Meet the Ericameria nauseosa (better known as “rubber rabbitbrush” or “chamisa”) that lives in the dry garden with a couple other natives, the desert agave (Agave deserti) and the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia).
All three have their own appeal, but at this time of year (early fall), the rabbitbrush owns the show.
The rubber rabbitbrush blooms from August to October
Rubber Rabbitbrush Growth Habit
Most of the year the plant is a perennial shrub about 4 feet tall with floppy white-stems and hair-like gray-green leaves. It makes a nice visual contrast to the spiky blue-green and deep green leaves of the agave and yucca behind it.
Starting in late August, just as all the other plants are finished for the season, the rabbitbrush flowers and transforms into a big, bright yellow yeti of a plant. The flowering end of the branch is hundreds of small trumpet-shaped flowers, the color of which is so bright it looks like the plant is glowing at dusk.
Rubber rabbitbrush front view
Rubber rabbitbrush side view
To me the flowers just smell a little herbal, but some say they stink, which is why it’s named “nauseosa.” The bees and butterflies obviously disagree with that assessment because they swarm this plant from dawn to dusk collecting the nectar.
The rabbitbrush will continue to bloom until late October or early November when the flowers shrivel and die off, returning the bush to its shaggy-haired, gray-green appearance.
Uses in the Garden
Rubber rabbitbrush is a good mid-height foundation plant for dry or drought resistant gardens. It generally ranges from two to five feet high. Unless pruned, it will spread twice that far and stems touching the soil can grow roots.
The silvery-green color makes it a nice background compliment to the darker greens of other native shrubs like the black sage, as well as summer flowers. The feathery foliage is a soft contrast to spikey, desert natives like the yuccas, agaves, and cactus.
Because it flowers when other dry garden species are finished, it creates an attractive focal point when not much else is going on.
Rubber rabbitbrush is also a good plant for restoring degraded soil. It will thrive in rocky, dry, high alkalinity, and nutrient poor dirt. The plant’s deep roots also help to stabilize soil and bring organic matter and nutrients back to the surface via leaf litter, which improves conditions for a wider variety of plants.
Care and Maintenance
As a hearty perennial plant that lives in both the Canadian alpine and the southwest deserts, rubber rabbitbrush requires very little care or water. It will live 20 years or more.
Rubber rabbitbrush is native to the North American west from Canada to Mexico (plus New York)
No maintenance is required, but the plant reproduces both by seed and by buds from the base of the plant. If you want to prevent it from spreading, cut back the flower heads after bloom in autumn to prevent seeds from scattering. Autumn is also a good time to trim the plant to help it keep a round, upright form.
Ericameria nauseosa plant details
||Rubber rabbitbrush, Chamisa
||Western North America, New York
||3-5 ft. tall
||Any (not picky)
||Any (not picky)
||Very low. Once established, no water
||Late summer / early fall
||Zones 3-10 (USDA)
↓ Have a thought about this? Leave a comment below ↓