A shrub to be thankful for: the groundseltree or salt-bush

A natural grounsel tree population at the edge of a pine woods.
The groundseltree (Baccharis halimifolia) occurs throughout Florida according to The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants even though Gil Nelson's "Florida Best Native Landscape Plants" lists its planting zones as 5 through 9. It thrives in many conditions from wet and brackish to sandy, dry, acidic or alkaline. This evergreen shrub has wedge-shaped, irregularly-lobed waxy leaves and can grow in full sun or partial shade. It naturally occurs at the edges of forested areas. It's best used as part of a mass or hedge row because single specimens can become rangy. They do tolerate trimming if you wish to control the size or produce a neater habit. Groundseltrees also make a good addition to large rain gardens.

This shrub is the only shrub or tree in the aster family (Asteraceae), although the flowers are small and insignificant in the landscape because there are no ray flowers which look like petals on the typical aster flower head--only the disc or central flowers.  It's dioecious with the female plants being the ones we see in the landscape in the fall with their abundance of showy, fluffy seeds ready for flight. It reseeds well, so you may already have this plant growing in the wilder areas on your property.

University of Florida's Professor Ed Gilman states, "Salt-bush is rarely planted by designers and horticulturists, perhaps because it is too 'common' in native stands. A useful shrub or small tree for reclaiming wet sites, salt-bush could be used more frequently near retention ponds and drainage ditches. It has good tolerance to brackish water.... With proper care to remove recurring dead wood, nice small-tree specimens can be created. These can become valuable additions to many landscapes. They come into flower and are attractive at a time when few other small trees or shrubs are flowering. " in this IFAS fact sheet.

In addition to groundseltree and salt-bush, this adaptable shrub has quite a few other common names including sea-myrtle, high-tide bush, aster tree, groundsel bush, cotton-seed tree, menguilié, consumption weed, and silverling. In the past it was used to treat coughs or consumption.

The genus, Baccharis, was named after Bacchus, the Roman god of harvest and drink. Most depictions of this god show an overweight figure with grape vines wound around his head like a crown, and of course, he's usually drinking wine.

So let's give thanks to this under-appreciated shrub named after the god of overabundance.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Ginny Stibolt


Anonymous said…
You see this all over at the edges of highways this time of year. The rest of the time, you hardly notice it, but it grows in so many conditions. A very useful native plant!

V. Avery
daisy g said…
I have transplanted several of these in my backyard. They take very little care and the white cotton-like blooms are wonderful!
Anonymous said…
People here in Louisiana use this plant to treat bronchitis and the flu. They boil the leaves and make tea and drink it. I drank it once. Tastes horrible, but it actually works...

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