata,
Bouteloua sp. and Condalia warnockii.

  Plants are limited to an area of slightly over 100 square miles in Brewster County in west Texas, with a gypsum-clay substrate.

Number Left
  There are approximately 5000 individuals in 10 unprotected populations (located on privately owned land). All of these populations are located within a 100 square mile area very near Big Bend National Park, but not on park land (USFWS 1994).


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Texas S1 10/8/1991  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Pollinators (most likely insects such as bees, butterflies or beetles) are low in frequency and number. The relationship between pollinators and this plant needs to be examined (Poole 1987).

Seed dispersal is most likely carried out by water, insects, or small mammals. Nothing is know about the seed biology of this species in it's natural habitat. (Poole 1994)

  All known populations of this species are located on privately owned land. The greatest threat to this species is habitat alteration and destruction due to such things as mining, off-road vehicle use, road development and maintenance, and residential development (USFWS 1991, 1994). The limited habitat and low population numbers of this species only serve to amplify the threat of habitat destruction. (Poole 1987, USFWS 1994).

Over ten years ago, the land was subdivided and made available for sale to developers. In the last five years, new roads and utility boxes have appeared. In such a desolate, xeric place, the sight of human habitation would indeed be startlingly anomalous. A mine was expanded, and subsequently closed, as prices of the mined material dropped. The potential for complete extirpation of this species is alarmingly real, as this 100 square mile area is the only place on earth where Cryptantha crassipes can grow.

Another potential threat is the fact that no seedlings or juveniles have been seen at any of the sites in a number of years (Poole 1987).

Current Research Summary
  During the 1930's, a claim was made that flowers are heterostylic, with 2 different style lengths (Johnston 1939). This suggests that the plant is an obligate outcrosser, and would thus require some sort of pollinator for successful seed production. Higgins (1971) discounted this, but Hughes confirmed it in a 1992 study. This could be a possible limiting factor to reproduction, especially if pollinators are scarce. In his 1992 study, Hughes also propagated 98 plants from seed (germination rates of 45%-75%) in a greenhouse setting as was able to produce 3 flowering individuals in two years.

In 1990 the Desert Botanical Garden began a conservation seedbank of this species, and has collected seeds almost annually since. This Garden has also performed germination experiments on their collected seed to determine the best methods for germination and seedling growth. (USFWS 1994).

Current Management Summary
  Cattle are grazed in the area, bentonite mining has occurred near the site, and several roads have been cut through the site by Terlingua Ranch Resort for the buyers of their 5-20 acre tracts of land for housing development. All of these activities are presumed to be detrimental to the species. No known management regimes have been put in place to benefit the species. (Poole 1987)

Research Management Needs
Population biology
Pollination biology
Genetic variability and fitness
Reproductive biology and phenology
Seed dispersal, biology and ecology
Demographic structure of known populations

Use of conservation easements and private landowner education and cooperation
Population stabilization
Survey and monitor each population, then identify needed management actions

Ex Situ Needs
  The primary focus of the efforts of the Desert Botanical Garden has been to continue to build a seedbank of field-collected seeds, and to store it in 2 places. Collections are divided, one portion kept at DBG and a portion stored at National Seed Storage Lab in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Continued work in this area includes the need for development and maintenance of a genetically diverse seed bank.


Books (Single Authors)

Johnston, I.M. 1939. Studies in Boraginaceae, XIII. New or otherwise noteworthy species, chiefly from Western United States. New York: American Geographical Society.

Kartesz, J.T. 1993. Species distribution data for vascular plants of 70 geographical areas, from unpublished data files at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Kartesz, J.T. 1996. Species distribution data at state and province level for vascular plant taxa of the United States, Canada, and Greenland (accepted records), from unpublished data files at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Lundell, C.L. 1969. Flora of Texas. Renner, Texas: Texas Research Foundation.

Books (Sections)

Johnston, I.M. 1964/1966 (book). Boraginaceae. In: Lundell, C.L., editor. Fora of Texas. Texas Research Foundation. Renner, TX. p 123-222.

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Electronic Sources

(2000). Center for Plant Conservation's National Living Collection--Profiles. Desert Botanical Garden. http://www.dbg.org/Collections/cpc.html. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Conserving Native Species in Brewster County. Texas Department of Agriculture. http://www.agr.state.tx.us/pesticide/endangered/pes_brewster1.htm. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Texas Threatened and Endangered Plants--Profiles. Texas Parks and Wildlife. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/endang/plants/index.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Higgins, L.C. 1971. A revision of Cryptantha subgenus oreocarya. Brigham Young Univ. Sci. Bull. Biol. Serv. 13, 4: 1-63.

Johnston, I.M. 1961. Notes on some Texas borages. Wrightia. 2, 3: 158-162.

Payson, E.B. 1927. A monograph of the section Oreocarya of Cryptantha. Annals Missouri Botanical Garden. 14: 211-358.

USFWS. 1990. Proposed Rule To List the Plant Cryptantha crassipes (Terlingua Creek Catís Eye) as Endangered. Federal Register. 55, 72: 13919-13922.

USFWS. 1991. Final Rule to List the Plant Cryptantha crassipes (Terlingua Creek Cat's-eye) as Endangered. Federal Register. 56, 189: 49634-49636.


Hughes, B.G. 1992. The pollination biology and ecology of Cryptantha crassipes in southwestern Brewster County, Texas. Austin: Research proposal submitted to the Endangered Species Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Poole, J. 1987. Status Report on Cryptantha crassipes. Austin, TX: Texas Natural Heritage Program. p.20.

Poole, J.M. 1989. Status report on Acleisanthes crassifolia. Albuquerque, New Mexico: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

USFWS. 1994. Terlingua Creek Cat's-eye (Cryptantha crassipes) Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Austin, Texas. p.69.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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