Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday Search Challenge (2/13/13): What kind of flower is it?

I went out for a run yesterday from the Googleplex.  It was a lovely day, around 60F, with a light breeze coming off San Francisco Bay.  

I was really impressed when I discovered the following hillside of golden flowers blooming about 1 mile from the Plex, only a few feet from Stevens Creek, which flows into the bay.  (You can see the bay in the background--all that water is the southern tip of SF Bay.  The fence runs along the trail I was on.)   
This was too early for the mustard to be out, and too early for other yellow flowers I know about... so I stopped, pulled out my phone and took these pictures.   (You can click on them to see the full size image.)  

As you can see, it's a fairly small flower that loves to grow in large swathes of flowers.  In this case, this  hillside is the top of a landfill covering, so this is disturbed earth, and consequently I have no confidence that this is a native plant.  

The leaves are slightly wooly, a little sticky, and fairly aromatic when I rub them between my fingers.  The stem is square in cross-section.  

The challenge for today is simple to state, but difficult to answer: 

   What kind of flower is this? 

If you happen to know, please post the answer to the comments (but I'll hold back on posting your correct answer until other people have had a chance to try and work it out).  

Now the truth is... like you, I don't know what it is either.  

So let's try to solve this problem collectively!  I can get to this field of flowers easily.  (It's just a few minutes from my office.)  

So... Tell me:  What other information should I get in order to make a positive ID?  Let me know, and I'll run out there, find out, and post an update to the blog.  

If you manage to figure this out via just plain web-search, I'll send out a Google t-shirt to the first 3 people who can publish the correct answer AND their solution path!  

As usual, let us know what you did to solve the problem and how long it took you to figure it out.  

Search on!  (Botanically speaking...)  


Later (9:30AM, PDT)  

I just came back from the field and found that all of the flowers are closed!  I'll have to go back later this morning to get some close-up pictures of them in the open state.  

In the meantime, here are a couple of closeup pics I took...  you can see the hairs on the leaves very clearly.  And I also discovered that my previous note about the cross-section was wrong... the stems are NOT square:  they're pentagonal!  (See image below--click to see at full resolution.)  

Note the texture of the skin--slightly hairy, definitely slightly sticky and fragrant when you touch it.  


  1. Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion),

  2. Damned Yellow Composite? :)( aka: Daisy?

  3. Can you post a closeup of the blossom itself?

  4. It looks to me like Camphorweed. I searched for wild yellow flowers california, which lead me to US Wildflower's Database of Yellow Wildflowers for California. Scrolling through that page, I came across the image that looked similar to the one you posted. It took me about ten minutes.

  5. 1. copied the photo url, searched Google Images
    2. picked the photo that looked the most like the source (not the prettiest search, but it's what I would probably do if I had a flower guidebook)
    3. identified selected photo as Calendula Officinalis, searched for additional images for comparison
    4. satisfied by physical resemblance, searched "Calendula Officinalis", learned that common name is Marigold
    5. learned from Wikipedia that wild plant has single row of flower petals similar to source image
    6. learned from USDA that Calendula Officinalis is native to California, specifically San Francisco bay area
    7. reasonably certain you've got yourself a wild marigold

    1. Joe - Can you post the USDA page that claims this is a native plant. Other sources say it's not... Which is correct?

    2. In my excitement I made a bit of a dog's breakfast of my search and actually misread the USDA plant profile. Calendula Officinalis (and arvensis) are listed as "introduced". Apologies for the demonstration of how a reputable source can be misinterpreted.

    3. No worries... this is actually an EXCELLENT example of how easy it is to misread even an authoritative resource!

  6. It looks like Calendula arvensis (?).

    I've grown other varieties of calendula, so the "sticky leaves" and general look of the flower made me think of calendula. Some quick image searching with a stop at Wikipedia pointed me in the direction of Calendula arvensis.

    I'll be interested to find out if that's what YOU think it is.

  7. Heterotheca villosa (Pursh) Shinners
    hairy false goldenaster?

    Here were my queries:
    1. yellow bay area flowers february
    Wikipedia was the first result, but no luck...Bay Natives Nursery was the third result, search the page for yellow flower and after a few tries found it.
    2. heterotheca villosa
    First result is USDA Plants Database entry...
    That's my guess, took about 15 minutes.

  8. bang bang flower....

    ps: this is my g+ profile:

  9. Its a "Cosmos Flower"!! I did image search using your flower field image and i opened a few links which were similar.Found out they were Cosmos.
    Also called "Cosmos sulphureus"

  10. Coreopsis Or maybe Malmequer flower...

    ps: my profile is:

  11. Coreopsis

    just explaining my answer...

    1- drag and drop to google images;

    2- similar images

    3- visual comparison;

    4- Translation for portuguese;

    4- query at google about possible candidates.

    ps: my G+ profile

  12. My guess is a field marigold (Calendula arvensis).

    I first used the flower-middle.jpg in a Google image search and found nothing.

    I got an estimate of the number of petals by counting them in the same .jpg. To which I searched "15 petal flower." Scrolling through, I found a Shutterstock image of a "Bright yellow flower with dew drops" and it looked to be a similar plant. I clicked through to visit the Shutterstock page. There I found the exact name of the plant.

    I searched "Calendula arvensis" and read up on the flower at Wikipedia. It was seeming like a good match. In the external links I went to the USDA Plants profile.

    The USDA confirms that it is in California. And that it is in nearby Marin County. But it is not showing in San Francisco County. So possibly the flower stowed away from Marin County?

    Total search time 10 minutes.

  13. Ok - I think I've got it: Field Marigold.

    (see images here:

    This is based on SO MUCH just browsing through pictures on wildflower websites. But the initial search I did was on [wildflower identification], which led me to the US Wildflowers site (, which contains links to many other guides based on state. I chose CalFlora, who have a nice "search for plants" on their homepage. I put in annual and perennial wildflowers as the possible lifeforms, and then limited it to Santa Clara county (location of the Google Plex), and then hit search.

    There were nearly 1600 results, but everything else I'd looked through so far was sort of a bust, so I started going through pages of the results (thank goodness there were pictures!), and there in the middle of page 5 was Calendula arvensis - the closest thing I'd seen to the pictures you posted. Opening the page on the field marigold ( shows a set of pictures that are remarkably similar to yours - especially the ones showing where the base of the flower connects to the stem.

    1. You're right! (Sorry you were the 4th person to get the answer correct.)

    2. @Maggie How did you limit your search to Santa Clara county?

    3. I have those flowers in my backyard as I was searching for the name and found your blog. Now I have the name: Calendulas.

  14. I worked with my colleague Anne on this (sure you are sick of us working together). Since she is from this area was hoping she would know the answer off the top of her head. No such luck! I was going to email a former boyfriend from high school who now has his Ph.D in horticulture but Anne and I tried to find the answer by searching. We did a search on and one of the results was for the invasive plants flashcards. We started going through it and found a picture of cats ear and after reading the description and doing an image search on cats ear and then narrowing the search by color (yellow) we are pretty sure that it is cats ear. The description of cats ear says it grows in waste areas which would make sense that it is growing on a former landfill. Hope we are right. Going to email my former boyfriend now and see what he says.

  15. Dear mr Russel,

    According to me the answer to your question is: "Calendula arvensis"

    My solution path:
    1. Create 2 new pictures of only the flower from the last two photo's respectively (this didn't give me the desired result though)
    2. A search for "madeliefje" (dutch for the "Bellis perennis") which is a kind of flower in The Netherlands that has a simular look. My thought behind this is that it might belong to the same family of plants.
    3. I found the Wikipedia-article for this search: (in Dutch)
    4. At the bottom of this page I found a link to (below the heading "Externe link")
    5. At that webpage I selected: "Planten" -> "Planten en bomen" -> at the 3rd page I found a link to The drawing and photo of this plant looked like the one of you (see the multimedia tab of this page). This page also gives a Latin name: "Calendula arvensis"
    6. I did a image search for "Calendula arvensis" and that a lot of resulting images look simular to the one you posted.

    I took me about 10 minutes to find the answer (and about 20 minutes to reconstruct my search path).

    Kind regards,
    Jaap Walhout

  16. Is it the San Francisco Bay gumplant ? I googled
    "yellow daisy like flower san francisco february" and found "Selected Tidal Marsh Plant Species
    of the San Francisco Estuary
    A Field Identification Guide" When I searched yellow flowers within the guide I found the gumplant most resembled the flowers you took photos of so I then Googled for images of the gumplant. Most were close to what you posted or similar enough that I settled on that answer.

  17. I think it is Golden Aster. I thought an accurate description of the petal shape could lead me down the right path. search for "petal shape" lead me to . At the bottom the "ligulate" petal shape looked right and "aster' was mentioned in the description. And image search of yellow aster lead me to which looked like a match.

  18. Good day, Dr. Russell.

    [yellow flowers yellow interior blooming february]
    To find:

    [goldfields flower california bay]

    ["Baeria chrysostoma" california fields]

    [goldfields flower]

    What kind of flower is this?

    A. I believe is Lasthenia, commonly known as goldfields

  19. using google image search and paste the image url to search similar image and then information about it can be find . Google translator may be used if it is present in some foreign language.

  20. This looks like a Heterotheca subaxillaris - Camphorweed, Camphor Weed, False Goldenaster.

    I googled "wildflower identification CA" and this was the second link I tried.

    There was a link to the right called Yellow Wildflowers of California and I was able to narrow the choices down to two visually. Upon reading the description, this one seemed to match both the leaves and smell description.

  21. We kept searching and actually think we need to change our answer. After reading more about Cats Ear (in the same article we mentioned above) we found that it is very similar to smooth hawksbeard. Now after reading about it and seeing images including one that included a map of where it can be found (and northern California is one of the places)we think the plant is smooth hawksbeard. From our original search and finding the cats ear article, it stated that cats ear is often mistaken for smooth hawksbeard. The difference is in the leaves, which are smoother in the hawksbeard. We started searching using the query and that was way too broad. Made an assumption that it was a weed which led to our second search query of

  22. It sure looks like a type of golden aster (heterotheca and chrysopsis). [northern California wildflowers identification orange] image search led me to camphorweed. I know it isn't camphorweed because you said the leaves were aromatic. I'm not sure, yet, how I am going to identify the species (assuming I have the correct genus).

  23. I forgot to mention the webpage that confirmed my findings:
    I found that site with my last search. The map on this page show that the flower also appears in California.

    Kind regards,
    Jaap Walhout

  24. My closest guess would be or I know they are not the orange color but they were the closest to resemble the shape, petals and the overall look. Maybe the color is a different stage of development?

  25. I believe this is a type of Madia, probably Madison Elegans,
    If positive I will gives you the steps it took me to get it.

  26. just an idea...

  27. I think it may be a variety of camphorweed.

    I tired using image search with a close-up of the stem and one of the flower, but came up empty. When I googled yellow wildflower aromatic this was a possibility. Then I honed in on California wildflowers yellow on the site and the best possibility seemed to be this one which is also called false aster.

  28. Well, that does seem like "calendula" or field marigold.. Finding that was kinda easy, "yellow aromatic flower" in google, listing through pictures, finding a close looking one by the leaf form, that turned out to be "mexican marigold" in my case.. wikipedia, going to the "family" there, finding a picture:, there number 9 seems like a close match, which confirms after looking through more pictures.

  29. So... it's clear that there are lots of possibilities here. How do we *determine* which of these is the right one?

    1. I'm going to defend the answer of Calendula arvensis mostly based on petal shape (with the toothed tip?), and the color, which a google image search ( shows can be much closer to the orange-yellow color in your pictures than any of the other flower types submitted here.

    2. I agree with Maggie it is Calendula Arvensis.

      The links shows images just as the one you upload.

    3. Hey Dan, can you give us more information about the fruits? if it has any?

    4. It's a bit too early to see the fruits of the flower. They only JUST started blooming, so there just aren't any yet. (I'll keep watching, and once they fruit, I'll take another picture and post on the blog.

  30. Mimulus aurantiacus (Sticky monkey flower)

    I donwnloaded the pictures that you porvoded, used the image search and added [Stevens Creek, San Francisco Bay Area]. It didn't work, I decide to take a different approach looked for: [Stevens Creek wildfowers] one of the leads had a photo gallery

    I found the flower with scientific name: Sticky Monkey-Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

    Next step I crossed information egarding: [mimulus aurantiacus in Stevens Creek] resulting in

  31. Encelia Californica

    Dan after reading your Challenge i searched for "California Coastal Flowers" then i got lot of visual pics then i went for each of them analyzing the flowers

    Search Strings Used
    1. "California coastal flowers"

    2. California coastal flowers"

    3. Spring flowers on a California coastal

    Coast sunflower is also called in California Brittlebush botanical Name

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  34. It looks like Calendula arvensis, it common name is Field-marigold while Calendula arvensis is it scientific name.

    i use search by image, check similar images and then came across to this web pages

    i also compared my result

  35. I thought about going into the den and looking up the flower in my California wild flowers book, but that would not be in keeping with the intent of the search.
    First I looked for [common wildflowers of the bay area]
    Lots of things to look at.
    One I found at
    has a list of a couple of web sites:
    There are also some great websites like the US Forest Service's Celebrate Wildflowers and a searchable website of California Flora that can help identify wildflower species. seems to have a plant identifier page so I will try that.
    But need more information.
    So where is Stevens Creek in relation to the Googleplex? Google maps tells me the answer. Looks like it could be part of the Stevens Creek Shoreline Nature Study Area. Not helping.
    Went back to Calflora and looked at a ton of images and it looks like a Calendula arvensis L. or Field marigold

    So I am going with Field Marigold, the Calflora page shows it grows in your area and it blooms in March.

    I noticed a number of applications for smart phones that are plant identifier or wildflower identifiers. That might be an interesting way to identify plants.

  36. I started with [flower identification] and [wildflower identification] because I believed it would be easy to narrow down the options by way of choosing physical characteristics, as I know it's done for other plant and animal species (or for diseases, btw). No luck, though. The guides out there are either simple to use but too incomplete or very technical (how would I know how many pistils does the flower have and so on? I'm not a complete ignorant in Botany but this path would require a lot more knowledge or extra answers.)

    So after a few searches I ended up browsing CalFlora and the best match I found was Calendula arvensis. I wasn't totally convinced though, and I quit and came here to check if there were any updates. Well, a lot of people have answered already. I checked all other answers and, in my opinion, no one is even close to Calendula arvensis.

    Just for the fun of it, in Portuguese, any flower of the Calendula genus is called Malmequer, which means "wish me ill". In fact, I knew I knew that flower or sort of but couldn't remember what it was. Malmequer is a very common wildflower here (the Calendula officinalis species) and kids used to take petal apart saying "mal me quer / bem me quer" repeatedly ("s/he wishes me well, s/he wishes me ill"), so in the end the last petal would tell you if he or she likes you or not. :)

    Even though I am not absolutely certain (blooming in February is one of my doubts), I believe T-shirts will go to Khilbelink, Sean and Maggie. Congratulations!

  37. I was pretty sure it is Calendula from my own knowledge. Asked Search for [California flowers] to check and wound up at Now I am sure. But which variety ? Using your clue of Flowers closed I SEARCHed for [calendula flowers closed ]and found It open in the morning. Now I know (I think) that it is Calendula arvensis

    Great colour !

  38. I believe it is Forest Madia (Madia madioides) a/k/a Woodland Madia. Stevens Creek County Park. Cupertino, Santa Clara Co., Calif.
    It was impossible to identify through just images so I focused on the area and found an incredible collection at thsi link
    I also tried by books looking for February bloom northern california coastal but couldn't zero in on this area.
    Hope its right.

  39. I wanted to make one comment, I noticed that a few people, including me, looked through a very large CalFlora database of pictures to get our answers. We used our brains and our eyes to quickly search through hundreds of patterns to find the pattern that matched. That doesn't seem efficient.

    I am just reading "How to Create a Mind" by Ray Kurzweil. One of the major ideas of the book is that the human brain is built to; and does a fantastic job of, storing and recognizing patterns.
    Maybe that was the most efficient searching method; using our pattern recognizing abilities, and hundreds of photo's of plants.
    I am still reading this book and it is a challenging read, so it was on my mind.

  40. Searched [ wildflower identification ] and got I couldn't come up with anything definitive.

    Back tracked and decided to approach it from location. Started with a map search of the Googleplex. Searched nearby for landfills. Around here they cover and use them in stages. Started following the Bay Trail from one of the identified landfills. Nothing looked right. Focused attention closer to the Googleplex and found the Stevens Creek Trail. With the power lines that showed up I think that must be close.

    Searched [stevens creek trail landfill] and found references to "retired landfills" so thought it might right. Then I tried searching for images of [stevens creek trail landfill flowers] but nothing helpful.

    Came here to start logging my search so far and found the comments had been posted. They varied so much that I began checking what other people were guessing.

    The closest of the ones I checked were Sarah S and Kevin Brookhouser with Heterotheca subaxillaris.

  41. I forgot a couple things. Should I be right I wanted to show
    Query [ stevens creek ca wildflowers photos]
    Result - above link doesn't seem to work.
    Flower is Column 2, 4th image Column 3, 4th image

    Time 90+ minutes

  42. You asked what could we do to know we have the right answer. Last summer I wanted to know the name of a wild native grass near my acreage.
    I took a photo and sent it to a local Landscape and Garden Centre that specialized in local native plants. I suppose an email to the Stevens Creek Shoreline Study might work as well
    Here's my answer in latin

    Anisocarpus madioides (syn. Madia madioides) is a species of flowering plant in the aster familyknown by the common name woodland madia.

    1. Hi Rosemary, I also found a Madia, but Common Madia. Madia Elegans is known to grow in the San Francisco Bay Area. Take a look at the link attached and the picture at the bottom left. Also the description highly matches with Dan's description. I have my doubts regarding the flowering season as books mention they flower from June to Nov.

  43. Boy this search challenge sure has elicited lots of responses. In Advanced Power Search one of the things that was emphasized was using your social networks so I went back to my friend who is a horticultural specialist at the Univ. of Delaware. After showing him the latest pictures here is his response:

    "OK, great new info, very helpful. Definitely not a Coreopsis species. Yes, I'm almost positive it is a Calendula species (which is closely related to both Arctotis and Dimorphotheca) but not Calendula officinalis. Why? C.o has smooth foliage and your photos definitely show sparkly hairs on the leaves, C.o has larger flowers than your photos show, AND I am not aware at all of C.o naturalizing to the masses shown in one of the first photos you sent. However, Calendula arvensis is a real possibility and it is NOT a native California species. It DOES have the sparkling hairs throughout its leaves, it has smaller flowers like yours, AND it is known to naturalize very large areas of Northern California (like your photos show). If it is not the species arvensis, it is still mostly like a Calendula species of some kind, though, but I'd put my money on C. arvensis."
    So Calendula arvensis is his answer. I'll go with that too!

  44. Botanic Name: Heterotheca sess. bolanderi 'San Bruno Mtn.'
    Common Name: Golden Aster

    Since you're close to the San Bruno Mountain, right, maybe that's a good answer...

    Found it here, after searching "yellow flower native to california":