Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Canyon Sunflower

Foothill Penstemon

Canyon Sunflower

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Canyon Sunflower
Scientific Name:Venegasia carpesioides
Family:Asteraceae (Sunflower)
Plant Type:Shrub
Size:up to 8 feet
Habitat:shady places in Oak Woodland, Sage Scrub and Chaparral
Blooms:December to July
Fire Response:Stump Sprout or Seed

Canyon Sunflower - Venegasia carpesioides - makes bright yellow spots in shady areas throughout many plant communities in the Santa Monica Mountains. The flowers bloom from February up to September, depending on heat and moisture conditions.

The plant is widely branched with reddish-brown stems emanating from a slightly woody base. The plentiful leaves are heart-shaped, broad and up to 6 inches long. Flowers occur at the ends of stems. One flower has 13-21 ray flowers or petals, all a bright cheerful yellow color, radiating to a 2 inch or so diameter. The center or disk flowers are also yellow, usually a slightly darker shade. While the entire plant is visually beautiful with its contrasting dark stems, large light green leaves and bright yellow flowers, it has a slight unpleasant odor.

What makes this Sunflower different enough to our other sunflowers is that the ray flowers do not have bractlets. This trait makes the plant different enough that it is more of a distant cousin to Bush Sunflower or Slender Sunflower. This plant has been placed in the Tarweed tribe - our other sunflowers are in the Helianthus tribe.

Canyon Sunflower is a pioneering species after fire. In the first year after a fire the annuals may appear in large quantities. Canyon Sunflower will begin to dominate slopes in the second to fourth years until the slow growing shrubs begin to take over. You can observe this in Upper Sycamore Canyon after the 2013 Springs Fire and in many places where the Woolsey Fire burned. Where there was once dense chaparral, one can observe Canyon Sunflower filling in the gaps. Eventually, the other chaparral plants will replace them but for now - enjoy the beautiful yellow flowers!

The genus name Venegazia is named after Padre Miguel Venegas, a Mexican scholar and historian. The species name carpesioides means "like Carpesium", another flower in the Sunflower family.

Contributed by Liz Baumann - Revised by George Sherman

Canyon Sunflower - Originally featured: June 2012
Last modified: May 18 2020 16:30:38.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves