Encelia farinosa

Provides a spectacular display of yellow flowers against gray foliage in late winter and early spring; peaking in early March. There are two recognized naturally occurring species:

  • Encelia farinosa var. farinosa (yellow disc florets)
  • Encelia farinosa var. phenicodonta (purple-brown disc florets)

Branches are brittle and woody with a fragrant resin. The hairs that give the leaves a silvery appearance protect the plant from heat and cold and also help reduce water loss. They grow in areas with some protection from the cold, like rocky hillsides, dry slopes and washes.

Flowers: J F M A M J J A S O N D
Status: Native
Origin: Disturbed sites and sloping terrain of southwestern United States (California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada) and northern Mexico (Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Hidalgo)
Family: Asteraceae
Size: 5′ x 5′
Sun: Full and reflected
Watering: Supplemental for best appearance
Growth Rate: Fast
Soil: Tolerates a wide variety of soils
Temperature: Foliage damage below 28 degrees F
Pruning: Severely prune in late May to prevent shaggy form
Disease and Pests: Root rot in poorly drained soils, aphids and leafhoppers
Uses: The nectar and seeds are consumed by local wildlife and the shrub provides shelter for animals. Host for the Painted Lady  and Bay Checkerspot butterfly, a threatened species.
Notes: May become summer deciduous without supplemental water. Reseeds readily in the garden.

Brittlebush has a history of uses by indigenous and pioneer peoples, including:

  • Glue – Tohono O’odham and Seri collected yellowish to brown resin from the base of the plant that was heated and used as a glue for points, arrows and harpoons
  • Sealer – resin was collected from the upper stems because it is more gummy and generally a clear yellow and used to seal pottery vessels
  • Incense – early Spanish friars learned that the resin made a highly fragrant incense, akin to frankincense in odor
  • Gum – Tohono O’odham children used upper stem resin as a passable chewing gum
  • Toothbrush – cowboys used brittlebush stem as a fine toothbrush
  • Medicinal – the bark was removed, heated in ash and then placed in the mouth to “harden” a loose tooth. 
  • The Cahuilla used brittlebush to treat toothaches and used it as a chest pain reliever by heating the gum and applying it to the chest
  • Waterproofing of containers
  • Varnish – tissues were melted and used as a varnish
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