Herbs or subshrubs, compact or spreading, matted, 0.5-2.5 × 3-15 dm, tomentose to floccose. Stems: caudex absent or spreading; aerial flowering stems erect, slender, solid, not fistulose, usually arising directly from a taproot, 0.5-1.5 dm, tomentose to floccose. Leaves basal, typically not in rosettes; petiole 0.5-6 cm, tomentose to floccose; blade usually narrowly elliptic, 1-3(-3.5) × (0.3-)0.5-1(-1.2) cm, densely tomentose abaxially, thinly tomentose, floccose or glabrous and grayish to greenish adaxially, margins entire, plane or undulate and crisped. Inflorescences umbellate or compound-umbellate, 10-30 × 10-25 cm; branches tomentose to floccose; bracts 3-9, semileaflike at proximal node, 0.5-2 × 0.2-1 cm, often scalelike distally. Involucres 1 per node, turbinate, 1.5-7 × 2-5 mm, tomentose to floccose; teeth 5-8, erect, 0.1-0.5 mm. Flowers 3-8 mm, including 0.7-2 mm stipelike base; perianth white to cream, densely pubescent abaxially; tepals dimorphic, those of outer whorl lanceolate to elliptic, 2-5 × 1-3 mm, those of inner whorl lanceolate to fan-shaped, 1.5-6 × 2-4 mm; stamens exserted, 2-4 mm; filaments pilose proximally. Achenes light brown to brown, 4-5 mm, glabrous except for sparsely pubescent beak. Eriogonum jamesii is a nectar source for the rare Spalding dotted-blue butterfly (Euphilotes spaldingi).
Eriogonum jamesii and E. arcuatum (see below) are considered 'life medicines' and used ceremonially by Native Americans (C. Arnold, pers. comm.; A. B. Reagan 1929; P. A. Vestal 1952).
Martin and Hutchins 1980, Kearney and Peebles 1969, FNA 2005
Duration: Perennial Nativity: Native Lifeform: Subshrub General: Perennial herb to subshrub, 10-20 cm tall, from a taproot and usually a woody caudex which is branching, spreading, and mat-forming; aerial flowering stems erect, tomentose, usually leafless. Leaves: Mostly basal, emerging directly from the woody caudex, on petioles the same length as the blades; blades oblong to spatulate-ovate, 3-8 cm long, thinly hairy or glabrous on the upper surface and densely tomentose on the underside. Flowers: Whitish, in loose clusters of several flowers united by a cup-shaped structure called an involucre. Involucres arranged in simple or compound umbels, 10-30 cm wide and about as high, on a leafless flowering stalk, 5-15 cm tall; individual flowers 3-8 mm high, with 6 ruffled petal-like tepals, white to cream. Fruits: Achenes trigonous, 4-5 mm high, winged. Ecology: Found on dry rocky slopes, from 5,000-8,000 ft (1524-2438 m); flowers June-October. Distribution: AZ, NM, TX, OK, KS, CO; south to n MEX. Notes: Flora of North America (2005) recognizes 3 varieties. Var. jamesii is the most common, found throughout the species' range in the US, with flowers in compound umbels and leaves with flat margins. Var. undulatum is found in northern Mexico and neighboring southern Arizona and southern New Mexico, with leaf margins that are undulate (wavy) anad frequently crisped (ruffled). Var. simplex is known only from west-central Kansas and has flowers in simple umbels and leaves with flat margins. Ethnobotany: Used as a heart medicine, for despondency, as a ceremonial medicine, to ease labor pains in childbirth, as a contraceptive, for stomachaches, and as a wash for sore eyes. Etymology: Eriogonum comes from the Greek erion, wool, and gony, knee, alluding to the hairy nodes of the first species described, Eriogonum tomentosum; jamesii is named for Dr. Frederick C. James (1935-2002) an American botanist. Synonyms: None Editor: SBuckley, 2010