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Need help identifying

a plant in the park?

Try out our dichotomous key HERE to figure it out! Not finding what you are looking for? Email us a photo and we will try to add the specimen to our dichotomous key. 

Shrub: A woody plant that has several stems and is smaller than most trees.

Tree: A long-lived woody plant that has a single, usually tall main stem with few or no branches on its lower half.

Hybrid Shrub: A shrub whose offspring is a result of the crossing of two different species of shrubs.

Ornamental Shrub: A shrub grown specifically for decorative purposes.

Native: A plant that originates from this place.

Non-Native: A plant that originates from somewhere else, but was introduced to this place.

Invasive: A non-native plant that outcompetes native plants and has a negative ecological effect on the environment.

*Classification Definitions from: Merriam-Webster Dictionary


ID Characteristics
Funky Facts!
References/More Information 

native shrubs

Rubber Rabbitbrush

(Chrysothamnus nauseosus):

Gray/green alternate leaves covered in tiny hairs. Shrubs usually stand from 2-5 feet tall, and have an overall rounded shape. Bright yellow tubular flowers arranged in bundles at end of branches in fives. Late flowering from August-October.

  • Scientific Name Meaning: Chrysos = gold and thamnos = shrub. Nauseosus = nauseating (because of its heavy scent). 

  • Important forage crop for native animals.

  • Important plant for pollinators as it flowers later in the summer giving pollinators a pollen source when many other flowers have already died back. 

  • During WWII, this plant was studied as a substitute for commercial rubber. Even though Rubber Rabbitbrush produces high quality rubber, it was not economical since such small amounts of rubber are procured from each plant. 

“Shrubs of the Great Basin, A Natural History” by Hugh N. Monzingo. 

USDA Forest Service Plant of the Week: Rubber Rabbitbrush.

Desert Peach

(Prunus andersonii):

Small, pointed, alternate leaves that are often bundled. Spines occur on the ends of branches. Pink flowers bloom from March-May and produce small peach-like fruit. Native plant in rose family.

  • Scientific Name Meaning: Prunus = plumb and andersonii = named after an early Nevada botanist named Charles Anderson.

  • Stratification needed for seeds to germinate (need exposure to cold for around 4 weeks prior to sprouting).

  • Flowers are open pollinated by insects.

  • Seeds of the fruit are heart-shaped (as is the fruit) and the fruit has been considered a delicious delicacy.

  • The leaves can be used to obtain a green dye.

“Shrubs of the Great Basin, A Natural History” by Hugh N. Monzingo. 

Plants for a Future; Prunus andersonii - A.Gray.

Truckee River Guide: Desert Peach.


non-native shrubs

St. John’s Wort has upright branches of red to purple and grows in mounds to around 3 feet tall. They are deciduous shrubs so they lose their leaves in the winter. Bright five petaled yellow flowers with yellow stamens occur both in clusters and singularly and bloom June-August. Crushing the flowers will produce a red dye that will stain your fingers blueish purple.

  • St. John’s Wort received its name from its habit of  blooming around St. John’s Day, or around the summer solstice during the end of June.

  • During the middle ages, St. John's Wort was used extensively for the treatment of wounds, kidney troubles, nervous disorders, and for things like insanity as it was believed to be imbued with magical properties. During this time it was also seen as a symbol of protection for driving away evil spirits.

  • In England’s pre-Christian cultures, St. John's Wort had uses in divination about longevity and matrimony. There are rhymes, as illustrated below, that tell of maids picking these flowers and, if still radiant the morning after the picking, they would have a good chance of a happy marriage. Wilted flowers did not bode well.

    • “The young maid stole through the cottage door, And blushed as she sought the plant of power. ‘Thou silver glow-worm, oh! lend me thy light, I must gather the mystic St. John’s Wort to-night; The wonderful herb whose leaf will decide If the coming year shall see me a bride”[Dr. Hobbs].

  • Today, research is showing that St. John's Wort is comparable to many anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine on the market for treatment of mild to moderate cases of depression and anxiety.

  • St. John's Wort is toxic to cattle and sheep as it causes photosensitivity (increases likelihood of sunburn) in these animals.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: St. John’s Wort.

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: History of St. Johns wort.

Dr. Christopher Hobbs: St. John’s Wort: Ancient Herbal Protector.

“Botany in a Day” by Thomas J. Elpel (pg. 74).

Saint John's Wort (Hypericum prolificum):

Forsythia (Forsythia × intermedia):

There are 11 different species of Forsythia with Forsythia × intermedia being one of the most common hybrids used in parks and gardens. In early spring, Forsythia will be covered in bright yellow flowers before the leaves appear. Forsythias have upright and arching branches with alternating leaves. The leaves turn yellow or purplish before falling in the autumn. Forsythias are in the Olive Family along with Lilacs and Ash trees.

  • Forsythia shrubs were named after the founder of The Horticultural Society of London, William Forsyth (1737-1804).

  • In China, this shrub is known as lianqiao (lian meaning lotus and qiao meaning to lift up).

  • Forsythia (mainly the suspensa variety) has been used over the centuries in Chinese herbalism to treat many different diseases thought to be caused by an excess of heat in the body.

  • Today Forsythia is thought to possibly relieve inflammation in the lungs, and has been given intravenously for treatment of bronchiolitis.

  • A stick from the Forsythia bush is used as a bow in the traditional Korean instrument called Ajaeng.

Different varieties of Forsythia: Harvard Arboretum, “The Story of Forsythia.

New World Encyclopedia, “Forsythia.

Institute for Traditional Medicine: Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., “Lonicera and Forsythia.

WebMD: “Forsythia.


local Resources

Check out these organizations to learn more about shrubs in our area!
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