Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Acourtia nana, Dwarf Desertpeony

Dwarf Desertpeony is a native herbaceous plant with small but beautiful flowers of pink, lavender and white. The plants bloom from March through June and sometimes later. Acourtia nana Dwarf Desertpeony, also called Desert Holly grows to about 10 inches or less and prefers elevations up to 6,000 feet. Acourtia nana Dwarf Desertpeony has single flower heads with phyllaries in 4 series, broadly ovate, tips pointed and with glandular margins. Acourtia nana Dwarf Desertpeony leaves are pale green, leathery, opposite, glabrous and scabrous. The leaves have broadly oval margins, spinulous and resembling unequal holly-type leaves. Note the leaves in the photo have conspicuous veins on both sides. Acourtia nana Dwarf Desertpeony is found in lower to middle deserts, desert scrub or chaparral communities, mesas, slopes, usually under bushes, gravel, Sandstone and heavy clay or caliche soils. It is native to the southwestern U. S. and Mexico and is relatively rare found only in AZ, NM and TX. Acourtia nana

Scientific Name: Acourtia nana
Common Name: Dwarf Desertpeony

Also Called: Desert Holly, Desertpeony

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Perezia nana)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: Small 1 to 12 inches (2.5-30 cm).

Growth Form: Forb/herb; woolly bases of brownish-bronze hairs; erect, small, dwarf and often with a single stem, additional stems are wide-spreading.

Leaves: Green; pale green, leathery, opposite; cauline leaves without a stalk (sessile) or with a very short stalk (petiole); leaf surface generally without surface ornamentation such as hairs, scales or bristles but often rough to the touch; leaves look like holly-type leaves; broadly oval; leaf edges or margins noticeably prickly-toothed.

Flower Color: White, pink or lavender-pink, flowers fragrant; flowers heads single (solitary) on tips of branches; disk florets only; the bracts surrounding the flower heads are bell-shaped (campanulate); the fruit is a cypsela with numerous slender silky hairs (pappus), silvery white to tawny.

Flowering Season: March to June and sometimes later.

Elevation: Below 6,000 feet (1,800 m).

Habitat Preferences: Lower to middle deserts, desert scrub or chaparral communities; usually under bushes; mesas, arid plains, slopes; gravel, sandstone and heavy clay or caliche soils.

Recorded Range: Dwarf Desertpeony, Acourtia nana is native to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert regions of the southwestern United States and northern and central Mexico. In the United States it is relatively rare where it is found only in AZ, NM and TX. In Arizona it is found in much of the southern part of the state and Yavapai County. It is also well represented in New Mexico, less so in Texas where it is found primarily in the trans-Pecos and western Edwards Plateau.

In Mexico it is native to (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, Zacatecas).

North America & US County Distribution Map for Acourtia nana.

North America species range map for Dwarf Desertpeony, Acourtia nana:
North American range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation

North America species range map for Acourtia nana: 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 5 species and 5 accepted taxa overall for Acourtia. World wide, The Plant List includes 84 accepted species names and includes a further 30 of infraspecific rank for the genus.

The genus Acourtia was published in 1830 by David Don.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona and Nevada each have 5 species of genus, California has 13 species, New Mexico has 7 species, Texas has 4 species, Utah has 6 species. Data approximate, subject to revision.

Comments: Dwarf Desertpeony is a small forb, relatively common in select areas; only a few leaves per plant; its flowers are rarely seen. Dwarf Desertpeony, or Desert Holly is often observed under the protection of bushes or trees. It has a pleasant fragrance reminiscent of jasmine or violets. Dwarf Desertpeony differs from other species of Acourtia because of its small size, leathery leaves that resemble holly leaves with tiny spines.

According to Arizona Flora, the roots of this plant and also those of Wright's Desertpeony, Acourtia wrightii yield an acid (pipitzahoic) "which may be used in chemical analysis as an indicator of soil alkalinity"

In Southwest Desert Flora also see Thurber’s Desertpeony, Acourtia thurberi and Brownfoot or Wright’s Desertpeony, Acourtia wrightii.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Seeds of Dwarf Desertpeony, Acourtia nana may likely be eaten by birds and small mammals.

Special Value to Native bees, Butterflies and Insects
Dwarf Desertpeony, Acourtia nana flowers may be visited by butterflies, bees and other small insects.

The genus Acourtia was named in the 18th century in honor of amateur botanist Mary Elizabeth Catherine Gibbes A'Court (1792-1878).

The genus Acourtia was published in 1830 by David Don.
The species epithet "nana" (na'na:) means "little" from the Greek nannos, "dwarf".


Date Profile Completed: 8/27/2012,updated 01/12/2021
Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, as Perezia nana.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search, (accessed 04/10/2020).
The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 04/10/2020).
Beryl B. Simpson, FNA | Family List |FNA Vol. 19, 20 and 21 | Asteraceae | Acourtia ; 2. Acourtia nana (A. Gray) Reveal & R. M. King, Phytologia. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
McDougall 1973, Kearny and Peebles 1979, FNA 2006; Editors; S. Buckley 2010, F. S. Coburn 2014, A. Hazelton 2015 from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; - (accessed 04/10/2020).
Wikipedia contributors, 'Acourtia nana', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 July 2019, 01:31 UTC, [accessed 10 April 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 04/10/2020)