Wednesday, November 19, 2008

R is for Rabbitbrush

Thanks to ABC Wednesday being on "R" this week, this ubiquitous local shrub will be our first Plant of the Week. It's the yellow one in this photo, with a white aster for company.

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
     Subclass Asteridae
      Order Asterales
       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.


Brian said...
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Brian said...

Lovely read and it is the first time I have heard of this plant, so thank you.

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lv2scpbk said...

Nice picks and great photos.

Watcher said...

I'm a fan of Rabbitbrush as well, and it's all over the place here in the Wasatch foothills, out across the West Desert, and pretty much all over the state. But I'm a little embarrassed to admit that much of the year I have trouble telling it from Snakeweed. Do you have any easy "when-not-in-bloom" tips to help distinguish between the two? Thx!

Rinkly Rimes said...

It's interesting to compare the two stages of decay.

SLW said...

Thanks for visiting, everyone! Watcher, I'm not sure what to suggest, as I usually go by stature around here--snakeweed is an ankle-biter; this one much taller. But you may have some of the short species over there, like C. viscidiflorus, which is very easily confused. The book says "resinous" leaves and stems on snakeweed, if that helps, and it has ray florets when blooming. But it does indeed look like a "mini-me" rabbitbrush!

ChrissyM said...

Lovely post!

Anonymous said...

I love this plant because of the fantastic variety of cerambycid beetles (genus Crossidius) - large beetles with long antennae and vividely colored black and yellow, orange, or red - that visit the flowers. Like the plant they feed on, the dozen or so species show a dizzying diversity of forms (about 3 dozen subspecies are formally recognized) across the western U.S.