Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Gutierrezia microcephala, Threadleaf Snakeweed

Threadleaf Snakeweed has small but beautiful yellow-gold flowers. The flowers open on the tips of stems in clusters of 3 or more. Although difficult to see in the photo, the flower heads have both ray (1 or 2 or 5) and disk (1 to 3) florets. The fruit is a cypsela with pappus. Gutierrezia microcephala Threadleaf Snakeweed flowers from June or July to October through November or even December depending on summer rainfall. Gutierrezia microcephala Threadleaf Snakeweed is considered a fall-winter perennial that has green leaves with thin filiform or linear leaf-blades. The plants are sub-shrubs with a woody base and heavily branched. Gutierrezia microcephala Threadleaf Snakeweed is found growing in elevations from 1,000 to 7,000 feet (305-2,135 m) and preferring broad habitat types; dry grasslands, chaparral, desert scrub, oak or oak-pine woodlands, gravelly or rocky limestone or gypsum substrates, sand dunes; often in disturbed and over-grazed areas. Gutierrezia microcephala

Scientific Name: Gutierrezia microcephala
Common Name: Threadleaf Snakeweed

Also Called: Broomweed, Littlehead Snakeweed, Matchweed, Perennial Snakeweed, Smallhead Snakeweed, Snakeweed, Threadleaf Broomweed, Threadleaf Snakeweed, Three-leaf Snakeweed

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Brachyris microcephala, Gutierrezia glomerella, Gutierrezia lucida, Gutierrezia sarothrae var. microcephala, Xanthocephalum lucidum, Xanthocephalum microcephalum)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: 7 inches 2 feet (18-61 cm) or more, 3 feet (91 cm) and as wide.

Growth Form: Subshrub; woody base; heavily branched; shape rounded or spherical; upper stems generally smooth (glabrous); many branches especially above; yellow or green, brown below, green stems photosynthetic; partially deciduous in fall and winter, and/or die-back; plants resinous.

Leaves: Green leaves, blades thin, filiform or linear, secondary leaves (fascicled) emerge from axils of primary leaves; generally deciduous by flowering.

Flower Color: Yellow, golden yellow; flowers small, .25 inch (1.27 cm); flowers with resin or generally waxy; flowers on tips of stem in clusters of 3 or more; heads with both ray (1 or 2 or 5) and disk (1 to 3) florets; fruit is a cypsela with pappus.

Flowering Season: June or July to October through November or December depending on monsoon rainfall.

Elevation: 1,000 to 7,000 feet (305-2,135 m)

Habitat Preferences: Broad habitat types; dry grasslands, chaparral, desert scrub, oak or oak-pine woodlands, gravelly or rocky limestone or gypsum substrates, sand dunes; often in disturbed and over-grazed areas.

Recorded Range: Gutierrezia microcephala is native to the southwestern United States in the Sonoran, Mojave, Chihuahuan and Great Basin deserts in AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV, TX, UT. I is also Native to Baja California and central and northern Mexico in Sonora, Chihuahua, and Coahuila.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Gutierrezia microcephala.

North America species range map for Threadleaf Snakeweed, Gutierrezia microcephala:
North American range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation

North America species range map for Threadleaf Snakeweed, Gutierrezia microcephala: Click image for full size map.
Click image for full size map

U.S. Weed Information: Unknown
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Unknown
Wetland Indicator: Unknown
Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown

Genus Information: In North America there are 10 species and 11 accepted taxa overall for Gutierrezia. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 33 accepted species names and a further 30 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

The genus Gutierrezia was published in 1816 by Spanish botanist Mariano Lagasca y Segura, Director of the Real Jardin Botanico. Mariano Lagasca y Segura published the genus Gutierrezia in 1816.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 6 species of Gutierrezia, California and Utah each have 3 species, Nevada has 2 species, New Mexico has 5 species and Texas has 4 species. Data approximate and subject to revision.

Comments: Threadleaf Snakeweed, Gutierrezia microcephala is known to invade over-grazed and disturbed range-lands.

Plants of the genus Gutierrezia are commonly referred as Snakeweed or Matchweed.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Broom Snakeweed, Gutierrezia sarothrae and Late Snakeweed, Gutierrezia serotina.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Gutierrezia microcephala flowers, seeds and plants, in general may be visited by hummingbirds and/or small mammals including rodents in search of food, shelter and protection through cover. It also may provide cover for small animals, and wildlife may eat the seeds. However, according to the U.S. Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) “Threadleaf snakeweed has very little known value to wildlife”.

Gutierrezia microcephala may contain hight levels of selenium which may be toxic to livestock including cattle, sheep and goats.

For a comprehensive review of Gutierrezia microcephala see the USFS Fire Effects Information System, also known as: FEIS.

Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Bees and Insects
Gutierrezia microcephala brightly (colored flowers) and plants may be visited by butterflies, moths and other insects in search of food, nectar or cover.

According to Arizona Flora, Kearney and Peebles; Gutierrezia are “worthless plants” not even valuable for controlling soil erosion and they are “more or less poisonous to sheep and goats when eaten in quantity, but are unpalatable and are seldom grazed”. Apparently there is evidence that toxicity of Threadleaf Snakeweed increases if the plants are growing in sandy soils.

Etymology:
The genus “Gutierrezia” (Gutierre'zia:) is named for Pedro Gutierrez (Rodriguez), name sometimes given as Pedro Gutierrez de Salceda, a 19th century Spanish nobleman, botanist and apothecary at the Madrid Botanical Garden called the Real Jardin Botanico founded by King Carlos III.

The genus Gutierrezia was published in 1816 by Spanish botanist Mariano Lagasca y Segura, Director of the Real Jardin Botanico. Mariano Lagasca y Segura published the genus Gutierrezia in 1816.

The species epithet microcephala (microceph'ala/microceph'alum:) forming small heads, a reference to their small flora heads.

Ethnobotany
Gutierrezia microcephala is used for a multitude of purposes by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Cahuilla Drug, Toothache Remedy; Infusion of plant used as a gargle or plant placed inside the mouth for toothaches.
  • Hopi Drug, Carminative; Used for 'gastric disturbances.'
  • Hopi Other, Cooking Tools; Used in roasting sweet corn.
  • Hopi Other, Decorations; Used as paho (prayer stick) decorations.
  • Hopi Other, Decorations; Used as prayer stick decorations.
  • Navajo Drug, Veterinary Aid; Poultice of plant applied to the back and legs of horses.
  • Tewa Drug, Carminative; Used for 'gastric disturbances.'
  • Tewa Other, Cooking Tools; Used in roasting sweet corn.
  • Tewa Other, Decorations; Used as paho (prayer stick) decorations.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 10/20/2014; updated 08/01/2020
    References:
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles
    1993, The Jepson Manual, Citation: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/interchange/I_treat_indexes.html
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 08/01/2020)
    https://plants.usda.gov/java/stateSearch
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; http://www.theplantlist.org/ (accessed 08/01/2020).
    http://www.theplantlist.org/1.1/browse/A/Compositae/Gutierrezia/
    Carey, Jennifer H. 1994. Gutierrezia microcephala. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
    https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/gutmic/all.html [2020, July 31].
    Gary I. Baird, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 19, 20 and 21 | Asteraceae | Gutierrezia, 5. Gutierrezia microcephala (de Candolle) A. Gray, Mem. Amer. Acad. Arts, n. s. 4: 74. 1849. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet http://www.wildflower.org/plants/ (accessed: 08/01/2020). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=GUMI
    Wiggins 1964, Benson and Darrow 1981, FNA 2006; Editors; S.Buckley 2010, F.S.Coburn 2015 from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; (accessed 08/01/2020).
    http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/taxa/index.php?taxon=3745&clid=3119
    David J. Keil & Meredith A. Lane 2012, Gutierrezia microcephala, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=3142, accessed on July 31, 2020.
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Gutierrezia microcephala', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 June 2020, 17:28 UTC,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gutierrezia_microcephala&oldid=963764011 [accessed 31 July 2020]
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Gutierrezia', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 January 2020, 13:11 UTC,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gutierrezia&oldid=934238168 [accessed 31 July 2020]
    General information: (accessed: 8/11/2014) https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/wildseed/indianblanket.html
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
    http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/
    Etymology: Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 08/01/2020)
    http://www.calflora.net/botanicalnames/pageG.html
    http://www.calflora.net/botanicalnames/pageMI-MY.html