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What is a Rabbitbrush?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Rabbitbrush, or Chrysothamnus nauseosus, is among the types of plants native to the southwestern deserts of North America. Rabbitbrush is a deciduous shrub that produces yellow or yellowish-green flowers. Though considered to be of little agricultural value, this type of sagebrush can be an important source of grazing for livestock and wildlife. Native Americans once used the plant medicinally. Many gardeners now grow it ornamentally as a native garden plant.

A native of the cold desert regions of the North American continent, rabbitbrush typically reaches heights of 1 to 7.5 feet (0.3 to 2.3 m). It's a perennial shrub with erect stems and a rounded crown. Flowers are yellow or yellowish-green and typically 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) in diameter. Twigs are yellowish-green in color and rubbery, while the trunk is grayish-brown in color. The bark of the rabbitbrush is fibrous and easily shredded.

Rabbitbrush typically prefers an arid climate. It can be found growing natively across the North American southwest, in dry, open grasslands or open woodlands as far north as western Canada and as far south as northern Mexico. These plants are usually able to thrive in a variety of soil types. Soil may be acidic or alklaine, and may be dry, sandy, gravelly, or heavy in clay. The plant needs little watering and is considered drought resistant.

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Rabbitbrush typically flowers in the summer. It may begin flowering as early as June in some areas, though it usually flowers later, in July or August. Blooms may persist into September or October. The blooms are aromatic and generally emit the most scent following a rainfall. These shrubs are often attractive to insects such as butterflies and bees.

These shrubs are perennial, meaning they become dormant in the winter. Many who cultivate rabbitbrush as a garden plant choose to trim the dead stalks when the plants die with the first frost. Seedheads, however, are hardy and may persist into the winter months.

Native American tribes are believed to have once used the blooms of the rabbitbrush to make yellow dye. They may have sometimes used the wood and bark medicinally, to treat chest pains and coughs. They are believed to have produced chewing gum from the rubbery sap.

Today, the rabbitbrush does not have much agricultural use. It remains a limited source of plant rubber for commercial rubber production. Livestock may forage on this shrub, as do wildlife. Rabbitbrush can be an important grazing source for livestock and wildlife in areas where grazing foliage is depleted, or during the winter, when other grazing plants are scarce.

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