TransLATINg Plant Names: Dimorphocarpa wislizeni

By Lani DuFresne, February 2024

In each Southwest Seed Partnership newsletter, we dive into a species’ binomial nomenclature and share the information often contained in scientific names. In this year’s newsletter, we chose to highlight Dimorphocarpa wislizeni, a plant with a name as unique as its appearance.

Flowers of Dimorphocarpa wislizeni. Image credit: Gregory Gust, via SEINet

Also commonly called spectacle pod or touristplant, both the scientific and common names of this mustard refer to its distinctive seed pods. The pods are two conjoined carpels held perpendicular to the stem, almost like a pair of glasses that warrants the name spectacle pod, or resembling the binoculars of a sightseer, thus called touristplant. The genus name Dimorphocarpa is a long-form description of the pods: Di- for two, morph for form or shape, and karpos for fruit, referring to the double carpels.


Distinctive joined seed pods of Dimorphocarpa wislizeni. Image credit: Gregory Gust, via SEINet

The species name wislizeni adds an homage to the medical doctor, explorer, and botanist Friederich Adolph Wislizenus. Wislizenus, born in Germany in 1810, emigrated to the US as a young man and traveled in expeditions across the western states, notably to Santa Fe right as the Mexican-American War broke out. Wislizenus was a contemporary and friend of botanist George Engelmann, who received and curated Wislizenus’s plant collection from the expedition and likely named this flower in his honor.

Spectacle pod is a southwestern annual herb that thrives in dry, sandy areas like desert flats and dunes. Though often diminutive and overlooked, Dimorphocarpa wislizeni has a unique seed shape that’s more than worth the double take.


  • FNA 2010, MacDougall 1973, Heil et al. 2013, Allred and Ivey 2012, Jepson eFlora (Al-Shehbaz 2017); Editors: L. Crumbacher 2011, A. Hazelton 2017; from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; accessed 01/2024.
  • Schlueter, Robert E. (1938), “Frederick Adolphus Wislizenus (1810-1889), Pioneer Meteorologist, Physician and Natural Scientist”, Isis, 28 (1): 38–52, doi:10.1086/347302, JSTOR 225804, S2CID 72434545