Fragrant Everlasting

Pseudognaphalium beneolens



Everlastings are a group of similar species, easily recognized by their  inconspicuous flowers that are surrounded by pale, papery phyllaries (specialized leaves). Phyllaries persist long after the blooms have withered, giving a flower cluster the appearance of lasting forever.

This late in the year, fragrant everlasting (Pseudognaphalium beneolens) seems to be the main everlasting with fresh growth and flowers. The species is easily recognized by the pale gray foliage, slightly tinged with green, and by the long, narrow leaves. The name suggests a pleasant odor. While often difficult to detect by the usual rub-and-sniff test, on a warm afternoon in late summer, the sweet scent clearly joins the aroma of the sage scrub.



Description 2,11,26,34,306,436

Fragrant everlasting is our most conspicuous everlasting in late summer and early fall. It is a robust biennial or short-lived perennial that grows to 3 or 3½ feet (1-1.2 m) high with many slender branches. The entire plant is covered with dense, long, woolly, whitish hairs that give it a pale-gray or pale-green appearance. Hairs obscure stalked glands on stem and leaves.2 Leaves are linear, sometimes narrow lanceolate to narrow oblanceolate, to 1½ inches (3 cm) long. Young leaves are erect or ascending along the stem; older leaves may arch outward. Leaves lack petioles and leaf edges extend down the stem in two ridges merging with the stem (decurrent). Leaves are sometimes described as having a pleasant, sweet odor.11 Other references find this weak or absent.59,436 Our plants generally fall in the latter category - until a warm afternoon in late summer, when the air around an everlasting in permeated with a clear, delicate sweet fragrance.

The inflorescence of fragrant everlasting is many-branched and narrow with numerous small, uncrowded clusters of flower heads. The involucre is elongate, less than 1/2 inch (0.5 cm) across, composed of four to six rows of pale, papery, somewhat lustrous phyllaries that give the flower head its main shape and color. Nestled within the phyllaries are numerous, very small individual florets. These florets are of two kinds. In the center are a small group of bisexual disk florets. The calyx is present as a pappus and the petals are united into a narrow, pale yellow tube, slightly flared at the mouth. There is a single pistil with an inferior ovary with one ovule, and a forked style that extends slightly beyond the petals. There are five stamens with the anthers united in a tube around the pistil. Surrounding the bisexual florets are numerous, female disk flowers. These are similar in structure but smaller and lack the stamens. Bloom time is reported as June to October, 7 but peak bloom in the Reserve is usually August or later.

On maturity, the phyllaries spread apart, releasing the small seeds, which are wind-dispersed by means of the pappus. The phyllaries remain on the plant, appearing like flowers.



Other Common Names: 


Distribution 7,89

Fragrant everlasting is a California native that is found in California, south of Sonoma County into Baja California and northern mainland Mexico. Within California, it is found along the coastal strip, generally below 6000 feet (1970 m.), in openings in chaparral and coastal sage scrub, and occasionally in coniferous forests.

In the Reserve, fragrant everlasting can be found in several areas along the trails, On the south sides of both Central Basin and East Basin and at the Nature Center. For several years, there has been a sizeable group of plants on either side of the upper Rios trail at the mouth of Sea Dahlia Valley (the broad valley just east of Holmwood Canyon).


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



Fragrant 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), which is surrounded by specialized leaves, phyllaries, 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 On the other hand, 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.

There are six native species of everlasting (Pseudognaphalium) reported in the Reserve.48 They are distnguished from one another by the presence and distribution of glands and hairs on the plant, by characteristics of the leaf base and by their scent. California everlasting (P. californicum) and bicolor everlasting (P. bioletti) are the most commonly identified.


Alternate scientific name(s): 
Gnaphalium beneolens Gnaphalium canescens Pseudognaphalium canescens



In fragrant everlasting, the phyllaries closely (protectively?) enclose the tiny florets. This would  seem to deter many pollinators. According to one authority,59 many species of everlasting are expected to be mainly self-pollinated, although the small openings may be visited by small flies, bees and wasps.

While photographing a large fragrant everlasting in the revegetation area at Santa Carina, I noticed many small flies on the flowers. On the same plant were three green lynx spiders (Peucetia viridans), one on her egg case. Green lynx are stealth predators that specialize in pollinators. They have no web, but wait quietly on a flower until a pollinator visits and then enjoy a meal. (They will easily take down a bumble bee.). The fact that this fragrant everlasting plant was supporting three fierce predators suggests that pollinator-prey were not in short supply.

To round out the arthropod assemblage, there was an American lady caterpillar (Vanessa virginiensis) in among the leaves.


Human Uses

Human Uses 15

The Chumash along the Santa Barbara Channel and offshore islands collectively referred to three of our species of everlasting - bicolor, California and fragrant everlasting - as "gordoloba", which was used medicinally. However, specific details are lacking.


Interesting Facts

Stray Facts 21

The scientific name Pseudognaphalium beneolens is a tongue twister. The genus name evolved from Gnaphalium, the original genus in which these plants were described. The prefix Pseudo refers to the resemblance of the new genus to the original,  Gnaphalium. This, in turn, comes from the Greek word "gnaphalon", which refers to a lock of wool. The species name, beneolens, means good-smelling. In short, we have a plant that resembles a good-smelling lock of wool.



Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); Oct. 2011
East Basin, south side (revegetation area at Santa Carina trailhead); Aug. 2018
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2010
Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); Sept. 2007
Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); Sept. 2007
flower heads surrounded by papery phyllaries; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
unopened flower heads; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Aug. 2018
blooming flower heads; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
blooming flower heads; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2010
blooming flower heads; Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); Sept. 2007
blooming flower heads; Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); Sept. 2007
one blooming flower head; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Aug. 2018
portion of a flower head; larger florets are bisexual; fine bristles are parts of the pappus; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
after release of seeds, phyllaries remain on plant; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
old phyllaries resemble petals; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
decurrent leaf bases; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
a small fly visiting flower heads; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
a large green lynx spider with prey; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
 green lynx spider on her egg case; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018
caterpillar of an American lady butterfly; East Basin, south side (Santa Carina trailhead); Sept. 2018