Sunday, December 3, 2023

Plant Story--Distinctive Apache Plume, Fallugia paradoxa

Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa, rose family, Rosaceae) is a native shrub of the southwest, found from Colorado and Texas west to California and Arizona and in neighboring areas of Mexico. It is a pretty shrub with white flowers and distinctive clusters of long-lasting cream or pinkish fruit resembling plumes. 

Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa
Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa

The plant is unusual enough that there is only Apache plume in the genus Fallugia, no other species. The species epithet, paradoxa, meaning unusual or paradoxical, reinforces the idea that it is puzzling. It was named to honor botanist, monk, and abbot Virgilio Fallugi (1627-1707) of Valumbrosa in Italy near Florence. (See bio. on California Plant Names page, link in references).

green bee and Apache plume
green bee in Apache plume flower

 In the wild, Apache plume is often a small plant but under cultivation it can grow 6' tall and almost that wide, making a substantial shrub.

It is called Apache plume because the fruits, single-seeded fruits called achenes, are elongate and feathery. Some sources say because they resemble Apache headdresses. Of the online photos reputed to be Apaches, a few have headdresses reminescent of Apache plume's achenes, but other photos show full warbonnets which I don't think look like Apache plume, or Apaches in bandanas. Apache plume certainly grows across Apache lands... and a lot of other tribes' lands. I can't tell if the name is fanciful or not. Other common names are ponil, yerba del pasmo, and barba de chivo.

Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa
Apache plume seed heads

Apache plume is common from desert scrub to woodlands, from 2,000' in elevation to almost 10,000'. The plants vary, for example having rhizomes (horizontal underground stems) in some areas and not in others. The shape of bracts below the flowers and sepal tips vary a lot. Some plants have all staminate (male) flowers, some all pistillate (female) flowers and in some the flower on the tip is perfect (both male and female) but the rest of the flowers on the branch are staminate. (Complicated variation in sex is pretty common in wlld plants, but usually you have to look carefully at a lot of flowers to notice it.) The variation does not cluster in ways that lead botanists to make two or three species from Fallugia paradoxa.

Flowers are 2" across, white, flat, open flowers with five petals, very characteristic of rose family plants. They attract lots of bees, from small native bees to bumblebees to honeybees. 

The leaves are divided, short and stubby, to me like small many-fingered gloves. Apache plume is good winter brouse for deer though otherwise not eaten much by livestock or wildlife. The seeds are eaten by birds. 

Apache plume flower

A western dryland shrub, Apache plume provides cover for small mammals from hares to chipmunks and ground-nesting birds. 

It is tolerant of hot dry conditions. You can find it thriving where it was planted north and east of its traditional rang. It will likely be resilient to climate change. It survives brief severely cold temperatures as well. 

Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa
Apache plume seed heads, these not very pinkish

The Ramah Navajo used Apache plume as a ceremonial ememtic. The Tewa made an infusion of leaves for a shampoo to encourage hair growth. The wood was used by a number of tribes in the Southwest to strengthen baskets and as handles on items like cradleboards. Straight branches were shaped into arrow shafts. The leafy stems served as brooms.

These Apache plume flowers must have tasty nectar: this bumblebee worked very hard visiting flowers.

Quite a beautiful native shrub.

Comments and corrections welcome.


Charters, M. J. 2005. California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations. link (Accessed 11/30/23)

Cretti, J. L. 1998. Colorado Gardeners' Guide. Cold Springs Press, Inc. Franklin, Tennessee.

Fallugia paradoxa. Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) U.S.DA./US Forest Service. link  (Accessed 12/2/23).

Hendrickson, J. and B.D.Parfitt. 2020. Fallugia paradoxa (D.Don) Endlicher ex Torrey. Flora of North America. link (Accessed 11/30/23)

McDonald, C. No date given. Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa). Forest Service. Department of Agriculture. link (Accessed 12/2/23)

Moerman, D. E. 1998. ative American Ethnobotany. BRIT Press, Fort Worth, Texas. online version link

richj20. 2020. The Life of an Apache Plume. Digital Photography Review. link (Accessed 11/30/23).

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

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