Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Psathyrotes ramosissima, Velvet Turtleback

Velvet Turtleback is an interesting plant with plenty of character in its size, shape and texture. It has tiny pale yellow disk flowers only. The plants bloom from March to June, again in December or perhaps year around when conditions are met. Psathyrotes ramosissima Velvet Turtleback has greenish-gray hairy foliage, deeply textured and with conspicuous veins throughout. Plants are limited in distribution to the southwestern United States in AZ, CA, NV and UT. Psathyrotes ramosissima Velvet Turtleback or Turtleback grows up to about 1 foot or so, much larger in California where it may be 15 inches around or so. The plants prefer elevations from 1,500 to 3,500 feet and varied habitats in the plains, mesas, gravelly or sandy soils all in desert creosote-bush scrub. Psathyrotes ramosissima Velvet Turtleback seems to have a preference to the Mojave Desert but its populations extend eastward into the Sonoran Desert. Plants are dense, much branched, hairy and scaly and have a turpentine-like odor about them. Psathyrotes ramosissima

Scientific Name: Psathyrotes ramosissima
Common Name: Velvet Turtleback
Also Called: Desert Velvet, Turtleback, Velvet Cushion
Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family
Synonym (Tetradymia ramosissima)
Status: Native
Duration: Annual or perennial.
Size: Up to 1 foot or so; larger, up to 15 inches or so in California.
Growth Form: Forb/herb, subshrub; plants low, compact, rounded; plants gray, dense (subshrub in CA), much branched, hairy and scaly; odor turpentine-like.
Leaves: Green; alternate; long-petioles; hairy; velvety; rounded-deltate to plus or minus rounded; margins toothed.
Flower Color: Yellow, pale yellow; flowers tiny, disk florets only; short peduncle about 1 inch or so; phyllaries recurved.
Flowering Season: March to June or throughout the year.
Elevation: Up to 1,500 feet; up to 3,500 feet in California.

Habitat Preferences: Plains and mesas in gravelly or sandy soil, sandy creosote-bush communities.

Recorded Range: Velvet Turtleback is relatively rare in the United States where it is limited in distribution to the southwestern states of AZ, CA, NV, UT. It is also native to Baja California and extreme northwestern Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Psathyrotes ramosissima.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.
Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: In North America there are 3 species and 3 accepted taxa overall for Psathyrotes. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 3 accepted species names.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona, Nevada and Utah each have 3 species of genus, California has 2 species, New Mexico and Texas each have 1 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

Comments: The common names "Velvet Turtleback" and "Turtleback" have to do with the appearance of the plants that somewhat resembles that of a turtles back.

Psathyrotes ramosissima has been used for a variety of purposes by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.

  • Paiute Drug, Analgesic; Decoction of plant used as a head wash for headaches.
  • Paiute Drug, Antidiarrheal; Decoction of plant taken for diarrhea.
  • Paiute Drug, Dermatological Aid; Compound poultice of crushed plants applied to draw boils and embedded slivers.
  • Paiute Drug, Dermatological Aid; Compound poultice of plant applied to sores, cuts, swellings and insect bites.
  • Shoshoni Drug, Analgesic; Decoction of plant used as a head wash for headaches.
  • Shoshoni Drug, Cough Medicine; Decoction of plant taken for tubercular cough.
  • Shoshoni Drug, Liver Aid; Decoction of plant taken for liver trouble.
  • Shoshoni Drug, Venereal Aid; Decoction of plant taken for venereal diseases.

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

    Date Profile Completed: 04/22/2017, updated format 10/10/2017
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 04/22/2017)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 04/22/2017 ).
    Bruce G. Baldwin, adapted from Strother (2006) 2017. Psathyrotes ramosissima, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on April 22, 2017.
    The Jepson Desert Manual; 2002; Baldwin, Bruce G., et. al.; The Jepson Desert Manual: Vascular Plants of Southeastern California; pp 174, 179. Univ. of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information - (accessed ).