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Wetland Evaluation and Delineation Program

Featured Plants - Florida's Chaffhead and Vanillaleaf, Carphephorus spp.

Cross section of head of Carphephorus spp.Asteraceae

Medium to large perennial herbs usually with a single erect leafy stem, from 0.5 to 1.5 m tall, from a thickened base or rhizome. Stems may be smooth, hairy, or with glands. Leaves usually in rosettes; linear, needle-like or lanceolate to oblanceolate; stem leaves alternate, essentially sessile, much smaller than basal leaves. Flowers in heads, arranged in a flat-topped, or broad cylinder inflorescence; individual heads are composed of disk flowers only, surrounded by bracts (phyllaries) in 2 to 6 rows, flowers with pink or purple corollas and with a bract (chaff) at the base. Fruit a cone-shaped achene, broadest at tip, 10-angled, topped by a pappus of numerous fine bristles.

 At a glance: Herbs with a single, erect leafy stem from a basal rosette of leaves, the stem leaves alternate, small; inflorescences flat-topped or short cylindrical; heads rayless, with pink to purple disk flowers. Carphephorus is similar to Liatris, but the inflorescences are flat-topped or broadly cylindrical (thyrsoid), heads not in long spikes or narrow cylinders as in Liatris.

There are five species of Carphephorus in Florida, of which four are wetland species. Carphephorus corymbosus (Nutt.) Torr. & Gray, the single upland species, is our only species with both relatively broad leaves and large heads (greater than 1 cm long).

Key to Carphephorus in Florida.

1. Heads arranged in a broadly cylindrical (thyrsoid) inflorescence,

stem pubescent .......... C. paniculatus

     Drawing of Carphephorus paniculatus (1)       Drawing of Carphephorus paniculatus (2)

1. Heads, arranged in a relatively flat-topped (corymbose) inflorescence

.......  2


     2. Basal leaves needle-like (acicular), inrolled

...... C. pseudoliatris

      Drawing of Carphephorus pseudoliatris (1)     Drawing of Carphephorus pseudoliatris (2)  

     2. Basal leaves broader, elliptic, spatulate to oblanceolate, not

needle-like .... 3

3. Stem smooth; basal leaves large, spatulate, to 40 cm long

..... C. odoratissimus

    Drawing of Carphephorus odoratissimus (1)   Drawing of Carphephorus odoratissimus (2)

3. Stem pubescent, basal leaves smaller, spatulate to linear ..... 4

     4.  Basal leaves spatulate, heads greater than 1 cm long; 
   inflorescence flat topped

..... C. corymbosus

           Drawing of Carphephorus corymbosus (1)     Drawing of Carphephorus corymbosus (2)

     4. Basal leaves linear to linear lanceolate, heads less than 1 cm long
  inflorescence short cylindrical ..... C. carnosus
       Drawing of Carphephorus carnosus (1)    Drawing of Carphephorus carnosus (2)


Description Images

Carphephorus carnosus (Small) C. W. James (synonym: Litrisa carnosa Small)

Basal rosette leaves short, to 7cm long, flat on ground, somewhat leathery, linear to linear lanceolate; inflorescence dense, short cylindrical, stems hairy.

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Photos by Dr. John David Tobe

C. carnosus, basal leavesC. carnosus, flowers
C. carnosus
, basal leaves & flowers

Carphephorus corymbosus (Nutt.) Torr. & A. Gray, COASTAL PLAIN CHAFFHEAD

Basal rosette leaves spatulate to narrowly spatulate, to 15 cm long and 2.5 cm wide; heads large produced in a loose corymbose inflorescence, stems densely pubsescent.

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Photo by Guy Anglin

Carphephorus corymbosus, flowers
Carphephorus corymbosus, flowers

Carphephorus odoratissimus (J. F. Gmelin) Herbert (synonym: Trilisa odoratissima (J. F. Gmelin) Cassini), DEER-TONGUE, VANILLALEAF

Stem to 1.5-2 m (5-7 ft) tall, smooth; basal rosette leaves large, to 30-40 cm long and 6-12 cm wide, oblanceolate to broadly elliptic; inflorescence open, much-branched, flat-topped, with numerous small heads. The dried leaves have a pleasant vanilla-like odor.

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Photos by Dr. John David Tobe

C. odoratissimus, basal leavesC. odoratissimus, flowers
C. odoratissimus,
basal leaves & flowers

Carphephorus paniculatus (J. F. Gmelin) Herbert (synonym: Trilisa paniculata (J. F. Gmelin) Cassini), HAIRY CHAFFHEAD

Like C. odoratissimus but stem to about 1 m (3 ft) tall, hairy; basal rosette leaves not as large, to 20-30 cm long and 2-3 cm wide; inflorescence broadly cylindrical.

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Photos by Dr. John David Tobe

C. paniculatus, basal leavesC. paniculatus, flowers
C. paniculatus, basal leaves & flowers

Carphephorus pseudoliatris Cassini, BRISTLELEAF CHAFFHEAD

Basal leaves ascending, needle-like, inrolled, to 40 cm long and only 1-2 mm wide; inflorescence dense, flat-topped to somewhat globular, with 7-12 large heads.

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Photo by Dr. John David Tobe

C. pseudoliatris, flowers
C. pseudoliatris, flowers


UPLAND Carphephoruss corymbosus: Sandhills, dry to relatively wet pinelands.

FAC Carphephorus odoratissimus, C. paniculatus: Hydric to mesic flatwoods, wet prairies, seepage slopes, sometimes (C. odoratissimus) sandhills.

FACW Carphephorus carnosus, C. pseudoliatris: Hydric to mesic flatwoods, wet prairies, seepage slopes.


Carphephorus carnosus - Endemic to central peninsular Florida from Brevard and Martin Counties west to Charlotte and Lee Counties.

Carphephorus corymbosus - Throughout the peninsula, west to Taylor County in north Florida, and south to Monroe County.

Carphephorus odoratissimus, C. paniculatus - Throughout except southernmost counties (Broward, Dade, and Monroe Counties).

Carphephorus pseudoliatris - Northwest Florida from Wakulla and Liberty Counties west to Escambia County.

Late summer to fall (especially September to November), or during the winter months southward. Sometimes flowering in mass after summer burns in flatwoods.

Last updated: September 21, 2011

  2600 Blair Stone Road M.S. 3500   Tallahassee, Florida 32399   850-245-8336 (phone) / 850-245-8356 (fax) 
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