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 exigua Small 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 exigua Small 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 exigua Small 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 exigua Small 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, White-Plume Wire-Lettuce, Wire Lettuce

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Ptiloria exigua, Stephanomeria pentachaeta)

Status: Native

Duration: Annual, rarely perennials or biennials; plants from large taproot.

Size: 1 to 2 feet (30-60 cm) tall or more.

Growth Form: Forb/herb; plants upright (erect) or spreading horizontally (ascending) generally 1 slender branching stem; plants with milky sap.

Leaves: Green, light green; leaf shape variable, lower leaves pinnatifid, upper leaves greatly reduced, bract-like; leaves generally withered at flowering

Flower Color: White, pink, purple or rose; floral heads single (solitary) or in clusters along branches; floral heads with ligulate flowers only; fruit is a cypsela, pappus tan or white plumose bristles.

Flowering Season: April, May to September and October

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 is also native 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.

North America species range map for Small Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria exigua:

Small Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria exigua: 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 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 in 1841 by Thomas Nuttall, (1786-1859).

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. Data approximate, 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 forb/herb usually growing among shrubs and subshrub for both shade and support. The plants are generally inconspicuous although their small white or pinkish flowers are readily apparent. In fact, the flowers are rather striking if you take a closer look, even without 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
Small Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria exigua has small but attractive attractive flowers, the flowers, their seeds may be visited by hummingbirds and/or small mammals including rodents and granivorous birds in search of nectar or food.

Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Honey Bees and Insects
Small Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria exigua has attractive flowers, the flowers may be visited by butterflies, moths, flies, honeybees and other insects in search of food and nectar.

Special Value to Native Bees
According to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Small Wirelettuce, Stephanomeria exigua is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of Native bees. Click here for more information on their Pollinator Conservation Program.

The genus “Stephanomeria” (Stephanomer'ia:) derived from the Greek stephane, “wreath or crown,” and meros, “division.”. Thus references to the pappus on the cypsela fruit.

The genus Stephanomeria was published in 1841 by Thomas Nuttall, (1786-1859).

The species epithet exigua (exig'ua:) means “little, poor in growth, or weak.” Perhaps references to the spindly appearance of this species in the field.

Stephanomeria exigua is used as a diuretic and as a measles remedy by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Hopi Drug, Diuretic, 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 11/06/2020
    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 11/06/2020) for Stephanomeria
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 11/06/2020).
    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 11/05/2020). 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,, accessed on November 06, 2020.
    FNA 2006, Jepson 1993, Kearney and Peebles 1969, McDougall 1973; Editor: L.Crumbacher 2011;; from SEINet Field Guide (accessed 11/06/2020).
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Stephanomeria exigua', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 May 2019, 04:56 UTC, [accessed 9 November 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 11/06/2020)
    IPNI (2020). International Plant Names Index. Published on the Internet, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries and Australian National Botanic Gardens. [Retrieved 06 November 2020].