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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Easter Daisy (Townsendia exscapa)

The western one fourth of North Dakota is home to the hardy Easter daisy. Elsewhere, the plant can be found from British Columbia to Nevada and northern Mexico at elevations up to 10,000 feet.

Strangely, Easter daisy has all the features of an alpine plant, yet is mostly found on the dry plains. Plants are perennial from a branching taproot and rootcrown, and winter as small, compact mounds of evergreen leaves protecting the autumn-formed buds.

Easter daisy has no stem, and whole plants are less than two inches tall. Leaves, which are all basal, are one to two inches long, an eighth inch wide, and slightly roughened with short hairs, giving foliage a slightly gray appearance. Flower heads are huge relative to the overall size of the plant. In fact, Easter daisy looks like a small group of severed tops of much larger asters or daisies laid face up on the ground. A typical plant has two to four heads about three quarters of an inch wide that touch one another, nearly covering the leaves below. The disc flowers are golden yellow and the rather long ray flowers pink. Achenes (seeds) are about three sixteenths of inch long and equipped with bristles to carry them away with the wind.

Look for Easter daisy in early April through May. Plants occur in a variety of dry soils and occasionally in rock crevices. Grazing seems to have little effect on the abundance of this plant, but one usually finds a slightly higher population where grazing is light or moderate. Perhaps this indicates plants are injured by trampling. I could find no mention of economic uses for Easter daisy, although it is raised by a few gardeners.

The plant is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. The family contains over 15,000 species and is one of the largest plant families in the world and the largest in North Dakota. The generic name is dedicated to David Townsend, a Pennsylvania botanist. There are about 20 species in this western North American genus. The specific name exscapa means "without a stem" in botanical Latin.

Easter daisy was first collected for science by Sir John Richardson (1787-1865), Scottish biologist attached to Capt. Sir John Franklin's expedition to Arctic America.

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