Saturday, August 18, 2007

Distant Cousins Could Pass For Twins

Chrysactinia mexicana

Many folks mistake my Chrysactinia mexicana (Damianita Daisy) shrubs for Ericameria laricifolia (Turpentine Bush). The flowers are similar, both have similar, dark green foliage and a similar aroma, and both are native to the Southwest. However, the Damianita Daisy blooms in early spring through summer, and the Turpentine Bush blooms in fall through early winter. Both are similar in size, but the Turpentine Bush gets a little larger.

The two shrubs are in the Asterceae family, but of different genera. Although they could pass for twins, the Damianita Daisy and Turpentine Bush are no more related to each other than they are to the common sunflower, which is also a member of the Asterceae family, but in the Helianthus genus.

During the summer, the Damianita blooms in cycles about every three weeks. When in full bloom, it is completely covered with small, bright yellow daisy-like flowers. The flowers fade, and then another wave will start a few weeks later. When not in bloom, this little shrub is really somewhat ugly. It has big gaps in the foliage that show its woody stems and makes it look as if it has been stepped on or mauled in some way. The Turpentine Bush also has the same growth pattern.

I knew my Damianita Daisies left a lot to be desired in the looks department when I chose them, but looks were not important. The main attraction for me was their wonderful aroma. I planted them near my walkway so that I can brush against them when I walk by. They exude a sharp, turpentine-like smell that I really like. (So does the Turpentine Bush, but I prefer the Damianita Daisy aroma. It seems to have a cleaner scent.) I have several less-than-attractive plants in my garden, chosen specifically for their foliage aroma. Flowers aren't everything!

My husband has accused me of causing the ugly gaps in the foliage by stepping on the shrub to release the fragrance. That's untrue. However, I do, on occasion, pinch off a few of the needle-like leaves and take a whiff. It's my form of pruning.

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