Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Cliff Aster

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Cliff Aster
Scientific Name:Malacothrix saxatilis
Family:Asteraceae
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:up to 6 feet
Habitat:coastal sage/or chaparral
Blooms:January to December

The Cliff Aster grows up to six feet high and has narrow, tapering leaves from one to four inches long. Lower leaves usually are coarse-toothed and clustered near the plant's woody base. Upper leaves have smooth margins. This tall spindly herb is a perennial that favors disturbed area, such as habitats along paths and bordering landscaped areas. This plant is endemic (found only in California) where it grows in the central and southern coastal hills and mountain ranges - up to about 6,000 feet in elevation.

Cliff Aster blooms in Summer and all the way through the Winter, long after most other native plants have ceased activity. Just when you think there are no more flowers to see after the Spring bloom your eyes will be drawn to this tiny but gorgeous flower. The flower ranges from about one to two inches in diameter and about three quarters of an inch deep. The golden colored center of the flower is a photographers dream with the center petals appearing to change/fade from yellow to white! The density of the yellow filaments causes this illusion.

The Cliff Aster looks similar to the Twiggy Wreath (Wand Chickory) plant but our plant of the month has flowers that grow in a Cyme like array - that means they grow on separate stalks and mature from the center outward. The Twiggy Wreath flowers without benefit of a stalk and has purple filaments instead of yellow but at the same time it has alternating purple and white petals. Pay attention to those details! Cliff Aster is also known as the Cliff Desert Dandelion - after the flower has done it job (producing seed for the next generation) the petals are replaced by pappus - dandelion like wisps. These wispy filaments are like paragliders and make it possible for the wind to disperse the seed. These flowers are quite prevalent in Sycamore Canyon along most of the trails during the Summer and provide an important source of food for Bees, Butterflies and other nectar feeding insects.

Name Origin: Malacothrix saxatilis is from the Greek word malakos meaning soft and referring to the young plant, and saxatilis meaning growing among rocks.

Other Similar Plants:
California Aster Corethrogyne filaginifolia
Giant Coreopsis Coreopsis gigantea
Coyote Brush Baccharis pilularis
Bush Sunflower Encelia californica
California Thistle Cirsium occidentale var. californ
Mule Fat Baccharis salicifolia
Canyon Sunflower Venegazia carpesioides
Golden Yarrow Eriophyllum confertiflorum
Mugwort Artemisia douglasiana
Slender Sunflower Helianthus gracilentus
Common Sunflower Helianthus annus
San Diego Milk-aster Stephanomeria diegensis
Perezia, Sacapellote Acourtia microcephala
Tejon Milk-Aster Stephanomeria cichoriacea
Rock Daisy Perityle emoryi
California Goldfields Lasthenia californica
Royal or Southern Goldfields Lasthenia coronaria
Lyons Pentachaeta Pentachaeta lyonii
Annual Coreopsis Leptosyne bigelovii
Slender Tarweed Deinandra fasciculata
Common Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Sagebrush Artemisia californica

Originally featured: September 2014
Last modified: October 08 2017 16:57:00.
References:
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves