OK, have I got your ATTENTION?
I’ve talked over at BWG about plants that are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. Sorry to disappoint those who thought I was going to have a REALLY “interesting” topic this month.
I’m not the most observant person in the garden…although I spot the smallest of insects quite often. This past week, I was looking out at the landscape enthralled by the beauty of the Baccharis halimifolia that I’ve trained as a specimen shrub in the front yard. This shrub had just come into full bloom and looked lovely against a backdrop of Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera). Later I took a walk in the back and I noticed two other pairs of groundsels. They are prolific bloomers and can be trained as a tree or a fast growing hedge, the latter my mission to block the view of some graffiti on my neighbor’s shed (drawn their by their own kids…OY!). Thus I have scads of them growing just about everywhere.
The paired shrubs seemed odd to me, distinctly different colors. One a creamy white bordering on pale yellow… the other, the bright white I described above. I went over to take a closer look and observed something else. The creamy colored one was covered in bees, Syrphid flies and wasps. The white one…not so much.
Then it hit me…this species must be dioecious. It’s not the first dioecious species I’ve struggled to identify. It surprised me to learn that B. Hamlimifolia is in the Asteraceae Family a.k.a. aster, daisy, or sunflower family, since I don’t associate shrubs with similarity to Sunflowers or Daisies. While not a greatest source of food for wildlife, its preferred benefit is in the cover and the nesting it provides for birds in the openly branched stems. I can speak from personal experience that northern mockingbirds will successfully nest in these shrubs.
B. halimifolia has a slew of common names, including Eastern Baccharis, Groundsel Tree; Sea Myrtle and Salt Bush. I always called it Groundsel, but recently I discovered it called “Silverling”, this moniker likely given because of the coloring of the female shrub in bloom. It describes it perfectly. Beautiful bright white paintbrush style blooms that shimmer so as to look like silver in the sun. I’ve taken to calling the girl shrubs Silverling and the boy shrubs Groundsel.
It is native from Massachusetts south to Florida then west to Arkansas and Texas. These shrubs are extremely salt tolerant and also will thrive in standing water…such as what I have in the summer rains of Florida. They bloom when not a lot of other shrubs do, in Florida this is late in autumn, often continuing into the winter. Down here they can hold their leaves through the year unless we get an unusually long freeze.
This plant is currently being investigated for application in soil bioengineering systems to stabilize tidal shorelines because of its ability to root from a dormant, unrooted cutting. It does attract a beetle, Trirhabda baccharidis, which in caterpillar stage is just as lovely as the female plant at the end of autumn. The adult beetle, not so pretty, but I’m sure as tasty morsel, the birds don’t mind.
Back when I first moved out here, I tried for months to identify this particular shrub. At the time I wasn’t very good at it, having few resources. The leaves seemed to be different shapes, but the plants seemed so similar that I wasn’t sure whether I had one shrub species or two. Well, now I know why. Sex in the garden can be a fascinating if not perplexing thing.
Information from The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service was used in the writing of this article.
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