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:


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)
LocationSpecies of goldenbush
Desert sideCooper's (cooperi)
narrowleaf (linearifolia)
MountainsParish's (parishii var. parishii), south slope only
rock (cuneata var. cuneata)
Coastal / foothill sidepine (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 NameElevation range
in feet
LocationHabitatBloom time
ScientificCommonGeographic RangePlant Community
cooperiCooper's2000-6000Antelope ValleyJoshua tree woodlanddry mesasMarch - June
cuneata var. cuneatarock, wedgeleaf4000-7500San Gabriel Mountainspiņon-juniper woodland, yellow pine forestcliffs and clefts in granitic outcroppingsSeptember - November
linearifolianarrowleaf, interior, linear-leaved< 6500Antelope Valleypiņon-juniper woodlanddry slopesMarch - May
palmeri var. pachylepisPalmer's< 2500coastal side coastal sage scrub, disturbed chaparraldry plainsAugust - December
parishii var. parishiiParish's1500-7000south slopes of San Gabriel Mountainschaparral, open forests, especially after firesdry slopesJuly - October
pinifoliapine< 5500interior, away from coastcoastal sage scrub, chaparral, southern oak woodlanddry fans and banksApril - 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 dmSpecies of goldenbush (Ericameria)
20-50Parish's (parishii var. parishii)
6-25pine (pinifolia)
5-15Palmer's (palmeri var. pachylepis)
4-15narrowleaf (linearifolia)
3-6Cooper's (cooperi)
1-10rock (cuneata var. cuneata)
(10 dm ~ 3.3')

SGM Goldenbush by Size of Leaf
and Other Characteristics
Size in mm and Other CharacteristicsSpecies of goldenbush (Ericameria ..)
leaf width more than 2.5 mm leaf length more than 20-25 mm; elliptic in shapeParish's (parishii var. parishii)
leaf length less than 20-25 mm; sessile, oval in shaperock (cuneata var. cuneata)
leaf width less than 2.5 mm leaf width more than 1 mm wide leaf length 3-15 mm, slightly spoon-shapedCooper's (cooperi)
leaf length 10-40 mmnarrowleaf (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 axilspine (pinifolia)
leaf length 5-16 mmPalmer'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

Ericameria cuneata var. cuneata, Haplopappus cuneatus

Ericameria linearifolia, Haplopappus linearifolius

Ericameria palmeri var. pachylepis, Haplopappus palmeri

Ericameria parishii var. parishii, Haplopappus parishii

Ericameria pinifolia, Haplopappus pinifolius

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.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Jane Strong | Tom Chester
Updated September 2, 2001.