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   The finely cut mass of Chaenactis leaves usually draws our attention first, for Chaenactis flowers are small, rayless, and inconspicuously light white, cream, or yellow. But a close look at the flowers shows their intricacy and beauty and makes them special with wildflower enthusiasts.

    Although John Kartesz and the Flora of North America consider the two plants shown on this page to be varieties of the same species, Stanley Welsh (A Utah Flora) and William Weber (Flora of Colorado) disagree, pointing out that C. alpina is a mat-forming perennial found almost exclusively in the alpine whereas C. douglasii is a tall, slender biennial found in the high desert and foothills.

    Welsh indicates, "It does not seem reasonable to attempt to segregate our material into varieties" and Weber indicates, "In Colorado at least, the taxa remain morphologically and ecologically distinct".

    To be consistent with Kartesz's nomenclature, I have indicated that the two taxa on this page are varieties, but I agree with Welsh and Weber (and Intermountain Flora) that they are distinct species.

   The Chaenactis genus was named by Augustin de Candolle in his 1836 volume 5 of Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabilis, a 17-volume treatise on botany that was published from 1824-1874. Augustin's son, Alphonse de Condole wrote the last 10 volumes after Augustin died in 1841. Click to read the entry on Chaenactis. Scroll to page 659.

   "Chaenactis" is from the Greek "open or gaping rays", but Chaenactis flowers have no ray flowers and the genus name refers to what appear to be ray flowers in some species.  These seeming ray flowers are, in the words of the Flora of North America, "enlarged peripheral disc corollas".

Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina

Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina. Synonym: Chaenactis alpina.  (Alpine Chaenactis)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Meadows, scree. Summer.
Colorado Trail near Kennebec Pass Trail, August 12, 2004.

Alpine Chaenactis flowers are on short stems just above the finely cut, fern-like leaves; the entire plant is low mounded to over a foot across.  It grows primarily above tree-line on finely broken rocky slopes.  Although Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina is not abundant, you will find that once you have spotted one plant you will almost always find a number of others nearby.

This species was at first named Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina by Asa Gray in 1884 from a specimen collected by Charles Parry in 1861 in "the headwaters of Clear Creek, and the alpine ridges lying east of Middle Park, Colorado". Marcus Jones gave the plant species status, C. alpina, in 1895.

Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina

Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina. Synonym: Chaenactis alpina.  (Alpine Chaenactis)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Meadows, scree. Summer.
Cross Mountain Trail, August 19, 2008.

In the center of the photograph, mature seeds are ready to fall while other flower heads show the reds of autumn.

Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina

Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina. Synonym: Chaenactis alpina.  (Alpine Chaenactis)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Meadows, scree. Summer.
Colorado Trail near Kennebec Pass Trail, August 12, 2004.

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii (Douglas' Chaenactis)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer.
Mesa Verde National Park, Prater Ridge Trail, June 3, 2004 and May 9, 2007.

Chaenactis douglasii, typically 8 to 20 inches tall, has tiny button-like cream-to-yellow flower heads composed of only disk flowersThese surmount a tall narrow leaf stalk with deeply incised leaves.  The basal leaves are similar to the stalk leaves but much larger.

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii

Chaenactis douglasii basal leaves can be confused with those of Hymenopappus filifolius.

Intermountain Flora notes that Chaenactis douglasii is "a widespread, complex, highly variable species....  A formal key would give a misleading impression of precision."

"Douglasii" honors David Douglas (of Douglas Fir fame), acclaimed 19th century Scottish botanist and explorer.  Douglas collected this plant near the Great Falls of the Columbia River, probably in the late 1820s and it was described and named for him by William Jackson Hooker in his 1833 Flora Boreali-Americana. (Click for more biographical information about Douglas.)

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii (Douglas' Chaenactis)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer.
Mesa Verde National Park, Prater Ridge Trail, June 3, 2004.

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii (Douglas' Chaenactis)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer.
Mesa Verde National Park, Prater Ridge Trail, June 15, 2006.

Disk flowers mature and brown specks of seeds are attached below the white puff of pappus hairs.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina

Range map for Chaenactis douglasii variety alpina

Chaenactis douglasii variety douglassii

Range map for Chaenactis douglasii variety douglasii