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 N through Z are on this page. Click on the links to see genera beginning with A or B, C through F, and G through M.
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.
Parry's Goldenrod (Oreochrysum parryi)
Cotton Batting Plant (Pseudognaphalium stramineum)
Woolly Paperflower (Psilostrophe tagetina)
Look for three rays ("petals"), each with three slight lobes at the ends. The leaves and bracts are quite woolly.
Small-Flower Desert Chicory (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus)
Among other things, look for leaves that cluster at the base of the plant and that vary in shape.
Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera)
Also known as Mexican Hat because its tall central section protrudes so high above the petals, creating a "sombrero-like" appearance. The variety with yellow-fringed red petals is especially showy.
Russian Knapweed (Rhaponticum repens or Acroptilon repens)
Russian knapweed has pretty flowers but is a non-native, highly invasive species harmful to livestock. It spreads through its roots, forming large colonies that displace native vegetation.
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
Vipergrass, False Salsify (Scorzonera lacinata)
Vipergrass is a common weed in the Albuquerque area, and easy to confuse with salsify.
The photo above shows the leaves and flower buds of vipergrass (top) and salsify (bottom). Some vipergrass leaves have obvious thin barbs, but salsify never does. Vipergrass buds and withered flowers are shaped like an upside-down teardrop, while salsify buds and withered flowers are elongated. Finally, the puffy seed heads of healthy vipergrass are about the size of a golf ball, while a robust salsify's seed head is about the size of a baseball.
Nodding or Bigelow's Groundsel (Senecio bigelovii)
The buds of this flower remind me of little green pumpkins. Once the flower opens, it has disk flowers but no rays ("petals"). Unless being held up for photography, the open flowers face downward.
Cutleaf Groundsel (Senecio eremophilus)
Threadleaf Groundsel (Senecio flaccidus)
To help identify this plant, note the hairy covering on the stems and narrow leaves.
Riddell's Ragwort (Senecio riddellii)
In contrast to Threadleaf Groundsel, Riddell's Groundsel has hairless stems and leaves. If you look carefully at the narrow leaves, they alternate along the stems and include leaflets. Look for seven to nine rays on most flowers. The flowers peak in September.
Broom Grounsel (Senecio spartioides)
This common species looks almost identical to Riddell's Ragwort (above) but has about five rays ("petals") on most flowers, as opposed to Riddell's seven to nine.
Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Three images show Canada Goldenrod plants growing on the east bank of the Riverside Drain, a stone's throw from the Bosque. Two additional images show plants in the Bosque itself.
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
Littlefield and Burns show a similar goldenrod on Page 161 but don't provide an ID to the species level. After researching my photos, I can see why. There are multiple candidates for the name of this plant, within a seemingly fluid taxonomy.
Sow Thistle (Sonchus)
Skeleton Weed, Wire-Lettuce (Stephanomeria pauciflora)
This species has leaves, but the plant looks like a tangle of green wires.
White Prairie Aster (Symphyotrichum falcatum)
To help identify this plant, look for leaves that vary in size on the same plant—from longer than your thumbnail on the mail stems to tiny on the outer branches. The flowers peak in August and September.
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The non-native common dandelion merits inclusion here because it has colonized New Mexico's mountains. One way to distinguish it from the native desert dandelion (shown earlier on this page) is to notice the backward-pointing barbs on the common dandelion's mature leaves. As the June 2020 photo shows, the young leaves don't have those obvious barbs.
Perky Sue and friends (Tetraneuris)
Although these flowers somewhat resemble Desert Marigolds, the long, narrow leaves help mark them as a different genus. There are three species of Tetraneuris in the Sandia Mountains, including Perky Sue (T. argenta). I believe that most if not all of my photos are Perky Sue.
Rocky Mountain Townsend Daisy (Townsendia eximia)
Although the common name for this species includes the word "daisy," the roof-shingle arrangement of the phyllaries shows that it's an aster. At least according to the rule I listed at the top of the page.
Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius)
Salsifies always remind me of giant dandelions, especially when their seed head forms. The leaves and flowers are different, though. And unlike dandelions, salisfy plants don't keep close to the ground. The puffball of seeds on a healthy salsify is about the size of a baseball, and the plumes from such a seed head are much larger than a dandelion's.
Be warned that there's a non-native "salsify impersonator," vipergrass, which also appears on this page.
Golden Crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides)
This sunflower-like species differs from actual sunflowers in having leaves with obvious teeth, yellow to orange centers instead of black centers, and rays that end in little teeth instead of being rounded.
In my neighborhood, this plant seems to specialize in growing out of cracks in the sidewalks. For me, its signature feature is how the leaves are "toothy all over."
Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium)
Plains or Rocky Mountain Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)