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    Xanthisma spinulosum is a highly variable species ranging from four inches to three feet tall; shorter plants often are dense with an abundance of leaves and showy flowers and taller plants are often sparsely leaved and sparsely flowered; the plants can be completely herbaceous or woody at the base; flower heads can be less than a half inch wide to over an inch wide; leaves and stems can be smooth or densely hairy; leaves can be deeply cut or entire; and the plant can be found blooming in the spring, summer, or fall. Xanthisma spinulosum grows in dry, sandy hot openings and in cooler woodlands. It sometimes grows in large colonies over many hundreds of square feet and at other times it is scattered widely.

This multiplicity of characteristics gives rise to nomenclatural confusion:  Intermountain Flora and Utah Flora call the plant Haplopappus spinulosusIntermountain notes that "this widespread species is divisible, with some difficulty, into several geographic varieties..., variety paradoxus [shorter plants] and variety gooddingii [taller plants]".

Colorado Flora calls this plant Machaeranthera pinnatifida and Weber states that it is a "plant with many races" but Weber does not provide characteristics or names for these races.  

The Synthesis of the North American Flora and The Flora of North America indicate that Machaeranthera pinnatifida should be called Xanthisma spinulosum, as proposed in 2003 by Morgan and Hartman. FNA recognizes five varieties of Xanthisma spinulosum: gooddingii, paradoxum, glaberrimum, chihuahuanum, and spinulosum.

FNA indicates that Xanthisma spinulosum

"is an exceedingly complex, variable taxon. It is doubtful that any ‘absolute’ key can be constructed so as to recognize unequivocally the infraspecific entities proposed here. Instead, we have composed a key that attempts to recognize character trends that serve, in combination, to distinguish a given taxon from another, but the occasional (if not frequent) specimen will be found that keys to a given regional variety but belongs to yet another. However, if one accepts the exception and recognizes our account as an attempt to portray variable, regional populations and not as a key to individuals, then little trouble should be experienced in pinning a varietal name on this or that collection".

Finally, Flora of the Four Corners Region indicates that only two varieties are found in the Four Corners region, Machaeranthera pinnatifida variety gooddingii and variety paradoxum.

Some of the overlap in names does seem to indicate that the various authors are referring to the same plants, but range maps for some plants with similar names show that different plants are probably being discussed.

Whatever the name, this is an attractive plant. I especially like the high desert growth form shown in the first six photographs below.

Xanthisma is from the Greek "xanth" meaning "yellow".

Xanthisma spinulosum
Xanthisma spinulosum
Xanthisma spinulosum. Synonyms: Machaeranthera pinnatifida, Haplopappus spinulosus. (Woolly Goldenweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Openings, hillsides. Spring, summer, fall.
Above and left: Mc Elmo Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 27, 2005 and April 22, 2016.

The plant at left (and in the next three photographs below) has numerous, thin, deeply lobed, intermeshed leaves. Last year's dried flower stalks are often present. Once new flowers appear, the plant becomes a lovely, vibrant mass of gold floating on top of silvery green leaves. Flowers are over an inch across and the plant is quite hairy.

This plant is probably what the Synthesis and The Flora of North America call Xanthisma spinulosum variety spinulosum and what Flora of the Four Corners Region calls Machaeranthera pinnatifida variety gooddingii. (See the discussion about names at the top of this page.)

"Machaer" is Greek for "sword" and "anther" is Greek for "flower". Together they refer to the sword shape of the anther tips.

In 1804 Meriwether Lewis collected the first specimen of this species on the prairies of what is now South Dakota.

The Xanthisma genus was named by Augustin de Candolle but in 1836 he put the species shown on this page in the genus Haplopappus (H. spinulosus). In 1814 Pursh named the species Amellus spinulosus, in 1841 Nuttall named it Dieteria spinulosa, in 1964 Shinners named it Machaeranthera pinnatifida, and in 2003 Morgan and Hartman named it Xanthisma spinulosum.

Xanthisma spinulosum
Xanthisma spinulosum. Synonyms: Machaeranthera pinnatifida, Haplopappus spinulosus. (Woolly Goldenweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Openings, hillsides. Spring, summer, fall.
Mc Elmo Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, March 27, 2005.

The silvery appearance is due to innumerable soft, short, fine hairs.

Xanthisma spinulosum
Xanthisma spinulosum. Synonyms: Machaeranthera pinnatifida, Haplopappus spinulosus. (Woolly Goldenweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Openings, hillsides. Spring, summer, fall.
Mc Elmo Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, March 27, 2005.

Xanthisma spinulosum

Xanthisma spinulosum

Xanthisma spinulosum. Synonyms: Machaeranthera pinnatifida, Haplopappus spinulosus. (Woolly Goldenweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Openings, hillsides. Spring, summer, fall.
Mc Elmo Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 27, 2005 and
Lower Cross Canyon, May 21, 2016.

The symmetry of the plant is apparent in the top photograph at left. Also note the other Xanthisma spinulosum plants at top left and top center. It is common to have scores of plants near each other.

When flowers fade they are followed by a variety of lovely shapes and colors as seeds develop.

Xanthisma spinulosum
Xanthisma spinulosum. Synonyms: Machaeranthera pinnatifida, Haplopappus spinulosus. (Woolly Goldenweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Openings, hillsides. Spring, summer, fall.
Yellowjacket Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, October 27, 2007.

This sprawling plant with stems up to fourteen inches long is a different subspecies of Xanthisma spinulosum from the plants shown above. As this and the two photographs below indicate, flower heads are smaller and cylindrical rather than spherical (see the flower heads of the other subspecies above); stems and leaves have scattered fine hairs rather than a dense woolliness; and although a few leaves are deeply cut, most have smooth (entire) margins. The leaves of both plants are tipped in small, stiff hairs.

This plant is probably what the Synthesis and The Flora of North America call Xanthisma spinulosum variety paradoxum and what Flora of the Four Corners Region calls Machaeranthera pinnatifida variety pinnatifida.

Xanthisma spinulosum
Xanthisma spinulosum. Synonyms: Machaeranthera pinnatifida, Haplopappus spinulosus. (Woolly Goldenweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Openings, hillsides. Spring, summer, fall.
Yellowjacket Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, October 27, 2007.

Phyllaries of both subspecies shown on this page are in 5-7 rows. The phyllaries at left are somewhat glandular (sticky) as you can see by the dots of dirt adhering to them.

Xanthisma spinulosum
Xanthisma spinulosum. Synonyms: Machaeranthera pinnatifida, Haplopappus spinulosus. (Woolly Goldenweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert. Openings, hillsides. Spring, summer, fall.
Yellowjacket Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, October 27, 2007.

The leaf shape at upper left is the same as the leaf shape on the subspecies at the top of the page, but  most other leaves on the subspecies pictured at left have no indentations. Leaves of either shape have very fine hairs (especially noticeable on their edges).

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

Range map for  Xanthisma spinulosum