Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Stephanomeria pauciflora, Brownplume Wirelettuce

Brownplume Wirelettuce has small but pretty flowers that may be white, pink, lavender pink or flesh colored. Plants bloom from April or May to September, October or throughout the year. Stephanomeria pauciflora Brownplume Wirelettuce floral heads are single (solitary) on branches. The pretty floral heads are about .75 inch (2 cm) wide. Note that the florets are 5-lobed or strap-shaped (ligulate). Plants are also called Desert Straw, Fewflower Wirelettuce and Prairie Skeletonplant. Stephanomeria pauciflora Brownplume Wirelettuce flowers produce a fruit called a cypsela that has a tan-brown tuft of bristles with fine hairs like a feather plume (plumose). Bristles are rarely white as shown in the photo. Stephanomeria pauciflora Brownplume Wirelettuce has wide-spreading intricately branched stems. The branches and stems may be so thick as to form dense bushes. Plants prefer a wide variety of habitats. Stephanomeria pauciflora Brownplume Wirelettuce is mostly a woody sub-shrub often with 1 to 5 stems and branches ascending. These plants are mostly smooth and rarely tomentose. Brownplume Wirelettuce is important to and attracts large numbers of Native bees. Stephanomeria pauciflora

Scientific Name: Stephanomeria pauciflora
Common Name: Brownplume Wirelettuce

Also Called: Brownplume Wirelettuce, Brown-Plume Wire-Lettuce, Desert Straw, Fewflower Wirelettuce, Prairie Skeletonplant, Wire lettuce, Wire-Lettuce

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Lygodesmia pauciflora, Prenanthes pauciflora, Ptiloria pauciflora, Stephanomeria cinerea, Stephanomeria lygodesmioides, Stephanomeria lygodesmoides, Stephanomeria neomexicana, Stephanomeria pauciflora var. parishii, Stephanomeria pauciflora var. pauciflora, Stephanomeria runcinata var. parishii)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: 20 to 50 cm 2--10+ dm,

Growth Form: Forb/herb, subshrub; stems (caudices) are woody, 1 to 5 stems, stems and branches ascending, wide-spreading and intricately branched, may form dense bushes, plants mostly smooth (glabrous) and rarely tomentose.

Leaves: Green, leaves are mostly basal and ephemeral with smaller scale-like leaves occurring on the upper stem, during flowering, the leaves have withered or are dead; the basal leaves are linear-lanceolate, the upper stem (cauline) leaves are smaller and bract-like; leaves have tufts of hair at the base; margins are pinnately lobed.

Flower Color: White, pink, lavender pink or flesh colored; flora heads are solitary on branches; the heads are about .75 inch (2 cm) wide; note that the florets are 5-lobed or strap-shaped (ligulate); there are an extra set of bracts (calyculus) surrounding the heads looking slightly like a calyx; the pappus is a tan-brown tuft of 15 to 20 bristles which have fine hairs like a feather plume (plumose) on the (distal) top 80% (rarely white as shown in the photo above); fruit a tan cypsela.

Flowering Season: April or May to September, October, or throughout the year.

Elevation: Sea Level to 5,000 feet (1,500 m).

Habitat Preferences: Dry plains, washes, arid mesas and slopes, sandy areas, open sandy short-grass plains, gravelly washes and gravelly bajadas; desert shrub communities, juniper woodlands.

Recorded Range: Brownplume Wirelettuce is found in the southwestern United States in AZ, CA, CO, KS, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT, WY and south to southern Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Stephanomeria pauciflora.

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 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.

Comments: Brownplume Wirelettuce is one of several members of the genus Stephanomeria that share similar characteristics and are often difficult to distinguish from one another. You get a good idea just how variable this species is when you note the synonyms and common names.
Brownplume Wirelettuce is similar to Narrowleaf Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria tenuifolia which is less woody at the base, has glands on the flowering stalk (peduncle) and the seeds have a pappus of white feathery-like bristles from top to bottom.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Narrowleaf Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria tenuifolia and Small Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria exigua.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
Brownplume 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 "pauciflora" refers to the Latin term for 'few flowered'.

Stephanomeria pauciflora is used for a multitude of personal purposes by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Hopi Drug, Gynecological Aid, Root used in various ways to increase mother's milk supply.
  • Kawaiisu Food, Candy, Thick liquid used as chewing gum.
  • Navajo, Kayenta Drug, Narcotic, Roots used as a narcotic.
  • Navajo, Kayenta Food, Candy, Used as chewing gum.
  • Navajo, Kayenta Other, Ceremonial Items, Used as a paint ingredient for chant arrows used in various ceremonies.
  • Navajo, Ramah Drug, Gynecological Aid, Strong infusion of root used to hasten delivery of placenta.
  • Navajo, Ramah Drug, Panacea, Root used as a 'life medicine.'
  • Navajo, Ramah Food, Candy, Root used for chewing gum.

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

    Date Profile Completed: 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 2012, Stephanomeria pauciflora, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=5156, accessed on February 23, 2020.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet (accessed 02/23/2020). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    L. D. Gottlieb, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 19, 20 and 21 | Asteraceae | Stephanomeria; 10. Stephanomeria pauciflora (Torrey) A. Nelson in J. M. Coulter and A. Nelson, New Man. Bot. Centr. Rocky Mt. 588. 1909. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Wiggins 1964, Kearney and Peebles 1969, Felger 2000, Heil et al. 2013; Editor; S. Buckley 2010, F. S. Coburn 2015, A. Hazelton 2017 from SEINet Field Guide (accessed 02/23/2020).
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Stephanomeria pauciflora', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 March 2018, 21:13 UTC, [accessed 23 February 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]