Long-spined cottonthorn: tetradymia axillaris var. longispina, Asteraceae (sunflower family)

This one has been on my mind since the early days of spring, and every time I passed one on my walks, I would get tingles and have to pee. I am really REALLY excited to have finally put a name to it. I actually laughed for joy when the match was made, because it was so elementary—this time by browsing a list of common names in the sunflower family, and trying to find one that matched its description—white tidy-tip? No. Squaw waterweed? No. Cottonthorn?  Almost too easy.

The troops of monochromatic upright silvery stalks are armed with fierce, but compelling oversized thorns, and it stands out against the general green foliage of neighboring plants. And even more intriguing—these prickly wands are downy-soft(ish), or tomentose in botanical speak. I just wanted to pick them up like they were my pets and cuddle them, but the tips of the thorns have a legit armature, and will dry out to leave a skeletal shrub frame that belongs in a haunted house. Because it had that desaturated sage hue of the wormwoods, I thought maybe it was a sagebrush of some sort. The yellow flowers—which had finished flowering before I started this instagram project—were reminiscent of some species of rabbit brush, and their feathery fruits poof out like a dandelion dispersing seed. All these characteristics (except the thorny parts) led me to believe I was looking at an Asteraceae offspring. And I was, and I will continue to do so, playing hide and seek with these rare, exciting disruptions to the typical vegetative display.  


Rayless goldenhead: Acamptopappus sphaerocephalus, Asteraceae (sunflower family)

Very little information is out there on this plant, other than when sheep can't find better forage, they'll eat it. Mostly what I found was limited to its physical characteristics and growing habitats. It mainly grows in creosote-bush scrubland, joshua tree woodlands, and pinon-juniper communities. This shrub grows to be about 3 feet tall with abundant, branching budding heads that lack ray flowers (which are the petals we normally consider to be the "flower.") Instead, these cute little bulbs are filled with disc flowers (the center flowers, that if you look closely, look like lilies.) The stems and foliage is a verdant, kelly green, and is extremely common around here. Which is why I'm surprised there's no more info out there—and also kind of nice, a reminder that it's not all about facts and data. I love how slowly the flowers have formed, and the staggering opening of each one, creating a horizon of differently-sized heads that look like a mixed bag of pearls and dandelions that got shorn. Each one maturing at its own pace, kindly evolvement. 

The look and feel and ambiance are just as crucial as anything to our enjoyment and understanding of the plant world.



Mojave aster: Xylorhiza tortifolia, Asteraceae (sunflower family)

Another purple flowering plant. A poised beauty with lanky stems, clusters of near-whitebut still detectably lavender petals circle and protect a glowing orange center of disc flowers. And even though I generally despise the color purple, I did gasp when I first encountered such a gentle but showy array mingling amidst the sword-like leaves belonging to a family of yuccas. The flower heads are a couple inches across, sizeable when compared to other blossoms in this area. Kind of like a wild gerber daisy.

And still they hang on, mostly in the shade it seems; everything is starting to crisp, the moisture of the last rain (has it been over two months?) has seeped beyond reach and leeches out in minute increments as the plants push through their fruiting phases before dropping leaves and pigments fade.