Asteraceae: Sunflower Family – Cichorieae (Dandelion) Tribe: Stephanomeria

The Sunflower family is a very large family with over 25,000 members.  Botanists subdivide the family into a number of tribes, of which 14 are represented in Monterey County.  The Cichorieae (Dandelion) tribe has two distinctive features.  First, they all have stems with milky sap.  Second (and more important), they do not have disk and ray flowers like typical daisies.  Instead they have what are called “ligules” which resemble strap-like ray flowers.  Unlike ray flowers, ligules have both male and female parts – without which no reproduction would be possible.  A third difference is that ray flowers have 0–3 lobes at the tip; ligules have 5.  This page covers some of the Stephanomerias or Wire-lettuces.  These are variable and can be extremely difficult to identify with certainty.  Pay careful attention  to the number of ligules, the length of the peduncle, the form of the fruits, and whether the phyllaries are appressed or recurved.

Santa Barbara Wire-lettuce – Stephanomeria elata

Blooms:

July–Nov

Plant Height:

0.5–1.5 m

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Grassland & disturbed areas

Notes:

This is most readily distinguished by the number of its ligules, 9–15, always pink, and outer phyllaries which are generally reflexed. Its peduncles are  3–7 mm long. The fruits are grooved and may be either smooth or roughened. The pappus elements, like those of the Rod & Wand Wire-lettuces (Stephanomeria virgata, see below), are plumose their entire length and may be either white or tan.

Wand Wire-lettuce / Tall Stephanomeria – Stephanomeria virgata subsp. pleurocarpa

Blooms:

June–Nov

Plant Height:

0.5–2 m

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Fields & disturbed places, many communities

Notes:

This is a common late summer bloomer.  There are two subspecies of  Stephanomeria virgata, both having dark pink flowers (occasionally white).  This plant has 5–6 ligules, and its outer phyllaries are appressed.  It is more common than subsp. virgata, which has 8–9 ligules and outer phyllaries which are strongly reflexed. It typically has a prominent main stem and wand-like branches (virgata being latin for wand-like).  The peduncles are short, 3–10 mm.  The fruits are smooth to tubercled, but are not grooved; this is in contrast to Santa Barbara Wire-lettuce (Stephanomeria elata, see above) and some other stephanomerias.  The pappus elements are plumose for their entire length, unlike some other stephanomerias.

Rod Wire-lettuce / Tall Stephanomeria – Stephanomeria virgata subsp. virgata

Blooms:

June–Oct

Plant Height:

0.5–2 m

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Fields & disturbed places, many communities

Notes:

This is essentially identical to Wand Wire-lettuce (Stephanomeria virgata subsp. pleurocarpa, see above).  However, this has 8–9 ligules, and outer phyllaries which are strongly reflexed.