Geocarpon (Earth Fruit; Tiny Tim)

Geocarpon minimum

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Photo of a geocarpon plant showing stems and foliage
MDC Staff
Endangered
Threatened
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Caryophyllaceae (pinks)

Description

The genus Geocarpon contains only this single species. It is a small, annual, succulent plant growing 1½ inches tall. Young plants are dull green, sometimes tinged with red, and may become wine-red as the growing season progresses. The leaves are tiny and cup shaped, growing opposite each other along the branches.

Size

Height: to about 1½ inches.

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Photo of a geocarpon plant growing in sandy substrate
Geocarpon
Young geocarpon plants are dull green, sometimes tinged with red, and may become wine-red as the growing season progresses.

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Photo of a geocarpon plant blooming near Willard
Geocarpon Blooming in Greene County
Gercarpon blooms mid-March–early May. The flowers are green and inconspicuous, growing at the base of the leaves, and may appear to be leaves themselves.

Geocarpon_Greene_Co_glade_near_Willard_3-1995-1.jpg

Photo of a geocarpon plant growing in Greene County, Missouri
Geocarpon near Willard, Missouri
Geocarpon has special habitat requirements: it lives in small sandstone glades and outcrops, where it thrives at the base of slightly tilted rock outcrops where seepage water flows into shallow depressions.

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Photo of a geocarpon plant with a penny beside it for scale
Geocarpon Plant
The genus Geocarpon contains only this single species. It is a small, annual, succulent plant growing 1½ inches tall.

Geocarpon_Bona_Glade_NA_5-1994-2.jpg

Photo of geocarpon flowers maturing into fruits at Bona Glade NA
Geocarpon Maturing at Bona Glade NA
Geocarpon is the only member of its genus. Extremely rare, it is a Species of Conservation Concern.

Geocarpon_Bona_Glade_NA_5-1994-1.jpg

Photo of geocarpon blooming at Bona Glade NA
Geocarpon at Bona Glade NA
Geocarpon is a tiny, inconspicuous plant found almost exclusively on sandstone glade outcrops. It is related to carnations!

Geocarpon_dried_Bona_Glade_NA_6-1993-1.jpg

Photo of dried geocarpon plant on sandy substrate
Geocarpon Dried Plant
Geocarpon fruits mature from May to early June. The plants die 4 to 6 weeks after seed set. The seeds will germinate into tiny rosettes the following December.
Habitat and conservation

Channel sandstone glades and outcrops, many less than one acre in size. Within these glades, geocarpon thrives at the base of slightly tilted rock outcrops where seepage water flows across and forms shallow, sandy or gravelly depressions. Restoration efforts include glade management with prescribed fire, reduction of woody vegetation, and invasive species control.

image of Geocarpon Earth Fruit Tiny Tim Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Geocarpon populations in Missouri are restricted to Dade, Polk, Greene, Cedar, Jasper, Lawrence, and St. Clair counties in the Ozark and Osage Plains Natural Divisions.

Status

A Species of Conservation Concern: Listed as Endangered by the Missouri Department of Conservation and as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is the only plant in its genus. It is in the same family as carnations, catchflies, chickweeds, and pinks.

Life cycle

Blooms from mid-March through early May. The flowers are green and inconspicuous, growing at the base of the leaves, and may appear to be leaves themselves. Fruits mature from May to early June. Plants die 4 to 6 weeks after seed set. The following December seeds germinate into tiny rosettes, which appear as a tiny cluster of leaves on the ground. The rosettes remain through winter and develop into mature plants the following spring.

Human connections

If you can't find this minute, extremely rare plant, keep your eyes open anyway, for there are still many wonderful, tiny things to discover: antlion traps in sandy soil, dozens of species of mosses, mushrooms with all sorts of curious shapes, and hundreds of other amazements.

Ecosystem connections

Geocarpon has its own unique place in nature. People have different beliefs about "why" and "how" the species on our planet came to be, but we all can agree that life is interconnected, and that we will probably never know all there is to know about nature.