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Both Gutierrezia sarothrae and Gutierrezia microcephala are found over wide areas of the United States: Gutierrezia microcephala is found from far west Texas to southern California and from the very southwest corner of Colorado to central Nevada.  Gutierrezia sarothrae is found in the same area and also farther north through all the western states and into Canada. (It is also found in South America.)  The two species are often in the company of that other ubiquitous Westerner, Sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata.

In the Four Corners area Gutierrezia sarothrae by far outnumbers Gutierrezia microcephala. The newly discovered Gutierrezia elegans is found just in Dolores County, Colorado. 

Both G. sarothrae and G. microcephala often grow in extensive patches, especially at road side and on grazed land where the plants spread easily because cattle dislike them.  

Gutierrezia microcephala and Gutierrezia sarothrae are quite similar and one needs a bit of determination and a hand lens to tell the difference between the two.  Both grow in the same environment, often right next to each other; both have minute flowers; both have the same rounded appearance and grow to the same height of one to three feet; both flower in late summer and fall.  The most easily observed difference is in the flowers: G. microcephala has only one or two of both ray and disk flowers; G. sarothrae has three to seven ray and disk flowers. 

The stories behind the naming of the two species: 

From a specimen collected in 1804 by Meriwether Lewis on "the plains of the Missouri", Frederick Pursh (in 1814) named Solidago sarothrae

From a specimen collected by Sesse and Mocino on their 1787-1803 Spanish Royal Expedition to New Spain, Mariano Lagasca, botanist, and later Director, with the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid, named a new new genus, Gutierrezia, and a new species Gutierrezia linearifolia. Lagasca very briefly described the plant in his 1816 Genera et Species Plantarum.  (Click to see the Plantarum and go to page 30 to read about G. linearifolia.  The "N.H." at the end of the description indicates that the plant was collected somewhere in, "Nova Hispania", the lands of present day Mexico and western United States.) 

In his description of Gutierrezia linearifolia, Lagasca did not specify who he was honoring with the genus name. For some reason, though, it has been assumed that the name honors Pedro Gutierrez, variously described as a Spanish nobleman, traveler, or Real Jardin correspondent.

In 1887 Britton and Rusby re-examined the plants named by Lagasca and Pursh and realized that they were the same species and should be in the Gutierrezia genus. Since Pursh's description was published first (1814 versus 1816) the species retained sarothrae as its specific epithet. Thus the accepted name for both Sesse and Mocino and Lewis' discovery is Gutierrezia sarothrae.

The genus is commonly pronounced: Goo-ter-EASE-e-uh. The Spanish surname is pronounced Goo-Tea-air-ez. Add the ia for the scientific Latin pronunciation. 

"Sarothrae" is from the Greek for "broom" and "microcephala" is Greek for "small head".  

Click for more Gutierrezia sarothrae photographs.

Click for Gutierrezia elegans, a new species that Peggy Lyon and I discovered August 4, 2008 in Lone Mesa State Park, Dolores County, Colorado.

More biographical information about Gutierrez.

Gutierrezia microcephala (Broom Snakeweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Butler Canyon, Utah, August 27, 2007.

Flowers are crowded at the top of very slender stems.  The plant grows along trails, at roadsides, in sandy and rocky areas, and in pastures.

G. microcephala was first named Brachyris microcephala by Augustin de Candolle in 1836 from a collection made by Berlandier in Mexico.  Asa Gray renamed the plant Gutierrezia microcephala in 1849.

Click for more Gutierrezia sarothrae photographs.

Gutierrezia sarothrae (Gutierrezia), Petradoria pumila (Rock Goldenrod), and the various species of Chrysothamnus and Ericameria (Rabbitbrushes) are often difficult to tell apart. Click for some assistance.

Gutierrezia microcephala (Broom Snakeweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Butler Canyon, Utah, August 27, 2007.

Notice all the single ray flowers. When I first saw such flowerheads, I thought that the other ray flowers had dropped and that I was looking at G. sarothrae. This plant also has only one disk flower per head.

Leaves are very similar to those of G. sarothrae: 2-5 centimeters long and 2-4 millimeters wide, but the one ray flower per flowerhead sets this species off.

Gutierrezia sarothrae

Gutierrezia sarothrae (Broom Snakeweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Big Spring Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, September 10, 2005.

Lower leaves on both species of Gutierrezia shown on this page are often withered at flowering time. Flowers are clustered tightly at the top of the plant. The top photograph at left shows a plant many years old, over fifteen inches tall, and thirty inches in diameter. The next photograph shows a young, very vigorous plant just a few years old with the previous year's dried flower stems still showing but many more flower stems from the most recent year.

Gutierrezia sarothrae was first collected for science by Meriwether Lewis along the Missouri River in 1804 and was named Solidago sarothrae by Pursh in 1814. It was also named Gutierrezia linearifolia by the Spanish botanist La Gasca, who originated the Gutierrezia genus. In 1857 the plant was renamed Gutierrezia sarothrae by Britton and Rusby. "Sarothrae" is from the Greek, "sarotron", meaning "broom".

 

Gutierrezia sarothrae (Broom Snakeweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Big Spring Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, September 10, 2005.  Prairie Dog Knoll, Abajo Mountains, Utah, August 17, 2009. Butler Canyon, Utah, August 27, 2007.

Flowers often do not look as uniform and symmetrical as shown at left or in the first photograph immediately below. The second photograph below shows varying stages of flowerhead development: the flower cluster at top left has both ray and disk flowers; the two largest flower clusters below that one have only disk flowers. What appear to be rays on the disk flowers are just lobes on the disk flower tube.

Gutierrezia sarothrae

Gutierrezia sarothrae (Broom Snakeweed)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Butler Canyon, Utah, August 27, 2007.

Leaves are 2-7 centimeters long and 1-3 millimeters wide.

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

Range map for Gutierrezia microcephala

Range map for Gutierrezia sarothrae