Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Ambrosia salsola, Cheesebush

Cheesebush has both male and female flowers on the same plants. The flowers are yellow or white both fading to white or a pearly white. Unlike other members of the genus, Cheesebush male and female flowers are found in the same clusters. Flowers in the photograph are primarily male flowers (white pearl buds belong to female flowers. Ambrosia salsola Cheesebush has yellow to white flowers, male and female on the same plants. The large whitish flower is a female. Note the small male flowers in stem axils directly behind the female flower. Ambrosia salsola Cheesebush or White Burrobush is so named because of the pearly white flowers which bloom in profusion in the months of March and April. There are 3 varieties of Ambrosia salsola. Cheesebush has interesting leaves, alternate along the stems with small rough hairs, threadlike or linear. Although placed in the Asteraceae family, plants in the genus Ambrosia bear little resemblance to most other members of the daisy family. Ambrosia salsola Cheesebush is a native perennial shrub with a sprawling habit and heavy branching that grows up to 5 feet or so and blooms in the spring. Cheesebush prefers sandy or gravelly desert washes below 3,500 feet where it is often a primarily species along with Singlewhorl Burrobrush, Ambrosia monogyra, which blooms in the fall. Ambrosia salsola

Scientific Name: Ambrosia salsola
Common Name: Cheesebush

Also Called: Burrobush, Burrobrush, Desert Pearl, White Burrobrush, White Burrobush, White Ragweed; (Spanish: Jécota).

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Hymenoclea salsola)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size:Up to 5 feet (150 cm) tall.

Growth Form: Shrub or subshrub; stems mostly erect; plants rounded but often sprawling habit and straggly; heavy branching throughout, branches relatively thin and/or slender; bark is straw colored (stramineous), striped with parallel, longitudinal lines, ridges or furrows (striate); branches sparsely and finely pubescent

Leaves: Green; alternate along stem; leaf blades thread-like (filiform) and some with 3 to 5 or more filiform-lobes; leaf stems or stalks 0 (sessile); upper side of leaves (adaxial) grooved and covered covered with minutely soft erect whitish hairs (puberulous).

Flower Color: Yellow or white; flowers fade to white or pearly; both male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers intermixed on spike-like flowering stalk (inflorescence); flowers profusely in season; fruit a fusiform bur with 7 or more wings.

Flowering Season: March or April to May or June.

Elevation: Up to 6,000 feet (1,800 m)

Habitat Preferences: Sandy or gravelly desert washes and benches, rocky slopes, alkaline soil.

Recorded Range: A southwestern desert plant found in the United States in AZ, CA, NV and the southwest tip of UT and in Baja California and northwest Mexico (Sonora). Found throughout much of Arizona, mostly absent in the northeast part of the state.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Ambrosia salsola (as Hymenoclea salsola).

North America species range map for Ambrosia salsola:
North American range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation

North America species range map for Ambrosia salsola: Click image for full size map
Click image for full size map

U.S. Weed Information: Unknown
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Unknown
Wetland Indicator: Unknown
Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown

Genus Information: In North America there are 25 species and 25 accepted taxa overall for Ambrosia. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 51 accepted species names and a further 81 scientific names of infraspecific rank for Ambrosia.

The genus Ambrosia was published by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 15 species of genus, California has 14 species, Nevada and New Mexico each have 8 species, Texas and Utah each have 10 species. Data includes Hymenoclea. All data approximate and subject to revision.

3 varieties of Ambrosia salsola:
Ambrosia salsola var. fasciculata, Burrobush (AZ, CA, NV, UT);
Ambrosia salsola var. pentalepis, Burrobush (AZ, CA, NV);
Ambrosia salsola var. salsola, Burrobush (AZ, CA).

Comments: Cheesebush is a spring bloomer found primarily in sandy or gravelly desert washes generally below 6,000 feet (1,800 m) where it is often a primarily species. It is closely related to Singlewhorl Burrobrush Ambrosia monogyra which blooms in the fall. Pollen from both species causes hay fever in susceptible individuals.

Cheesebush, one of the common names is derived from its foliage which, when crushed has a decidedly cheesy scent. Cheesebush hybridizes with White Bursage Ambrosia dumosa.

Also see in Southwest Desert Flora Canyon Ragweed, Ambrosia ambrosioides, Triangle-leaf Bursage, Ambrosia deltoidea, White Bursage Ambrosia dumosa Hollyleaf Bursage, Ambrosia eriocentra and Singlewhorl Burrobrush Ambrosia monogyra.

Although placed in the Asteraceae family, plants in the genus Ambrosia bear little resemblance to most other members of the daisy family.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Seeds of Ambrosia salsola may likely be eaten by birds and small mammals.

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
Ambrosia salsola flowers may be visited by small butterflies, bees and other small insects.

The genus Ambrosia (Ambro'sia:) from Greek for "food of the gods." The genus Ambrosia was published by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.

The species epithet "salsola" (Salso'la:) is from the Latin salsus for "salty."


Date Profile Completed: 6/16/2013; updated 04/30/2020
Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles as Hymenoclea salsola.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 04/22/2020) for Ambrosia, includes Hymenoclea
The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 04/22/2020).
John L. Strother, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21 | Asteraceae | Ambrosia salsola (Torrey & A. Gray) Strother & B. G. Baldwin, Madroño. 49: 143. 2002.; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
David J. Keil 2012, Ambrosia salsola, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=80422, accessed on April 30, 2020.
Wiggins 1964, Benson and Darrow 1981, Kearney and Peebles 1969; Editor; S.Buckley, 2010 from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; (accessed 04/30/2020).
Wikipedia contributors, 'Ambrosia salsola', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 November 2019, 02:28 UTC, [accessed 30 April 2020]
SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
Etymology: Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 04/22/2020)