not as brittle as reputed

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brittlebush
encelia farinosa
asteraceae

  • 4' x 4'

  • PERENNIAL shrub 

  • moderate to low water (terrace to top zones)

  • FULL SUN

  • HARDY TO ABOUT 15º F

  • USED BY NECTAR-LOVING INSECTS LIKE BUTTERFLIES AND BEES, AND SEEDS EATEN BY BIRDS.

Spring in the Sonoran Desert, especially in places like the Tucson Mountains, is almost synonymous with the blooming season of brittlebush (Encelia farinosa). This species makes the entire mountains look yellow underneath the saguaros. 

Despite its namesake, brittlebush is not as brittle as reputed. At least, we can think of many other plants that are far more delicate. This species has evolved with some incredible survival techniques: when the water supply is low, and it is hot, brittlebush leaves will be so silver they almost look white. This helps the plant stay cooler by reflecting heat and losing less water through the leaves. When water is plentiful, this same plant will sport much greener leaves, so as to photosynthesize as much as possible (when leaves are greener, plants are able to process more food). 

Brittlebush does best in full sun and moderate to low water. Allow about 4 feet for spreading, and mix with your most drought-tolerant natives like creosote bush, agaves, and cacti. Plants require good drainage. 

Much wildlife is associated with brittlebush: it is especially an important nectar plant for various native bees, butterflies, and beetles. The seeds are eaten by some birds. 

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Katherine Gierlach