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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Stinky Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)

The western half of North Dakota is home to stinky rabbitbrush. As yet, no plants have been collected east of Emmons and Burleigh Counties. Elsewhere, this species occurs from southeastern Saskatchewan to Idaho south to Texas and Arizona at elevations up to 10,000 ft.

Stinky rabbitbrush, as the name indicates, is a shrub that grows from a heavy woody base. Plants are up to six feet tall, but most North Dakota specimens are less than half that height. Dozens of stems can arise from the woody base each season. This is a highly variable species. Some plants are gray-hairy, with short, wiry leaves, whereas others appear green, with much wider, longer leaves. On some plants, stems are nearly white. Each stem bears 5-15 flower heads. Each head has about five yellow disc flowers. There are no ray flowers. The seeds (achenes) are slightly over an eighth inch long and are equipped with a fine plume of bristles for wind dissemination.

Look for stinky rabbitbrush in bloom from mid August to late September in dry native pastures and along roadgrades. The plant likely increases with heavy grazing in all areas of the Great Plains. Few mammals, either wild or domestic, browse upon it, perhaps because of the acrid resins it produces. Jackrabbits often are seen using the plant for shelter. Resins from this plant were chewed by Amerindians. The plant has been suggested as a source of rubber.

These plants are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. The family contains over 15,000 species, more than any other family in North Dakota as well as nearly every country in the North Temperate Zone. The generic name was compounded from the Greek chrysos "gold," and thamnos "shrub." The specific epithet nauseosus means "ill smelling" in botanical Latin. Stinky rabbitbrush was first described for science by Peter Pallas (1741-1811), eminent German botanist and zoologist and student of Russian and Siberian plants.

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