Dusty maidens (Chaenactis douglasii) is a native member of the Sunflower Family found west of the Rocky Mountains. Its habitat is semi-desert foothills, sandy or gravelly mountain slopes and disturbed sites at mid to alpine elevations. These specimens were growing along California Highway 299 E at Cedar Pass (Modoc County) and at the intersection of California Highway 139 and Lassen County Road 515 (Grasshopper-Termo Road).
Dusty maidens are variable in appearance and growth habit. They can be either a biennial or short-lived perennial. The entire plant is woolly or glandular sticky. The stiffly erect stem grows from a long, narrow taproot and is coated with cobwebby hairs. Most numerous at the base of the stem, the leaves are alternate, cottony and fern-like.
The white dusty maiden flower heads are borne singly at the ends of slender branches. The discoid flower heads consist of small, tubular, densely congested disk flowers. There are no ray flowers. The anthers protrude. Flat, glandular, blunt phyllaries (bracts) surround the flower heads.
Dusty maidens fruits are achenes (dry with one seed) topped with bristles (pappus).
Native Americans used dusty maidens preparations as dressings on sores, wounds and burns. A tea prepared from dusty maidens leaves slowed the heart rate and was employed in cases of snakebite. Indigestion and headaches were also treated with dusty maidens tea.
There are several recognized varieties of dusty maidens. I believe these are C. douglasii var douglasii. Morning brides and chaenactis are other common names for dusty maidens.
The genus name, Chaenactis, derives from the Greek and means “open or gaping rays”. Although this species does not have ray flowers, some members of the genus do. Botanist David Douglas (1799 – 1834) is honored by the species name.