Friday, November 16, 2007

Need Cheap Incense? Try Brittlebush

Encelia farinosa

Brittlebush, (Encelia farinosa) also called Incienso, is a common shrub in Arizona. It is often used on the sides of roadways to minimize erosion, and by developers who must revegetate desert areas disturbed by construction. Although it is short-lived, it reseeds easily, and doesn’t need supplemental water once established.

The silvery gray leaves have hundreds of little hairs on them, which act as protection from heat and cold. This shrub looks best in the fall, and although it is considered deciduous, it normally doesn’t lose its leaves. From March to June, yellow daisy-like flowers will grow on long, bare stems above the plant. The stems are so thin the flowers look as if they are floating above the bush.

Brittlebush is an appropriate name for this shrub. The woody stems are extremely brittle, almost as if they are dead wood. If shaping is necessary, it should be done in late fall. After the flowers are spent, the remaining long stems should be trimmed back to keep it looking good.

Brittlebush stems were used as incense in early missions, and Native Americans used the stems to make gum, glue, and topical medicine for skin lesions. The stems were also ground up and used as tooth powder, or made into a poultice to relieve pain. I’ve tried the stems as incense, just to see what it smells like. To me, the scent is like a very mild sage. No sweetness to it at all. I'll continue to buy my toothpaste and gum at Walgreens, thank you.

Like some other desert shrubs, the Brittlebush emits a substance that inhibits other plants from growing near it. In the competition for scarce water, anything goes in the plant world.


Colin & Carol said...

Sounds like a tough plant!

kate said...

Brittlebush is pretty - I like the foliage. It would be interesting seeing it in the spring when it is in bloom.

I didn't know that some desert shrubs could emit a substance to keep other plants away. Now that's a sign of intelligence!

MrBrownThumb said...

That's a pretty cool plant. I just read a really interesting article on sago palms that (like with this plant) makes me respect it much more.

btw my M plumosa is blooming but there isn't enough sun to get the blooms to open up completely. Send me some of your nicer weather.

Tim said...

The Brittlebrush sounds like a wonderful plant. Not only does it anchor soil, it can also be used as a poultice! Have you tried brewing it into a tea?

Gardening in the desert must be an interesting adventure. My wife Sara and I do our gardening in the rainforest atmosphere of Gabriola Island, off the coast of British Columbia. It, too, is an adventure. This summer we had so much rain that our tomatoes didn’t do so well, I’m afraid.

The roses also suffered, with some brown spots from the rain. Some of them contracted the dreaded black spot, which is almost impossible to get rid of. We did use a product called Scorpion Juice as a foliar spray, which minimized the infestation.

Please visit our blog to read all about our failures and successes this summer. If you visit, please leave a comment.

We enjoy your blog. Hope you’ll enjoy ours.

Tim, Sara, and the kids

mr_subjunctive said...

Walnut trees do it too. The general term for this kind of thing is allelopathy.