Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

As is true throughout the Bay Area and California, the Asteraceae or Sunflower family has more species than any other family of flowering plants. Luckily, the distinctive structure of the flower heads makes identifying members of this family somewhat easy:

Sepals are absent, sometimes replaced by a structures of hairs and scales called a pappus. Small dry fruit develops below the pappus containing a single seed, that is dispersed by wind or animals.

Each head consists of several to many small flowers attached to a disk shaped, conical, or concave receptacle. For identification and classification, the flowers are considered either disk flowers (those with a tubular structure and found in the center disk) or ray flowers (with a flat, petal like corolla distributed around the margins).

Members of Asteraceae may have one or both of these, and the family is usually divided into three categories:

- Ray Flowers (examples: dandelions, Sow Thistle ) - Division I,
- Disk Flowers (examples: Pearly Everlasting, Brownie Thistle) - Division II, and
- Both (example: Seaside Daisy) - Division III.

Some family members of Asteraceae found on Montara Mountain:

Achillea millefolium
Common Yarrow

Anaphalis margaritacea
Pearly Everlasting

Artemesia californica
Sage Brush

Artemesia douglasiana

Artemesia pycnicephala
Beach Sagewort

Aster chilensis
Coast Aster

Baccharis pilularis
Coyote Bush

Cirsium occidentale
Cobweb Thistle

Cirsium quercetorum
Brownie Thistle

Cirsium vulgare
Bull Thistle

Erigeron glaucus
Seaside Daisy

Eriophyllum confertiflorum
Golden Yarrow

Eriophyllum lanatum
Woolly Sunflower

Eriophyllum staechadifolium
Lizard Tail

Grindelia stricta platyphylla
Gum Plant

Helenium puberulum

Lactuca virosa
Wild Lettuce

Lasthenia californica

Madia sativa
Madia or Tarweed

Senecio Mikaniodes
Cape Ivy

Solidago californica

Sonchus oleraceus
Sow Thistle

Wyethia angustifolia
Narrow-leaved Mule Ears




 Baccharis pilularis:
Coyote Bush (Brush)

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Flowers: White fluffy female and yellowish male on separate shrubs, small.

Blooms: October - December.

Leaves: Coarsely toothed, .5 - 1" long; tend to crown upper branches.

Fruit/Seeds: Small back nut with white fluff, windblown. Oct. - Jan.

Location: Everywhere on the mountain.

Status: Native - Common.

Further description & Comment: Up to 5' tall, but varied in form from ground hugging, spreading cover on wind swept ridge plains to 5-6' tall bush in protected areas. One of the signature plants of Coastal Scrub & Chaparral, along with Poison Oak, Coastal Sage, Yellow Bush Lupine and Sticky Monkey Flower.

Baccharis pilularis
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This flowering and seeding branch from a female plant presents one argument for calling it Coyote Brush..

The image to the left shows the female flowers as they are first budding out. The image to the lower left shows the yellower, stubbier male flowers.

Coyote Bush develops an extensive fibrous root system, extending many yards out from the plant, making it an excellent species to use in the native recolonization of disturbed areas subject to erosion damage.

The image below shows a mounding, medium height (3 -4 feet) form that is common at lower elevations in McNee Ranch State Park.

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Cirsium occidentale:
Cobweb Thistle

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Flowers: Red - purple, on top of spikey ball tangled with dense cobweb-like hairs.

Blooms: May - June

Leaves: Silver-grey and spiny

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Dry trails, upper North Peak Access Road in McNee Ranch State Park.

Status: Native - Common.

Further description & Comment: This plant's distinct coloring and cobweb-like hairs makes it easy to spot and identify.

Cirsium occidentale
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A cobweb thistle enjoying the view from the peak overlooking Sweeney Ridge.
Photo by Bill and Barbara VanderWerf

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Above left, a close-up of the flower head. Above right, a detail of the "cobweb" fibers the plant creates as a protective surface.



 Cirsium quercetorum:
Brownie Thistle

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Flowers: White, spiky, thistle-like, with center yellow to pink, just above base of plant on short, stout, spiky stem.

Blooms: April - June.

Leaves: Deeply lobed, spiked with thorns, up-pointing in basal at base of plant.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Dry, open grassy areas.

Status: Native - Common.

Further description & Comment: Low, ground hugging thistle - dried leaves in fall are those things that get stuck through your socks.

 Cirsium quercetorum
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A Brownie Thistle begins its Spring bloom atop the remains of last year's growth. Along lower San Pedro Road in McNee Ranch State Park.

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A closeup of a Brownie's flower head, a good example of the Asteraceae disk flower type. That's a Scarlet Pimpernel in the upper right. A mat of Brownies showing flower heads in various stages of development. An alien Red Clover lurks in the background.


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