Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Encelia virginensis, Virgin River Brittlebush

Virgin River Brittlebush is a native perennial that closely resembles both Brittlebush and Button Brittlebush. Encelia virginensis Virgin River Brittlebush has yellow flowers, both ray and disk florets. Note here that the phyllaries subtending the flower are narrowly ovate to deltate. Encelia virginensis Virgin River Brittlebush has solitary flowers on the top of long slender stems, a major difference from the flowers on Brittlebush which are branched (similar to a panicle or cyme). Encelia virginensis Virgin River Brittlebush is a shrub or subshrub with slender branches form the base; the flowers bloom in Arizona from January through September and from March to April or June and again in December in California. Encelia virginensis Virgin River Brittlebush grows in elevations up to 4,000 feet and prefers desert flats, rocky slopes, mesas and roadsides. Encelia virginensis

Scientific Name: Encelia virginensis
Common Name: Virgin River Brittlebush

Also Called:

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Encelia frutescens var. virginensis, Encelia virginensis var. virginensis)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: 1½ to 4 feet (50-122 cm) tall or more; (5 feet (150 cm))

Growth Form: Shrub or subshrub; plants sprawling; multiple slender branches, bark becoming fissured with age; new stems have spreading hairs which become smooth (glabrous) in time.

Leaves: Green, gray-green; scattered along slender stem; leaf surfaces sparsely strigose and canescence; leaf shape narrowly ovate to deltate.

Flower Color: Yellow; flower heads solitary; floral heads have both ray and disk florets; bracts (phyllaries) surrounding floral heads narrowly ovate; fruit is a cypsela.

Flowering Season: March or April to June; January to September in Arizona; with adequate monsoon rainfall, plants bloom again in December in California and Texas.

Elevation: 1,000 to 5,000 feet (304-1,500 m).

Habitat Preferences: Desert flats, along washes, rocky slopes, mesas and roadsides.

Recorded Range: In the United States Virgin River Brittlebush is found in AZ, CA, NM, NV, UT. Greatest poplulations of Virgin River Brittlebush are found in Arizona, California and Nevada. It is also Native to southern Baja California and northwestern Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Encelia virginensis.

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

Virgin River Brittlebush, Encelia virginensis:
Click image for full size map

U.S. Weed Information: Unknown
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Unkown
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: Encelia virginensis is found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts and is very similar in appearance to both Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa and Button Brittlebush, Encelia frutescens.

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

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Encelia virginesis in arroyo habitats, is an important food source and cover for the Desert Tortoise in periods of low moisture. Seeds of similar species of Encelia (farinosa) are eaten by birds and small mammals.

Special Value to Native bees, Butterflies and Insects
Encelia virginesis 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 virginensis (virginen'sis:) Professor Curtis Clark of the Biological Sciences Department at Cal State Polytechnic University, an authority on Encelia, states that 'virginensis' is “named after the Virgin River, that runs from southwestern Utah into Nevada, where it merges with the Colorado at Lake Mead. Encelia virginensis is found along the river from the lower elevations of Zion National Park all the way to Lake Mead.”


Date Profile Completed: 04/03/2017, updated 07/13/2020
Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California; as Encelia frutescens var. virginensis.
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).
Curtis Clark, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21; | Asteraceae; Encelia; 5. Encelia virginensis A. Nelson, Bot. Gaz. 37: 272. 1904.; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
FNA 2006, Benson and Darrow 1981; Editor; S.Buckley 2010 from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; (accessed 07/10/2020).
David J. Keil & Curtis Clark 2012, Encelia virginensis, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=2561, accessed on July 10, 2020.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Encelia virginensis', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 March 2018, 12:21 UTC, [accessed 11 July 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 07/05/2020)