Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Encelia farinosa, Brittlebush

Brittlebush or White Brittlebush as it is also known as has beautiful showy yellow daisy-type flowers. The flower heads may be as large as 2 inches or more. Encelia farinosa Brittlebush blooms from February to May and again from August to September following sufficient monsoon rainfall. Encelia farinosa Brittlebush has smooth flowering stalks and narrowly lanceolate phyllaries as noted in this photo. Encelia farinosa Brittlebush is a native perennial found mostly in Arizona, California with smaller populations in Nevada and Utah. It is well represented in Baja California. Encelia farinosa Brittlebush is one of the most common yellow flowered silvery-gray bushes in lower deserts and a co-dominant species in many locations. In wet years these plants may color an entire hillside bright yellow. Encelia farinosa

Scientific Name: Encelia farinosa
Common Name: Brittlebush

Also Called: Goldenhills, Incienso, White Brittlebush (Spanish: Rama Blanca, Incienso, Hierba del Bazo, Hierba [rama] del Bazo, Hierba de Las Animas, Palo Blanco, Hierba Ceniza)

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Encelia farinosa var. farinosa, Encelia farinosa var. phenicodonta, Encelia farinosa var. radians)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: 1 to 3 feet30-100 cm 30-150 cm or more tall and as wide.

Growth Form: Shrub or subshrub; plants compact somewhat rounded, 1 or more major branches, multiple branching distally; stems brittle, exude resin or gum, new stem growth covered in dense, soft, often matted short hairs, sometimes woolly (tomentose), mature stems with smooth bark.

Leaves: Whitish or silvery-gray, tomentose, blade shape variable, lanceolate to ovate, petioles, lower leaves deciduous.

Flower Color: Yellow, showy fragrant radiate heads up to 2 inches, flower head clusters on tips of stems extend well above the plant, ray flowers 10 to 20, disk flowers yellow, brown or purplish, long stem-like inflorescence with paniculiform or cymose arrays (most of branching occurs distally, peduncles, mostly glabrous, phyllaries lanceolate.

Flowering Season: February to May and again from August to September; or this species may bloom throughout the year following adequate monsoon rainfall.
Elevation: Up to 3,000 feet

Habitat Preferences: Lower deserts, often in association with Creosote Bush, dry rocky slopes and hillsides.

Recorded Range: Brittlebush is found in the southwestern United States, mostly in Arizona and California but also in Nevada and Utah and throughout Baja California and northwest Mexico. It has been introduced in Hawaii. In Arizona it is found primarily in the western ⅔ of the state and in Graham and Greenlee Counties to the east.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Encelia farinosa.

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

North America species range map for Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa:
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 8 species of Encelia and includes a further 8 infraspecific rank for the genus. World wide, The Plant List includes 20 accepted species names and includes a further 29 infraspecific rank for the genus.

The genus Encelia was published in 1763 by Michel Adanson.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona, Nevada and Utah each have 4species of Encelia, California has 5 species, New Mexico has 2 species and Texas has 1 species. Data approximate and may be revised.

Comments: Brittlebush is one of the most common yellow flowered silvery-gray bushes in lower deserts. Brittlebush is aptly named as the branches are easily snapped off because of brittle stems. Brittlebush is known to hybridize with Geraea canescens. A little known fact about Brittlebush is the sap of the plant is fragrant.

For a comprehensive well documented review of Encelia farinosa see the USDA USFS Fire Effects Information System, or FEIS.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see similar species: Button Brittlebush, Encelia frutescens, Virgin River Brittlebush, Encelia virginensis, Hairy Desertsunflower, Geraea canescens and Parish's Goldeneye, Bahiopsis parishii.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Encelia farinosa is a known browse species for desert mule deer and desert bighorn sheep and Brittlebush seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals. In addition, Brittlebush plants are the dominant shrub in many plant communities such as the brittlebush-ironwood community in the Lower Sonoran Desert. This community in particular provides excellent habitat to a host of breeding birds including hummingbirds and to small desert mammals such as Kangaroo Rats and others in search of food, nectar or cover.

Special Value to Native bees, Butterflies and Insects
Encelia farinosa is often found in invertebrate species-rich plant communities such as the brittlebush-ironwood community in the Lower Sonoran Desert. Perhaps the flowers and plants may be visited by native bees, butterflies and/or insects in search of food, nectar or cover.

The genus Encelia (Ence'lia:) was named in honor of Christoph Entzelt (1517-1583), German physician, historian and naturalist, and early Lutheran clergyman.

The genus Encelia was published in 1763 by Michel Adanson.

The species epithet farinosa (farino'sa:) means mealy, powder; references to the pubescence of the leaves.

Ethno-Herbalist: Southern California Ethnobotany; Ethnobotany of Southern California Native Plants: Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa.

Native American Ethnobotany: Encelia farinosa has been used as a pain analgesic, food, candy, waterproofing and as a paint by southwestern American indigenous peoples.
  • Cahuilla Drug, Toothache Remedy; Decoction of blossoms, leaves and stems held in the mouth for toothaches.
  • Papago Food, Candy and Fasteners; Gum secretions chewed by children and 'Gum' used to fasten arrow points to the slit ends of arrow twigs.
  • Papago Other, Waterproofing Agent; Gumlike secretions formerly smeared on tall, slender water bottles.
  • Pima Drug, Analgesic and Candy; Poultice of plant applied for pain and Amber colored gum used for chewing gum as well as Resin used as a primitive chewing gum.
  • Pima Drug, Analgesic and Fuel; Poultice of plant applied for pain and Resinous branches used to make quick fires.
  • Pima Other, Paint; Resin melted and used as a varnish.

  • See the full species account from Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.
    Date Profile Completed: 8/1/2012; updated 07/08/2020
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database (accessed 07/05/2020.
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 07/05/2020).
    Tesky, Julie L. 1993. Encelia farinosa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online], U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2020, July 5].
    David J. Keil & Curtis Clark 2012, Encelia farinosa, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=2557, accessed on July 05, 2020.
    Curtis Clark, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21, pp 119-122 | Asteraceae | Encelia; 8. Encelia farinosa A. Gray ex Torrey in W. H. Emory, Not. Milit. Reconn. 143. 1848.; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Benson and Darrow 1981, FNA 2008, Kearney and Peebles 1969; Editors; S.Buckley 2010, A.Hazelton 2016 from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; (accessed 07/05/2020).
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet (accessed 07/05/2020). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    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 07/05/2020)