As you drive along the highways in the western part of the United States, you’ve probably seen rabbitbrush. It grows wild and quite well with sagebrush, another native plant. Rabbitbrush, however, is commonly found in garden nurseries where you can purchase this native plant for your landscaping.
As a gardener who is getting more and more interested in native plants for my landscaping, a well-adapted shrub like rabbitbrush becomes more and more attractive to me. Rabbitbrush is a great native plant that does well in the dry, arid conditions of the western states.
Rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseosus, is a very hardy shrub in Zones 4-6 and is drought tolerant. It has long green or grey-green stems that bloom in late summer or early autumn. The long stems have small one-inch sized leaves that resemble soft pine needles. The shrub is pretty inconspicuous during the summer months, but when it blooms it will suddenly catch your attention.
This native plant flowers with bright yellow blooms in late summer and it’s quite spectacular. If you line a driveway or another area of your yard with rabbitbrush, you’ll be pleasantly surprised each year with the show of little bright yellow flowers. The bright yellow flowers look great when planted with Russian sage, purple asters, or winecups. You’ll have a late season show of purples and yellows.
The picture you see above is wild rabbitbrush in bloom along a dirt roadway in western Colorado. During mid-September through October you’ll see this native plant in bloom everywhere in the western states. It prefers open spaces, and you’ll find it in the mountains as well as on the plains.
If you’re worried that a plant named rabbitbrush will attract rabbits into your yard, relax. Rabbits don’t eat rabbitbrush. Speculation is that rabbits hide under the shrub from their prey such as eagles, coyotes, and hunters. Since I live in rabbitbrush country, I can tell you that I’ve yet to see a rabbit browsing on one of these native plants. I do have rabbitbrush in my landscaping and there’s never a rabbit near it. Even deer and elk will pass this shrub by for some of the wild grasses or oak shrubs.
This native plant seems to have many common names. It’s also known as Chamisa, green rabbitbrush, yellow rabbitbrush, rubber plant, or rubber rabbitbrush. Whatever you call it, it’s very easy to grow and very little water is necessary for this native plant to survive. It requires full sun usually in open spaces. This native shrub can grow 2 ft. x 6 ft. high and wide. It needs higher elevations to grow successfully and prefers elevations between 5,000 – 9,000 ft. in the western states. It will not survive in a humid climate.
This is one native plant that is not at all fussy about its soil requirements. You’ll find it growing in clay soils, loam soils, and rocky soils. A drainage ditch, the sides of a mountain, and out on the open plains are all homesites for this native plant.
The availability of this plant is high. Most garden nurseries in the western states have rabbitbrush readily available and you can usually find it in their native plant section.
Rabbitbrush can be cut back each spring to about a foot or so and that will help keep it dense and maintain its nice globe shape.
Rabbitbrush can be invasive. During the winter months, it has a fluffy seed pod similar to that of a dandelion. If you cut the top of the plant back an inch or so after it blooms, then you’ll stop the spread of the plant.
Sources: Colorado State University Extension
Utah State University Extension