The origins of pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) are a little unclear. Some references claim it is native to the Pacific Northwest and others credit Asia for giving us this annual that, depending on your outlook, can be considered a weed or a wildflower. Pineapple weed can now be found throughout the United States, particularly on the West and East Coasts. A relative of chamomile, pineapple weed is sometimes called rayless chamomile or wild chamomile. No matter where its origins, I find pineapple weed to be an interesting little plant.
This hairless member of the aster family rarely grows more than about 9″ tall. Pineapple weed thrives in disturbed soils and waste places, preferring areas with tightly compacted soils.
The basal leaves of pineapple weed are usually withered by the time the plant flowers. The leaves on the branched stems are alternate and divided into short, narrow segments. Unlike other members of the aster family, pineapple weeds do not have ray flowers. All the flowers are disc flowers, like the yellow center of a daisy. The yellowish green, conical head is surrounded by overlapping bracts with papery margins. The miniscule seeds are formed and drop throughout the bloom cycle. When crushed or bruised, pineapple weed gives off a strong aroma similar to the smell of a mature pineapple.
The dried flowers are used to make a tea that, like its cousin chamomile, is used to prevent heartburn and soothe nerves. Aboriginal people used pineapple weed as an aromatic pillow stuffing. When crushed it is an effective, if temporary, insect repellent. Care must be taken when rubbing pineapple weed on one’s skin though since some people are allergic to it.
Pineapple weed leaves are edible, but quite bitter making them difficult to eat. I agree! A few leaves or small flowers tossed in a salad will add interest and not overwhelm.
Matricaria, the genus name, means “mother care” and refers to the fact that pinepapple weed was used by Native Americans and early settlers to treat uterine infections. The disc-shaped flower head gives pineapple weed its species designation, discoidea or “disc shaped”.
The pictured pineapple weeds grow along the disturbed edges of our pastures (Lookout CA).