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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Slimleaf Hymenopappus (Hymenopappus tenuifolius)

Most North Dakota specimens of slimleaf hymenopappus are from west of the Missouri River, but one plant was collected as far east as Benson County. The overall distribution of this species is nearly restricted to the Great Plains, except in New Mexico where the range extends slightly westward into the intermontane valleys.

Slimleaf hymenopappus is biennial from a taproot. Stems are up to three feet tall and are usually sparsely hairy. Larger leaves up to 6 inches long form a basal rosette, whereas shorter leaves grow alternately along the stem. All leaves are twice-dissected into narrow segments barely 1/8-inch wide. Twenty or more flower heads about 1/2-inch long form in the nearly naked upper branches. Each head contains 25-50 whitish, glandular flowers. At maturity, the fruits (achenes) are about 1/8-inch long.

Look for slimleaf hymenopappus in July through August on dry hillsides. Plants are occasionally abundant on pastures heavily grazed by cattle and so may be unpalatable to them. The roots of other members of this genus were used for chewing by Amerindians, but I found no references to any economic uses for the species discussed here. Unfortunately, this is true for many species of Great Plains plants for which the ethnobotanical data has been lost or was not recorded.

Hymenopappus is a genus in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). This family contains over 15,000 species and is one of the largest plant families in the world and the largest in North Dakota. The family is characterized by the composite arrangement of many flowers into single heads as in the sunflower. These are often erroneously thought of as single flowers by laypersons. Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. The generic name was compounded from the Greek hymen "membrane" and pappos "pappus" or tuft of hairs or homologous appendages on the achenes that, in this species, are a ring of transparent scales. Slimleaf hymenopappus was first described for science in 1814 by the German-born Philadelphia botanist Frederick Pursh (1774-1820). Pursh was the first to publish upon the many plant specimens collected from the western wilderness by Lewis and Clark during their famous Expedition of 1804-1806.

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