Goldenbushes (Ericameria) of the San Gabriel Mountains
Goldenbushes are evergreen shrubs, 1-50 dm (4" - 16') tall, found in sunny, open areas on dry slopes, rocky cliffs and disturbed places such as roadcuts. They get their common name from their small yellow daisy/aster-like flowers that bloom profusely in the late summer/early fall or early spring, seasons when most other shrubby plants are out of bloom. In some species, the flowers are followed by a display of beautiful seeds.
The trick to identifying goldenbush as a genus is to inspect the leaf. When you touch the leaf, it feels rough, like sandpaper, and sticky. This leaf condition is generally called glandular-punctate and resinous. This means that if you look very closely, or use even the slightest magnification, such as binoculars turned upside-down, or if you hold the leaf up to the light, you can see holes, or "punctures". These are transparent resin glands located in depressions in the leaf. They are especially obvious on the large leaves of Parish's goldenbush. If you crush the leaf, you release the wonderful balsamic, piney-clean, fragrance that remains on your fingers for a long time.
When in bloom or in seed, they can be quite spectacular:
- A single rock goldenbush growing out of a cleft in granitic rock can be entirely covered with yellow flowers come late August with no green showing, appearing like molten gold draping over a cliff!
- A single Parish's goldenbush in seed can be picked out amongst a green background of plants from quite a distance because of its huge, fluffy seed heads in fall.
- Narrowleaf goldenbush in spring covers the north-facing desert slope with masses and masses of sunny yellow flowers for miles and miles from Kentucky Springs Canyon on Angeles Forest Highway to Mt. Emma Road to Fort Tejon Road to Valyermo Road to Big Pines Highway. It is breath-taking when interspersed with the gorgeous, purple-flowered, desert sage (Salvia dorrii).
- Even a solitary Palmer's goldenbush in seed in December is outstanding.
Six species of goldenbush have been recorded in the San Gabriel Mountains including the coastal foothills and the desert slopes to the north.
SGM Goldenbushes (Ericameria) Location Species of goldenbush Desert side Cooper's (cooperi)
Mountains Parish's (parishii var. parishii), south slope only
rock (cuneata var. cuneata)
Coastal / foothill side pine (pinifolia)
Palmer's (palmeri var. pachylepis)
You can usually narrow your choices down to two species by using this expanded table which gives elevation range, geographic range, habitat and bloom time:
SGM Goldenbush (Ericameria) by Location and Bloom Time Species Name Elevation range
Location Habitat Bloom time Scientific Common Geographic Range Plant Community cooperi Cooper's 2000-6000 Antelope Valley Joshua tree woodland dry mesas March - June cuneata var. cuneata rock, wedgeleaf 4000-7500 San Gabriel Mountains piņon-juniper woodland, yellow pine forest cliffs and clefts in granitic outcroppings September - November linearifolia narrowleaf, interior, linear-leaved < 6500 Antelope Valley piņon-juniper woodland dry slopes March - May palmeri var. pachylepis Palmer's < 2500 coastal side coastal sage scrub, disturbed chaparral dry plains August - December parishii var. parishii Parish's 1500-7000 south slopes of San Gabriel Mountains chaparral, open forests, especially after fires dry slopes July - October pinifolia pine < 5500 interior, away from coast coastal sage scrub, chaparral, southern oak woodland dry fans and banks April - July, September - January
Here are two simple tables, one by size of the entire plant and one by size of the leaf with other characteristics such as shape and arrangement added when needed.
Goldenbush species hybridize with each other and with rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus). [The main difference between goldenbush (Ericameria) and rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus) is how the phyllaries or bracts beneath the flower head overlap. The phyllaries in rabbitbrush are in 5 more-or-less-distinct vertical ranks. Those of goldenbush overlap like shingles on a roof.] Because of this hybridization and because of individual variation, usually caused by environmental conditions, you will sometimes not be able to figure out exactly which species of goldenbush you have.
For example, I [Jane] have before me at the moment, a branchlet with sessile, elliptic leaves, 5 mm wide and 25 mm long, with no ray and 12 disk flowers per head, from a plant less than 6 dm high collected on Vetter Mountain, at 5903 feet in elevation. (Sessile means the leaf connects to the stem without a leaf stalk.) Do I have an environmentally-challenged E. parishi? Or an E. cuneata on steroids? Or, perhaps, one of its ancestors mated with a promiscuous rabbitbrush?
The keys are thus not definitive. They are meant to be field guides. To be sure of what you have, you would need a microscope, The Jepson Manual or one of Munz' Floras, and patience.
SGM Goldenbush by Size of Plant Size range in dm Species of goldenbush (Ericameria) 20-50 Parish's (parishii var. parishii) 6-25 pine (pinifolia) 5-15 Palmer's (palmeri var. pachylepis) 4-15 narrowleaf (linearifolia) 3-6 Cooper's (cooperi) 1-10 rock (cuneata var. cuneata) (10 dm ~ 3.3')
SGM Goldenbush by Size of Leaf
and Other Characteristics
Size in mm and Other Characteristics Species of goldenbush (Ericameria ..) leaf width more than 2.5 mm leaf length more than 20-25 mm; elliptic in shape Parish's (parishii var. parishii) leaf length less than 20-25 mm; sessile, oval in shape rock (cuneata var. cuneata) leaf width less than 2.5 mm leaf width more than 1 mm wide leaf length 3-15 mm, slightly spoon-shaped Cooper's (cooperi) leaf length 10-40 mm narrowleaf (linearifolia) Note: If you end up in the overlapping range and if you can find a flower, either old or new, you are in luck. Narrowleaf has a solitary flower at the end of a branchlet, while Cooper's has many. Cooper's has 0 to 2 ray (petal-like) flowers, while narrowleaf has 11 to 18, which are very eye-catching. leaf width less than 1 mm wide; threadlike leaf length 15-35 mm, bunches of short leaves in leaf axils pine (pinifolia) leaf length 5-16 mm Palmer's (palmeri var. pachylepis) (12 mm ~ 0.5" )
Sorting out the goldenbushes takes time and practice. Assuming you've checked the location, size and leaf keys above, these descriptions should help confirm your preliminary diagnosis.
Note that what appears to be one large flower is actually made out of ray flowers and disk flowers, just like a sunflower head, where the sunflower seeds are the individual fruit of the smaller true flowers. Ray flowers have a single (large) petal attached to the rest of the small true flower, and disk flowers are the little true flowers in the center of the flower head. The manuals use the numbers of the different kinds of flowers for identification and the size and shape of the involucre, the little cup that holds the flowers. Flowers can look like petals, ray flowers, or not, disk flowers. Break the involucre or flower head apart to count the individual disk (central) flowers.
Ericameria cooperi, Haplopappus cooperi
- Common names: Cooper's goldenbush
- Flower: involucre shape=bell; ray (petal-like, on the edge) flowers=0-2, disk (central) flowers=4-12; blooms March - June
- Leaf: width between 1 and 2.5 mm; length 3-15 mm, slightly spoon-shaped; smaller leafs clustered in lower axils remain after the larger ones have fallen off
- Size and habit: 3-6 dm; low, flat-topped, erect branches
- Location: 2000'-6000', Antelope Valley, Joshua tree woodland, dry mesas
Ericameria cuneata var. cuneata, Haplopappus cuneatus
- Common names: rock goldenbush, wedgeleaf goldenbush
- Flower: involucre shape=cone or top; ray (petal-like, on the edge) flowers=0-3, usually none, disk (central) flowers=12-33; blooms September - November
- Leaf: width more than 2.5 mm; length less than 20-25 mm; sessile, oval in shape
- Size and habit: 1-10 dm; low, spreading, much branched
- Location: 4000'-7500', San Gabriel Mountains, piņon-juniper woodland, yellow pine forest, cliffs and clefts in granitic outcroppings; Glendora Ridge Road, Big Horn Mine, Vetter Mountain
- Images: CalPhotos
- A Link: Carl Purpus, a plant collector, describes Haplopappus cuneatus in the southern Sierras
Ericameria linearifolia, Haplopappus linearifolius
- Common names: narrowleaf goldenbush, interior goldenbush, linear-leaved goldenbush, narrowleaf heathgoldenrod
- Flower: involucre shape=dome, half of a sphere; ray (petal-like, on the edge) flowers=13-18, disk (central) flowers=many; single flower head per branch tip; perhaps the most attractive goldenbush when in flower; blooms March - May
- Leaf: width between 1 and 2.5 mm; length 10-40 mm, linear
- Size and habit: 4-15 dm; much branched
- Location: < 6500', Antelope Valley, piņon-juniper woodland, dry slopes; Mt. Emma Road, Fort Tejon Road, Big Pines Highway
Ericameria palmeri var. pachylepis, Haplopappus palmeri
- Common names: Palmer's goldenbush, Palmer goldenweed, broad-scaled Palmer's goldenbush, Palmer's heathgoldenrod
- Flower: involucre shape=ice cream cone to cylinder (can of beans); ray (petal-like, on the edge) flowers=1-6, disk (central) flowers=5-20; blooms August - December
- Leaf: threadlike, length 5-16 mm
- Size and habit: 5-15 dm; ascending stems
- Location: < 2500', coastal side, coastal sage scrub and disturbed chaparral, dry plains
Ericameria parishii var. parishii, Haplopappus parishii
- Common names: Parish goldenweed, Parish's goldenbush
- Flower: involucre shape=cone; ray (petal-like, on the edge) flowers=0, disk (central) flowers=8-18; blooms July - October
- Leaf: width more than 2.5 mm; length more than 20-25 mm; elliptic in shape
- Size and habit: 20-50 dm; erect, tree-like, in other words "HUGE"
- Location: 1500'-7000', south slopes of San Gabriel Mountains, chaparral and open forests, especially after fires, dry slopes; Mt. Zion Trail from Chantry Flat
- A Link: pdf file from US Forest Service
Ericameria pinifolia, Haplopappus pinifolius
- Common names: pine-bush, pine goldenbush
- Flower: Note: pine goldenbush has two separate blooming periods with different flowers in the spring than in the fall.
- Spring involucre shape=cone to dome; ray (petal-like, on the edge) flowers=15-30, disk (central) flowers=12-many; single large flower head per branch tip; April - July
- Fall involucre shape=cone to dome; ray (petal-like, on the edge) flowers=5-10, disk (central) flowers=12-many; many small flower heads crowded on branch; September - January
- Leaf: threadlike, length 15-35 mm, bunches of short leaves in leaf axils
- Size and habit: 6-25 dm; stout with trunklike main stems
- Location: < 5500', interior, away from coast, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, southern oak woodland, dry fans and banks; Eaton Canyon, Angeles Crest Highway east of Switzer's near Colby Trailhead
- Image: from Eaton Canyon Can you guess at which season this photograph was taken?
Sources and Other Web Information
CalFlora database selected for Ericameria and Los Angeles County
A Flora of Southern California by Philip A. Munz, University of California Press, 1974.
The Jepson Manual Higher Plants of California edited by James C. Hickman, University of California Press, 1993.
Go to: Keys to Identifying Selected Plant Groups in the SGM
Copyright © 2000-2001 by Jane Strong and Tom Chester.
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Updated September 2, 2001.