Flowers of the aster family usually have a central nubbly flower disk (which can be inconspicuous), usually surrounded by "petals" (rays). Sunflowers are a classic example. There are exceptions! The aster family includes so many species in New Mexico that I had to split this page into four. Genera beginning with G through M are on this page. Click on the links to see genera beginning with A or B, C through F, and N through Z.
When you encounter a slide show, hover your cursor over the images to control the images. Those are in alphabetical order by genus and species.
Red Dome Blanketflower (Gaillardia pinnatifida)
The "petals" (rays) of this blanketflower have obvious veins and divide into three lobes. A not-very-good photo shows the dissected leaves.
Blanketflower, Firewheel (Gaillardia sp.)
In Albuquerque, the local showy red blanketflower is Gaillardia pulchella; the similar-looking G. aristata supposedly doesn't extend south of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains. However, Albuquerque area blanketflowers in untended places can be escapees, including of pulchella-aristata hybrid cultivars. Until I gain some great botanical insight on the subject, I'll simply note that the leaves of these blanketflowers look like "normal" leaves, instead of having the dissected leaves of Gaillardia pinnatifida.
Curly-Cup Gumweed (Grindelia nuda)
Several species of gumweed have green flower buds covered with what looks like spit. Most of the species go on to develop yellow rays; Grindelia nuda has yellow disk flowers only. Or at least some botanists thought so. Others classify such plants as ray-less examples of Grindelia squarrosa. Besides the flowers, look for toothed leaves.
Snakeweed doesn't get much respect, but that's because it's a signature plant for overgrazing. The flowers are small, and the central disk isn't at all apparent. Snakeweed plants have skinny leaves on small, low clusters of stems. The plants smell when chewed, making them inedible to cows and sheep. As a result, snakeweed takes over range lands where the grass has all been eaten off.
Annual Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
New Mexico's wild sunflowers can be small (about the width of the palm of your hand) and can occur on low, "sprangly" plants—nothing like the giants out of your hardware store's seed packets. But then, our sunflowers are adapted to surviving a harsh, dry climate where domestic sunflowers would shudder and give up.
Texas Blueweed (Helianthus ciliaris)
To help separate this wildflower from similar-looking ones, start with the leaves. Those tend be curly, with wavy edges, so much so that the plant appears to be wilting from a lack of water. The flowers are small. If you turn a mature flower over, the bracts have hairy edges (but those hairs aren't as obvious on new flowers).
Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
If you encounter a narrow-leaved sunflower with multiple flowers per plant, look at the bracts. On the Maximilian Sunflower those are narrow and tapering and do not clasp the flower. Annual Sunflower bracts are broader and flatter and tighter. To see what I mean, compare my photos of the bracts of both species. Maximilian Sunflowers are native to New Mexico but in the Albuquerque area, you're most likely to find Maximilian Sunflowers in plantings. My examples from the Rio Grande Bosque are escapees.
Parry's Nodding Sunflower (Helianthus quinquenervis)
Longleaf False Goldeneye (Heliomeris longifolia)
Among other things, look for fine fuzz all over the stems and leaves.
Showy Goldeneye (Heliomeris multiflora)
You might find this one blooming profusely at the same times and in the same places as golden crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides). If so, showy goldeneye has narrow leaves with straight edges and golden crownbeard has wide leaves with toothed edges. Of course, there are many other small yellow flowers in the Aster Family, but one step at a time.
Pingue, Bitterweed, Colorado Rubberweed (Hymenoxys)
Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola)
If not cut back, this species quickly becomes tall and spindly. The flower petals (which to me have a slight green tinge) have flat toothed ends. The leaves have a jagged shape and the leaf margins are finely toothed. On the underside of the leaves, the central veins have more teeth.
Coulter's Horseweed (Laennecia coulteri)
Laennecia isn't supposed to be present in Albuquerque but I found some growing in an empty lot near Lobo Village. You're more likely to find it while hiking in the southern part of the state.
When this fuzzy plant bolts, the toothed leaves clasp the stem. Later they relax outward. You'll see photos of both of those stages of growth. The white flowers are tiny and it's the seed heads that make it obvious that this plant is in the Aster Family.
Dotted Blazing Star, Dotted Gayfeather (Liatris punctata)
The dots referred to in this species' name are on the leaves, which also have widely spaced hairs along their edges. You can see those attributes in the thumbnail to the left. Look for dotted blazing star/gayfeather blooms in late summer or early fall.
Purple Aster (Machaeranthera)
Please see my comments about purple asters (a catch-all term) under Dieteria, above. Since the leaves on these purple asters are pinnate, I spotted them to the genus Machaeranthera.
Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix fendleri)
At first glance the native Desert Dandelion and the non-native Common Dandelion (the bane of manicured lawns) look identical. However, the stems on Desert Dandelions branch and those on Common Dandelions do not. Also, the leaves are different: once fully developed, Common Dandelion "teeth" are backwards-pointing, while Desert Dandelion "teeth" point out to the sides. An even better ID trick is to look at the back of the flower head. The "petals" (rays) should be paler underneath, and often have a purple "racing stripe." The Common Dandelion is listed below.
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
On blackfoot daisies, the undersides of the white rays ("petals") often have purplish veins (but not always).
Blue Lettuce (Mulgedium pulchellum)
To me, blue lettuce flowers look a lot like chicory flowers, also in the aster family but on a different page. Blue lettuce flowers occur in terminal clusters at the tops of stems, while chicory flowers are spaced vertically on stems. Also, blue lettuce leaves are long, narrow, and straight-edged, while chicory leaves are broad (and the basal leaves are toothed).
For the next page of aster family wildflowers, click here.