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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Cutleaf Fleabane (Erigeron compositus)


In North Dakota, cutleaf fleabane is found only in the western fourth of the state. Elsewhere, the plant occurs from Greenland to Alaska south to Colorado, Arizona, and California at elevations up to 9,000 ft.

Cutleaf fleabane is a low, sometimes tufted perennial growing up to 8 inches tall from a thick stem base (caudex). Leaves are crowded at the base of the plant and are several times dissected or lobed towards the tips. Flower heads are about an inch across and solitary on the ends of the stems. Each head has a yellow center composed of many disc flowers and an outside row of 20-60 white or pinkish ray flowers. Fruits are achenes equipped with 12-20 bristles to aid in transport by the wind.

Look for cutleaf fleabane in June or July in dry, sandy or gravelly native rangeland that is not overgrazed. Some Erigerons are purported to drive away fleas, relieve toothache, and cure various diseases, but I could find no references to any economic values for the species discussed here. This is true for many Great Plains plants whose history of use by native peoples has, unfortunately, been lost.

Cutleaf fleabane is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), an immense group containing over 15,000 species worldwide. The family contains edible species such as lettuce and salsify, the ornamentals chrysanthemum and zinnia, and noxious weeds such as thistles and cockleburs. The generic name Erigeron stems from the Greek eri, "early" and geron "old man," in reference to early-flowering plants with a hoary appearance. The specific epithet compositus, means "compound" in botanical Latin, likely in reference to the divided leaves. The species was first described for science by the German-born botanist Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774-1820). Pursh was the first to publish upon the many plant specimens brought back from the western wilderness by Lewis and Clark.


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