Blow-wives © DSchiel

Achyrachaena mollis

Description (Jepson,

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
  • Only species in its genus
  • Annual herb
  • Leaves
    • Opposite and hairy at plant base
    • Alternate and hairy-glandular (sticky) along upper stem
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a radiate head (see Sunflower family)
      • Cylindrical, with a flat top
      • Phyllaries (vase-like floral bracts, collectively called the involucre) are hairy and glandular (sticky), 3-8 in a single series (row), each enveloping a ray flower ovary
    • Individual flowers are tiny and nearly invisible
      • Disk flowers (4-35) are yellow to red, bisexual, and fertile
      • Ray flowers (3-8) are orange to red, female (pistillate), and fertile
    • Ovary inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is an achene (a single-seeded, dry fruit that does not split open) with pappus (modified sepals, outer flower parts)
    • Pappus of 10 white scales in 2 series (rows) of different lengths look like long, flat flower petals (Ladybird Johnson 2007)
    • Only the disk flowers produce scales
  • Height to 12 in.


  • Native to California
    • Grows in grasslands and open woodlands, often on clay soils
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows from southern Oregon into northern Baja California, Mexico
  • Grows at elevations to 4,000 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • No documented wildlife or human uses found for this species

Name Derivation

  • Achyrachaena (ak-i-ra-KEE-na) – from the Greek for “chaffy achene,” alluding to the pappus
  • mollis (MOLL-is) – from the Latin for “soft,” referring to the velvety hairs
  • Blow-wives – presumably from the use of the word “blow” to refer to a display of blossoms or anything bright or brilliant and the antique use of “wife” to mean any woman
    • As with “tidy-tips” and “goldfields,” this name can be singular or plural
Flower in Bloom (L), Developing Pappus Scales (M), Full Fruit with Pappus Scales (R)
© KKorbholz (L,M), DSchiel (R)


  • When in full bloom, the flowerhead appears to be still in bud
    • Green phyllaries are visually dominant
  • When seeds are developing, scales appear as clustered white petals
    • From the top of the flowerhead, they look like a honeycomb
  • When in full fruit, the scales spread out in a showy round cluster
    • Pappus scales are shiny, papery-white, and conspicuous
    • Aid in wind dispersal

ID Tips

  • Check out this short video (Jepson 2020)

At Edgewood

  • Found in serpentine and non-serpentine grasslands
  • Flowers April – May

See General References

Specific References

Borders, B.D. Achyrachaena mollis. CSU Stanislaus, Valley Flora Propagation Center Species Profiles.

Jepson Herbarium. 2020, Aug. 14. Achyrachaena mollis (blow wives) [Video]. The Jepson Videos: Visual Guide to the Plants of California. The Regents of the University of California. YouTube.

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. 2007. Achyrachaena mollis. Plant Database. University of Texas at Austin.

Prigge, B.A. and A.C. Gibson. 2013. Achyrachaena mollis. A Naturalist’s Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, California. Web version, hosted at Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. United States Department of Interior, National Park Service.