Beautiful Brittlebush

Brittlebush is not only beautiful to behold – it is beautiful for many aspects of any Sonoran and Mojave desert habitat.    Brittlebush provides food for foraging pollinators, a shady spot to start saguaro life, a sheltered spot for wildlife to rest, and a safe corner of the world to build a little lizard den under.

Brilliant Brittlebush

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)  is one of the most common and conspicuous wildflower shrubs in the Southwest Deserts; seasonally providing a glowing golden-yellow cloak for the desert.    And yes, the wood is brittle, hence the name.

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Sun shining thru and lighting up the blooms. Glorietta Canyon of the Anza Borrego Park. Image courtesy WJ Schrenk.

Brittlebush is a lovely addition to any low-water landscape.    The shrub generally reaches around three feet tall and naturally forms a symmetrical globular form. The fragrant silvery leaves are soft and fuzzy, and work well foliage in fresh floral arrangements.

The golden yellow brittlebush flowers appear in early spring and eventually cover the bush, but in an interesting array.    Flowers open first on the warm south-facing sides of the bushes.    As the weeks go by,    blooming gradually moves up and over the bush, ending with flowers only on the north-facing branches.    This allows pollinators, like the native ground dwelling solitary bees, to warm up in the south-facing flowers early in the season.    Later, as temperatures climb into the 90’s the north-facing blooms are in the shade and help keep the bees cool.

Here’s my YouTube video about brittlebush.

Botany Nerd Notes

soule-garden-successEncelia – the brittlebush species – has 21 species in the genus.  The genus is  found from Utah and Colorado and scattered across the the New World into Peru and Bolivia.    There is even one found only on the Galapagos Islands.    Encelia is named in honor of German biologist Christophorus Enzelius, 1517–1583.

Brittlebush in the Landscape

Brittlebush can take full sun, but I discovered that it does best in a location where it gets some noon-time or afternoon shade in summer. It doesn’t have to be a lot of shade either – but the ones on the east side of my ocotillos do better than those on the west.    Avoid planting brittlebush near sources of reflected light, like pools or hot south-facing walls.  They will survive but not thrive.

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Water

Low-water indeed – brittlebush survives out there in the desert!    That said, our home landscapes are often more heavily planted than the desert is – so a good soak once a month when we have had less than an inch of rain in the last month.

Soil

In general a soil that drains is preferred by this desert plant – but I have grown brittlebush in almost solid caliche – “caliche bathtubs” as they are called – in pure clay soil, and in very sandy sites.

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No water? It may look dead but it recovers very quickly!

SnowBird Plant

Brittlebush will survive if you snowbird away for the summer and the irrigation breaks.    It might look a tad dead and dried out – but one good watering generally brings them back to full glory.    The other great thing about this plant is that it does bloom in winter – ant it will even survive cold and snow.

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Glorious bloom at about this time of year on the road to to 29 Palms. Image courtesy WJ Schrenk.

Pruning

Brittlebush plants grow best with rejuvenation pruning every three years.    Just pretend you are a hungry mule deer and prune the plants down to a scant 8-10 inches tall.    Do this in the fall (October).    Flowering will be sparse the following year unless you give them some extra water to help them recover.    Please don’t do this to every brittlebush or other plant in the landscape at the same time.    Stagger the years so you leave ample food and shelter for the native butterflies.

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Sometimes seeds are included in wildflower seed mixes. This is what a baby plant looks like. Image courtesy ZAkulova.

Bring Brittlebush Inside!

Flowers of brittlebush make for long-lasting bouquets.    Add some leafy stems to offset the yellow with the beautiful silvery foliage.    Do leave some flowers on the plant, because the seeds of brittlebush are an important food source for native seed-eating birds.    Other uses of brittlebush are topics for SavortheSouthwest.net – including it’s use as an edible flower.

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image courtesy Z. Akulova

Plant this Native for a Sustainable Yard

Don’t forget to leave the seeds for the birds to munch!  Brittlebush is a wonderful addition to help attract birds, including quail and charmers like the lesser goldfinch.

Brittlebush is so easy to grow, plus it is such an iconic Southwestern plant – it deserves a spot in your home landscape.

About 100 NEW copies left!

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today   The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $20!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!

Legal Notes

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule // Gardening With Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

Disclaimer

The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.

 

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