SEARCH AND WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE    PINK/RED/ORANGE FLOWERS     CONTACT US



   In the Four Corners area there are about five Stephanomeria species, several annual and several perennial.  Shown below are one annual and then two perennial Stephanomeria.

    Cronquist's Intermountain Flora, Welsh's A Utah Flora, and Weber's Colorado Flora disagree on a number of the perennial plants' morphological characteristics, e.g. Weber indicates that S. pauciflora is "tall and slender-stemmed" and P. tenuifolia is "low and stout-stemmed", but Welsh indicates that P. pauciflora is the shorter of the two (30-60 cm tall versus 25-105 cm) and S. pauciflora has "stems not very slender" versus those of S. tenuifolia which have "stems very slender".  Cronquist indicates that the two plants are of the same height (20-70 centimeters) and does not comment on the stoutness of the stems. 

   Cronquist, Welsh, and Weber do agree on several characteristics separating the two perennial species: the pappus hairs of S. tenuifolia are white and plumose to their base; the pappus hairs of S. pauciflora are tawny and not plumose to their base, with about 80 to 90 percent of the pappus length plumose.

    As discussed below, S. pauciflora and S. tenuifolia can hybridize and these hybrids possess characteristics of both species making species identification difficult.

     The Flora of North America separates the two perennials shown below as follows:
S. pauciflora: "Plants with woody caudices; pappus bristles tan or sordid, plumose on distal 80%".
S. tenuifolia: "Plants with rhizomes; pappus bristles white, wholly plumose".

    Stephanomeria was named by Thomas Nuttall in 1841 from two different annual species he collected in 1834 on his trek from St. Louis to the Pacific. "Steph" and "meris" are from the Greek for "crown" and "part" and apparently refer to some shape of the pappus that Nuttall perceived.

    It should be noted that at times some or all of the genus Stephanomeria has been merged with Lygodesmia. A. S. Tomb's study of Lygodesmia for his PhD "began [in his words] as a monographic study of Lygodesmia including Stephanomeria, because Shinners (1950) had merged the two. It soon became evident, however, that Lygodesmia and Stephanomeria were quite distinct, being separated by consistent differences in cotyledon, achene, and pollen morphology as well as base chromosome numbers".

Stephanomeria exigua
Stephanomeria exigua subspecies exigua (Whiteplume Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Sand, openings.  Summer.
Near Farmington, New Mexico, September 20, 2013.

This annual Stephanomeria grows from about 5 to 25 inches tall. (The Flora of North America indicates that the plant can grow to 6 feet! Intermountain Flora indicates that it grows to a maximum of about 3 feet. Welsh says 20 inches.) In the photograph at left the plant is 10 inches tall and shows the typical array of stiff stems from both this year and last. Lobed basal leaves are withered by flowering time and stem leaves (as shown below) are reduced to mere bract-like appendages. Wiry, sometimes glaucous stems, often are branched near the top.

This species was discovered for science by famed botanist, Thomas Nuttall, in 1834, and Nuttall named and described the species in 1841. "Exigua" is Latin for "short", probably referring to the stem leaves and/or the minute bracts at the base of the involucre (see below).

Stephanomeria exigua
Stephanomeria exigua subspecies exigua (Whiteplume Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Sand, openings.  Summer.
Near Farmington, New Mexico, September 20, 2013.

Stephanomeria exigua

Stephanomeria exigua subspecies exigua (Whiteplume Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Sand, openings.  Summer.
Near Farmington, New Mexico, September 20, 2013.

Just above the top flowerhead in the photograph at left you can see the silvery white pappus hairs of by-gone flowers. The arrows in the photograph below show (from top to bottom):
the long and narrow green phyllaries,
the very small phyllary-like appendages ("calyculi"),
the very small stem leaves.

Stephanomeria exigua.

Stephanomeria pauciflora

Stephanomeria pauciflora

Stephanomeria pauciflora (Few-flowered Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothill canyons.  Rocks, openings. Summer.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, September 19, 2005 and
Road 4.2 near Gateway, Colorado, June 24, 2016.

Stephanomeria pauciflora has a very slender, nearly vertical mass of thin, green stems with scattered pink/purple/white flowers.  Last year's dried, almost white stems are usually present at the bottom of the new green growth. Look for Wirelettuce in the sandy crevices of rocky canyon areas. 

As noted above, Thomas Nuttall named this genus in 1841, but in 1827 John Torrey had named this species Prenanthes pauciflora from a specimen collected by Edwin James in the Rockies.  In 1909 Aven Nelson re-examined Prenanthes pauciflora and realized that it belonged in the genus that Nuttall had created.  Nelson renamed the species "Stephanomeria pauciflora". "Pauciflora" is Latin for "few flowers".

Stephanomeria pauciflora
Stephanomeria pauciflora (Few-flowered Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothill canyons.  Rocks, openings. Summer.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, September 19, 2005. 

Numerous tightly rolled, narrow buds open over many days. 

Stephanomeria pauciflora
Stephanomeria pauciflora (Few-flowered Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothill canyons.  Rocks, openings. Summer.
Road 4.2 near Gateway, Colorado, June 24, 2016.

The downward arrow in the right corner points to the caudex (the woody base of a herbaceous stem) that the FNA notes is one of the characteristics separating P. pauciflora from P. tenuifolia. The latter species has rhizomes.

The other two downward arrows point to two different leaf shapes.

The two horizontal arrows point to two withered leaves. Most leaves are usually withered at flowering time.

Stephanomeria pauciflora (Few-flowered Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothill canyons.  Rocks, openings. Summer.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, September 19, 2005. 

Stephanomeria tenuifolia

Stephanomeria tenuifolia

Stephanomeria tenuifolia (Slender-leaf Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothill canyons.  Rocks, openings. Summer.
Butler Wash, Utah, August 27, 2007 and Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area, Moab, Utah, October 26, 2012.

Weber indicates that S. tenuifolia is "+- divaricately branched [diverging at a sharp angle], forming hemispherical bush growths" and that certainly fits the specimens at left.  Bright white and thickly plumose pappus hairs of the faded flowers can be seen throughout the second photograph at left.

L. D. Gottlieb who wrote the treatment of Stephanomeria for the Flora of North America indicates, "Stephanomeria tenuifolia is distributed over an immense region and is the most widespread species of the genus. It shows remarkable variability in the form and dimensions of its stems and branches." It sometimes approaches S. pauciflora in its size, shape, and other morphological characteristics. Gottlieb says that "the species are sufficiently compatible that fully fertile segregants with variously intermediate morphologies could be expected where they hybridize in nature".

This species, as the one above, also had its days of misidentification.  It was first given the genus name Prenanthes or Ptiloria around 1830 by Torrey and Rafinesque and then renamed Stephanomeria in 1907 by Harvey Hall.

"Tenuifolia" is Latin for "slender" "leaves".

Stephanomeria tenuifolia
Stephanomeria tenuifolia (Slender-leaf Wirelettuce)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothill canyons.  Rocks, openings. Summer.
Butler Wash, Utah, August 27, 2007.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Stephanomeria exigua

Range map for Stephanomeria exigua

Range map for Stephanomeria pauciflora  

Range map for Stephanomeria tenuifolia