Bitterbrush in Winter

The bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) growing in our pastures (near Lookout CA – Modoc County) looks reddish in the winter and makes a lovely contrast against the snow and other dull grey and black grasses and shrubs.

Bitterbrush twigs are grey to brown in color and the bud scales are brown. Some of the emerging leaves even appear reddish. In sunlight this light brown color appears reddish and, along with the young leaves, gives the entire shrub a reddish hue, which is so pretty on these dark winter days.

I always believed that bitterbrush leaves were deciduous. Yet one day, upon closer inspection, I noticed that there were small leaves covered in ice and frost on the bitterbrush. These leaves did not appear to be mature, but rather seemed newly emerged. So I checked the literature. There is no agreement between sources. Most references note that the alternate, simple, three-toothed leaves of bitterbrush are deciduous. However bitterbrush leaves were also called, depending on the source,  “apparently evergreen”, “mostly deciduous”, “possibly evergreen” and “sometimes persistent in winter”. These photographs were taken after the Winter Solstice, so perhaps the bitterbrush in our pastures are anxious for and pushing Spring. I still do not have a definitive answer to whether bitterbrush leaves are deciduous, evergreen – or both.

More information on bitterbrush can be found in my 11-12-11 post titled “Bitterbrush”.

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