Desert Gold

Desert gold (Geraea canescens) is a common wildflower in the deserts of Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Northwestern Mexico. This annual native grows in sandy soils and rock-covered flats below about 3,000 feet.

A sweet-scented member of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae), desert gold has hairy, reddish stems that are usually branched. The thick leaves are grey green, ovate and hairy with pointed tips. The leaves near the base of the stem are larger and have short stalks while further up the stem the leaves are smaller and sessile (no stalks).

There are one to several flower heads at the terminal end of the stem. The bracts around the flower heads are fuzzy. Each desert gold flower head has 10 to 21 bright yellow ray flowers and several dozen orange-yellow central disc flowers that elongate when mature. Wild bees and hummingbirds visit the flowers.

Desert gold fruits are strongly compressed, narrowly wedge-shaped achenes. The edges of the achenes are white while the faces are black and hairy. The pappus consists of two narrow awns. The seeds provide food for small rodents, especially pocket mice.

Desert sunshine and desert sunflower are two other common names for G canescens. The genus designation comes from the Greek “geraios” meaning “old man” and refers to the white hairs on the flat fruits. In Latin the specific epithet means covered with short grey or white hairs.

This desert gold specimen was growing near the Keane Wonder Mill and Mine, Death Valley National Park CA in March.

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