St. Maria Feverfew

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By Jake Landers

Published January 2013

Jake Landers St. Maria Feverfew growing in colonies on Hill Country rangeland with old Mesquite on deeper soil and Liveoak on shallower sites. A plant that is abundant in our pastures is Feverfew, or should I say in some pastures, because it can be dense in one and absent across the fence.  Most of the time the plant grows in patches on shallow soil as well as on the deeper soil of Mesquite flats, probably in response to some heavy grazing in the past.  But it is present also in some roadsides that are not regularly mowed such as Lone Star Alley near Menard, Texas, where I often drive to observe the abundance of native wildflowers and grasses.  Some pastures on the road to the ranch, however, were dominated by Broomweed or Croton instead of Feverfew.  Grazing history and the kind of livestock have contributed to which plant is dominant, and I haven’t figured it all out.

Feverfew is also called St.Maria feverfew, False ragweed, and scientifically, Parthenium confertum.  It is a weak perennial, some years coming back strong from the old root system and in other years disappearing temporarily and coming back from seed following a drought year when grass competition is weak. 

Its small white flower heads are not attractive like many other members of the Sunflower family.  Each has five ray points that produce one seed and the rest of the flower head produces pollen. The plants tend to be loosely flat-topped, and from a distance their overall appearance is grey green.  A little frost, and Feverfew disintegrates quickly while Croton and Broomweed, especially, dry up and persist through the winter.

A single plant of Feverfew, Parthenium hysterophorus,   growing in a pasture at the family Pecan orchard.
St. Maria Feverfew, Parthenium confertum, is shown here as a single but grows in patches in pastures and roadsides.

Another Feverfew occurs as scattered individuals in the edge of fields and roadsides.  It must come up from seed every year.  The flower heads are smaller and more abundant, usually scattered all over the plant instead of being formed at the top.  It is called False ragweed, Cicutilla, and scientifically, Parthenium hysterophorus.

Neither of the Feverfews is grazed by livestock or deer to any extent.  Glands on the leaves contain sesquiterpene lactones which can cause serious dermatitis in some people who handle them.  I have not heard of any other reaction to the plants that are growing here.  Unfortunately, one of the two has appeared as an alien plant in India where it has become a serious weed with severe dermatitis to agricultural workers along with the displacement of native plants.  Our experience in this country with alien weeds, mostly from Europe, has not been pleasant, but none of the weeds that I know of causes any skin reaction.

From their common name, I would guess that these plants would be used in some way in herbal medicine to reduce fever, but I have not found a reference in the books.  However, a Chrysanthemum from Europe that is called Feverfew has many references to its effective use.  It does not look at all like ours.  With my next fever, I will probably stay with aspirin or an ice pack and not do any experimental medicine using our local Feverfews or the European one.   Maybe a venturesome teenager will do that for me.

Reading The Landscape

Whereabouts in the Texas Hill Country is this location?  What is the yellow wildflower along the water’s edge? See below for Jake’s explanation.

Whereabouts in the Texas Hill Country is this location?  What is the yellow wildflower along the water’s edge?     —JL

See below for Jake's answer

Reading the Landscape: Answer

Jake’s summary: The view is upstream from the low water crossing of the San Saba River one block away from the MainStreet of Menard TX.  The yellow flower is Spanish Needles which grows briefly in flower each fall on the water;s edge.  Highway 83 bridge crosses the river to the west, and an expansive recreational park with 100-plus-year-old Pecan trees lies to the north.       —JL

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