California Everlasting

Pseudognaphalium californicum

close up of dry pappus cream and brown colored flower
The dry, papery phyllaries give everlasting its name | Rios trailhead | June 2009

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.

Other Common Names:

Ladies tobacco, California cudweed, California pearly everlasting, California rabbit tobacco

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.

California Everlasting white flower heads shedding seeds

The flower heads on the lower left are shedding seeds | Santa Carina trailhead | May 2017

young white buds of California Everlasting flowers

The phyllaries largely conceal the disk florets | Santa Carina trailhead | April 2016

Young California Everlasting

Santa Carina trailhead | April 2016

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.


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 Names:

Gnaphalium californicum

Jepson eFlora Taxon Page
white and yellow buds of California Everlasting blossoms

Santa Carina trailhead | April 2011

microscopic photo of California Everlasting peripheral disk floret

A peripheral disk floret with protruding two-branched recurved style | Rios trailhead | May 2017

flower heads of the California Everlasting shedding seeds

Flower heads shedding seeds | Santa Carina trailhead | May 2017


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.

microscope photo of white fuzzy flower head shedding small brown seeds

Seeds releasing from flower head | Santa Carina trailhead | May 2017

trail signs at Santa Carina trailhead with California Everlasting growing beneath it

Santa Carina trailhead | April 2017

tall California Everlasting plant in the middle of green brush

Santa Carina trailhead | May 2017

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

thick, green, leafy stalk of California Everlasting plant

Santa Carina trailhead | April 2014

kernel shaped white and yellow California Everlasting buds

Santa Carina trailhead | April 2014

California Everlasting blooms at the Santa Carina trailhead

Santa Carina trailhead | April 2017

Interesting Facts 53,116,389

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 coast 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.

white "nest" of the American Lady caterpillar on the leaves of the California Everlasting

"Nest" of American Lady Caterpillar on bicolor everlasting | May 2017

side by side California Everlasting stalks with green and brown leaves

Santa Inez trailhead | May 2017

lively, green California Everlasting plant in brown brush

Rios trailhead | May 2009

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