Native Mojave Desert Plants Profile Project: Encelia farinosa

If you’re inclined to notice these sort of these things and possibly even if you’re not, the earliest of the spring wildflowers in Vegas have probably started to catch your eye over the past week or two. Pretty much without fail, the first flowers you’re likely to see are the bright yellow daisy blooms of Encelia farinosa, one of the most common native plants in our valley and a reliable early indicator that spring’s just around the corner.


Encelia farinosa is commonly known as brittlebush, but as I believe I’ve mentioned before, I refuse to call a pretty plant an ugly name if I have a choice in the matter and here I do. I don’t care that brittlebush is accurate in that it is a bush that is brittle. For reasons I can’t explain, brittlebush sounds like a plant that’s bitter and wants to hurt me. Encelia farinosa though, that rolls of the tongue and brings to mind an Italian actress with a flower in her hair. I’ll stick with Encelia, thank you very much.



Encelia farinosa is also commonly known as ‘incensio’ due to its fragrant sap that’s sometimes used as a substitute for incense in Mexico. This is a common name that I can get behind but it’s not used that often so it makes more sense to me to just go with the botanical name in order to avoid any unnecessary confusion. Which I guess means we’ve landed on everybody just using Encelia farinosa from here on out. Good. I for one feel much better.  Moving on.


Tecoma bells of fire
Tecoma hybrid ‘Bells of Fire’

This is a plant that I wouldn’t hesitate to put in a drought-tolerant garden where it can serve as a burst of bright color in the early spring. It’s silvery leaves also provide a vivid contrast to the flowers and any neighboring green plants.  Encelia does go through a period of mild hideousness during the summer months but I do too so I just cut the lady some slack and plant her in a spot where she’s visible in all her glory during the winter and spring.  If she’s obscured by a plant that emerges in the late spring, like Bells of Fire or Lydia bells, you’ll just have a steady supply of color for months on end.


Or you could put a big, sexy Agave a few feet out in front of your Encelia. They’ll look great together when the Encelia’s in bloom and then the Agave will hold the focus during the months it’s not looking its best.


Agave ovatifolia






brittlebush, incensio
Encelia farinosa

Once Encelia gets established it requires no irrigation at all and will reseed readily, so keep an eye open for seedlings to plant elsewhere or give to friends. I should say too that with a little extra water, the summer ugly situation can be avoided to some degree. It still won’t look as good as it does in the late winter and spring, but better than it would without it. That being said, personally I’m all for allowing a plant to go through its normal cycles and just learning to deal with a little bit of ugly in the garden from time to time. I’m pretty sure it builds character.

The biggest Encelia I’ve ever seen was about 4.5′ tall and 4′ wide, which means you’ll need to give this plant room to kind of spralw. It wants full sun, but can tolerate up to a half day of shade. By the way, if the flowers are dead-headed once they’re spent, you can usually push another round of blooms or two depending on the spring weather. This is a great candidate for a bee garden or to draw in birds too, as smaller native species like to eat its little black seeds.

All in all, this is a great addition to a native desert garden or just a pleasure to see along the side of the road for the next few weeks so Encelia farinosa will get no sass from me.  Go forth and plant this plant, fellow Martians!


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