Yellow Rabbitbrush: Nectar Oasis for Admirals, Anglewings, Metalmarks, Patches, and Skippers

by DerdriuMarriner

A New World plant native to western Canada and United States, yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) thrives in droughts and is appreciated by butterflies.

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus is a commonly known as yellow rabbitbrush or green rabbitbrush.

This New World plant, which is native to western Canada and United States, is drought resistant and attractive to butterflies.

Butterflies that are drawn to yellow rabbitbrush include:
•bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia),
•Mormon metalmark (Apodemia mormo),
•mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa),
•common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis), and
•Weidemeyer's admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii).

yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus)

Idaho National Labs, Butte County, southeastern Idaho
Idaho National Labs, Butte County, southeastern Idaho

Yellow rabbitbrush

 

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus is commonly known as yellow rabbitbrush or green rabbitbrush.

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus easily accepts Zones 6 (-10 to 0° Fahrenheit; -23.3 to -17.8° Celsius) through 9 (20 to 30° Fahrenheit; -6.6 to -1.1° Celsius) on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Map, which classifies plants according to the maximum degree of coldness at which they maintain viability.

A New World plant, this member of the aster-daisy-sunflower family Asteraceae is native to western North America.

 

Distribution: Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus

CHVI8 Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (Hook.) Nutt.
CHVI8 Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (Hook.) Nutt.

 

Distribution: western North America

In Canada, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus is native to the west coast province of British Columbia.

In the United States, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus is native to eleven western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming), and one Midwestern state, Nebraska, where it occurs in Sioux County in the northwest corner. Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus is found in every county in Nevada and Utah.

 

Habitat: various and regenerative

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus thrives even in very dry conditions and habituates to various ecosystems, from hillsides to canyons to plains. Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus accepts disturbed habitats in need of regeneration from natural disasters such as fires, flooding, and mud or rock slides. A barren landscape, from natural disasters or overgrazing, quickly is transformed by Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, which comfortably establishes colonies to fill the emptiness.

 

distinctive twists in Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus' leaves

Butte County, east central Idaho
Butte County, east central Idaho

Externals: What Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus looks like

 

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus spreads generously to a width of 12 to 36 inches (30 to 90 centimeters). Its height is similarly proportioned at 12 to 36 inches (30 to 90 centimeters).

This pleasantly proportioned deciduous shrub has white to green white bark with multiple branches.

Its grey-green aromatic leaves are narrow and often twist. Leaf length ranges from 0.3 to about 3 inches (1 to 7.5 centimeters). Leaf width measures 0.039 to 0.39 inches (1 to 10 millimeters).

Dense clusters of flowers emerge in cheery yellow profusion in summer and last  into autumn.

The wispily covered fruit of Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus measures around 0.11 to 0.19 inches (3 to 4.8 millimeters).

 

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus fruit: achene with pappus

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (Hook.) Nutt.
Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (Hook.) Nutt.

 

Similar to an achene (Greek: ἀ, a, “without” + χαίνειν, chainein, “to gape”), this fruit, termed a cypsela (Greek: κυψέλη, kupsele, "hollow vessel"), contains, within its single chamber, a single seed, and does not dehisce (Latin: dehiscere, "to gape, open, split down"), that is, does not open spontaneously at maturity.

Typical of its family Asteraceae, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus has wisps, originating in the tissue of the outer floral envelope or calyx (Greek: κάλυξ, kalux, "outer covering"), which are attached to the fruit. These wisps, a botanical floral structure known as pappus, serve as diaspores (Greek: διασπορά, diaspora, “dispersion”), allowing the fruit to be transported by the wind, thereby increasing its dispersal range.

 

sunniness of Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus

Butte County, southeastern Idaho
Butte County, southeastern Idaho

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus: Sweet, sunny cheer for wayfaring butterflies

 

With its sweet, sunny welcome, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus stands out in its habitats, especially in contrast to a barren or disturbed environment. Its hardy predictability is attractive to wayfarers such as butterflies and offers respite in otherwise uninviting areas.

Many fauna fall under its charms. Butterfly guests include five regulars:

  • bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia),
  • Mormon metalmark (Apodemia mormo),
  • mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa),
  • common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis), and
  • Weidemeyer's admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii).

 

Bordered patch butterfly (Chlosyne lacinia)

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Hidalgo County, southern tip of Texas
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Hidalgo County, southern tip of Texas

Bordered Patch Butterfly (Chlosyne lacinia)

 

Chlosyne lacinia is commonly known as the bordered patch butterfly.

An American native, Chlosyne lacinia ranges across the United States from southern California to Texas, thence southwards all the way into Argentina.

Occasionally Chlosyne lacinia visits Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.

Chlosyne lacinia enjoys mesquite, oak, or pinyon woodlands as well as hilly deserts, fields, and roadsides.

Each Chlosyne lacinia is an individualized variation on a theme. The basic color scheme is black uppersides with wide bands of orange or cream and small orange or white spots.

Its wingspan is 1.375 to 2 inches (3.5 to 5.1 centimeters).

When not nectaring yellow rabbitbrush, Chlosyne lacinia favors asters (genus Aster), coneflowers (genus Echinacea and Rudbeckia), ironweeds (genus Vernonia), and zinnias (genus Zinnia).

 

Mormon metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo)

Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel Mountains, southern California
Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel Mountains, southern California

Mormon Metalmark Butterfly (Apodemia mormo)

 

Apodemia mormo is commonly known as Mormon metalmark butterfly.

A New World native, Apodemia mormo favors the arid western United States, including the Great Basin states of Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, and their neighbors, Arizona and California.

Apodemia mormo focuses on aridity for its habitat and basks in that environment.

 

Lange's metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo langei), an endangered subspecies of Mormon metalmarks, also is enthusiastic about yellow rabbitbrush.

"Endangered Lange's metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo langei)"
"Endangered Lange's metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo langei)"

 

Apodemia mormo is distinguished by an orange brown to black upperside with a checkering of black and white spots.

While other species have silvery spots that glisten like metal as they rapidly flap their wings, Apodemia mormo instead has white spots that pulsate like clouds against a darkened sky.

Wingspan is 0.875 to 1.25 inches (2.2 to 3.3 centimeters).

In addition to the sunny flowers of Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Apodemia mormo is particularly attracted to the yellow flowers of desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), mustards (genus Brassica), and senecios (genus Senecio).

 

male Mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa)

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park

Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa)

 

Native to Asia, Europe, and North America, Nymphalis antiopa is commonly known as mourning cloak butterfly. As member of the Anglewing group of butterflies, mourning cloaks are recognized by the jagged outline of their wings.

Nymphalis antiopa ranges from Canada to central Mexico. Favorite habitats encompass many possibilities, from woodlands to woods’ edges, gardens, parks, open landscape, and streamsides.

Nymphalis antiopa is honored as the state insect of Montana.

Nymphalis antiopa has a rich beauty that is pleasantly memorable. Its rich brown to maroon upperside is bordered by a row of iridescent blue spots with an edging of rich cream, yellow, or white. Each forewing is strikingly ornamented with two cream, yellow, or white epaulets.

Its wingspan is 2.25 to 4 inches (5.7 to 10.1 centimeters).

Not fervently enamored of floral nectar, Nymphalis antiopa normally is attracted to sap, especially from oaks (genus Quercus), and rotting fruit. Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus is an exception to mourning cloak’s rule of snubbing floral nectar.

 

Common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Congaree National Park, central South Carolina
Congaree National Park, central South Carolina

Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

 

Pyrgus communis is commonly known as common checkered skipper.

Pyrgus communis ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico and is a familiarly fast flier throughout the continental United States.

Aspiring to sunny, open habitats with low vegetation, Pyrgus communis seeks out fields, gardens, meadows, prairies, and roadsides. Openings and trails in woods also interest Pyrgus communis.

Pyrgus communis has an unobtrusive, blue grey upperside which is checkered with white splotches.

Its petite wingspan measures 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 centimeters).

In addition to Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Pyrgus communis nectars from butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), coneflowers (genus Echinacea), ironweeds (genus Vernonia), marigolds (genus Tagetes).

 

Weidemeyer's admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

Forest Road 144, Rio Arriba County, north central New Mexico
Forest Road 144, Rio Arriba County, north central New Mexico

Weidemeyer's Admiral Butterfly (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

 

Limenitis weidemeyerii is commonly known as Weidemeyer's admiral butterfly. Basilarchia weidemeyerii is its scientific synonym.

A New World native, Limenitis weidemeyerii is found in western Canada and in the western United States. Leminitis weidemeyerii prefers deciduous forests, meadows, and streamsides.

Limenitis weidemeyerii has a black upperside dramatically highlighted by a band of white and punctuated by white epaulets on the forewings and edged with white dots on the hindwings and forewings.

Wingspan is 2.25 to 3.75 inches (5.7 to 9.5 centimeters).

In addition to Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Limenitis weidemeyerii feeds on tree sap and also extracts nectar from milkweeds (genus Asclepias), euphorbias (genus Euphorbia), snowberries (genus Symphocarpus), and verbenas (genus Verbena).

 

late summer's sea of flowering yellow rabbitbrush

westward toward Saddle Mountains, Lemhi Range, eastern Idaho
westward toward Saddle Mountains, Lemhi Range, eastern Idaho

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus and its admirers

 

In seemingly dull environments, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus springs to life and thrives, with alluring, sunny promises of satisfaction, which it delivers again and again. In fact, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus has charms of color and nectar that irresistibly tantalize even nectar-abstaining butterflies, such as the well-known mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), that normally prefer tree sap, rotting fruit, or even carrion, to floral nectar. As such, in unpopulated areas, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus practically hums with pollinator activity and brightens even monotonous landscapes with the many hues of its excited guests.

 

autumnal quiescent coloration of Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve-South Tufa Area, eastern California
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve-South Tufa Area, eastern California

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

Yellow rabbitbrush, prevalent in western US sagebrush steppes:

important browsing for livestock and wildlife late fall to early spring; consumed voraciously by jackrabbits (Lepus); a plentiful abundance encourages sharing with butterflies
Idaho National Laboratory, eastern Idaho
Idaho National Laboratory, eastern Idaho

Sources Consulted

 

American Horticultural Society. A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1996.

"Bordered Patch Chlosyne lacinia (Geyer, 1837)."  Butterflies and Moths of North America > Species. Butterfly and Moth Information Network: Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. Web. www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

  • Available at:  http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Chlosyne-lacinia 

"Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)." Butterflies and Moths of North America > Species. Butterfly and Moth Information Network: Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. Web. www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

  • Available at:  http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Pyrgus-communis

Flora: A Gardener's Encyclopedia. Volume I: A-K. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2003.

"Mormon Metalmark Apodemia mormo (C. Felder & R. Felder, 1859)." Butterflies and Moths of North America > Species. Butterfly and Moth Information Network: Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. Web. www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

  • Available at:  http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Apodemia-mormo

"Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa (Linnaeus, 1758)." Butterflies and Moths of North America > Species. Butterfly and Moth Information Network: Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. Web. www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

  • Available at:  http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Nymphalis-antiopa

Ortho's All About Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books, 2001.

Roth, Sally. Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2001.

"Weidemeyer's Admiral Limenitis weidemeyerii W.H. Edwards, 1861."  Butterflies and Moths of North America > Species. Butterfly and Moth Information Network: Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. Web. www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

  • Available at:  http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Limenitis-weidemeyerii

 

gorgeous scenery in vicinity of yellow rabbitbrush

Point Lookout, Mesa Verde National Park, Montezuma County, southwestern Colorado
Point Lookout, Mesa Verde National Park, Montezuma County, southwestern Colorado
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 01/03/2014

VioletteRose, Me, too, I find rabbitbrush flowers to be pretty. They convey cheerfulness and warmth.

VioletteRose on 01/03/2014

The flowers are so pretty!

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