A Walk in Fern Bluff Park
November 3, 2001

Page 2- Bitter Sneezeweed, of the Composite Family

Archives of previous walks in the park: 12 May 2007 05 May 2007; 28 April 2007, 21 April 2007, 14 April 2007,  1 April 2007 Easter Egg Hunt; 24 March 2007,  17 March 2007; Nov. 03, 2001; April 04, 2001; March 25, 15, 10-11, 04, 2001; February 2418, 10, 2001

Bugsinthenews

The flower below is a member of the Composite Family (Compositae), so named because the flower's structure is a composite of numerous individual flowers. The general impression you get when looking at the flower head is that it is comprised of one, single flower, but that is not the case. Notice the "petals" on the outside edge of the flower. These are not petals in the traditional sense (i.e., one of several petals ringing a single set of stamens around a single ovary), but are part of a perfect "ray" flower having a strap-shaped petal (which is visible), plus separate stamens and a pistil (hidden) for each ray flower in the flower head. 

But the story is even more complex than that. See the center of the flower, with its numerous "pincushion" projections? Each projection is also a perfect "disk" flower, again with a tubular disk petal (the visible projection), plus separate stamens and a pistil (hidden) for each disk flower in the flower head. As these individual flowers mature, they each produce their own seeds, making the Compositae highly prolific.

There are so many different species in the Compositae that few printed guides include them all. I exhausted all but one of my guides without finding what seemed to be an exact match for this flower. The remaining guide is a USDA text on common weeds of the U.S. which contains drawings of one herb that closely resembles this one, namely the Bitter Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum). This plant's flower head is uniformly bright yellow, from the ray flowers to those of the disk. Ray flowers are three-toothed. A distinguishing feature of this species is the simple, numerous, stringy leaves crowded on its main stem and branches.

H. amarum is a member of the Woolly Sunflower Tribe (Helenieae).

(above) Jaime and Serhea...

The Composite Family is also known as the Sunflower, Aster, or Daisy Family, because it contains all of these groupings of flowers. It is found all over the world and represents more than 20 percent of all the wildflowers in Texas. The Compositae bloom from early spring to late autumn.

So what is the exact identity of this particular flower? To determine that, we first have to key it to one of the tribes in the Compositae. In the process, we will also eliminate certain tribes from the list of possibilities. For example, the Chicory Tribe has ray flowers tipped with five teeth: the three teeth on each of the ray flowers of our specimen tells us it does not belong to the Chicory Tribe.

This plant is found in wastelands, old feed lots, pastures, idle lands, roadsides and yards. Cattle grazing on it produce bitter, unmarketable milk. It does not invade yards very well, as it is an annual that must attain some height to produce seed. Lawn mowing prevents its survival. 

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Archives of previous walks in the park: 12 May 2007 05 May 2007; 28 April 2007, 21 April 2007, 14 April 2007,  1 April 2007 Easter Egg Hunt; 24 March 2007,  17 March 2007; Nov. 03, 2001; April 04, 2001; March 25, 15, 10-11, 04, 2001; February 2418, 10, 2001