With intense sulfur-yellow flowers covering its gray-green foliage, blooming Rabbitbrush demands to be noticed. In fact, the prairies of eastern Colorado are almost blanketed with it—something we never notice until it blooms. Interspersed with prickly cholla cactus and some perennial range grasses, it forms the essence of western landscapes. But it’s not just for the wide open spaces. Rabbitbrush is an excellent performer in the garden as well.
Rabbitbrush flowers last from August through October, with the seed heads (right) providing interest all winter. Branches rising from a woody base form bushes up to five feet tall and wide. When not in bloom, the softly rounded crown and muted foliage impart a subtle, natural appearance to the landscape.
Whoever gave Rabbitbrush its original scientific name, Chrysothamnus nauseosus, clearly didn’t appreciate its beauty. The name loosely translates to “Nauseatingly Yellow”! Rabbitbrush is currently known in botanic circles as Ericameria nauseosa.
Chamisa, as it is also known, survives up to 9,000 feet throughout the arid parts of the American West. It prefers alkaline, well-drained soils, but tolerates a wide range of conditions, even a blistering southern exposure. New plants should be deeply watered every few weeks during the first two years to establish a deep root system. From then on, no irrigation is needed. Bloom is on new wood, so prune back lanky plants as needed while they are dormant. Plants grow quickly and live for years. Overfeeding results in limp, lanky foliage. This is one plant that appreciates our native “soils.”
Rabbitbrush should be planted with other extremely xeric plants, as excess moisture can rot roots. Try contrasting its vivid flowers with Russian Sage, or combine it with other natives such as Giant Sage, purple asters, and grasses.