If you search the USDA site for information about the ‘American basket-flower,’ you’ll not find the attractive plant shown above, since its common name is listed there as ‘American Star Thistle.” Searching for it with a scientific name also can be problematic, since the USDA still applies Centaurea americana rather than the more current Plectocephalus americanus.
Taxonomy aside, both common names reflect aspects of this wildflower. While a member of the sunflower family, it lacks the familiar combination of ray and disc florets that make the family so recognizable. Instead, its bloom is composed solely of pink, lavender, and white disc flowers held in the basket-like phyllaries (modified leaves) that led to the plant being called a ‘Basket-flower.’
On the other hand, ‘Star-thistle’ also makes sense, since basket-flowers so closely resemble various thistles. Traveling an Atascosa County road on May 9, I would have missed the basket-flowers had I not slowed for a closer look. What’s easily misinterpreted at 60 mph often suggests its true nature at 30 mph — and reveals its full beauty at a full stop.