Desert chicory is a glabrous annual plant which occurs in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts as well as the Colorado Desert sub-region, extending to the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora, and the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
It can grow to be 60 inches high but has somewhat weak, branching but numerous hollow stems and large showy white flowers striped with rose on the underside of the rays. Its scientific name is Rafinesquia neomexican and is a species of flowering plant in the Asteraceae family, commonly referred to as the Sunflower Family or Daisy Family.
Desert Chicory is one of its common names, as is plumeseed, or New Mexico plumeseed. Its flowers, milky sap, and zigzag stems, which may grow up through other shrubs for support, are features of this gray-green vegetation with sparse foliage. As an annual plant that completes its life cycle in a single season, it is found in dry climate areas, occurring most generally in sandy or gravelly soils in creosote bush scrub and Joshua Tree woodland plant communities at elevations from 500 to 4,600 feet.
The basal leaves are pinnatifid to 8 inches long and the upper are shorter, pinnatifid or entire, and auriculate clasping. Flower heads occur singly at the tip of branches. The flower heads are composed of strap-shaped ray flowers, growing longer toward the outer portion of the head, and collectively creating the appearance of a single flower as in other sunflower family plants. The outer flowers in the head extend well beyond the ½ inch to 1 inch long phyllaries (bracts enclosing the flower head before opening).
The leaves are simple, deeply lobed, dark green, and up to about 6 inches long at the base of the plant and shorter toward the top.
Its white flower heads are usually 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide, composed of rays as long as 5/8 of an inch. It blooms March through June.
Following wet winters it can form brilliant patches across the desert floor.