Perennials, 20-50 cm (caudices woody). Stems 1-5+, divaricately and intricately branched (often forming dense bushes), usually glabrous, rarely tomentose. Leaves withered at flowering; basal blades linear-lanceolate, runcinate, 3-7 cm, margins pinnately lobed (faces glabrous); cauline much reduced and bractlike. Heads borne singly along branches. Peduncles 3-10 mm. Calyculi of appressed bractlets. Involucres 8-11 mm (phyllaries 4-6, glabrous). Florets 5-6. Cypselae tan. 3.5-5 mm, faces tuberculate, grooved; pappi of 15-20, usually tan, rarely white, bristles (connate in groups of 2-4, bases persistent), plumose on distal 80%. 2n = 16.
Stephanomeria pauciflora generally grows as an intricately branched, often rounded bush. Occasional plants, usually from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and southern Utah, have long, flexuous stems and branches, an architecture that resembles one of the typical forms of S. tenuifolia. Some plants of S. pauciflora have white pappi, also typical of S. tenuifolia. It is not known if these plants represent uncommon and unusual individuals or if they are from populations in which all plants have those traits. It is also not known whether such plants of S. pauciflora grow near populations of S. tenuifolia; if so, they may result from interspecific hybridization. That is a possibility; experimental hybrid plants produced by crossing individuals from the two species were about 20% fertile. Such fertility suggests the species are sufficiently compatible that fully fertile segregants with variously intermediate morphologies could be expected where they hybridize in nature. The experimental crosses were made reciprocally between S. pauciflora from Riverside County, California (L. D. Gottlieb 6653), and S. tenuifolia from Wheeler County, Oregon (L. D. Gottlieb 6692); specimens of the six F1 hybrid plants that were produced are deposited at DAV. Plants of S. pauciflora that are densely tomentose throughout are occasionally found, particularly in the deserts of California and Nevada, and have been named S. cinerea or S. pauciflora var. parishii.
Wiggins 1964, Kearney and Peebles 1969, Felger 2000, Heil et al. 2013
Duration: Perennial Nativity: Native Lifeform: Subshrub General: Rounded perennial herbs to subshrubs, 30-60 cm tall, from deep-seated rhizomes and a slender woody root crown; stems slightly woody at the base and diffusely branched throughout, the branches stiff, ascending or spreading, glabrous, pale green and becoming grayish with age. Leaves: Basal and stem leaves mostly withering before flowering; blades linear, 2-6 cm long and 2-8 mm wide, the margins entire, toothed, or irregularly pinnately lobed; upper stem leaves reduced in size. Flowers: Flower heads pinkish, ligulate, solitary at branch tips or in paniculate clusters on glabrous peduncles; involuvres cylindric-conical, 6-10 mm high, subtended by calyculi of 3-7 bractlets; phyllaries 5-8 in 2 equal series, linear-lanceolate, and green or purple; florets all ligulate (like ray florets but always bisexual), 3-5 per flower head, the ligules (ray petals) 7-10 mm long, flesh-colored. Fruits: Achenes 3-5 mm long, longitudinally striate and often transversely rugulose; topped with a pappus of brown-tinged plumose bristles, 5-7 mm long. Ecology: Found along washes, on gravelly bajadas, plains, and arid mesas, below 7,000 ft (2134 m); flowers April-October. Distribution: CA, NV, UT, AZ, CO, NM, WY, TX, KA, OK; south to s MEX. Notes: A perennial with wiry stems and a slightly woody base; the basal leaves are pinnately lobed and stem leaves are bractlike; leaves have tufts of hair at the base; all leaves may be gone by flowering time; flower heads have 4-6 pinkish florets; and the seeds have tan-brown tuft of bristles which is plumose on the upper 80%. Similar to S. tenuifolia but that species is less woody at the base; has glands on the peduncles; and the achenes have a pappus of white bristles which are plumose from the base to the top. Ethnobotany: Used to increase mother's milk supply; as a narcotic; and chewed as gum; also used ceremonially. Etymology: Stephanomeria is derived from Greek stephane, wreath or crown, and meros, division, referring to the pappus on the achenes; pauciflora means with little foliage. Synonyms: Lygodesmia pauciflora, Ptiloria pauciflora, Stephanomeria cinera, S. neomexicana, S. pauciflora var. parishii Editor: SBuckley 2010, FSCoburn 2015, AHazelton 2017