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.