Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary
Plants/Desert Chicory


One way scientists have of honoring people is to name a newly discovered species after them. Sometimes it's the person who drew the attention of the biologist to the new species; sometimes it's another scientist deserving of recognition; and sometimes, it may be a belated recognition of the accomplishments of a person from the past.

Such is the generic name for one of our often overlooked Chihuahuan Desert plants, Desert Chicory. This member of the sunflower family blooms in our northern desert in early spring, among the Mexican Poppies and Red-stemmed Stork's Bill. It is named after Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, who lived between 1783 and 1840. He has been described as a genius, but eccentric nearly to the point of insanity. As so often is the case, he received little honor during his lifetime, being recognized only posthumously for the work he did in botany and zoology. In 1841, though, Thomas Nuttall, another biologist who has been immortalized by a number of organisms named after him, proposed the name Rafinesquia for the genus, and so now our local beauty is Rafinesquia neomexicana.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Rafinesquia neomexicana in bloom

Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana), El Paso Museum of Archaeology. Photograph by A.H. Harris.



Web Resources

Biology Daily