Plant of the Week
Wyoming Townsend Daisy (Townsendia alpigena)
By Charmaine Delmatier (2014)
It is absolutely a treat after hiking steep slopes and escaping thicker forests to reach treeline and observe the diversity and colorful displays of the alpine flora. Most plants are hairy and diminutive, a beneficial adaptation to withstand gusty winds and the strong sun. Amidst the usual landscape of rocky slopes, talus, and fell fields, there is a conspicuous purple sunflower no taller than six inches with bright violet to purple ray flowers, Wyoming Townsend Daisy (Townsendia alpigena), also known as Mountain Townsendia. A small herbaceous forb, it differs from many of the alpine plants with little fine hairs to no hairs on its leaves. The central disk flowers are bright yellow and a vibrant contrast to the larger purple ray flowers. The involucral bracts just below the flowering head are striped; often a distinguishing feature. The smaller basal green leaves are rounded at the tips, and less conspicuous which allows the bright purple flowering heads to dominate the plant and decorate the alpine landscape floor.
The genus, Townsendia, is named after David Townsend, an amateur Pennsylvania botanist (1787-1858). Of the 27 species of Townsendia, none are known east of the Mississippi. It is a member of the Sunflower family (Asteraceae). 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 genus Townsendia has reported medicinal properties such as a blood cleanser by the Navajo (Leland Wyman 1941). Many members of the Sunflower family have beneficial properties. Seeds and leaves can be used as a diuretic or expectorant. Teas from the flowers have been documented treatments for coughs, colds, bronchial and pulmonary conditions, and other lung ailments such as malaria. The leaves can be used as poultices for snake and insect bites.
What is not pressed out of the seeds for a tasteful baking oil, can be made into cakes and are eaten by sheep, pig, rabbits, poultry, and cattle. The left over less-valuable oil is utilized in industry as a lubricant, making soap, candles, and wool-dressing. These practices have been used for centuries, an art we should not lose.