There are at least 25 species of Townsendia, all in Western North America.  Determining the exact species of Townsendia one sees in the field is, as Intermountain Flora puts it, "notoriously difficult", because they share many similar characteristics and the characteristics are variable. But with some care, the species can be identified and certainly can be enjoyed.

    The Flora of North America notes that, "apomixis (asexual production of seeds) is characteristic of some Townsendias. Apomictic populations may be locally or regionally fairly uniform and differ from other apomictic populations or population systems within single taxonomic species".

    In Intermountain Flora Arthur Cronquist indicates,"Specific delimitation in Townsendia is notoriously difficult".

    James Reveal's A Revision of the Utah Species of Townsendia indicates that, "The species concept in Townsendia is complicated by two rather intricate and possibly related problems -- hybridization and apomixis...." Reveal points out that T. leptotes exhibits the greatest amount of variation in the genus". 

    The Townsendia genus was named by William Jackson Hooker in 1833 for David Townsend of West Chester, Pennsylvania.  Townsend was a banker active in civic affairs and he was a devoted and very talented amateur botanist who sent Hooker a remarkable collection of plants from Chester County, Pennsylvania. Click for very interesting biographical information about Townsend.

    Please note that the eminent botanists and chroniclers of botanists' lives, Joseph Ewan and James Reveal incorrectly indicate that the genus Townsendia was named for the ornithologist John Kirk Townsend.

Click for more photographs of the Townsendia shown on this page
Click for Townsendia rothrockii.

Townsendia annua
Townsendia annua (Annual Townsendia, Annual Townsendia Daisy)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer, fall.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 27, 2005.

This delightful miniature is found at the lowest elevations in the Four Corners region. It likes hot dry hills and meadows and can be found in patches of just a few plants or in large numbers.  It ranges from an inch to seven inches tall and begins as a single, usually upright flowering stem (as shown at left) or, if moisture is sufficient, in a sprawling mat as shown on the next Townsendia page.  Leaf and stem of this annual are hairy and basal leaves are commonly dry by flowering time.

Bassett Maguire (1904-1990) collected the first specimen of this plant for science in 1936 in Cottonwood Wash near Bluff, Utah, but it was not until 1957 that John Beaman (1929-) described and named the plant. 

Townsendia exscapa
Townsendia exscapa (Stemless Townsendia)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills, montane. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer.
Mavericks Trail, Boggy Draw, May 3, 2016. 

Townsendia exscapa is quite similar to Townsendia leptotes and the two are difficult to tell apart. As discussed on the second page of photographs, they share a number of characteristics and experts disagree on the distinguishing characteristics.

Whatever is disagreed on, there is no disagreement about the delicately cute character of this Townsendia (and all the other Townsendias). Townsendia exscapa hugs the ground with a cluster of long, narrow, usually hair leaves. Flowers are usually stemless (ex scapa, without a scape), and they are relatively large for a Townsendia.

Townsendia exscapa is often found in forest or sage brush openings, typically in the foothills, but it is known to occur at lower and higher elevations.

Richardson named and described this plant in 1823 after collecting it in Saskatchewan.

Click for more information about and photographs of Townsendia exscapa.

Townsendia glabella
Townsendia glabella (Oyster Bed Townsendia)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer.
Mesa Verde National Park, April 26, 2007. 

This Townsendia is a rare Colorado endemic, occurring in just a few southwest counties.  In 2007, Mesa Verde National Park purchased a small parcel of land on its northeastern flank to protect one of the few locations of this plant.  T. glabella occurs only on the Smoky Hill Member of Mancos Shale, Oyster Beds.

Asa Gray named and described this plant in 1881.

Click for more photographs of Townsendia glabella.


Townsendia incana

Townsendia incana

Townsendia incana (Silvery Townsendia Daisy, Easter Daisy)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer, fall.
Top of Yellow Jacket Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 4, 2007 and
Near Bluff, Utah, April 18, 2017.

This very handsome, definitely cute, Asteraceae is one of our favorites.  Few plants have such bright, large, and numerous flowers in relation to the height and width of the leaves and stem.  Rays are brilliant white but are often tinged with pink or lavender, especially on the back side.  Leaves are elongated, crowded, and hairy.  Flowers often barely exceed the leaves.

Townsendia incana is quite common and once one gets to know its habitat of open sandy soils, it is easy to find.  Of the seven main species of Townsendia in the Four Corners area, T. incana is by far the most common. 

Thomas Nuttall collected the first specimen of Townsendia incana "On the Black Hills" (Nuttall's words as quoted in Intermountain Flora) on his trip with the Wyeth Expedition of 1834-1837.  The first member of the Townsendia genus was collected a decade earlier in Saskatchewan by John Richardson (for whom our very common and lovely Geranium richardsonii was named). 

"Incana’ is Latin for "hoary", and refers to the "conspicuously white-hairy stems, much whiter than the leaves...." (Intermountain Flora). As noted at the top of this page, the genus is named for David Townsend of West Chester, Pennsylvania, an avid and expert amateur botanist.

Click for more photographs of Townsendia incana.


Townsendia leptotes
Townsendia leptotes (Slender-leaf Townsendia)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills to alpine. Woodlands, openings. Spring, summer.
Lone Mesa State Park, April 26, 2009.

This Townsendia is normally a species of the high montane, sub-alpine, and alpine elevations, but in and near Lone Mesa State Park it is found from 7,600 to 7,800 feet on Mancos Shale where it is massively abundant in the spring.  Leaves of this species of Townsendia are narrow, up to two inches long, sparingly hairy, and sometimes surpass the flower heads, which are no more than one inch across.  This species of Townsendia surpasses all others shown on this page for massive displays of flowers.

Click to see this display and more photographs of T. leptotes.

In 1880 Asa Gray named this plant T. sericea variety leptotes from a specimen collected by Charles Parry in Middle Park, Colorado in 1864.  George Osterhout renamed it T. leptotes in 1908.  "Leptotes" is Greek for "delicate".

Click for more photographs of the Townsendia shown on this page.

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
Questionable presence

Range map for Townsendia annua  

Range map for Townsendia glabella

Range map for Townsendia incana

Range map for Townsendia leptotes