Wire Lettuce
Desert Straw

Stephanomeria pauciflora

Stephanomeria pauciflora pen&ink © by Michael Plagens

Sponsored Links:

Asteraceae -- Aster and Sunflower Family

Halictidae bee at Stephanomeria flowers.

This sweat bee is gathering pollen from the flowers. The pollen is white and granular - a quantity can be seen adhering to the bee's hind legs. The pollen is contained within tube-like anthers - the arrow points to a set of five stamens with the tubes oriented vertically. A pink stigma sticks above the stamens. The bee was observed to use her abdomen to push the pollen grains up and out of the the anthers. Flowers, in their great variety, present their resources - pollen and nectar - in many different fashions. Bees' behavior and morphology determine if the bee-flower relationship works for the benefit one or both. The plant benefits when cross pollination is achieved.

Honey Bee

Honey Bee

Sweat Bee

Sweat Bee

PERENNIAL HERB: Grows and flowers nearly year round. Large plants up to a meter tall and a meter wide are woody-stemmed below. Mature plants develop many curving stems, some living and many dead; the plant thus resembles a straw basket. Broken green stems exude milky sap like other members of the lettuce subfamily.

RANGE: Quite common on rocky slopes, washes and on disturbed sites throughout the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. An occasional volunteer in city lots and gardens, Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona areas.

FLOWERS: Lavender flowers, less than a cm in diameter, appear to have five or six petals. However, these are composite flowers - each 'petal' is actually a separate flower - notice the five notches at tip of each representing five, fused petals. Each of the composite's flowers is equipped with an ovary, a two-parted stigma and five stamens.

ACHENE: Each seed is topped with a plumose pappus that sheds easily.


LEAVES: Small, linear leaves are scale-like and are shed after drought leaving the green, wiry stems to photosynthesize. The many dead, arching straw stems act as a sunscreen allowing the plant to flourish well into hot, dry periods.

The small flowers contain a good quantity of nectar that serves populations of native solitary bees and butterflies, while the foliage supports a number of herbivorous insect species. The cabbage looper moth feeds as a caterpillar on this plant as well as many other plants. Spittlebugs live inside slimy foam and suck the wire lettuce's sap. Butterflies can use their proboscis to reach nectar deep inside the tubular florets. Follow the thumb images below for more information about these wire-lettuce insects.

Cabbage Looper

Cabbage Looper

Spittle Bug Spittle Bug

Spittle Bug

Marine Blue

Marine Blue

More Information:

Sonoran Desert Field Guide
Sonoran Desert Places
Sonoran Desert Naturalist Home Page

Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 26 Nov. 2007,
updated 16 Sept. 2016.