Paper Daisy — August 2010

Paper Daisy Plant

Paper Daisy Leaves

Paper Daisy Flowers

Bright, bold, yellow bouquets have been decorating the Deer Canyon Preserve landscape for the past two months. The paper daisy, also known as paperflower, woolly paperflower, and marigold paperflower, flowers so profusely that its stems and leaves are often totally obscured by its floral display. It prefers flat, open, sandy ground and consequently pops up in disturbed areas and open rangeland. One of four native paperflower species in New Mexico, Psilostrophe tagetina is the only species I have yet found on the Preserve. Psilostrophe is derived from two Greek words: psilos, meaning naked, bare, or smooth, and trophos, meaning one who nurses or feeds. So the name of this genus refers to the fact that the base of the flower, a structure called the receptacle that functions to nourish the flower as it develops, is smooth. The specific epithet, tagetina, means resembling the genus Tagetes (marigolds), which is named for Tages, the Etruscan god of the underworld and grandson of Jupiter.

Paper daisy is a perennial herb that grows as a hemispherical mound up to two feet tall and three feet wide. It has branching stems that may become woody at the base. Both the stems and leaves have long, soft, silky hairs that give the surfaces a gray, wool-like appearance. The narrow leaves have smooth edges; some of the leaves near the base of the plant may be lobed. Leaves on the upper branches are smaller (less than an inch long) and lack petioles, but are otherwise similar in color and texture.

Flowering sometimes begins as early as May and lasts until the end of summer. As the name suggests, paper daisy is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, so each “flower” is actually a cluster of small flowers packed into a tight head. Heads consist of both ray and disk flowers, but there are fewer of both types than in most other members of the family (see earlier essays on golden crownbeard, tansy aster, blackfoot daisy, and Easter daisy). Paper daisies typically have three yellow ray flowers per head; occasionally four or five ray flowers may be present. Each ray flower has a single petal less than 1⁄2 inch long with a notched outer edge. Ray flowers are fertile (capable of setting seed), but have only female sex organs. The small yellow disk flowers have both male and female parts and are also fertile.

Native Americans were known to use paper daisy in several ways. Navajos used a variety of infusions made from this plant medicinally; strong infusions for stomachaches, milder infusions as a lotion for itches, and cold infusions as a sore throat gargle and as a ceremonial eyewash. Zunis made a poultice from the roots to treat rattlesnake bites. Both Apaches and Zunis used the flowers to prepare a yellow dye. Today paper daisy is a favorite for use in dried flower arrangements because the ray flowers tend to remain attached to the stem after seed set. Their petals fade and dry, resembling paper, a good reason to include this native plant in your wildflower garden. One caution, however: paper daisy is known to be poisonous to sheep. Should you decide to try it in your garden, it is suggested that you start it from seed as it is a rather short-lived perennial. However it is reported to seed itself readily so if you can get it established you should be able to enjoy this golden beauty for many years.

© Jerry Melaragno 2010

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