• Wild Wyethias- sunflowers in the foothills

    by  • July 18, 2011 • Plant Profiles, Sierra Foothills, Summer • 8 Comments

    When I arrived here in the mountains of Central California, I slowly became familiar with some of the individual plants living here.  Right now the Mule’s ears are at their peak and here is a look at how they grow.

    Mule's ears leaves are as big as your hand and bigger and soft like Lamb's ears

    Mule’s ears leaves are as big as your hand and bigger and soft like Lamb’s ears

    Hall’s Mule Ears, Wyethia elata
    These are wonderful sunny flowers to encourage in the foothill garden. They grow, distinctively, in patches 6 to 8 feet wide, spreading with underground roots, and I’ve learned not to water them at all; they die if watered. The leaves are furry and grey and the flowers look like small sunflowers, about 2-3 inches wide.  They are in the sunflower family and is endemic (limited) to California alone, according to Calflora. It is included in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants. Of ten varieties of Wyethia in Caifornia, most are endemic to Central and Northern California, one Wyethia ovata, grows in Southern California.


    The Wyethia patch in mid June

    The Wyethia patch in mid June


    Wyethia with brodiaea

    Wyethia with brodiaea


    Wyethia seedling in early April

    Wyethia seedling in early April


    Wyethia at the edge of the meadow buds, in early June when the poppies bloom

    Wyethia at the edge of the meadow buds, in early June when the poppies bloom


    Budding Wyethia looks almost exotic

    Budding Wyethia looks almost exotic

    The plants that grow along with this are Giant mountain dandelion, Pacific sanicle, Poisonoak, Tomcat clover, Bicolored lupine, June Grass, Redmaids, Blue Elderberry, California poppy, Yellow Mariposa lily and Foothill shooting star.

    Wyethia elata--Hall's Mule Ears

    Wyethia elata–Hall’s Mule Ears

    In the foothills around Oakhurst, CA, they grow in their typical patches all along the roadsides. In taking this series of photos, I’ve become aware of how long they perform in the garden. they pop up in early March as seedlings, grow slowly up for a whole month and in early April are still in the seedling stage.


    Weeding the wyethia patch definitely encourages more. Most weeds are Hedge parsley and bedstraw and English plantains

    Weeding the wyethia patch definitely encourages more. Most weeds here were Hedge parsley and bedstraw and English plantains.

    In the month of June, I weeded two large patches and one smaller one in the back garden area.  In the photo above, that whole bare area was covered in weeds. Now I hope the natives will be ables to flourish. Unfortunately, I’ve killed a patch on the front bank due to watering. Death by drip. I’ve since stopped watering that area at all, having planted redbuds, Creeping sage, Foothill penstemon and Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’ and plugged the sprayers that reach this area. There are one or two sprouts growing, so I may get a reprieve.


    The name says Grey, but the leaves are nice medium green, almost blue-green

    The leaves are nice medium green, almost blue-green


    Wyethia wild sunflower

    Wyethia wild sunflower


    The leaves are soft as velvet

    The leaves are soft as velvet

    I love Mule’s ears because they come up like clockwork every year, add loads of color, need no care except weeding and don’t seem to invade or decrease in number. The dry, crisp stems snap off easily to neaten the patch in the Fall. I just stamp them down.


    Double Wyethia flower

    Double Wyethia flower


    Wyethia with leaf bugs

    Wyethia with leaf hoppers


    Come sit and watch the sunflowers

    Come sit and watch the sunflowers

    One large patch is near an old glider looking off onto the mountain.  Just beyond this patch is the entrance to the forest. When we arrived here there was an opening in the wire boundary fence and the deer had taken advantage of it.  A deer path ran crosswise all the way to the seasonal stream, or drainage ditch says Tractor Man. Quail nest in fallen branches just outside the fence.  It’s a good place to watch the sunflowers and the rest of the ‘show’.

    Poison oak sneaking into the patch

    Realities: Poison oak sneaking into the patch



    From Southwest Colorado Wildflowers

    Nathaniel Wyeth was an 19th century eastern merchant who mounted several Western commercial and exploratory expeditions; the second included botanist Thomas Nuttall and ornithologist John Kirk Townsend.  Nuttall named the Wyethia genus in 1834 from specimens collected by Wyeth in 1833-1834 on his first expedition.


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    8 Responses to Wild Wyethias- sunflowers in the foothills

    1. July 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm

      How interesting! I wonder whether your mule’s ear and our mule’s ear is the same – ours blooms in April. And, regrettably, it’s pretty well impossible to get in the trade, so since I don’t have it on my little suburban lot, I just don’t have it. Great pictures!

      • July 20, 2011 at 10:20 am

        Hi Mouse! I guess there are a few varieties. I love these as you may be able to tell. Unfortunately, they grow from the roots so are hard to move…I haven’t been able to dig any up to transplant. Wonder if the seeds would sprout? They were my first ‘garden’ here. I simply placed a log edge around a patch and called it good!

    2. July 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm

      I went looking to my favorite seed sources and now realize how true Town Mouse’s comment is. Why aren’t these great plants more widely available? Is yours the only climate where they thrive?

    3. July 23, 2011 at 5:09 am

      May I please have a nice cup of coffee/tea while seated here on the bench, watching your lovely sunflowers grow? I am so comfortable and warm and really have no inclination to budge at all. It’s so peaceful here, Sue! So good for the soul! Thank you 🙂

    4. July 23, 2011 at 6:55 am

      James, I’m guessing that the Wyethias are hard to propagate for nurseries successfully. I have seen them advertised at Las Pilitas but there’s always been a note saying ‘not available’. I tried transplanting one dug up accidently and it did not take. Maybe collecting and planting seeds would work.

      Desiree, I thiought you’d like the gliders swing and in our imaginations, it’s nice to have you visit!

    5. July 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      I agree that Wyethia ought to be in the trade. There’s a Wyethia for nearly every climate in the state and yet I’ve lamented for years that I can’t buy it. See, for example,

      • July 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm

        These are such great plants, Brent…all over the roadsides as well as the patches we have here. I would like to test to see if they can be propagated and have tons of seeds to share. Email me,… anyone who wants some.

      June 20, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Mine are growing wildly in Saskatchewan, Canada! They have only just started growing seedlings now (mid June), but I have about 400 seedlings from 4 bushes. I actually pulled most of them out last year, not realizing what they were. I moved the mature plants to a clay area in the back alley where they dropped their seeds and the babies are LOVING the heat and sunshine back there. Somehow I still have a ton in my flower garden, even though I moved all the adults before they seeded. Nice problem to have 😉

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