When rabbitbush (aka rabbitbrush) blooms, we know that summer has come to an end in Colorado, and winter is on the way. Hiking through the fall landscape, the flower glows in luminous yellow. It’s as if the bush wants to expand the sun’s glow just a bit wider and longer. When we move into winter, rabbitbush provides the only spot of color. Eventually, the blooms turn to seed and blow away.
Not only does rabbitbush give 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 rabbitbush during winter and early spring when plants are dormant. Yellow rabbitbush provides late summer and fall forage for butterflies. Browsed by large game and livestock,rabbitbush provides desirable fall forage for cattle, sheep, horses, elk and antelope. It’s also 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 color and volume to the landscape. And, if you’re in New Mexico, you’ll hear it referred to as Chamisa. Native Americans used rabbitbrush as a yellow dye, to make a medicinal tea, and for chewing gum.
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.
While doing some plein air painting, I came across this gigantic bush. It still had several of its summer blooms. Startled by the sheer size of the bush and enthralled by the sky and frozen pond, I knew this would be my next painting.
I hoped to convey the drama of Colorado’s winter sky. Will the storm blow in or move on? I also wanted to create a sense of texture and the feeling of windswept space. By creating such a large bush, I hoped to instill a feeling of the size and magnitude. How old is this bush? What has it seen? How long will it remain?
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.