Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the species may be found.
Fendlera rupicola range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Cliff Fendlerbush (Fendlera rupicola)
The petals of cliff fendlerbush are distinctive with broad tips and very narrow bases. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Cliff Fendlerbush (Fendlera rupicola)
The flower buds and newly opened flowers of cliff fendlerbush are often pinkish, but usually fade to pure white with age. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Cliff Fendlerbush (Fendlera rupicola)
This cliff fendlerbush is growing on a rocky ridge in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness of the Cibola National Forest east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Cliff Fendlerbush (Fendlera rupicola)

By Charlie McDonald

Cliff fendlerbush (Fendlera rupicola) grows on rocky ledges and steep canyon slopes in the lower foothills of southwestern mountains at elevations of 3,000-7,000 feet. It thrives on very dry, well-drained, poor soils that may be rocky and/or alkaline. A beautiful delicate shrub, it grows 3to 10 feet tall and has a distinctive columnar shape with long vertical dark stems. In spring, the branch tips are covered with a profusion of fragrant white flowers tinged with pink. From a distance, it can give the effect of hillsides dusted with snow.

Cliff fendlerbush is in the hydrangea family (Hydrangeaceae). This is a group of 17 genera with about 170 species of shrubs and trees that are widespread in Asia, North America, and southeastern Europe. It is closely related to mock orange (Philadelpus) and is sometimes called false mock orange. Older books place cliff fendlerbush in the saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae).

The name Fendlera honors Augustus Fendler (1813-1883) who was a respected 19th century plant collector. In 1846, he was the first academically trained botanist to collect plants in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. He sent his specimens to two leading botanists of the day, George Engelmann at Missouri Botanical Garden and Asa Gray at Harvard University, who named about 40 new species in his honor. As a result, books on southwestern botany have many plants whose names start with “Fendler’s”. Fendler’s sandwort, Fendler’s bedstraw, Fendler’s bladderpod, Fendler’s rock rose, Fendler’s water leaf, Fendler’s ragwort, and Fendler’s cowbane are just a few.

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