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SPECIES:  Encelia frutescens
Used with permission of Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of Sciences.



SPECIES: Encelia frutescens
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Esser, Lora L. 1993. Encelia frutescens. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION: ENCFRU SYNONYMS: Encelia frutescens forma virginensis Hall Encelis frutescens var. virginensis Blake NRCS PLANT CODE: ENFR COMMON NAMES: button brittlebush brittlebush bush encelia TAXONOMY: The scientific name for button brittlebush is Encelia frutescens (Gray) Gray [16]. There are no subspecies, forms, or natural hybrids. Recognized varieties are as follows [10,26]: E. frutescens var. frutescens Gray E. frutescens var. resinosa Jones LIFE FORM: Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Encelia frutescens
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Button brittlebush occurs in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of southern California, westward to eastern San Diego County [16]. Its range extends eastward through central and southern Nevada to southern Utah and Arizona [11,16,26].
Distribution of button brittlebush in the United States. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC [2018, July 6] [22].

   FRES30  Desert shrub
   FRES33  Southwestern shrubsteppe

     AZ  CA  NV  UT

    3  Southern Pacific Border
    7  Lower Basin and Range
   12  Colorado Plateau

   K039  Blackbrush
   K041  Creosotebush
   K042  Creosotebush - bursage
   K043  Paloverde - cactus shrub
   K046  Desert: vegetation largely lacking
   K058  Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe

   242  Mesquite


Button brittlebush occurs as isolated individuals or in small groups on talus
and slickrock in blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima) and shadscale
(Atriplex confertifolia) communities, and in creosotebush (Larrea
tridentata) and Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) communities [26].  In
southwestern Utah, button brittlebush is found in xeroriparian communities and
arroyo habitats [15].


SPECIES: Encelia frutescens
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: In arroyo habitats of southwestern Utah, button brittlebush is important to the desert tortoise as a source of succulent forage in periods of low moisture [15]. The seeds produced by brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), a species of the genus Encelia similar to button brittlebush, are eaten by birds and rodents [28]. PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: In arroyo habitats with a high shrub density and rough topography, button brittlebush provides important habitat and environmental cover for the desert tortoise [15]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Button brittlebush is an early colonizer of disturbed sites. Disturbances such as debris flows, borrow pit excavations, and drainage channels are colonized rapidly by button brittlebush [18,23]. The population of button brittlebush will increase in numbers with a corresponding increase in the level of disturbance. The population will decrease in numbers if longer-lived species increase in population numbers [23]. Button brittlebush is an occasional plant on disturbed sites in the Mercury Valley and Amargosa Valley of southern Nevada [27]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Encelia frutescens
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Button brittlebush is a short-lived, drought-deciduous, perennial, native shrub. It is rounded and many branched, growing from 1.5 to 5 feet (0.5-1.5 m) tall [16,26]. Stems are ascending to erect. Leaves are 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1-2 cm) long [16,17]. The seeds of button brittlebush have flat surfaces and low mass, accounting for their excellent lofting ability [14]. The lifespan of button brittlebush is unknown but is judged to be a few decades [24]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Hemicryptophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Button brittlebush reproduces sexually. The seeds are dispersed by wind and have excellent lofting ability, but will not disperse well from the surface of the ground [14]. The fruit of button brittlebush contains two hairy awns on the tip that catch wind currents [14]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Button brittlebush is found in upland areas of low hills and alluvial valleys in desert environments [25]. It is common on rocky slopes and on impoverished, residual sands and gravels [21]. Button brittlebush occurs in areas with slow internal drainage where the water table is near the surface of the soil. In the Nevada Test Site area, the soils are highly alkaline and may be salt encrusted at the surface [27]. Button brittlebush is a rare shrub in the Kelso Dunes area of the Mojave Desert [21]. It occurs in spring and seepage areas of the Mojave Desert where the soils are moist year-round or are seasonally saturated [27]. Button brittlebush inhabits naturally disturbed areas such as drainage channels and areas with substrate alterations [18]. Elevation: In the Mojave and Colorado deserts of southern California, button brittlebush occurs at elevations from 1,700 to 6,000 feet (525-1,830 m) [18,25]. On rocky slopes and mesas of Arizona, button brittlebush grows at elevations up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) [11]. In southwestern Utah, it is found at elevations of 4,000 feet (1,220 m) [15]. In southern Nevada, button brittlebush can be found at elevations of 5,000 feet (1,500 m) [27]. Climate: In the deserts of California, the seasonal and diurnal temperatures are highly variable. Mean summer maximum temperatures are from 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (37-42 deg C), and mean winter minimum temperatures are from 30 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1-5.5 deg C) [17]. The average annual precipitation in these desert environments is from 2 to 8 inches (5.1-20.3 cm) [17]. Plant associates: Common associates of button brittlebush not mentioned in Distribution and Occurrence include: wirelettuce (Stephanomeria pauciflora), shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), teddybear cholla (Opuntia bigelovii), rayless goldenhead (Acamptopappus sphaerocephalus), desertholly (Atriplex hymenelytra), desertsenna (Cassia armata), narrowleaf goldenbush (Happlopappus linearifolius), alkali goldenbush (Haplopappus acradenius), iva (Iva acerosa), desert polygala (Polygala acanthoclada), Cooper wolfberry (Lycium cooperi), desert almond (Prunus fasciculata), ephedra (Ephedra spp.), liveforever (Dudleya spp.), agave (Agave spp.), yucca (Yucca spp.), brickellia (Brickellia spp.), rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.), euphorbia (Euphorbia spp.), buckwheat (Erigonum spp.), shrubby alkali aster (Aster intricatus), thistle (Cirsium mohavense), false sunflower (Enceliopsis nudicaulis), alkaliweed (Cressa truxillensis), Montana pepperweed (Lepidium montanum), and snakeweed (Gutierrezia spp.) [2,18,21]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Succession in most desert communities requires a few centuries and in creosotebush communities it could take several thousands of years for stable communities to establish [25]. Succession in desert communities has not been well documented for this reason. Button brittlebush colonizes recently disturbed sites such as debris flows, borrow pits, and drainage channels [23,25]. It is a short-lived invader that increases its population size with a corresponding increase in the level of disturbance [23]. Button brittlebush maintains low numbers in small natural disturbances within the mature community. In the Mojave desert, a borrow pit was excavated in 1970-71 to a depth of 3.3 to 6.6 feet (1-2 m). Large-scale seedling establishment by button brittlebush occurred following the excavation. The heavily disturbed bottom of the pit was colonized by a scrub community of low bushes dominated by button brittlebush [23]. The undisturbed area around the pit was dominated by a creosotebush scrub community consisting of long-lived shrubs. On partially-disturbed sites on the sides of the borrow pit, button brittlebush was less common than in the more heavily disturbed sites. The plant density of button brittlebush per hectare on: A-an undisturbed control area; B-the heavily disturbed borrow pit bottom; and C-the partially disturbed pit sides are as follows [23]: A B C 1979 1973 1975 1979 1973 1975 1979 button brittlebush 16 2446 2800 2837 1464 1514 1500 SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Flowering occurs from February to May in California [17] and from January to September in Arizona [11]. Button brittlebush is probably drought deciduous, as are other species of Encelia [28].


SPECIES: Encelia frutescens
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Information regarding the fire ecology of button brittlebush is sparse. It is assumed that, like other desert Encelia, it depends on off-site seed rather than on-site sprouts for regeneration following fire [28]. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Encelia frutescens
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: No information was available on this topic as of 1993. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: No information was available on this topic as of 1993. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: The seeds of button brittlebush are well adapted to wind dispersal. White brittlebush will seed into burned-over areas, and it is assumed that button brittlebush will also. Areas of the desert important to the desert tortoise that have been burned could be seeded with button brittlebush for habitat improvement [28].


SPECIES: Encelia frutescens
REFERENCES: 1. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 2. Burk, Jack H. 1977. Sonoran Desert. In: Barbour, M. G.; Major, J., eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. New York: John Wiley and Sons: 869-899. [3731] 3. Cole, Kenneth. 1985. Past rates of change, species richness, and a model of vegetational inertia in the Grand Canyon, Arizona. American Naturalist. 125(2): 289-303. [17964] 4. Cole, David N.; Hall, Troy E. 1992. Trends in campsite condition: Eagle Cap Wilderness, Bob Marshall Wilderness, and Grand Canyon National Park. Res. Pap. INT-453. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 40 p. [17764] 5. Downum, Kelsey R.; Villegas, Sergio; Rodriguez, Eloy; Keil, David J. 1989. Plant photosensitizers: a survey of their occurrence in arid and semiarid plants from North America. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 15(1): 345-355. [7658] 6. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 7. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 8. Hastings, James R.; Turner, Raymond M.; Warren, Douglas K. 1972. An atlas of some plant distributions in the Sonoran Desert. Technical Reports on the Meteorology and Climatology of Arid Regions No. 21. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona, Institute of Atmospheric Physics. 255 p. [10534] 9. Holland, Robert F. 1986. Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of California. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Fish and Game. 156 p. [12756] 10. Kartesz, John T.; Kartesz, Rosemarie. 1980. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. Volume II: The biota of North America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press; in confederation with Anne H. Lindsey and C. Richie Bell, North Carolina Botanical Garden. 500 p. [6954] 11. Kearney, Thomas H.; Peebles, Robert H.; Howell, John Thomas; McClintock, Elizabeth. 1960. Arizona flora. 2d ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1085 p. [6563] 12. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 13. Lyon, L. Jack; Stickney, Peter F. 1976. Early vegetal succession following large northern Rocky Mountain wildfires. In: Proceedings, Tall Timbers fire ecology conference and Intermountain Fire Research Council fire and land management symposium; 1974 October 8-10; Missoula, MT. No. 14. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 355-373. [1496] 14. Maddox, Jay C.; Carlquist, Sherwin. 1985. Wind dispersal in Californian desert plants: experimental studies and conceptual considerations. Aliso. 11(1): 77-96. [3256] 15. McArthur, E. Durant; Sanderson, Stewart C. 1992. A comparison between xeroriparian and upland vegetation of Beaver Dam Slope, Utah, as desert tortoise habitat. In: Clary, Warren P.; McArthur, E. Durant; Bedunah, Don; Wambolt, Carl L., compilers. Proceedings--symposium on ecology and management of riparian shrub communities; 1991 May 29-31; Sun Valley, ID. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-289. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 25-31. [19091] 16. Munz, Philip A. 1973. A California flora and supplement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1905 p. [6155] 17. Munz, Philip A. 1974. A flora of southern California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1086 p. [4924] 18. Prose, D. V.; Metzger, Susan K.; Wilshire, H. G. 1987. Effects of substrate disturbance on secondary plant succession; Mojave Desert, California. Journal of Applied Ecology. 24: 305-313. [4590] 19. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 20. Shreve, Forrest. 1942. The desert vegetation of North America. Botanical Review. 8(4): 195-246. [5051] 21. Thorne, Robert F.; Prigge, Barry A.; Henrickson, James. 1981. A flora of the higher ranges and the Kelso Dunes of the eastern Mojave Desert in California. Aliso. 10(1): 71-186. [3767] 22. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2018. PLANTS Database, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (Producer). Available: [34262] 23. Vasek, Frank C.; Barbour, Michael G. 1977. Mojave desert scrub vegetation. In: Barbour, M. G.; Major, J., eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. New York: John Wiley and Sons: 835-867. [3730] 24. Vasek, Frank C. 1979. Early successional stages in Mojave Desert scrub vegetation. Israel Journal of Botany. 28: 133-148. [4579] 25. Webb, Robert H.; Steiger, John W.; Turner, Raymond M. 1987. Dynamics of Mojave Desert shrub assemblages in the Panamint Mountains, California. Ecology. 68(3): 478-490; 1987. [2473] 26. Welsh, Stanley L.; Atwood, N. Duane; Goodrich, Sherel; Higgins, Larry C., eds. 1987. A Utah flora. Great Basin Naturalist Memoir No. 9. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University. 894 p. [2944] 27. Beatley, Janice C. 1976. Vascular plants of the Nevada Test Site and central-southern Nevada: ecologic and geographic distributions. [Washington, DC]: U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration, Division of Biomedical and Environmental Research. 308 p. Available from: NTIS, Springfield, VA22161; TID-26881. [19879] 28. Conrad, C. Eugene. 1987. Common shrubs of chaparral and associated ecosystems of southern California. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-99. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 86 p. [4209] 29. Myers, Marlyce A.; Ellestrand, Norman C. 1986. Post-fire succession at an inland (Riversidian) site of coastal sage scrub: variation in community response. In: DeVries, Johannes J., ed. Proceedings of the chaparral ecosystems research conference; 1985 May 16-17; Santa Barbara, CA. Report No. 2. Davis, CA: University of California, California Water Resources Center: 129-132. [4833]

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