California Everlasting

Pseudognaphalium californicum



Everlastings are relatives of daisies and dandelions. Like them, what appears as one flower is actually a cluster of minute flowers. Everlasting gets its name from the dry, papery phyllaries (specialized leaves) that surround the base of each flower cluster. These persist long after the flowers have dropped off, resembling petals on dried blossoms.

Several similar species of everlasting are native in The Reserve. California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum) can be recognized by its leaves, which are bright green above and below and very sticky. It has a faint odor that most people find reminiscent of syrup (often maple syrup). When the plant dries, the odor-causing compounds are released and perfume the air.




Description 4,11,23,59,169,292

California everlasting is a sturdy annual, biennial or short-lived perennial plant. In early spring, there is a basal rosette of leaves from which grows one or a few upright branches usually less than three feet (1 m) tall. Short lateral branches occur near the top of the plant. The stem and both sides of the leaves are soft and green and very sticky; sometimes scattered woolly hairs give them a gray tinge. Leaves are lanceolate, often broadened at base, usually less than six inches (15 cm) in length. The margins may be turned under and are often wavy. Leaves lack petioles; the leaf base clasps the stem and may extend down the stem in two short ridges. Both stems and leaves are covered with small glandular hairs and are more or less aromatic. The odor has been variously described as maple syrup, pineapple, citrus or curry.59 At the end of the bloom cycle, the foliage turns golden tan and the sweet scent is released from the drying leaves and perfumes the surrounding area. California everlasting goes dormant during the summer drought.

The inflorescence is a rounded, terminal array of dense clusters of 3-8 flower heads. Each flower head is made up of numerous, tiny, tightly packed, yellowish disk florets; ray florets are absent. The involucre is urn-shaped, composed of several ranks of bright white, papery phyllaries that largely obscure the disk florets, which appear as a small yellow spot. There are more than 100 disk florets of two types, both about 5/32 inch (0.4 cm) long. The pistils of both have an inferior ovary, a forked style and no stigmas. Numerous tiny peripheral florets lack stamens. The relatively few central disk florets are somewhat broader and bisexual. In the central florets, five anthers form a column around the style. A pappus is present as one whirl of white bristles about as long as the floret. The major flowering period is January to July.1

The tiny dark fruit are wind-dispersed by means of the pappus. The involucre persists on the plant long after the flower parts mature and drop. Phyllaries become straw-colored and open outward, looking themselves like petals of a flower. They can remain on the plant for some time, giving the plant its common name, everlasting.


Other Common Names: 
Ladies tobacco, California cudweed, California pearly everlasting, California rabbit tobacco


Distribution 7,89

California everlasting is native to the west coast of North America from southern Washington to northern Baja California, below about 5000 feet (1600 m).

In California it is found throughout the state with the exception of the Great Central Valley. It is associated with several vegetation types, especially sage scrub. It generally prefers disturbed areas.34,169,290,292

In the Reserve, it is commonly seen in open areas along the south side trails. There are often plants at the trailheads.


This plant occurs primarily in the following vegetation types in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve: 
Coastal sage scrub



California everlasting is a dicot angiosperm in the sunflower family, the Asteraceae.2,11 This is one of the two largest families of vascular plants in the world, second only to the orchid family (Orchidaceae).44,143 "Flowers" of the sunflower family are made up of one or both of two types of flowers, called florets: symmetrical disk florets and strapped-shaped ray florets. These are crowded onto a common base (receptacle); the whole is called a flower head, which is often assumed to be a single flower.11,44,49  Although a few plants in this family, such as lettuce and artichokes, are used as food plants,  their main economic value is in their use as ornamentals: sunflowers, daisies, zinnias, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and many more.143 Many plants in this family are serious agricultural pests.41

Asteraceae that occur in the Reserve include bush sunflower (Encelia californica), goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii), and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).

Plants of the sunflower family are divided into tribes on the basis of flower and fruit morphology.11,310 The everlasting tribe is one of the more easily recognized; it is distinguished by the lack of ray florets and by the papery phyllaries that surround and largely conceal the disk florets. The high alpine edelweiss is a member of this tribe

There are six native species of everlasting (Pseudognaphalium) reported in the Reserve.48 California everlasting and bicolor everlasting (P. bioletti) are the most commonly identified.


Alternate scientific name(s): 
Gnaphalium californicum



California everlasting is sometimes called a "pioneer species" - an early colonizer of disturbed areas.290,292 Disturbed areas can result from such forces as fire, flood, landslide, wind, agriculture, construction, and others. After a large scale disturbance, plant cover is often destroyed and associated animals are missing. The productive soil layer may be missing or badly compacted and lacking the complex of micro-organisms essential for support of  healthy vegetation.

Pioneer species begin the process of repairing the environment so that other species can also occupy it.41 The seeds of a typical pioneer species are transported by wind into areas devoid of animals. Together with early fungi, plant roots penetrate the soil and begin to restructure and rebuild it. Plant detritus breaks down, becoming mulch and releasing nutrients begriming to restore the soil water holding capacity and fertility. Ultimately, other soil microbes arrive, and other plants, followed by grazing and pollinating insects that consume the plants and birds that eat the insects and animals that eat the foliage and seeds. Slowly, the number of different species increases until a complex of organisms exists that can reproduce and maintain itself - until the next disturbance. Under these self-perpetuating conditions, the original pioneer species are often replaced. But even in mature associations, plants die and soil slumps making small disturbances that provide opportunities for pioneer species.

Ironically, a pioneer species that is pioneering in the wrong environment is often considered a weed. Pseudognaphalium spp. may be "semi-weedy" in dry but formerly moist open areas.340

Other recognized pioneer species in the Reserve include coyote brush, one of the first plants to colonize abandoned farms, and deerweed which replenishes soil nitrogen through its relationship with a nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots.

NOTE: In areas such as southern California where fires are frequent, plants have adapted specific survival strategies with specific terminologies.14,27 In these areas, the general term "pioneer species" is not often used for post-fire recovery.


Human Uses

Human Uses

The Chumash in the Santa Barbara Channel and offshore islands grouped our three species of everlasting into "gordoloba", which was used medicinally, but details are lacking.15  The Ohlone tribes of the Monterrey Bay region used an infusion of California everlasting to treat colds and stomach pains.282

It is reported that sleeping on a pillow made of leaves and flowers of  California everlasting will cure catarrh (an inflammation of the mucus membrane).23

Modern herbal medicine suggests Pseudognaphalium spp. for sciatica that alternates with numbness.213


Interesting Facts

Interesting Facts 53,116

Many members of the genus Pseudognaphalium, including California everlasting, are preferred hosts for the American lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). The American lady  resembles the painted lady and the west eoast lady. All of them may be found in the Reserve, but the others are less likely to feed on everlasting. The caterpillar lives in a nest of the flowers and leaves of the host, holding them together with excreted threads of silk. It may form its chrysalis inside that nest.



Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); May 2009
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2016
Central Basin, south side (Holmwood Canyon); March 2010
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2016
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2017
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2017
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); May 2017
Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); May 2009
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2014
glandular hairs on leaf surface; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2017
Central Basin, south side (Holmwood Canyon); March 2010
East Basin, south side (Santa Inez trailhead); March 2011
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2014
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2011
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); April 2016
two sizes of disk florets; Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); May 2017
peripheral disk floret; forked pistil extending beyond petals; Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); May 2017
East Basin, south side (Santa Inez trailhead); May 2017
flower heads shedding seeds; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); May 2017
flower heads shedding seeds; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); May 2017
flower head shedding seeds; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); May 2017
dry pappus; Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); June 2013
dry pappus; Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); June 2009
"nest" of American lady caterpillar (on P. bioletti); May 29 2017