Encelia farinosa can be found in a variety of habitats from dry gravelly slopes to open sandy washes up to 1,000 metres (3,300 ft). It does well in cultivation and recently has spread dramatically in areas not natural to its distribution in large part because Caltrans has begun to use it in hydroseeding.
Encelia farinosa grows up to 30 to 150 centimetres (12 to 59 in) tall, with fragrant leaves 3–8 cm long, ovate to deltoid, and silvery tomentose. The capitula are 3–3.5 cm in diameter, with orange-yellow ray florets and yellow or purple-brown disc florets. They are arranged in loose panicles above the leafy stems fruit 3–6 mm and there is no pappus.
Two varieties of E. farinosa are recognized:
- Encelia farinosa var. farinosa Gray ex. Torr.
- Encelia farinosa var. phenicodonta (Blake) I.M. Johnston
Varieties formerly included E. farinosa var. radians, now regarded as a separate species E. radians Brandegee.
Brittlebush has a long history of uses by indigenous and pioneer peoples.
- Glue: The resin collected from the base of the plant, yellowish to brown in color, can be heated and used as a glue. The O'odham and Seri use it for hafting, to hold points on arrows and harpoons.
- Sealer: A different sort of resin is collected from the upper stems, is more gummy and generally a clear yellow. The Seri use this to seal pottery vessels.
- Incense: Early Spanish friars learned that the resin made a highly fragrant incense, akin to frankincense in odor.
- Gum: The Sells area Tohono O'odham children use upper stem resin as a passable chewing gum.
- Toothbrush: Oldtime cowboys used brittlebush stem as a fine toothbrush. Simply select a largish branch and peel off the bitter bark, no need for toothpaste.
- Medicinal: Seri use brittlebush to treat toothache. For toothache the bark is removed, the branch heated in ashes, and then placed in the mouth to "harden" a loose tooth.
- Felger, Richard Stephen; Moser, Mary Beck (1985). People of the Desert and Sea: Ethnobotany of the Seri Indians (2. print. ed.). Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0816508186.
- Hogan, C. Michael (ed.) Brittlebush – Encelia farinosa at the Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed 1 April 2013.
- Gray, Reed; Bonner, James (19 March 1948). "Structure Determination and Synthesis of a Plant Growth Inhibitor, 3-Acetyl-6-methoxybenzaldehyde, Found in the Leaves of Encelia Farinosa". Journal of the American Chemical Society 70 (3): 1249–1253. doi:10.1021/ja01183a114. PMID 18909201.
- Bohm, Bruce A. (2009). The Geography of Phytochemical Races. Dordrecht: Springer. p. 112. ISBN 9781402090523.
- Dunmire, William W. (2004). Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70564-7.