Habitat Hero

Baby Blue Rabbitbrush Shines in Fall

Tips for growing this bird-friendly plant.

Our mission: Make a positive difference for birds, pollinators and other wildlife right at home where we all live. Share the joy from nurturing wildlife in yards and other everyday landscapes. Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a habitat hero.

Our monthly Plant Profiles from Plant Select® feature plants that thrive in the Rocky Mountain region and also provide critical needs for garden wildlife.

Rabbitbrush in a wildscape/xeriscape garden. Photo credit: David Winger

Rabbitbrush for late-summer and fall flowers

In August all across the West, bright yellow buds on native rabbitbrush signal the summer’s end and the beginning of our beautiful autumns. This late-blooming dryland shrub is found in the steppe regions throughout the Western United States and northern Mexico, thriving with very little water in soils with little organic matter. (Steppe regions are found around the globe and are characterized by grassland or shrubland without trees, apart from those near rivers and lakes.)

In the wild, rabbitbrush vary from large, green or blue-grey-stemmed shrubs to very small mounds, the most commonly found being an intermediate form with greyish/green stems and leaves, growing to four feet tall and equally as wide.

Natural pruning

During harsh winters, browsing by deer, pronghorn and other animals keep these shrubs tidy and full in their native habitats; in home and commercial landscapes, these same plants can become quite gangly and woody. Shearing or “renewal” pruning (taking some or all of the oldest stems/trunks out all the way at the base) will help “simulate” rangeland browsing and keep plants in check.

Baby Blue rabbitbrush

Another option for home and commercial landscapes is to use the naturally dwarf form Chrysothamnus nasueosus  var. nauseosus*, or Baby Blue rabbitbrush. Found in isolated colonies dotting the Colorado Front Range, seed is carefully collected from these colonies and grown at selected nurseries in the West.

Little known prior to the 2011 Plant Select® promotions, this beautiful, naturally mounding form has silvery-blue stems and foliage all summer long, then bursts into golden color in early-mid August. It requires little care, and keeps its tidy form best in low-water situations (little to no additional irrigation once established) with well-drained soils. These plants are extremely hardy, tolerating low temperatures to -30o F (USDA HardinessZone 4-9).

Sulfur butterfly sips nectar from rabbitbrush flowers. Photo credit: Joel Hayward

Pollinator plants

Not only are rabbitbrush beautiful (and sweetly fragrant, as well!)  they also serve important functions for pollinators, especially bees and butterflies.  According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, rabbitbrush are especially valuable because they attract large numbers of native bees.

Lastly, the flowers of rabbitbrush are used by the Navajo and other traditional weavers and dyers as a source for yellow dye.

Baby Blue Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus var nauseosus) Photo credit: Harriet MacMillan

At a glance:

Baby Blue Rabbitbrush

(Chrysothamnus [Ericameria] nauseosus var. nauseosus)

Height: 16 -28”

Width: 20-30”

Hardiness: USDA zones 4-9

Culture: Full to part sun in low water conditions and well-drained soils

Available: Look for Baby Blue at your local nursery or garden center. (Ask for Plant Select® plants.)

'Yellow Twig," a larger form of rabbitbrush with beautiful winter color selected by plantsman David Salman is available through High Country Gardens.

*Taxonomic note: According to many scientific resources, taxonomists have moved many of the Chrysothamnus species into the Genus Ericameria. In keeping with simplicity, Plant Select® will continue to refer to the group as Chrysothamnus until more general references have made the switch, as well.

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