Plantago erecta, Dwarf Plantain
Dwarf plantain is an intriguing small flower with unique blossoms on spikes growing 5 to 8" tall that grows from southern California to Oregon. The petals are creamily translucent, with splotches of maroon, tightly clustered at the end of the flower stalk. Extremely narrow, lance-like leaves rise up around the flower stalk. In spite of its diminutive, delicate appearance, dwarf plantain is still frequently found, which is good news for the butterflies for which it is a critical larval food plant.
Edith's checkerspot, the bay checkerspot butterfly, and the buckeye butterfly somehow find room on its slender leaves to lay their eggs, which somehow find enough nutrition to grow into caterpillars.
It blooms early in the year in coastal prairies, chaparral, coastal scrub, and in sandy, clay, or serpentine wildflower fields. It's always a relief to see it, since something so small could easily be swamped out by taller species.
As with other plantains, the seeds are edible. The seeds ripen in spring but are not released until summer. It makes a good combination with blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum.