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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

False Yarrow (Chaenactis douglasii)

In North Dakota, only the western counties of Billings and Golden Valley have so far yielded specimens of false yarrow, also called "Douglas dusty maiden." The species is categorized as threatened by the Endangered Species Committee of the North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society so definitely should not be picked. Elsewhere, the species ranges west to British Columbia and California south to Wyoming and Colorado, at elevations up to 10,500 ft.

False yarrow is a short-lived perennial usually about 8 inches tall, and sparingly branched from the base. Leaves are crinkly and highly dissected, resembling those of a carrot except for a covering of cobwebby hairs that gives the plant its "dusty" appearance. Basal leaves are up to 3 inches long, but those on the upper plant are smaller. About 10 to 20 creamy-white to pale pink flowers are clustered in heads up to an inch wide. About 5 to 10 of these heads are in turn clustered into narrow-based stalked clusters called corymbs. Fruits are club-shaped achenes bearing papery scales.

Look for false yarrow on dry clay slopes or roadcuts through clay or scoria hills. Grazing seems to have little effect on the abundance of this plant. A very silvery colored variety of false yarrow is often seen sold as a hardy ornamental for extremely hot dry sites.

False yarrow is a member of the extremely large sunflower family (Asteraceae) which comprises hundreds of economically important plants. The generic name stems from a botanical combination of the Greek words chainein, to "yawn" or "gape," and actis, "rays," undoubtedly in reference to the two-lobed petals found on this genus. The plant was first described for science in 1840 by Sir William J. Hooker (1785-1865), who dedicated the specific epithet to honor the Scottish botanist David Douglas (1798-1834). He discovered hundreds of new plants during his explorations of the American west.

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