New Mexico Wildflowers: Amaranth Family



Following current practice, I include chenopod species in the Amaranth family. Flowers are organized alphabetically by genus and species. Hover over a photo series to control the images.


Mat Amaranth (Amaranthus blitoides)

One of my photos shows a stem end in a seemingly erect posture, but I'm holding it for a close-up of the inflorescences. The other photo shows its actual ground-hugging habit (and small leaves and often reddish stems).


Careless Weed, Quelite (Amaranthus palmeri)

I've known this plant for decades as pigweed. It's also known as Palmer's Amaranth. It's one of the few things I'd stuff in my face if I was lost in the woods and hungry. Under less extreme conditions, I recommend sautéing the young leaves in butter to create a spinach-like side dish. The plant is a common warm-weather weed in Albuquerque. If not cut back, it can easily reach chest height.


The leaves are often solid green, but some plants have curved white splotches on them. I have no idea why. One of my pictures show something even more unusual, leaves that are green, red, and white.


Four-Winged Saltbush (Atriplex canescens)

Four-Winged Saltbush plants don't put out conventional flowers, so look for light green to cream-colored nubbly spikes. The female plants then produce hundreds of fruits with four "wings." The fruits turn light brown as they dry.


Shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia)

To quote directly from the SEINET page for the species: "This spiny, silvery-leaved shrub can be the dominant shrub in harsh, exposed habitats such as badlands. It is inconspicuous unless seen at just the right time when purple bracts subtend the tiny, inconspicuous flower clusters. Look also for whitish spines that appear to be extensions of the branches, and silvery, roundish leaves." Where the trails at the Sevilleta NWR visitor center cross the badlands just to the west, you can see plenty of this small, usually drab bush.


Mexican Fireweed, Burningbush (Bassia scoparia)

Sometimes classified as Kochia scoparia, this is an introduced species.


Goosefoot (Chenopodium)

On the SEINET page for Chenopodium album the SW Field Guide notes state, "In general, mature seeds are necessary for conclusive ID of any species within the Chenopodium genus." Given that fact, I consider my goosefoot IDs at the species level to be mere suggestions.


Winterfat (Krascheninnkovia or Ceratoides lanata)

As the high desert turns brown in the fall, winterfat stands out. My autofocus camera couldn't deal with the fuzzy flower/seed head, but did better with the picture of a stem and leaves. The bush got its name because it's a good winter food source for sheep and other grazing/browsing animals.


Prickly Russian Thistle, Tumbleweed (Salsola Tragus)


 This accidentally introduced but now signature species is universally known as tumbleweed. In fact, tumbleweeds (plants that form rounded bodies that break loose and roll along) occur in multiple plant families. Within the desert West, multiple species of Salsola can occur. I'll use the species name Salsola tragus but be on your guard. The USDA has concluded that "Scientific names for Prickly Russian Thistle are mired in confusion." To make things worse, it "readily hybridizes ... with closely related species." To get the USDA's take on the mess, click here.


Littlefield and Burns list this species under their red flowers. If you even notice that a tumbleweed is flowering,  most likely you'll see tiny yellow dots along otherwise green stems. As two close-up shots show, the yellow is from the stamens. I've also included an  example of the less commonly seen "red flower" variant. Tumbleweed stems can be all green, or they can include red stripes.


Mature tumbleweeds are tough and prickly, even before they die and roll off. The sprouts seem like a completely different species—soft and almost succulent. In 1971 I had the privilege of walking around the high desert with Hugh Cutler, who pointed out a tumbleweed sprout and explained that it was edible. I popped the sprout in my mouth, started chewing, and immediately spat it out in disgust. "I said it was edible," he explained, "I didn't say it tasted good." 


If you're in the Albuquerque area during the holiday season, be sure to check out the AMAFCA Tumbleweed Snowman.