Helianthus anomalus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Plantae Tracheophyta Magnoliopsida Asterales Asteraceae

Scientific Name: Helianthus anomalus S.F.Blake
Common Name(s):
English Anomalus Sunflower, Sand Sunflower, Western Sunflower
Taxonomic Source(s): USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. 2013. Germplasm Resources Information Network ‒ (GRIN) [Online Database]. Available at:
Taxonomic Notes: Helianthus anomalus belongs to the secondary Gene Pool of Sunflower H. annuus L. and Taxon Group 4 of Jerusalem Artichoke H. tuberosus L.

The species Helianthus deserticola is sometimes incorporated into broad taxonomic concepts of H. anomalus (e.g. Kartesz 1999, Utah Heritage Program), and despite indications that the two species are molecularly distinct, Cronquist (1994) states that they are not otherwise distinguishable (NatureServe 2013). 

However, the Flora of North America (Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2006) states that H. deserticola has an abundance of subsessile glands on stems, leaves, phyllaries and abaxial faces of ray laminae which distinguish the two species from one another.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable D1 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2014-01-31
Assessor(s): Rhodes, L. & Maxted, N.
Reviewer(s): Fielder, H.
This species is globally assessed as Vulnerable D1 because it was only found to occur in two localities after a survey in 2000 (Seiler 2007), a dramatic decrease from the 25 localities found in 1983 by Nabhan and Reichardt (1983), with one subpopulation containing 200 individuals and the other containing 250 (i.e. fewer than 1,000 mature individuals). As this species is thought to occur in only two localities, and such dramatic declines in subpopulations having been recorded, it is possible that these two localities are under threat and criterion D2 would then also apply. However, more information is required to confirm this.

Survey work should be undertaken for this species as an urgent priority to determine its extent of occurrence (EOO), area of occupancy (AOO) and whether or not there is continuing decline in population size as, with additional data, there is potential for this species to be classified as Endangered under criterion B (number of locations less than five and likely decline in EOO, AOO and number of subpopulations) and criterion C (number of mature individuals less than 2,500 and less than or equal to 250 mature individuals in each subpopulation).

Considering the potential for this species to be classified as Endangered with more data available, efforts to provide active conservation both in situ and ex situ are urgently required to secure this resource in the long-term. Surveys within protected areas that are thought to contain the species would also be beneficial to determine whether any parts of the species range are already receiving some level of in situ conservation. Investigation into the threats facing the two subpopulations would help to estimate whether there is any ongoing decline in population size and would also help to determine the rate of decline.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:NatureServe (2013) states that Helianthus anomalus is endemic to North America, specifically the states of Utah and northern Arizona, extending along the Colorado Plateau to the eastern Great Basin into Nevada. Contrary to other sources, New Mexico is also listed, but its presence in this state is recorded as 'Not ranked/Under Review' (NatureServe 2013).
Countries occurrence:
United States (Arizona, Nevada, Utah)
Additional data:
Number of Locations:2
Lower elevation limit (metres):1200
Upper elevation limit (metres):2000
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:In 1983 this species was known from less than 25 localities across a geographic range of 46,000 km2 in Utah and Arizona (Nabhan and Reichhardt 1983). The same authors noted that five of the seven populations visited at the time had 250 individuals or less, and one was destined for destruction by road construction. 

Since that time, a 'perplexing scarcity' of plants at all 25 previously known sites has been documented by Selier (2007) from a collecting expedition carried out in the year 2000. Only two localities, both in the northwest part of the species' range at a distance of 5 km from one another, presented achene-bearing plants (i.e. were reproducing populations); these were both small subpopulations of between 200 and 250 individuals scattered over an area of 0.2 ha (Selier 2007).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:450-999Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:Unknown
No. of subpopulations:2Continuing decline in subpopulations:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This xerophytic species is found in sand dunes and swales between 1,000 and 2,000 m a.s.l., on open, disturbed, field soils and under sand dune agriculture in the southern part of its range (NatureServe 2013). Nabhan (1989) identified populations of the anomalous sunflower on top of the mesas (flat topped hills or mountains, otherwise known as tableland) within the Hopi Indian Reserve, Arizona, although it is not known whether this population is introduced.
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The genus Helianthus attracts a large number of native bees, and so is listed in the Pollinator programme at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 2013).

This species is a secondary genetic relative of the cultivated Sunflower H. annuus L. (USDA, ARS National Genetic Resources Program 2013) and also belongs to Taxon Group four of the Jerusalem Artichoke H. tuberosus L. (Schilling and Heiser 1981)It has already been utilized for the breeding of fertility restoration genes into cultivated sunflower (Seiler 1991). 

In addition to this, H. anomalus is heavily associated with native American communities where is has high cultural value due to its traditional use by the people of the Hopi Indian Reserve. For example, Voth (1903) wrote a monograph describing how the dried petals were ground up and used both as a power for decorating the faces of maidens during ceremonies and as a charm put on the boomerangs and sticks of hunters to "cause game to walk slow". Seeds were traditionally eaten and the plant used as stock fodder (Nabhan and Reichhardt 1983).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The reasons for the scarcity of this species described by Selier (2007) are unknown, although the same author notes that it had been an extremely dry year and that there was no evidence of the species being present in the fragile sandy habitat. Selier (2007) hypothesises that because several sand dune habitats had become popular off-road vehicle recreational areas, this may have posed a serious threat to the species' already fragile existence. 

According to NatureServe (2013) more general threats to this species include the total abandonment of agricultural fields and road construction. 

Furthermore, given this species' affiliation with arable land and the partial dependence of some populations on active conservation by members of the Hopi tribe, modernization or mechanization (in particular the use of pre-emergent herbicides or frequent, deep ploughing with tractors) of Hopi agriculture could pose a plausible threat to this species (Nabhan 1989).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: In 1999, NatureServe (2013) assessed this species as vulnerable (at moderate risk of extinction) across its entire range and imperilled (at high risk of extinction) in Nevada and Arizona. This is because, despite being widespread along the Colorado plateau and Great Basin, the species is often found in low numbers at particular sites (NatureServe 2013).
It should also be noted that H. anomalus is given as a synonym of H. deserticola by the Nevada Natural Heritage Program (NNHP 2001), a species that is included on both the 'Sensitive species' list as well as being ranked as both globally and regionally imperilled (high risk of extinction due to any of the following: restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats or other factors).

Despite its rarity, Nabhan and Reichhardt (1983) identified active conservation for at least seven of the 25 known localities by farmers, priests and other members of local native Indian communities on and around the Hopi reserve; the anomalous sunflower is spared from the otherwise rigorous weeding practices as it may be the only source of a ceremonial face paint (see Use and Trade section). However, in situ surveys would be useful to confirm whether or not these populations are still present as Selier (2007) only found this species in two localities during an expedition in the year 2000.

H. anomalus
is reported as present in three protected areas within its native range (Information Center for the Environment (ICE) 2013):
  • Arches National Park in Utah (reproducing population present)
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona (population information not recorded)
  • Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona (reproducing population present)

According to Botanical Garden Conservation International (BGCI 2013) this species has living collections in three botanical gardens worldwide, although the origin and location of the collections are not detailed in this resource (garden locations are undisclosed to protect rare and valuable plant species). Furthermore, two accessions (900 seeds) are duplicated and conserved ex situ in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV Data Portal 2013), both of which originate from the National Plant Germplasm System (USA) which holds a total of six accessions for this species, four of which are of wild origin and backed up at a second site (USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program 2013).

Citation: Rhodes, L. & Maxted, N. 2016. Helianthus anomalus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T20694238A20695256. . Downloaded on 16 July 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided