Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Stephanomeria exigua, Small Wirelettuce

Small Wirelettuce, also called Skeletonplant, has small but pretty flowers which may be pink, white or rose colored. Stephanomeria exiguaSmall Wirelettuce has single or solitary heads with ligulate flowers each with 5-lobes and are strap-shaped. Floral heads have 5 to 11 individual florets.  Stephanomeria exiguaSmall Wirelettuce blooms from April to September and prefers various habitats including plains, mesas and hillsides. The are often found in desert scrub growing among larger stronger shrubs for support.  Stephanomeria exiguaSmall Wirelettuce is a subshrub with single slender stems and wide-spreading branches. Plants are typically smooth or sparsely covered with short, soft, erect hairs. They all have milky sap. Not the upper leaves shown in the photo are greatly reduced and bract-like. Stephanomeria exiguaSmall Wirelettuce fruits are plumose with white to tan feathery-like hairs (bristles). The form and positioning of these feathery hairs is often diagnostic in species determination. Stephanomeria exigua

Scientific Name: Stephanomeria exigua
Common Name: Small Wirelettuce

Also Called: Skeletonplant, Wire Lettuce

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Status: Native

Duration: Annual, rarely perennial or biennial

Size: 2 feet (61 cm) tall or more.

Growth Form: Forb/herb, subshrub plants erect to ascending; single slender stems, branches wide-spreading, smooth (glabrous) or sparsely covered with short, soft erect hairs (pubescent); relatively large taproots; plants with milky sap.

Leaves: Green, light green; alternate; blades linear to lanceolate; the lower leaves pinnatifid into linear divisions, upper or stem (cauline) leaves greatly reduced and bract-like, sessile; leaves withered at flowering.

Flower Color: White, pink or rose; flower heads ligulate flowers, 5 to 11 florets; heads solitary or clustered from nodes along branches, open panicle-like clusters; structure surrounding heads (involucre) may be smooth (glabrous), covered with minute soft erect hairs (puberulous) or stipitate-glandular; bracts around outer calyx (phyllaries) reflexed or pressed closely against the bracts (appressed); fruit a cypsela with white to tan feather-like (plumose ) hairs (bristles), feathery-like hairs on top (distal) 50 to 85 % only.

Flowering Season: April to September

Elevation: 2,000 to 8,000 feet (610-2,438 m)

Habitat Preferences: Plains, mesas and hillsides, desert scrub, often among shrubs, dry disturbed areas.

Recorded Range: Found in the southwest and the southern part of the northwest in the United States in AZ, CA, CO, ID, NM, NV, NY, OR, TX, UT, WY. This species also occurs in northern Baja California and Mexico. Most heavily represented in southeast California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Stephanomeria exigua.

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

Genus Information: In North America there are 17 species for Stephanomeria. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 18 accepted species names and a further 29 scientific names of infraspecific rank for Stephanomeria.
The genus Stephanomeria was published by Thomas Nuttall, (1786-1859) in 1841.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 6 species of Stephanomeria, California has 11 species, Nevada has 7 species, New Mexico and Utah each have 5 species and Texas has 4 species. All data approximate and subject to revision.

There are 5 sub-species in Stephanomeria exigua in the United States and northwest Baja California and Mexico;
Stephanomeria exigua ssp. carotifera, Whiteplume Wirelettuce, (CA);
Stephanomeria exigua ssp. coronaria, Whiteplume Wirelettuce, (CA, ID, NV, OR);
Stephanomeria exigua ssp. deanei, Deane's Wirelettuce, (CA);
Stephanomeria exigua ssp. exigua, Small Wirelettuce, AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV, TX, UT, WY);
Stephanomeria exigua ssp. macrocarpa, Whiteplume Wirelettuce, (CA).

Comments: Small Wirelettuce is an inconspicuous spindly and bland looking subshrub usually growing among other stronger shrubs. They are most noticeable because of the small white or pinkish flowers readily apparent. Growing among other vegetation provides Small Wirelettuce with shade and support.

They are not stand-out or otherwise showy plants as far as desert wildflowers go but their flowers are rather striking especially with the aid of a 10 power loop.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Brownplume Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria pauciflora and Narrowleaf Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria tenuifolia.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
Small Wirelettuce is important to and attracts large numbers of Native bees.

For excellent information on invertebrate conservation visit The Xerces Society.

The genus Stephanomeria is from the Greek word "stephane" meaning "wreath or crown" and "meros" meaning "division"; the references are a reference to the pappus on the cypsela fruit. The genus Stephanomeria was published by Thomas Nuttall, (1786-1859) in 1841.

The species epithet "exigua" means "little, poor in growth, or weak." Clear references to this species spindly appearance in the field.

Stephanomeria exigua is used as a diuretic and as a measles remedy by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Hopi Drug, Diuretic, Plant used as a diuretic for venereal disease.
  • Hopi Drug, Venereal Aid, Plant used as a diuretic for venereal disease.
  • Navajo, Kayenta Drug, Misc. Disease Remedy, Plant used for measles.

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

    Date Profile Completed: 8/15/2014; updated 02/27/2020
    Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, 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 02/24/2020) for Stephanomeria
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 02/23/2020).
    L. D. Gottlieb, FNA | Family List |FNA Vol. 19, 20 and 21 | Asteraceae | Stephanomeria; 4. Stephanomeria exigua; 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 (accessed 02/26/2020). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    L.D. Gottlieb 2012, Stephanomeria exigua, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=5148, accessed on February 26, 2020.
    FNA 2006, Jepson 1993, Kearney and Peebles 1969, McDougall 1973; Editor: L. Crumbacher 2011;; from SEINet Field Guide (accessed 02/27/2020).
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
    Etymology:Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 02/24/2020)
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Thomas Nuttall', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 September 2019, 06:04 UTC, [accessed 24 February 2020]