White brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) is a drought-deciduous shrub, an adaptation to dry conditions. After rains the leaves emerge and flowers blossom. During dry times most of the leaves drop and the fat stems act as water reservoirs.
This member of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae) is native to the deserts of SE California, S Nevada, SW Utah and Arizona as well as Baja and Northern Mexico. It inhabits rocky and gravelly slopes, valley floors and alluvial fans below 3,000 feet. White brittlebush requires full sun and is frost sensitive.
A low, branching, dome-shaped bush, white brittlebush stems are extremely brittle. The alternate leaves are light greyish green when young and mature to a silvery white color. They are simple, entire and ovate.
White brittlebush flowers look like sunflowers. The head is composed of 8 to 20 lemon yellow ray flowers and many darker yellow disk flowers. There are several flower heads on each leafless flower stalk. The yellowish flower stalks rise above the leaves. Each of the ray flowers has 2 lengthwise grooves leading to notches on the tip of the ray.
The fruits are flattened achenes with hairs along the margins. The fruits have no pappus (bristles).
The stems of white brittlebush exude resin crystals. The early padres burned these crystals as incense. Another common name, incienso, refers to this use. Native Americans chewed the resin like gum, melted the resin to use as varnish and treated pains and toothache with warmed resin.
Cristoph Entzelt (1517 – 1583), a German historian, physician and naturalist is honored by the genus designation. (Christopher Encel is the Latinized version of his name.) In Latin the specific epithet means “mealy” and refers to the leaf surface.
These specimens were growing along California Route 178 near Salsberry Pass east of Shoshone CA.