In April, portions of the meadow areas atop Lower Table Rock near Medford OR (Jackson County) were carpeted in yellow flowers – California goldfields (Lasthenia californica). It was a spectacular sight.
California goldfields are annual members of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae). These native wildflowers are found in Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico and in Mexico. Their habitat is moist, flat, often grassy areas below 5,000 feet.
Although usually only a few inches tall, they often turn large areas golden yellow with their flowers. The stems are reddish green, hairy and slender. The opposite leaves of California goldfields are also hairy. Thick and fleshy for their size, the leaves are somewhat linear.
The single California goldfields flower heads occur terminally on the stems. The flower heads are radiate, that is, they consist of both disk and ray flowers. Each flower head has several dozen disk flowers surrounded by a ring of 5 to 13 ray flowers. The involucre (phyllaries or bracts collectively) is composed of 4 to 13 hairy phyllaries. California goldfields are variable in appearance and there are several subspecies.
The genus name, Lasthenia, honors Lasthenia of Matinea, a student of Plato who disguised herself as a man to attend his lectures.
There is another similar-looking member of the Sunflower Family (spring gold – Crocidium multicaule) that carpets Lower Table Rock meadows with yellow flowers in the spring. How do we tell the two apart. . . .