Coyote Bush: Blessing or Curse?
Coyote Brush in Bloom
Coyote Brush in My AreaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Why Coyote Brush?
Believe it or not, coyote brush is a member of the sunflower family. Its official scientific name is Baccharis Pilularis. It can be found living anywhere between San Diego and Oregon. A native of California, it can be found throughout the California coastal ranges. It is one of the most common shrubs in California, and, I fear, one of the most common on my own property, where the above picture was taken. It loves living on hillsides and in chaparral areas. It's one of those plants you hardly notice when you pass it on the roads, but you start to notice when it's in your yard.
Many people have asked why it's called coyote brush. It's been suggested it's tricky like a coyote. It is adaptable like the coyote. It takes different growing forms in different habitats. It can be in low mounds by the ocean and act as a sort of ground cover. On my property, some plants could easily be confused with small trees or large shrubs that grow erect. It has small-egg-shaped leaves with saw-tooth edges, and these leaves have a waxy coating that reduces the evaporation of moisture and enables them to better survive drought. This coating also helps make them resistant to fire.
On hot summer days, the leaves become sticky with resinous oils. These oils are said to have a fragrance, but what kind is not stated. Its taste is supposed to discourage the leaves from being eaten. It is deer resistant for this reason. Insects of all sorts, however, love it. It's said to attract butterflies, bees, wasps, and miscellaneous bugs who like its nectar. Because it blooms later than most nectar sources, it's a major source of nutrients for insects who need to over-winter. I have personally seen the bees covering it.
Blooming Coyote Brush
Roots of Larger Coyote Bush Seedlings
Coyote brush is dioecious. That means it produces male and female flowers on different plants. They bloom between August and October. Male flowers are shorter and have yellow pollen that smells like shaving soap. I didn't notice this smell when I was around the plants. Female plants are more white and have the tufts of hair from which the seeds hang, ready to fly with the wind. The seeds themselves are like small black nuts. From my observations, this plant reproduces very successfully from seed. It will thrive in any sunny place, and it is often the first plant to colonize land where other plants have been burned or removed.
It can also reproduce through its roots, which are amazing. You will discover this if you try to pull them. A coyote bush has a long taproot, which I will illustrate below. I pulled hundreds of the small plants and seedlings last week after the rain had made the soil just right for releasing roots. I photographed some of the roots so you could see how large they are in proportion to the portion of the plant above ground level. In the second picture to the right, you can see the secondary branches of the roots beginning to grow. I'm guessing that underground the larger plants resemble many trees, with as many branches below the ground as above it. This extensive root system will absorb any bit of moisture that hits the ground. New plants can regenerate from these roots.
I can testify that the plants spread readily and seem to grow quickly. I will include in the photos below one of a trap I had in the yard to catch a feral cat (or try to). I forgot about it, and the rains came. A coyote bush germinated under it and I had a trapped trap.
More Detailed Information About Coyote Bush
- Coyote Brush - Baccharis pilularis
I drew many of my facts from this article, but was not able to include everything. It has photos which contrast the male and female flowers.
Coyote Small Plant Roots
Coyote Brush SeedlingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Invasive Coyote BushClick thumbnail to view full-size
So Is Coyote Brush a Blessing or Curse?
I suppose it depends upon who you are. If you are a rabbit or insect, you will find it a blessing. If you are a gardener, you may find it a curse. If you want to grow a fire resistant hedge quickly, you might be quite happy with it. It if takes up residence in your front flower bed and grows into a tree, you might have to pay someone as I did to come to remove it. (I did not own the house when it established itself.) So I guess you'll have to make up your own mind whether this plant is something you want to buy at the nursery for landscaping or remove from your landscaping as a weed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2011 Barbara Radisavljevic