Thanks to Sheila Williams who sent along this photograph of woolly sunflower. Sheila and a friend kayaked to the Ada Islands last summer (close to the Winchelsea Islands, near Nanaimo, British Columbia). There, they discovered these treasures.
Eriophyllum lanatum also has a more whimsical common name: Oregon sunshine. It is native to western North America, growing from seaside elevations (as seen here) to 3500m (~11500 feet).
The classification of Eriophyllum lanatum and all of its subspecies, varieties and forms has historically been messy – at one time, over seventy-five different names had been applied to what is now roughly recognized as ten morphological varieties. Unfortunately, the need to apply a name to any particular plant masks the biological reality. Eriophyllum lanatum is a species complex – a group of closely-related intergrading taxa.
Species complexes are ideal groups to study the processes of evolution, as the entities involved may be undergoing speciation into distinct entities, i.e., new species. In the intervening time, however, it can be a nightmare to put a name to these intergrading entities; a biological name is intended to represent something that can be clearly delineated, and members of species complexes often defy clear delineation. Still, on the edge of this plant’s native distribution where the inflow of new genetic material is restricted by distance, distinct entities can be more easily recognized, hence the assertion that all of British Columbia’s plants are of the variety lanatum. At the centre of the range in California, however, things are more complicated. Entities morphologically intergrade and can produce hybrids, though there can be barriers to the latter: see Mooring, J. 2001. Barriers to interbreeding in the Eriophyllum lanatum (Asteraceae, Helenieae) species complex. Am. J. Bot. 88:285-312.
Botany / photography resource link: Photographic Atlas of Plant Anatomy – a compilation of hundreds of categorized plant anatomy images from the research and teaching careers of Dr. John Curtis and Dr. Nels Lersten, with help from Michael Nowak. Even if you don’t understand what you are looking at, the images of plant tissue and cells at the microscopic level has a beauty all its own.