Plant of the Week
(Ericameria discoidea var. winwardii)
By Charmaine Delmatier (2016)
The following is a story of a rare plant, barely noticed and for years unrecognized. Often thought by many and wondered by even more, that most or all North American plant species have been found. It’s hard to imagine there could be any undiscovered plants, especially throughout the seemingly endless miles of monotonous sagebrush steppe associated with several western states, known as the Great Basin. To answer that question, there have been a number of attempts to re-evaluate that concept. In 2000, Barbara Ertter, former Curator at the University of Berkeley, Jepson Herbarium, wrote “Contrary to recurring perceptions that the flora of North America north of Mexico has been fully explored and catalogued, the rate of on-going discoveries has remained remarkably constant for much of the last century and shows no evidence of tapering off. This is particularly evident in western and southeastern North America, where dramatic new species and even monotypic genera are still coming to light, even along highways and near major cities,” (Ertter 2000).
Winward’s goldenweed is one of those special plants. It was independently discovered by Al Winward in 1985 in Idaho and Charmaine Delmatier in 1995 in Wyoming. For both botanists, it was a peculiar version of the already known Wyoming goldenweed (Ericameria discoidea var. linearis), part of the sunflower family. Both had no ray flowers, but Winward’s goldenweed grew prostrate along the ground, had unusually wider leaves, and lacked the glands as in Wyoming’s goldenweed. In 2002, equally as curious about this strange version of goldenweed, Robert Dorn, author of the Vascular Plants of Wyoming, revisited both sites; and in collaboration, Dorn and Delmatier decided to publish it as a new variety of the known goldenweed. To this day, it is still restricted in distribution to Idaho and Wyoming (Dorn and Delmatier 2005). Since its discovery, there have been attempts to find new locations in both states (Fertig 2012). However, in Wyoming, there remains to be one solitary population.
Recently, in a revised treatment in the Flora of North America for Ericameria; Lowell E. Urbatsch, Loran C. Anderson, Roland P. Roberts, Kurt M. Neubig, raised the taxonomic rank of all varieties of goldenweed in Wyoming to a species level.
In Wyoming, Winward’s goldenweed occurs on whitish calcareous outcrops, usually in windblown dry depressions scoured from strong western Wyoming winds. Located on the Fossil Butte Member of the Green River Formation, it is found in open areas between stands of Big sagebrush plant communities. Usually within these drier depressions are other smaller compact cushion plants, also attempting to survive from impinging desiccation.
Even more amazing is that this one isolated member of the sunflower is one of 23,000 worldwide. In North America, the numbers are considerably lower with 418 genera and 2,413 species. Specifically, for the genus Ericameria, there are approximately 36 species in western North America and north Mexico. The orchid family (Orchidaceae) and legume family (Fabaceae) are second and third worldwide. The family, Asteraceae, derives its root from the Greek Titan goddess, Asteria, (goddess of falling stars). According to one Greek myth; when she looked down upon the earth, and saw no stars, she began to weep. Where a tear fell upon the earth, a star was born, hence the name ‘starwort’. This became a common term for members of the Asteraceae family. The term ‘wort’ translates to ‘plant’ in Old English, so the largest plant family in the world is interestingly a collection of ‘starplants’.
Several members of the Asteraceae help sustain the agricultural industry with economically important products such as lettuce, coffee substitutes, herbal teas, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, and artichokes. Native to central North America, Jerusalem artichoke was used by several North American tribal nations as a food source. The French explorer, Samuel Champlain, harvested Jerusalem artichoke and transported it to France in 1605. By the mid-1600s, it also became a source of livestock feed. Ornamentals for gardens seem unlimited with an ample selection of marigolds, calendulas, cone flowers, zinnias, coreopsis, liatris, various daisies, and prized dahlias. Once thought an invasive weed, dandelion leaves have become more popular as an accepted salad green on tables across the world. However, this is not a new surprise to many grazing animals; they have already discovered the delicate sweet taste of these fresh leaves.
- Robert D. Dorn, Charmaine H. Delmatier "A NEW VARIETY OF ERICAMERIA DISCOIDEA (ASTERACEAE) FROM IDAHO AND WYOMING," Madroño, 52(1), 63-65, (1 January 2005)
- Ertter, Barbara. (2000). Floristic Surprises in North America North of Mexico. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 87. 81. 10.2307/2666211.
- Fertig, Walter. 2012. Status of Winward’s goldenweed (Ericameria discoidea var. winwardii) in Wyoming. Report prepared for the BLM Wyoming State Office and Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, University of Wyoming. Moenave Botanical Consulting, Kanab, UT. 32 pp.