Annuals, 3-15(-25+) cm. Stems (1-)3-8, ± decumbent or spreading-ascending, branched proximally and distally, glaucous or glabrous. Cauline leaves: proximal elliptic to oblong-oblanceolate, sometimes pinnately lobed (lobes 2-4+ pairs, oblong to triangular, unequal, apices acute), not fleshy, ultimate margins usually dentate, faces glabrous; distal reduced (narrowly triangular to linear or filiform, margins dentate or entire). Calyculi of 5-12, ovate to lanceolate bractlets, hyaline margins 0.05-0.2 mm wide. Involucres ± campanulate, 7-10 × 5-6+ mm. Phyllaries 13-25+ in 2-3 series, lance-oblong or lanceolate to lance-linear, subequal, hyaline margins 0.05-0.3 mm wide, faces glabrous. Receptacles not bristly. Florets 16-88; corollas yellow (usually with red or purplish abaxial stripes), 6-14 mm; outer ligules exserted 5-8 mm. Cypselae ± cylindric, 1.8-2.4 mm (distal 0.3 mm slightly expanded, cupped, smooth), ribs not extending to apices, ± equal; persistent pappi of 12-15, ± deltate teeth (often hidden within cups at apices of cypselae) plus 1-2 bristles. Pollen 70-100% 3-porate. 2n = 14.
Flowering Mar-Jun. Grasslands, pinyon-juniper woodlands, creosote bush associations; 80-2200 m; Ariz., N.Mex., Tex.; Mexico (Baja California, Sonora).
Malacothrix fendleri grows in the Sonoran Desert. 'San Bernardino Co.' as locality for a specimen from the herbarium of J. G. Lemmon in UC (336493) is evidently an error.
FNA 2006, Wiggins 1964, Kearney and Peebles 1969, MacDougall 1973, Heil et al. 2013
Duration: Annual Nativity: Native Lifeform: Forb/Herb General: Annual herbs, 5-30 cm tall; stems spreading to ascending, sparingly branched. Leaves: Most of the leaves in a basal tuft; also a few reduced leaves alternate along the stems; basal leaves oblong-oblanceolate to spatulate in outline, 2-8 cm long, sinuately lobed to remotely pinnatifid, the petioles often with a dense mat of wool on upper surface near base; stem leaves few, smaller, glabrous or essentially so. Flowers: Flower heads ligulate (bearing only ligulate florets, and no disc florets), yellow, solitary or paniculately arranged at tips of sparsely leafy branches; involucres broadly campanulate, 7-8 mm high; calyculi (set of small bracts below the involucre) ovate, 1-3 mm long; phyllaries (bracts of the involucre) mostly 7-8 mm long, occasionally graduated in length, purplish at tip and along midrib, with narrow scarious (papery) margins; florets all ligulate (these are like ray florets but bisexual), 7-10 mm long, the ligules yellow and washed with purple or lavender on underside. Fruits: Achenes cylindric, 2 mm long, dark brown, ribbed or striate, glabrous; topped with a pappus of white bristles, 5-6 mm long; bristles are early deciduous, with 1-2 of them sometimes persisting on the achene. Ecology: Found on sandy pains, mesas, and rocky hillsides, from 2,000-5,000 ft (610-1524 m); flowers March-June. Distribution: AZ, NM, sw TX; south to n MEX. Notes: A small, dandelion-like annual with milky sap and yellow ligulate flower heads at branch tips; the leaves mostly basal and lobed; and the petioles woolly near the base, and seeds with tufts of hair that fall off easily. While superficially resembling a dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), the two species are easy to tell apart. Dandelions have larger flower heads, 1-2 cm high or larger, with several series of downward-pointing bracts at the base of the flower head, and thick, fleshy, leafless flower stalks. Ethnobotany: Used for topically for sores and as an eye wash; the seeds were eaten. Etymology: Malacothrix is from the Greek malakos, soft, and thrix, hair, probably referring to the pappus on the seeds; fendleri honors for Augustus Fendler (1813-1883), a Prussian-born naturalist who was the first to make botanical collections near Santa Fe, NM. Synonyms: None Editor: SBuckley 2010, FSCoburn 2014, AHazelton 2017