Differentiation of Gutierrezia texana and Amphiachyris species in North Central Texas


Gutierrezia texana is often confused with two Amphiachyris species with which it is sympatric, Amphiachyris dracunculoides and Amphiachyris amoena, and they have historically sometimes been treated in the same genus. For whatever reason Amphiachyris dracunculoides seems to have become the default choice both in the minds of amateur botanists and for the algorithm on iNaturalist (apparently because the other two have not met the requirements to be included in any of the computer vision models as of yet). All three plants have similar small capitula with yellow ray and disc flowers. The branching patterns can also be similar and the sizes often overlap. Amphiachyris dracunculoides often has a distinctive appearance when it exhibits its classic rounded shape with heads in dense corymbiform arrays, while both Gutierrezia texana and Amphiachyris amoena typically have more open paniculiform arrays. However, variations in the number of capitula caused by any range of factors can cause the appearances to be similar enough to be easily confused. Due to these similarities, it is necessary to examine other details of the plants to make a correct identification.

Differentiation via the phyllaries

The most convenient way for observers to differentiate the two genera in north central Texas is by observation of the phyllaries. As noted in the Flora of North America treatment of Amphiachyris, Amphiachyris species have "abaxial nerves of the phyllaries without green borders." The result is that the phyllaries on Amphiachyris species appear to have a uniform color from edge to edge, and thus often appear wider than the phyllaries on Gutierrezia species. Unfortunately, the green nerve borders in Gutierrezia texana are not always present. They often do present as a narrow dark green band bordering the phyllary nerve for much of the length of the nerve, but many times it also only occurs at the phyllary tips or under some weather and seasonal variations it may not be noticeable at all. The overall result however is the edges of the phyllaries on G. texana are often difficult to discern at all, and at best the phyllaries actually look a lot narrower than they really are.

Phyllaries of Gutierrezia texana

Phyllaries of Amphiachyris amoena

Phyllaries of Amphiachyris dracunculoides

Differentiation via the pappus

The best way to differentiate the genera in Texas is to examine the pappus of the disc flowers. In Amphiachyris, the pappus of the disc flowers consists of a few noticeably long scales. A hand lens may be useful to see them more clearly, but they are often visible with the naked eye.

In contrast, on Gutierrezia texana the pappus on both ray and disc flowers is short or absent, often not noticeable at flowering time. It is most easily noticed on achenes, if one is lucky enough to find a specimen with some intact.

Corymbiform versus Paniculiform arrays

While these flowering patterns don't differentiate the genera, they can still be helpful for differentiating A. dracunculoides, which is corymbiform, from the other two species, which are paniculiform. A corymbiform array is one in which all the flowers (or in this case heads) appear to be roughly at the same level. Specimens like these appear flat topped or rounded. Paniculiform arrays are more difficult to describe, but in general the heads do not appear at the same level. In practice, this can be difficult to ascertain when a photo simply appears to be a mass of yellow flowers, but sometimes one is able to isolate a specific branch and see which description applies. More often than not one can see heads much further down on a branch, making it paniculiform, and ruling out A. dracunculoides.

Corymbiform A. dracunculoides - note how the heads are roughly the same level

Paniculiform G. texana - note how there are heads at various levels of the branches

Disc Flower Style Branch Appendage Length

According to Nesom, the disc flowers of Amphiachyris species are functionally staminate and he also notes that the style branch appendages are fused. What this means visually is that the style branches in Amphiachyris disc flowers (when exposed) appear quite short. On the other hand, this is not the case in G. texana, so if one happens to find a capitulum where the style branches are exposed, they appear quite long. While presence of these longer style branches on disc flowers is indicative of G. texana, its absence may simply indicate that no flowers are in that stage of pollination. Additionally, one has to be certain of looking at a disc flower and not a ray flower where both genera can have long style branches.

Longer style branches of G. texana, often forming sort of a loop

Habitat and Distribution

In my experience, in the Austin area (Travis, Williamson, and Burnet counties), G. texana is much more prevalent than either Amphiachyris species in areas accessible by the public, and is often weedy on the borders of hiking trails. Amphiachyris dracunculoides is more often found in grazed pastures. All three plants do occur in the general area.

Observation Links

Amphiachyris dracunculoides
Amphiachyris amoena
Gutierrezia texana
Russell Pfau's comparisons


Nesom, Guy L. 2006. Amphiachyris. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 20+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 20. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=101427
Nesom, Guy L. 2006. Gutierrezia. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 20+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 20. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=114211

Posted on June 05, 2020 10:41 PM by rymcdaniel rymcdaniel


Yes. :)

Many many many thanks, Ryan!

Posted by sambiology about 4 years ago

@sambiology Hopefully it will be helpful, though I know it is likely that most of the observations still won't capture enough data to be identifiable. :)

Posted by rymcdaniel about 4 years ago

Very true, but this is a journal post that I'll copy and past on the observations to let them know about the important differences. :) So it's super helpful!

Posted by sambiology about 4 years ago

How did I miss this? This is so helpful!

Posted by suz almost 4 years ago

Thank you! This is super helpful!

Posted by lisa281 almost 4 years ago

It's broomweed season! Time to pull out @rymcdaniel's excellent guide!

Posted by pfau_tarleton almost 4 years ago

@pfau_tarleton Yep. I've even got some links to your observations from last year here too! Now if I could only devise a way to get the average user to take better photos, the annual barrage of "Amphiachyris" observations wouldn't go to waste... :) I can't wait for the next computer vision run so maybe next year Gutierrezia texana will actually show up in the suggestion box.

Posted by rymcdaniel almost 4 years ago

G. sarothrae is supposed to be in my county also...will have to look for them

Posted by pfau_tarleton almost 4 years ago

Thank you! Great pictures and explanations, even an amateur like me can hopefully separate them with the help of this guide.

Posted by annikaml almost 4 years ago

This is fantastic! Thanks so much for putting it together!

Posted by lulubelle almost 4 years ago

Very instructive. Thank you this very good explanation.

Posted by jsuplick almost 4 years ago

One thing I need to note on this so far is that while getting photos of the phyllaries is great for differentiating Gutierrezia texana from the Amphiachyris species, it is not the only thing one needs to differentiate Amphiachyris dracunculoides from Amphiachyris amoena. While I don't really have anything to add to the FNA treatment on that (see link in sources), keep in mind that at a bare minimum for that one needs to document either photographically or textually the size and flowering pattern, which photographically might include a whole plant photo and a single branch photo so that in total one would want probably at least 4 photos: one showing the top of the flower head, one from the side of the flower head showing the phyllaries, one of the whole plant, and one separating out a single branch. Even then, apparently in some cases the sizes of the two species can be similar and apparently in those cases subtle characteristics of the achenes and receptacle must be used. And frankly, if you get that far, good luck! :)

Posted by rymcdaniel almost 4 years ago

Thank you for this journal post. These plants were on my list for further study for a cheat sheet of my own.
In 'my area' here southwest of Houston I only need to worry about G.t. and A.d., but helpful to have other information when travelling around the state.
Great photos, too!

Posted by sbdplantgal over 3 years ago

Great job, Ryan!

Posted by eric_keith over 3 years ago

Hooray! Gutierrezia texana is now included in the Computer Vision model.

Posted by rymcdaniel almost 3 years ago

Repaired broken link to Amphiachyris amoena phyllary image, which ended up on the Amazon server since I did not reserve all rights to my early iNat images. Grrr.

Posted by rymcdaniel almost 3 years ago

This is super helpful, thank you.

Posted by jeff_back 9 months ago

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