CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Helianthus paradoxus


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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Helianthus paradoxus

Common Names: 
Pecos sunflower, puzzle sunflower
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


Profile Links
 Fish & WildLife

Helianthus paradoxusenlarge
Image Owner: San Antonio Botanical Garden

Helianthus paradoxusenlarge
Image Owner: San Antonio Botanical Garden

Helianthus paradoxus is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Cindy Barrett contributed to this Plant Profile.

Helianthus paradoxus

Sunflowers are an important part of the floral and cultural heritage of Texas and the United States, which is rapidly being lost due to neglect. Because our wild sunflowers are in the same genus as our domestic sunflowers, their genes could be invaluable in improving characteristics (e.g., yield, oil content, disease resistance) of cultivated sunflowers. The puzzle sunflower (Helianthus paradoxus) is found growing in brackish saline waters, which could prove useful in developing a cultivated sunflower which will grow under saline conditions. (Fowler-Propst, pers. comm., 1998). The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is collecting and storing seeds to ensure that these valuable genes are not lost.

The Puzzle sunflower produces typical sunflower flowers from September to November. While at first glance this species resembles the common sunflower, it differs from this common species in having narrower leaves, fewer hairs on its stems and leaves, and flower heads that are slightly smaller that bloom later in the season. (USFWS 1999)

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
  New Mexico
State Range of  Helianthus paradoxus
  This species is found in areas that have permanently saturated soils, including desert wetlands (cienegas) that are associated with springs, but may include stream and lake margins. When found around lakes, these lakes are usually natural cienega habitats that have been impounded. If the wetland, lake or stream is drained, diverted, or dries out, this species will disappear from the site. (USFWS 1999)

  In New Mexico (Cibola, Valencia, Guadalupe, and
Chaves counties) and west Texas (Pecos and Reeves
counties). (USFWS 1999)

Number Left
  Presently known from 25 sites that occur in 5 general areas. These areas are Pecos Co., TX, in the vicinity of Fort Stockton; Chaves Co., NM, from Dexter to just north of Roswell; Guadalupe Co., NM, in the vicinity of Santa Rosa; Valencia Co., NM, along the lower part of the Rio San Jose; and, Cibola Co., NM, in the vicinity of Grants. There are 2 sites in the Fort Stockton area, 11 in the Dexter to Roswell area, 8 in the Santa Rosa area, 1 along the lower Rio San Jose, and 2 in the Grants area. (USFWS 1999)


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Navaho Nation SX 9/8/1986  
  New Mexico S1  
  Texas S1 3/16/1989  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Genetic work has shown that this species is likely an ancient hybrid between the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and the prairie sunflower. (USFWS 1999)

  The loss or alteration of wetland habitat that this species requires. This can happen in a number of ways, including the lowering of water tables through aquifer withdrawals for irrigated agriculture or urban water uses, diversion of water for irrigation, livestock, or urban uses. These wetlands are often filled in outright for development or agriculture purposes. A final way that this habitat is disappearing is through the invasion of saltcedar and other nonnative species that effectively degrade or even destroy desert wetlands. (USFWS 1999)

Current Research Summary
  Bush and Van Auken (1997, 1998) have studied factors influencing the distribution and demography of this species, including grazing and the presence of salt marsh plant.
Reiseberg et al. (1990) used molecular genetics to establish this taxon as a true species while predicting its ancient lineage as a hybrid between the common sunflower and the prairie sunflower.

Current Management Summary
  Seeds were collected from the wild, germination studies were conducted, and seeds were sent to the National Seed Storage Lab for long term storage.
Five of the 25 known sites are on property managed principally for wildlife and endangered species conservation.

Research Management Needs
  Re-collect seeds to send to the National Seed Storage Lab.

Ex Situ Needs


Books (Single Authors)

Brune, G. 1981. Springs of Texas. Fort Worth, Texas: Branch-Smith, Inc.

Correll, D.S.; Johnston, M.C. 1970. Manual of the vascular plants of Texas. Renner: Texas Research Foundation. 1881p.

Warnock, B.H. 1974. Wildflowers of the Guadalupe Mountains and the sand dune country, Texas. Alpine, Texas: Sul Ross State University. 176p.

Books (Sections)

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Poole, J.M.; Diamond, D.D. 1992. Habitat characterization and subsequent searches for Helianthus paradoxus (puzzle sunflower). In: Sivinski, R.; Lightfoot, K., editors. Proceedings of the Southwestern Rare Plant Conference. New Mexico Forestry and Resources Conservation Division.

Rieseberg, L.H. 1991. Hybridization in rare plants: insights from case studies in Cercocarpus and Helianthus. In: Falk, Donald A.; Millar, Constance I.; Olwell, Margaret, editors. 1996. Restoring diversity: Strategies for reintroduction of endangered plants. Island Press. Washington, D.C.

Books (Edited Volumes)

New Mexico Native plants Protection Advisory Committee. 1984 A handbook of rare and endemic plants of New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Conference Proceedings

Poole, J.; Diamond, D.D. Habitat Characterization and Subsequent Searches for Helianthus paradoxus (Puzzle Sunflower). Proceedings of the Southwestern Rare and Endangered Plant Conference; 30 March - 2 April; Santa Fe, NM. In: Sivinski, R.; Lightfoot, K., editors. 1992. New Mexico Forestry and Resources Conservation Division. p 53-66.

Poole, J.; Janssen, G.K. Managing and Monitoring Rare and Endangered Plants on Highway Rights-of-way in Texas. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-GTR-283. Proceedings of the Southwestern Rare and Endangered Plant Conference; September 11-14; Flagstaff, AZ. In: Maschinski, J.; Hammond, H.D.; Holter, L., editors. 1996. USDA and US Forest Service. p 8-12.

Electronic Sources

(1999). New Mexico Rare Plants Information. New Mexico Rare Plant Technical Council: Albuquerque, NM. Version 15. http://nmrareplants.unm.edu/nmrptc/rarelist.htm. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Texas Threatened and Endangered Plants--Profiles. Texas Parks and Wildlife. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/endang/plants/index.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Bush, J.K.; Van Auken, O.W. 1997. The effects of neighbors and grazing on the growth of Helianthus paradoxus. Southwestern Naturalist. 42: 416-422.

Heiser, C.B., Jr. 1958. Three new annual sunflowers (Helianthus) from the southwestern U.S. Rhodora. 60: 272-274.

Heiser, C.B., Jr. 1965. Species crosses in Helianthus: III. Delimitation of "sections". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 52, 3: 364-370.

Heiser, C.B., Jr.; Smith, D.M.; Clevenger, S.B.; Martin, W.C., Jr. 1969. The North American sunflowers (Helianthus). Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club. 22, 3: 1-220.

Rieseberg, L.H.; Carter, R.; Zona, S. 1990. Molecular Tests of the Hypothesized Hybrid Origin of Two Diploid Helianthus Species (Asteraceae). Evolution. 44, 6: 1498-1511.

Seiler, G.J.; Cuk, L.; Rogers, C.E. 1981. New and interesting distribution records for Helianthus paradoxus (heiser) Asteraceae. Southwestern Naturalist. 26, 4: 431-432.

USFWS. 1999. Determination of Threatened Status for the Plant Helianthus paradoxus (Pecos Sunflower). Federal Register. 64, 202: 56581-56590.

USFWS. 2000. Regional News, Recovery Updates, & Listing Actions. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 25, 1-2: 1-7.

Van Auken, O.W.; Bush, J.K. 1998. Spatial relationships of Helianthus paradoxus (Compositae) and associated salt marsh plants. Southwestern Naturalist. 43, 3: 313-320.


Miller, D.J.; Powell, A.M.; Seiler, G.J. 1982. Status report on Helianthus paradoxus. Albuquerque, NM: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Poole, J.M. 1992. Puzzle sunflower (Helianthus paradoxus): a status report update. Albuquerque, NM: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Sivinski, R. 1992. Endangered plant study performance report. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.60.

Sivinski, R. 1995. Annual report of botanical work accomplished by New Mexico Forestry and Natural Resources Department. Albuquerque, NM: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Section 6, segment 10.

Van Auken, O.W.; Bush, J.K. 1993. Final report - 1992. The puzzle sunflower: management requirements of a low density species with limited range. The Nature Conservancy of Texas.

Van Auken, O.W.; Bush, J.K. 1994. Final report - Factors affecting the growth and distribution of Helianthus paradoxus - the Puzzle Sunflower. The Nature Conservancy of Texas.

Van Auken, O.W.; Bush, J.K. 1995. Performance Report: The management of puzzle sunflower (Helianthus paradoxus). Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Section 6.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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