Narrow-leaved Mule Ears

Narrow-leaved Mule Ears © DSchiel

California Compassplant
Wyethia angustifolia

Description (Jepson,

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
  • Perennial herb
    • Grows from a thickened taproot and caudex (persistent, often woody base of a perennial herb)
    • Spreads via rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Leaves
    • Basal and cauline (on the stem), alternate, and slightly rough or hairy
      • Basal are lance-linear, 4-20 in. long, often with wavy edges
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) usually a single golden-yellow flowerhead
    • Radiate head (see Sunflower family), up to 3 in. in diameter
      • 8-21 outer 3-lobed ray flowers, suggesting petals
      • 35-150+ central disk flowers
      • Phyllaries (vase-like floral bracts, collectively called the involucre) shorter than the ray flowers
    • Stalk of the entire inflorescence (peduncle) 8-12 in. long and softly hairy
    • Ovary inferior (attached below other flower parts)
  • Fruit is an achene (a single-seeded, dry fruit that does not split open)
    • Ray and disk flowers both produce fruit
  • Height to 35 in.
    • At Edgewood, rarely exceeds 14 in.
  • Lifespan may reach decades
Flowers © EKennedy


  • Grows in grasslands
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows into Washington
  • Grows at elevations to 6,730 ft.

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

  • Wildlife
    • Frequented by numerous insects, including butterflies seeking nectar, e.g. monarch (Danaus plexippus), variable checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona), propertius duskywing (Erynnis propertius), and painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
    • Larval food source (host) for the painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui)
  • Native people
    • Roots roasted on hot stones in earthen ovens for several days and eaten (Lindberg 2022)
    • Young plant shoots (Anderson 2005) and flower stalks (Lindberg 2022) eaten fresh
    • Seeds used in pinole or eaten fresh
      • Pinole is a general term for various flours made from the ground, toasted seeds of wildflowers and grasses, eaten dry or moistened and shaped into balls or cakes (Anderson 2005)
      • “Pinole” is a Hispanic version of an Aztec word
    • Roots ground for poultices to treat blisters or to use as an emetic
    • Meadows were burned to stimulate the growth of Wyethia species and other seed-bearing plants (Anderson 2005)
  • CAUTION – some sources suggest leaves are poisonous (Lindberg 2022)

Name Derivation

  • Wyethia (wy-ETH-ee-a) – named in 1834 by botanist Thomas Nuttall for Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth (1802-1856), an American inventor (e.g. ice harvesting tools), plant collector, and explorer
    • Wyeth was an Oregon pioneer, establishing the pathway that became known as the Oregon trail, and is distantly related to the painter Andrew Wyeth
  • angustifolia (an-gus-ti-FO-lee-a) – from the Latin angustus, “narrow,” and folia, “leaves,” referring to the relatively narrow leaves of this species
  • Mule ears – referring to the shape of the leaves, which are particularly large and wide on some species, e.g. smooth mule ears (W. glabra)


  • Matures slowly over several years, growing a large taproot, many feet long, before producing flowers (Northwest 2022)
  • Erect orientation of the leaves, plus their hairy surfaces, helps prevent water loss (Lindberg 2022)

ID Tips

Narrow-leaved Mule EarsSmooth Mule Ears

narrow, often wavy-edged

rough or hairy
wide, smooth-edged

smooth and shiny
Phyllaries¹shorter than ray flowerslonger than ray flowers

full sun

open grasslands
part shade

woodland edges
¹ Phyllaries – vase-like floral bracts, collectively called the involucre

At Edgewood

  • Found in grasslands
    • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
    • Large colony, “Mule-ears Meadow,” exists on the west side of the Sunset Trail
  • Flowers April – May

See General References

Specific References

Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley.

Caldwell, J.A. 2014. California Plants as Resources for Lepidoptera: a Guide for Gardeners, Restorationists and Naturalists.

Lindberg, H. 2022. Mule ears: Wyethia angustifolia. South Yuba River Park Adventures.

Mitchell, M. 2017. Asteraceae: Sunflower family – Heliantheae (sunflower) tribe: miscellaneous 2. Monterey County Wildflowers, Trees, and Ferns – A Photographic Guide.

Northwest Meadowscapes. 2022. Mule’s ears seeds (Wyethia angustifolia).

Shapiro, A.M. and T.D. Manolis. 2007. Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.