This shaggy, twisty shrub or tree is often only 6 to 8 feet tall, but at the canyon rim it grows to 18 feet at least. Prominent large specimens occur along the Hermit Road (West Rim Drive) and along Highway 64 east. The champion tree was close to Mather Point. Measurements of that fine specimen were: height, 18 feet; trunk circumference, 33 inches breast high, average spread of branches, 18 feet. Unfortunately, the tree was burnt to the ground during a not-so-controlled burn in summer of 2004. Most cliffrose trunks are about 4 to 8 inches in diameter with reddish brown bark. The Navajo Indians historically used the bark for cradle linings--it is very absorbent and unlike juniper bark, they say it causes no rash. The stout branches, when straight, were used for arrows. Medicinally, the cliffrose is an emetic, good for stomach problems and nausea. The plant is evergreen.
Cliffrose blooms persistently and profusely from spring through fall and into November at the South Rim. The blossoms are creamy or yellowish (in this photo they appear whiter than in reality), up to an inch wide and quite fragrant. Leaves are ½ to ¾ inch long and deeply divided into 3 to 5 narrow lobes. Leaf edges are rolled under. Unlike Apache plume, the leaves are glandular: covered with tiny white dots.
Plumed seeds appear after the flowers, about 5 to 10 seeds per flower, each seed with a 1 or 2-inch silvery-white plume.