When rabbitbrush (aka rabbitbush) blooms, we know that summer has come to and end in Colorado and winter is on the way. Hiking through the fall landscape, the flower glows in luminous yellow. Then, as we move into winter, rabbitbrush is often the only color to be found against the snow, before the blooms turn to seed and eventually blow away or get eaten.
Not only does rabbitbrush provide relief of color against the monotonous grass and dull yellow found in winter, it provides cover and nesting habitat for sage-grouse, small birds and rodents. Black-tailed jackrabbits consume large quantities of yellow rabbitbrush during winter and early spring when plants are dormant. Yellow rabbitbrush provides late summer and fall forage for butterflies. Browsed by large game and livestock, it is considered desirable fall forage for cattle, sheep, horses, elk and antelope, and spring forage for deer.
While Colorado is known for its yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), you’ll find it across the American west as Crinitaria viscidiflora, Ericameria viscidiflora, ericameria nauseosa or as Douglas, green, low, sticky-leaf, rubber, gray, and viscid rabbitbrush. Or rabbit bush. As more folks turn to xeriscaping, the plant provides welcome and volume to the landscape.
And, if you’re in New Mexico, you’ll hear it referred to as Chamisa. Native Americans reportedly used rabbitbrush as a yellow dye, to make a medicinal tea, and for chewing gum.
While doing some plein air painting, I came across this gigantic bush. It still had several of its summer blooms. Related to the sunflower, they are incredibly resilient, requiring little water, thriving in the full sun at elevations of 5,000 to 9,000 feet, and growing from 2 to 6 feet in alkaline, clay soil.
In other news…
I’m excited to share that I’m now represented by the Art Center of Estes Park! You will soon find my pastel and egg tempera paintings available for purchase at the Art Center along with prints. The next time you are in Estes Park, be sure to stop by and check it out. More details here.