I’ve always thought antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentate) looks kind of creepy most of the year. Something about the trunks of the larger plants that look like thin shaggy arms that could reach out and grab someone walking past. I probably just read too many Stephen King books when I was in my 20s. In the fall, winter, and summer, you’d never know this plant would become one of my favorite wildflowers in Nevada.
And then it’s spring and wow, what a Cinderella transformation. The scraggly bushes burst into beautiful cream-colored and yellow blossoms. They go from a rather drab plant to a cheerful resident of the high desert.
It’s the only time of year when I can see that the plant is in the rose family since the blossoms look distantly like smaller versions of the wild rose.
Getting to Know One of Nevada’s Prettiest Wildflowers
Bitterbrush usually starts to bloom right about the time in late April or early May that desert peaches are peaking or starting to go slightly past peak.
Some bitterbrush are two-to-six-feet tall bushes while other plants look more like small trees and grow up to 10 feet. Many of them are decades old, but some have been growing for more than a century.
Wildlife like to nibble on bitterbrush, so it serves an important purpose out in the desert. Native Americans also use it for medicinal purposes.
Don’t confuse the name with brittlebush, a type of yellow daisy-like flower that blooms in places like Death Valley National Park.
The first part of bitterbrush’s botanical name, Purshia, was named after F.T. Pursh, a German-American botanist who originally described the bitterbrush. The second part of the name, tridentate, is a nod to the three projections that look like teeth at the end of the leaves.
Where Can You Find Antelope Bitterbrush in Nevada?
You can find antelope bitterbrush throughout the Western U.S., including Nevada. It’s usually found from 4,000 to 8,500 feet, but can grow as high as 11,000 feet in some areas.
It’s peaking now at places like the Fay-Luther Trail in Gardnerville, Nevada, and other spots that are around 4,000 – 5,900 feet. Plants at higher elevations will bloom later.