Home | Next | Previous | Index | Purchase book

Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

Aster (Sunflower) Family: Asteraceae

More rayless composites

Dusty maiden, Chaenactis douglasii (Hook.) Hook. & Arn. var. douglasii (left). The generic name Chaenactis was derived from the Greek chaino meaning “to gape” and aktin meaning “ray,” for the wide- mouthed flowers on the periphery of the disk are wide-mouthed. One might not recognize this plant as an Asteraceae, but  the protruding forked styles are a tipoff. The florets are white to pale pink, their color accentuated by the pink styles. The dusty maiden grows to fairly high elevations, and blooms—often in great numbers—on dry slopes. Dull gray-green frilly leaves  explain the common name, “dusty maiden.”

Alpine chaenactis, Chaenactis douglasii (Hook.) Hook. & Arn. var. alpina A. Gray (right). The alpine chaenactis is a small perennial that blooms toward summer’s end, nestled among the  rocks of talus slopes near treeline and above. It resembles a smaller version of Chaenactis douglasii var. douglasii, differing in its white flowerheads and bare stems. This and the plant on the left are now classified as a single species, although they differ enough in appearance that one might believe this is a separate species rather than a variety.

Another chaenactis, Evermann's pincushion, Chaenactis evermannii Greene (left), occurs only in Central Idaho as a high altitude, mat-forming, hairy flowerheads and irregularly pinnate (feather-like) leaves with blunt-ended leaflets.

Western snakeroot, Ageratina occidentalis (Hook.) R. M. King & H. E. Rob. (right). This plant, also known as the western boneset, was until recently classified as a Eupatorium, a genus that includes the common joe pye-weeds. Protruding forked styles, a distinguishing feature of composites in general, give the flowers a feathery appearance. The western boneset prefers subalpine to alpine cliffs and other rocky surroundings where it commonly is clustered.. The name Ageratina was that of a unknown ancient Greek plant, and means “everlasting,” from the suffix a for “not” and gera for “old” (for its long-lasting flowers). David Douglas collected this species on the “Lewis and Clark River” (today’s Snake River).

Pearly-everlasting (left), Anaphalis margaritacea (L.) Benth. & Hook. f. (left). Anaphalis is the ancient Greek name for a similar plant. The name margaritacea echoes its common name, meaning “pearly.” Each of its round, white flowerheads has a characteristic diffuse black dot on the surrounding involucre. The only member of the genus, it is related to Antennaria and grows in most of North America. It dries well and can be used in dried flower arrangements. Supposedly the pearly-everlasting was the first North American herb to be cultivated in Europe, because of purported medicinal value.

Rosy pussy-toes, Antennaria rosea Greene (right). Pussy-toes are not particularly attractive, but they are so numerous that one cannot help but notice them—this one especially, for its reddish hue. A rosette of basal leaves gives off a stem surmounted by a cluster of small flowerheads about the size of a house-cat’s digital pad, whence their common name. After the “toes” open one can see that each flowerhead is made up of many tiny flowers. The name Antennaria was apparently derived from the resemblance of the flower’s pappus to an insect antenna.

Rocky Mountain pussy-toes, Antennaria media Greene (left). The Rocky Mountain pussy-toes, shown here in flower, grows on alpine and arctic tundra in our western mountain states and provinces, north to Alaska, and south to California, Arizona and New Mexico. Its tiny oval leaves are covered with fine hairs giving them a color more gray than green. It is commmonly found on rocky ground where it is nurtured by the retained heat of the sun.

Hooker's pussy-toes, Antennaria racemosa Hook. (right) is a  rangier plant with open clusters of small flowerheads and  green, rather than the frosted gray-green foliage of other antennarias that grow in our mountains. It also seems to be less common. The plants are restricted to our Northwest and the adjacent southwestern part of Canada.

Common yarrow, Achillea millefolium L. The common yarrow (left, right) is really not a rayless plant, but it appears to be rayless until one looks closely.You’ll see that each little “flower” has, in addition to tiny rays, a disk made up of florets (right). The yarrow grows all over the Northern Hemisphere, from sea level to alpine tundra, blooming from late spring into the fall. Achilles used the yarrow to treat his companion's wounds--the derivation of the name. The species name, millefolium, describes the plant’s finely divided leaves. Lewis and Clark collected the common yarrrow on May 20, 1806, in today’s north-central Idaho.

The Lousiana, or White Sage, Artemisia ludoviciana Nutt. var. latiloba Nutt. shown here in flower (left), is the second most common Artemisia in our mountains, growing as high as treeline. Blue-green, divided, spidery leaves and pronounced herbal odor identify the plant. Early settlers used dried leaves of various artemisias, including this one, as culinary herbs. Artemisias have also been used medicinally, but other than possible usefulness in treating intestinal worms, they have no proven therapeutic value in Western medicine. Recently, however, an extract, artemisinin, from a Eurasian plant, Artemisia annua, long used in Chinese medicine, has been shown to be effective in treating the most virulent form of malaria (Plasmodium falciparum), and may prove useful as an anti-cancer drug.

Artemisia ludoviciana Nutt. var. incompta (Nutt.) Cronquist  (right), also in flower, is a true alpine plant; one must climb high to find it. Its leaves are more divided, less pubescent (covered with fine hair), so the plant is greener than the common var. latiloba. As with all artemisias, the flowers tend to be small and unimpressive.

Big Sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata Nutt. subsp. vaseyana (Rydb.) Beetle (left). The subspecies of big sagebrush that grows in our mountains is characterized by spike-like inflorescences that stand above the rest of the plant. It grows as high as alpine tundra. When sagebrush is in bloom (starting about August 15th, a date well known to allergy sufferers) look at one of the small flowerheads and you will see that each is made up of many tiny flowers. Lewis and Clark collected five species of Artemisia during their journey (cana, dracunculus, frigida, longifolia, ludoviciana), but for whatever reason omitted the big sagebrush, the most ubiquitous of all!

Silver sagebrush, Artemisia cana Pursh (right) is well named. Its silvery, gray-green foliage makes it quite noticeable. Its identity is confirmed by its straight "entire" (i.e. , plain, without lobes or serrations) linear leaves. Possibly it is because of our awareness of climate change, with migration of plants to higher elevations, but we seem to be finding silver sage growing at higher altitudes than formerly.

Home | Next | Previous | Index | Purchase book