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




 Cirsium vulgare:
Bull Thistle

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Flowers: Reddish-purple "spiny" disk flowers; on top of spiny ball.

Blooms: June - September

Leaves: Deeply lobed with long yellow spines

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: All areas up to 1000 ft elevation

Status: Alien - Invasive - Common.

Cirsium vulgare
600x450 JPEG - 40K


Further description & Comment: 2 - 4 ft tall, with yellow spines on stems.

This nasty plant develops thick colonies along the roadsides and along trails, although it doesn't seem to be spreading into the native growth away from disturbed areas. Hard to pull out once it gets big enough to recognize.


<- 450x600 JPEG 44K



 Erigeron glaucus:
Seaside Daisy

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Flowers: Broad, Pale Pink to Lilac with yellow centers, many petals, 1 - 1.5 inches across. Stems lightly haired.

Blooms: April - July

Leaves: Thick and spatula shaped.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Bluff trails on oceanside.

Status: Native - Common.

Further description & Comment: 6 - 12 inches tall, low spreading colonies along trails and in open areas - often growing with other Spring Asteraceae.

Erigeron glaucus
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Seaside Daisies poking up through Coyote bush. Note the hairy stems and the combination Ray-Disk Flowers

 A patch of Erigeron glaucus along the trail by Grey Whale Cove.

Photo by Barbara & Bill VanderWerf - 480x360 JPEG - 60K

 A good closeup showing the leaf structure.

Photo by Barbara & Bill VanderWerf - 320x480 JPEG - 44K



 Eriophyllum confertiflorum
var. confertiflorum
Golden Yarrow

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Flowers: Yellow, tiny; in dense umbrellas at tops of stems, with 4 to 6 rays per flower atop a bract of 5 to 6 phyllaries - compare with Eriophyllum staechadifolium (Lizard Tail)

Blooms: May - September

Leaves: Gray-Green on top, white woolly below, deeply cut, smaller than Lizard Tail, very fragrant.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: All trails and areas. Gray Whale Cove Trail in McNee Ranch State Park has dense areas of it.

Status: Native - Common.

Eriophyllum confertiflorum
var. confertiflorum
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Further description & Comment: 4 to 12 inches tall; sparsely shrubby. Golden Yarrow is like a miniature version of the closely related Eriophyllum staechadifolium (Lizard Tail), which with it is often confused. See below for how to tell them apart.

Common Name Note: Although it is in the same large family as Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) , the two plants share very few characteristics, leading me to wonder what the connection might be.

How to tell them apart:

Specifically, you can count the lobes of the corolla (petals): 4 to 6, it's Golden Yarrow; 6 to 9, it's Lizard Tail. Or you can count phylarries (bracts around the flower head): 5 to 6 for Golden Yarrow, 8 to 11 for Lizard Tail.

In general (at least in our area), Golden Yarrow is smaller, blooms later in the season, tends to have a narrower range (preferring dryer areas) than Lizard tail, and also stays in rather smaller colonies of no more than a dozen plants or so.

The image at right shows the basic size difference between Golden Yarrow (on the left) and Lizard Tail (on the right.)

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