Narrow-leafed wirelettuce (Stephanomeria tenuifolia) is also commonly called narrowleaf wirelettuce, slender wirelettuce and narrow-leaved skeletonweed. These specimens were growing along Modoc County Road 10 just outside of the Lava Beds National Monument boundary (Siskiyou County CA) in July.
A native perennial arising from woody rhizomes, narrow-leafed wirelettuce has a few to several erect stems with many slender, ascending branches. The stems are green when young and brownish when older.
The alternate leaves are linear and often threadlike. The lower leaves can grow to 3 inches in length and are reduced in size up the stem until the leaves are bract-like near the top of the stem. By flowering time most narrow-leaved wirelettuce leaves have withered.
Narrow-leaved wirelettuce flower heads are terminal and occur singly. The flower heads are sometimes stalkless or they may have a stalk up to 2 inches long. The flower head is composed of 5 toothed, pink ray flowers. There are 5 or 6 primary green or reddish phyllaries with rounded tips. Small bractlets enclose the involucre base.
Like other members of the Sunflower (Aster) Family, narrow-leaved wirelettuce fruits are achenes with bristles (pappi). The pappi are bright white and plumose while the achenes are 5-angled and columnar.
Narrow-leaved wirelettuce can be found in the Rocky Mountain States westward and in parts of Texas and North Dakota. Its habitat is dry slopes in the sagebrush steppe of the Great Basin to subalpine forest communities at elevations of 1,000 to 9,500 feet.
The genus name, Stephanomeria, is from the Greek “stephane” (wreath or crown) and “meros” (division). The meaning of this genus name is uncertain, although it may have something to do with the shape of the pappus. In Latin the species designation, tenuifolia, means “slender leaves”.