California flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum) is a shrub or small tree native to California, Arizona and Baja. Its ecology is dry slopes, chaparral and open woodlands between approximately 2,000 and 7,500 feet.
The leaves, twigs, stems and flower undersides of this Mallow Family (Malvaceae) member are thickly covered in hairs. These hairs resemble flannel giving F californicum its common name.
California flannelbush has leathery, alternate evergreen leaves, although in the dry season many of the leaves may drop. The lobed leaves are green on the top and rust on the underside with smooth margins.
California flannelbush has no petals, only five petal-like, bright yellow sepals. The upper side of the sepals are shiny while the sepal undersides are often rust colored. Five stamens have contorted anthers and are partially fused to form a cap-like structure over the superior ovary. With age the flowers turn orange or a light brown color.
A couple dull brown seeds are contained in each chambers of the ovoid, densely-bristled, persistent, conical, capsular fruit.
Native Americans utilized the inner bark sap of California flannelbush as a topical remedy for mucous membrane irritations and gastrointestinal problems. The wood was used as a building material and for furniture while cordage and nets were made from the bark. Today California flannelbush is popular as an ornamental and as a result its range has been expanded beyond its native territory.
Physical contact with California flannelbush hairs can be irritating for some people resulting in contact dermatitis and ocular discomfort.
Major General John Charles Fremont (1830 – 1890), an explorer of the Far West, is honored by the genus designation. The species epithet designates California as the primary native territory of California flannelbush.
This small California flannelbush tree was photographed in May at Whiskeytown National Recreational Area (Shasta County CA).