bright gold rabbitbrush shrub

Common Rabbitbrush Shrub

The Common Rabbitbrush shrub is a beautiful gold shrub which gets its name by providing a good spot for rabbits to hide. It is recognized in most seasons by its globe shape dotting the dry landscape.

These shrubs are 2 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet across, growing best in dry, wide open spaces. In their blooming season of late summer to early fall, they are hard to miss with their bright gold blooms.

Rabbitbrush and Yucca plants
November view of Common Rabbitbrush with Great Plains Yucca in the foreground

Scientific name and Plant Family Information

The Scientific name for the Common Rabbitbrush shrub is Ericameria nauseosa (previously Chrysothanmus nauseosus). Nauseosus refers to the smell when you rub the leaves together, which is not very pleasant.

Chrysothanmus comes from the Greek for gold shrub.

It is in the plant family Asteraceae (Sunflower), which also has sages, thistles, marigolds, daisies, asters and sunflowers. 

Plants in this family have a flower head that is actually a cluster of many small flowers, which allows for more flowers to be fertilized by a single visit by a bee or butterfly.

The sunflower plant family is the second largest family of flowering plants in the world (after Orchids)! Plants in this family are found on every continent except for Antarctica, proving that they are very successful in the plant world.

Bright gold flowers on rabbitbrush
Common Rabbitbrush – can you spot the bee?

Through the Seasons

In the spring, Rabbitbrush shrubs leaf out with white to green leaves. It is in late summer and early fall, when they are a round ball of golden blooms that they really stand out.

In the winter, they can be seen by their round shapes on the landscape, with their woody stems exposed. The fluffy seed clusters remain to catch the snowfall.

snow covered tufts of dried flowers
Common Rabbitbrush after a light snowfall

Native or Non-Native?

Common Rabbitbrush is native to this area and grows in dry open spaces.   It can be found throughout much of Colorado at elevations from 5,000 to 9,000 feet.

Where to find in Willow Spring Open Space

There are Common Rabbitbrush plants dotting the dry plains grasslands portion of the Willow Spring Open Space, both above and below the Englewood Dam.

Did You Know?

The Common Rabbitbrush is also referred to as Rubber Rabbitbrush. There may be trace amounts of rubber in the leaves of these plants, but it isn’t worth it commercially to try to extract the rubber. A better use for it is that the flowers have been used to make yellow dye.

In addition to providing good cover for rabbits, these shrubs also attract bees and butterflies.

References and Further Reading

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