Name: Columbia Cutleaf
Scientific Name: Hymenopappus filifolius
There are eight species of the Hymenopappus genus in the western U.S., and this plant is the only one in northeastern Oregon. It grows in Alberta and Saskatchewan to Washington, and from California to Texas. I have seen it only at the north end of the Baker City valley, and it is reported to prefer dry places at lower elevations in the mountains. The plant was collected by David Douglas along the Columbia River in the 1820s.
The genus name Hymenopappus comes from the Greek word hymen for membrane, and pappos for tiny scales on the top of the seeds. The species name filifolius comes from filiformis for threadlike, and folius, which refers to the leaves, as in foliage. There are three varieties of this plant; the only variety we have in the Blues is filifolius.
The Columbia Cutleaf is in the sunflower family, so it has flowering heads with a central disk cluster of tiny yellow flowers. However, it does not have the large ray petals often seen around the rims of the heads of sunflowers. The plant stands 1-3 feet high when blooming, with a few flowering heads in a loose irregular arrangement at the top.
The leaves are unusual, and look a little like a bottle brush that has been somewhat flattened from two sides. They are compound leaves, each leaf cleft all the way to the midrib so that the only parts of the leaf blade left are more like twigs or needles.
Some Indians in the southwest U.S. use the root for a poultice for swellings, and prepare medicine from it for an emetic. They also use the root for chewing gum.
Where to find: The bright yellow heads and the unusual leaves at the base make this plant easy to spot, but it is not very common around here. Look for it in open dry areas at low to middle elevations.