Plant of the Week
Stemless Goldenweed (Stenotus Acaulis)
By Charmaine Delmatier, 2016
A brilliant yellow and smaller member of the Sunflower family (Asteraceae), stemless goldenweed (Stenotus acaulis) bursts with golden color revealing the beginning of spring between April and May. Caleb A. Morse has determined that within the Flora of North America there is a mere four species; which spread across western North America and northwest Mexico. Stemless goldenweed is widespread across the interior lands of the United States, which include Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Anywhere between 3,900 to 11,800 feet, it can be found in a wide range of habitats including sagebrush, open pine forests, pinyon-juniper woodlands, and alpine meadows. The substrates also vary from limestones to sandstone to granite. Each plant can reach up to a small height of just over eight inches, with most leaves at the base. There are a few stem leaves, but all are linear to slightly spatulate. Often the stems and leaves are covered with stiff short hairs creating a rough surface (scabrous). The phyllaries (bracts surrounding the flowering heads) are pointed at the tips with scarious margins and overlap each other in rows, in a two-to-three geometric sequence like those of roof shingles. There are 5 – 13 ray florets surrounding a central interior of 17 - 40 disc florets, all yellow. The involucre, which houses both types of florets, is shaped like a hemisphere and is approximately 9 – 16 mm wide. The stems (peduncles) subtend a single terminal flowering head. The flowering heads barely exceed the basal leaves giving rise to its common name, stemless goldenweed.
The sunflower family constitutes the largest plant family in the world with approximately 1,550 genera and 23,000 species. In North America, the numbers are considerably lower with 418 genera and 2,413 species. 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 usable 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 native 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 (grown in plant nurseries) seem unlimited with a wide selection of marigolds, calendulas, cone flowers, zinnias, coreopsis, liatris, various daisies, and prized dahlias. Once thought as an invasive weed, dandelion leaves are becoming 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 been enjoying the delicate sweet taste of these fresh leaves.