Sprucebush (Peucephyllum schottii) is an evergreen with aromatic, needle-like leaves, however, it is not a conifer. Rather, this perennial native is a much-branched shrub belonging to the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae). It can also grow as a small tree with a single trunk. Many wildflower books also include sprucebush.
Sprucebush grows in washes and cracks in canyon walls and can be found in the deserts of Southeast California, Southwestern Utah, Southern Nevada and Western Arizona as well as in Baja and Sonora Mexico. The foliage easily suffers frost damage therefore the plant is restricted to the warmer parts of the desert. These sprucebush plants were growing in Fall Canyon at Death Valley National Park CA.
The vivid green sprucebush leaves are nearly round in cross section and are resinous. Alternate, the leaves crowd near the ends of the branches. The needle-like shape reduces the leaf surface to a minimum to aid in water retention and heat reduction.
Solitary flower heads are found at the tips of branches. The yellow flower heads are composed solely of discoid flowers. Although the plant was not in bloom when Leonard and I saw it in March, its uniqueness leaves no doubt as to its identity.
Sprucebush fruits are oblong, dark brown achenes with a tawny pappus containing numerous, unequal bristles. The achene has eight to ten light nerves and is densely hairy.
Peucephyllum is a monotypic genus containing only one species. Derived from Greek, the genus designation means fir (peuke) leaf (phyllon). Arthur Carl Victor Schott (1814 – 1875), a German-American botanist, artist, topographical engineer and geologist is honored by the specific epithet. Schott participated in the Mexican Boundary Survey (1848 – 1855). Desert fir and pygmy cedar are two other common names for P schottii.