Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the white mule's ears may be found.
Range map of the white mule's ears. States are colored green where the white mule's ears may be found.

meadow with white and yellow mule's ears.
Wyethia helianthoides in foreground (white-flowered parent); hybrid pale yellow plant in mid-ground; and Wyethia amplexicaulis in background (yellow-flowered parent). Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Close-up white mule's ears.
Wyethia helianthoides close-up. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

White Mule's Ears (Wyethia helianthoides Nutt.)

By Teresa Prendusi

This beautiful member of the sunflower family is notable for its large, white radiate flowers. White Mule’s-ears was discovered in Idaho 1833 by the noted explorer, Nathaniel Wyeth. Its species name “helianthoides” means sunflower-like and the common name “mule’s-ears,” refers to its large leaves. Mule’s-ears are fairly large, stout plants that arise from a woody taproot with 1-several stems per plant. The showy flowers can be 2.5-4.5 centimeters in size.

In springtime, White Mule’s-ears are often seen in great profusion along moist meadows and foothills at moderate elevations (up to 2600 meters) in Idaho, eastern Oregon, northern Nevada, and western Montana.

You will sometimes find a field of White Mule’s-ears mixed in with other yellow-flowered members of the genus such as Wyethia amplexicaulis. These two species often hybridize. The parents are either pure white or bright yellow in color. The hybrid plants can be recognized by their pale yellow flowers.

Wyethias can also be confused with another closely-related genus, Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza). The two genera are distinguished by the presence of cauline (stem) leaves in Wyethia and exclusively basal leaves in Balsamorhiza. Both of these genera have been used as food and medicine by native peoples.

For More Information: PLANTS Profile - Wyethia helianthoides, White Mule's Ears

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Louisiana Trillium (Trillium ludovicianum).
Louisiana Trillium (Trillium ludovicianum)