Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Praise of Baccharis Pilularis

A neighbor of mine, new to gardening with natives, is designing a fire-resistant, deer-
resistant, mostly native plant garden around her south-facing home, with the help of a class
such as the ones I took with Fran Adams, and some advice from the fire department. I've been
gladly loaning her books and chatting about my experiences and showing her what has worked for me. So it was a bit of a jolt to hear her declaim that she hated our natively abundant Baccharis pilularis, and its "summer snow" of
floating seeds (so dubbed by someone on the Gardening with Natives Yahoo! group).

"Oh, no - Greasewood is something else. Chamise, Adenostoma fasciculata. They are very flammable, that's right. But these are Coyote Brush. Not nearly so flammable." I looked at them with her eyes and then with my eyes and then with her eyes again. So much of the pleasure we take in plants (and other things) originates between the ears.

It's true our native Baccharis p. can get very straggly, intertwining with Chamise and other
shrubs. They grow vigorously and add to the fuel load. But according to the fire management
page on Las Pilitas Nursery's web site, they are pretty good for flammability. Better than a
lot of shrubs on the USDA recommended list of non-native fire resistant plants, such as
pittosporum.

Anyway, besides their good marks for fire, Baccharis are fun to prune up. The wood is soft
and easy to cut. They are pretty when you shave their hairy legs and remove some of the
lower straggly limbs, and they stay green all year.

Bacharis pilularis are also much loved by bugs, and by birds who love bugs. Here is a
Bewick's wren I saw last week (through my office window). He was hopping about those lower
branches and the ground nearby poking about for insects. Bushtits and lesser goldfinches
gobble up the white fluffy seeds,

The topic of those fluffy white seeds came up again today when I was honored by a visit from
my Town Mouse co-blogger. She had yet another objection. "I heard they reseed freely and I don’t want them all over my yard!"

But I had an answer for that too: they are dioecious, and nursery trade stock is
all male. The Las Pilitas web site entry for Baccharis says this could have bad consequences:

The problem for we horticulturists/biologists is that only male plants are utilized in the landscaping trade for Baccharis pilularis. If these are substituted for B. pilularis var. consanguinea in ecological restoration, there will not be as much seed set and recruitment of new individuals.
(http://www.laspilitas.com/nature-of-california/plants/baccharis-pilularis-consanguinea
accessed 6/17/2009).

So that’s the downside for a Country gardener – they do feely seed everywhere there is bare, disturbed or cleared soil. But really hardly at all where there is mulch.

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