Most of the year, Rabbitbrush (sometimes called Rubber Rabbitbrush for its latex-like sap) is not impressive, but it does have its moment in the sun. Late in the season, when it seems color is gone for good, Rabbitbrush goes into "glory" mode. This photo was taken October 5th, when the entire neighborhood was still lit up by its bloom, as it has been since early September.
The scientific name of this plant is Chrysothamnus nauseosus or Ericameria nauseosa, but its two subspecies generate a variety or three for every western state in which it occurs; at least 22 altogether. It seeds easily and is among the first to come up when opportunity—a bare patch of ground— arises. It is a composite, a member of the Asteraceae family, and produces wind-borne seeds that help account for its broad distribution across the semi-arid west.
Kingdom Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Family Asteraceae – Aster family
Genus Ericameria Nutt. – goldenbush
Species Ericameria nauseosa (Pall. ex Pursh) G.L. Nesom &
Baird – rubber rabbitbrush
One of the first things I remember learning about Rabbitbrush is its wealth of associations, mostly with insects. I was working in mined land reclamation, and it was said that if you planted Rabbitbrush on recovering land, the plants would attract some 60 different kinds of insects to begin the process of recolonizing. Much of that attraction lies in these flowers, which are insect pollinated. Last year this plant was covered with bees and Painted Lady butterflies. This year, the butterflies came through in limited numbers, but the bees still did their work.
Six weeks later now and even this last touch of color has faded, turned into plumed seeds, leaving behind the somewhat drab landscape that will be with us, when not relieved by snow, until spring.