Plant of the day: mule ears

Like stubby sunflowers, these cheerful yellow blossoms have large, open faces. They can be seen ornamenting grassy hillsides as well as woods and brushy areas. Mule ears (Wyethia glabra) is a California endemic that is widespread throughout much of the western part of the state. Each yellow flower head is backed by a large collection of leaves that can be seen peeking out from behind the inflorescence. Narrow-leaved mule ears (Wyethia angustifolia, not endemic) are also common in Marin, but are easy to tell from regular mule ears because they lack these backing “broad and foliacious” bracts.

This is the first member of the Ateraceae family – also known as a “composite” – to appear on this blog, so a note on this type of plant. What looks like a single flower is actually hundreds of smaller flowers grouped together. This amalgamation is easier to mistake for a single bloom than other headlike arrangements because often the outer flowers look like petals, while the inner flowers are smaller and less showy and can look a lot like pistils or stamens. The outer, petal-like flowers are the “ray” flowers and the inner ones are the “disc” flowers. Each is truly an independent flower in and  of itself, each with its own petals and reproductive parts. The entire arrangement is called a “pseudanthia.”

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Filed under Botany basics, Native, Plant of the day

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