It grows in a wide variety of habitats, such as the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, and the interior chaparral and woodlands, coastal sage and chaparral, and the montane chaparral and woodlands ecoregions. It is a variable plant, especially across varieties, of which there are many.
In general, Chaenactis glabriuscula is an annual herb producing one or more mainly erect stems approaching half a meter in maximum height. The branching stems are hairy and often cobwebby with fibers. The leaves are up to about 10 centimeters long, sometimes fleshy, and usually divided into many very small, curling lobes.
The inflorescence produces one to many flower heads on a very long, erect peduncle. The flower head is lined with flat, hairy or woolly glandular phyllaries. It contains many tubular flowers in shades of gold to bright yellow, the outermost flowers large and flat-faced, most with protruding anthers. The fruit is an achene which may be over a centimeter long including its layered pappus of scales.
Orcutt's yellow pincushion
One variety, Chaenactis glabriuscula var. orcuttiana — Orcutt's yellow pincushion, is a rare variety limited to the beaches and coastal dunes of Southern California and Baja, where it is threatened by development of its coastal habitat. Urban locations on the Santa Monica Bay, in the northern Ballona Wetlands near Venice and on the Bell Avenue Sand Dune Park recreation area's dune (~185 plants) in Manhattan Beach, each had var. orcuttiana populations newly discovered in Spring 2010. The variety is listed by the California Native Plant Society as endemic to California dune ecosystems and significantly declining, with confirmed populations in parts of Ventura, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
- California chaparral and woodlands
- California coastal sage and chaparral
- California montane chaparral and woodlands
- California interior chaparral and woodlands
- California Native Plant Society
- Louis Sahagun (March 19, 2010). "Discovery of rare wildflower in Ballona Wetlands could halt recreation project". Los Angeles Times.
- Kristin S. Agostoni (May 16,2010). "VIDEO: Rare plant species discovered at Sand Dune Park". Daily Breeze News. access date: 5/20/2010.