[Members of the Sunflower Family with Button-like Flower Heads in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon and Washington]

Pathfinder, Trailplant

Adenocaulon bicolor

Pathfinder, Trailplant: Adenocaulon bicolor

Pathfinder as photographed along the Angel's Rest Trail, western Columbia River Gorge............June 24, 1990.

Inflorescence of Pathfinder, Trailplant: Adenocaulon bicolor The photo at right shows a fuzzy view of the inflorescence of pathfinder as seen at the southeastern corner of Mt. Adams.......July 10, 2005.

Pathfinder is a perennial herb with fibrous roots with a single stem arising from 60-100 cm high. The leaves are simple and largely basal. Individual leaves are broadly triangular to heart-shaped with bright green upper surfaces and white-woolly lower surfaces. They measure from 10-30 cm long and 3-15 cm wide. The margins are smooth to coarsely toothed or shallowly lobed. The stem leaves are alternate, with the uppermost leaves scalelike in appearance.

Up to a dozen flower heads are grouped in an open, racemiform inflorescence at the apex of the stem. Individual flower heads are borne at the ends of long, ascending stalks originating from the main stem. The involucral bracts are up to 2 mm long with the bracts green and hairless. The white flowers are only disk flowers, with only the outer 3-7 flowers fertile. The fruits are club-shaped achenes measuring from 5-8 mm long with stalked glands on the upper portion of the achene.

Pathfinder probably derives its name due to the contrasting coloration of its upper and lower leaf surfaces. As one walks along, the long stalked blades may be flipped so that the white lower surface points in the direction one walked towards.


Pathfinder may be found in moist, shady forests from low to moderate elevations.


Pathfinder may be found from southern British Columbia south through Washington and Oregon to California and east to northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. It may also be found in northern Michigan and northern Minnesota.

In the Columbia River Gorge it may be found between the elevations of 100'-4000' between Beacon Rock and Burdoin Mt.

Upper leaf surface of Pathfinder, Trailplant: Adenocaulon bicolor -- Lower leaf surface of Pathfinder, Trailplant: Adenocaulon bicolor

The photo above shows the glabrous upper surface and closely white-woolly lower surface of the basal leaf blades of pathfinder as seen at the southeastern corner of Mt. Adams........July 10, 2005. The whitish underside of the leaves give this species its name. If bent so the apex points in the direction of travel, with the white undersurface facing upwards, the leaves of this species can indicate direction of travel if lost.
Fruit of Pathfinder, Trailplant: Adenocaulon bicolor
The fruit of the pathfinder plant look somewhat reminiscent of a propellor as seen above. Photographed along the Elowah Falls Trail in the western Columbia River Gorge.......July 14, 2006.

Paul Slichter