Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A short plant with a long scientific name, Nuttall goldenweed occurs across the western fifth of North Dakota. The plant ranges across the wide belt of arid plains that stretch from the southern Prairie Provinces to New Mexico and Arizona at elevations below 7,500 ft.
Nuttall goldenweed is perennial from a taproot and caudex (toughened stem base or rootcrown). Plants are less than a foot tall and can be smooth or finely hairy. Leaves are oblong and about an inch long. Teeth on the leaves have spiny tips. The 1/2 inch-wide flower heads are yellow. Each head contains disc flowers, but no ray flowers. Fruits tiny achenes with reddish bristles.
Look for Nuttall goldenweed in late July or August on dry native prairie pastures. In North Dakota, more plants seem to grow where grazing pressure is heavy or moderate, but in dryer, warmer climates, I found more individuals in lightly-grazed pastures. The Hopi made a beverage used for coughs from the taproot.
Nuttall goldenweed is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). This is one of the largest families of plants in the world (about 15,000 species) and the largest in North Dakota. There are about 30 species of Machaeranthera in temperate North America. The generic name was derived from the Greek machaira, "sword" and anthera, "anther," in reference to the pointed, pollen- bearing organs. The specific epithet grindelioides means "like Grindelia" (a closely-related genus) in botanical Latin. The English-American explorer, botanist, and ornithologist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) first described the plant in the early 1800's under a name found unacceptable by later botanists. The currently-accepted nomenclature was formulated by Canadian botanist Lloyd Herbert Shinners (1918-1971). Long on the faculty of Southern Methodist University, he was a student of the Asteraceae and founder of the botanical journal Sida.