Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia, Pebble Pincushion

Pebble Pincushion is snowy white flowers that are often pink tinged. The flower heads are borne on branch tips. The flowers bloom from January, February or March through May or June. Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia Pebble Pincushion has attractive flowers in spring and summer when plants are in full bloom. Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia Pebble Pincushion is a native annual that grows up to a foot or so in height. A closely related variety, Peirson’s Pincushion is included in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants. Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia Pebble Pincushion, Pincushion Flower or Straw-bed Pincushion usually has 1 main stem covered with whitish pubescent. The green leaves are both basal and cauline and the basal leaves usually wither away while the cauline leaves are divided into a few lobes; mostly linear, small, about 4 inches with a slender petiole. Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia Pebble Pincushion is found in elevations from 300 to 6,200 feet (90-1,900 m) and found in shrub-lands in upper desert; open plains, mesas, slopes, flats; rocky or gravelly areas. Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia

Scientific Name: Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia
Common Name: Pebble Pincushion

Also Called: Pincushion Flower, Straw-bed Pincushion

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Chaenactis carphoclinia var. attenuata)

Status: Native

Duration: Annual

Size: 4 to 12 or (16) inches (10-30 or (40) cm).

Growth Form: Forb/herb; erect branching stem, usually with 1 main stem; whitish pubescent.

Leaves: Green; basal and cauline leaves, the basal leaves wither, cauline leaves are divided into a few lobes; leaves are mostly linear, small, about 4 inches (10 cm) with a slender petiole.

Flower Color: White or pinkish-tinted; one to several floral heads borne on tips on the inflorescence, several per stem, heads are small, between .25 and .50 inch (.63 -1.27 cm); flowers discoid with enlarged outer corolla; the heads are bracketed by flat sharp-pointed phyllaries somewhat reddish; anthers exserted beyond the corolla are noticeable; fruit is an achene a few millimeters in length with a scaly pappus.

Flowering Season: January, February or March through May or June.

Elevation: 300 to 6,200 feet. (90-1,900 m)

Habitat Preferences: Shrublands in upper deserts; open plains, mesas, slopes, flats; rocky, gravelly and sandy areas.

Recorded Range: Chaenactis carphoclinia is found in southwest North America in the states of AZ, CA, NM, NV and UT. Pebble Pincushion is also found in Baja California and Sonora Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia.

North America species range map for Chaenactis carphoclinia:
North American range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation

North America species range map for Chaenactis carphoclinia:  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: According to California Native Plant Society, Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants, Peirson's Pincushion, Chaenactis carphoclinia var. peirsonii is listed as 1B:.03 Rare, threatened, or endangered in California and elsewhere; 0.3: Not very endangered in California.

Genus Information: In North America there are 17 species and 17 accepted taxa overall for Chaenactis. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 19 accepted species names and a further 55 scientific names of infraspecific rank for Chaenactis.

Members of Chaenactis are commonly referred to as “pincushions” or “dustymaidens”.

The genus Chaenactis was published in 1836 by Augustin Pyramus de Candolle.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 6 species of genus, California has 13 species, Nevada has 8 species, New Mexico has 3 species, Texas has 0 species, Utah has 5 species. All data approximate and subject to revision.

There are 2 varieties in Chaenactis carphoclinia;
Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia, Pebble Pincushion (AZ, CA, NM, NV, UT and Baja California and Sonoran Mexico);
* Chaenactis carphoclinia var. peirsonii, Peirson’s Pincushion (CA).

Comments: Pebble Pincushion, in wet years, is one of the most abundant spring wildflowers in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and extending into the southern Great Basin and northwestern Chihuahuan Deserts. This species is similar in appearance to Esteve’s Pincushion, for which it is often mistaken. In general Pebble Pincushion is a much smaller plant with multiple flower heads and the flowers are more cream colored and not as white as Esteve’s Pincushion.

This sub-species is mostly a Mojave Desert species given its distribution along the western part of Arizona and heavily represented in southeast Nevada and California.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Esteve’s Pincushion, Chaenactis stevioides and Fleshcolor Pincushion, Chaenactis xantiana.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Tiny seeds of Chaenactis carphoclinia may possibly be eaten by birds and small mammals.

In Clark County, Nevada, (Arden Study Area 1976) Pebble Pincushion has been identified as an important food source of the southwestern Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
Chaenactis carphoclinia flowers may be visited by butterflies, bees and other small insects.

The genus Chaenactis (Chaenac'tis:) from the Greek chaino, “to gape," and aktis, “a ray," thus meaning a gaping ray, and given because in many species the outer florets are enlarged into a wide-open flaring ray-like mouth.

The genus Chaenactis was published in 1836 by Augustin Pyramus de Candolle.

The species epithet carphoclinia (carphoclin'ia:) from the Greek words karphos for “a small dry object, splinter, twig” and kline, “bed,” and thus somewhat obscure.


Date Profile Completed: 8/9/2014; updated 06/12/2020
Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California, as Chaenactis carphoclinia.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 06/12/2020)
The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 06/12/2020).
James D. Morefield,FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21 | Asteraceae Chaenactis; 2a. Chaenactis carphoclinia A. Gray var. carphoclinia; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
James D. Morefield 2012, Chaenactis carphoclinia var. carphoclinia, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=6935, accessed on June 11, 2020.
Norma J. Engberg, Suzanne Allan, Ralph L. Young; The Desert Tortoise Council; Proceeding of the 1976 Symposium; A compilation of reports and papers presented at the first annual symposium of the Desert Tortoise Council, March 23-24, 1976. Chaenactis carphoclinia."
Wikipedia contributors, 'Chaenactis carphoclinia', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 March 2019, 19:30 UTC, [accessed 12 June 2020]
Wikipedia contributors, 'Chaenactis', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 June 2019, 18:57 UTC, [accessed 12 June 2020]
California Native Plant Society (CNPS). 2018. Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants (online edition, v7-18mar). California Native Plant Society. Sacramento, CA. Accessed on Fri, Jun. 12, 2020 from
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 06/11/2020)