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Coyote Brush (or Bush): Is This Plant a Blessing or a Curse?

Barb's hobbies are photography and studying nature. She gardens and takes photo walks to explore nature and capture it on camera.

This is an established clump of coyote brush in bloom. Just in front of it is a new plant, probably produced from one of the seeds from that clump. What's amazing is that there's only one.

This is an established clump of coyote brush in bloom. Just in front of it is a new plant, probably produced from one of the seeds from that clump. What's amazing is that there's only one.

What Is Coyote Brush?

Believe it or not, coyote brush (also called coyote bush) is a member of the sunflower family. It's 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 pay attention to when it's in your yard.

How Did It Get That Name?

Many people have asked why it's called coyote brush. It's been suggested that 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.

What Does It Look Like?

Coyote brush 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, which makes it deer resistant.

Does It Attract Bees and Butterflies?

Insects of all sorts love coyote brush. 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 seen bees covering it.

Close-up of blooming coyote brush getting ready to disburse its seeds, which will be carried by the wind to make new plants.

Close-up of blooming coyote brush getting ready to disburse its seeds, which will be carried by the wind to make new plants.


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.

The Amazing Root System

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, as you can see in the photos above. 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 some of the photos above, 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.

This is the trapped trap, unlucky enough to be neglected and forgotten while the coyote bush was germinating under it. Another coyote bush trick.

This is the trapped trap, unlucky enough to be neglected and forgotten while the coyote bush was germinating under it. Another coyote bush trick.

It's Quick-Spreading and Fast-Growing

I can testify that the plants spread readily and seem to grow quickly. The photo above shows 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.

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.

Further Reading

  • 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.

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.

© 2011 Barbara Radisavljevic

Please leave your comments and feedback here.

Barbara Radisavljevic (author) from Templeton, CA on December 11, 2020:

Sorry to be so late in responding. My comments received weren't showing in my notifications. I'd really be interested in how you like the plants that by this time you probably have planted. The big thing to remember is to stay on top of them. They will take over all your space if you don't deal with them in a timely manner .

Johnny Bench on November 19, 2019:

Times have changed! I am building a house in San Diego, and the city/state requirements are draconian. But pertinent here, is the fact that I had to hire a landscape architect, and a landscape contractor. The constraints include water conserving, fire resistant, and slope stabilizing. So the architect has proposed these plants in all the newly graded slopes (not really very big, the whole lot is only 3/4 acre.) So it is a little worrisome to read these comments, but the architect tells me that this is the least expensive way to go, and most likely to have the blessing of the city inquisitors,oops I mean inspectors.

Barbara Radisavljevic (author) from Templeton, CA on May 26, 2018:

I agree coyote brush has its uses. And it actually does add some variation in winter color on the landscapes. I'd rather have it than more poison oak, which also seems to do very well with no care and no irrigation.

nancy on September 11, 2017:

Important plants for erosion control and habitat. If you cut them to the ground ( copice), they grow back fresh and vibrant green without water! There aren't many plants that maintain vibrant green in summer heat without water. The Old Coyote is worthy of some respect.

Barbara Radisavljevic (author) from Templeton, CA on July 11, 2017:

I would definitely consider it a weed shrub. I don't know of anyone who actually plants it, or who would need to here. It easily can become a forest.

Marsha Musselman from Michigan, USA on March 20, 2017:

I almost got a laugh about the trap being trapped by this bush. Odd that it has many disguises or so it seems. Are there a lot of different varieties that it looks so different or is it just because they are in different rates of growth?

I don't know if this type of bush can be treated like unwanted saplings or what I call weed trees or not as we don't have those here. But, I think probably anywhere across the nation there are bushes, trees and plants put there by a different homeowner without though of it's possibly longevity.

Trimming to the ground probably causes it to proliferate quicker much like normal pruning does for bushes? I'd want to get rid of as much as possible before it turns to seed. That doesn't look pleasant at all.

Barbara Radisavljevic (author) from Templeton, CA on January 22, 2013:

I can't believe anyone actually buying this. I would have given you dozens of free transplants and seeds. Of course, you must have more than one plant by now. It is very hearty, and is very difficult to get rid of once established. I pulled out a few more seedlings from my garden area yesterday. Funny, though, I've never noticed the scent you speak of, and I'm out in it all the time. I'll have to do more sniffing.

jerryslong on January 21, 2013:

Nice article, I always wondered about the Coyote Brush name origin. Even the Rangers didn't know.

Long before I knew what Coyote Brush was, I noticed its delightful and aromatic herbal fragrance when driving or hiking near the Sonoma coast where I live, and where it grows in profusion. After many years I made a point of finding out what plant gave off that nice summertime smell? The fragrance was unmistakable, especially when the scented air molecules were coming at you head-on with the car window down, rounding a coast highway curve. Wow! Downright intoxicating. Sort of a fresh blast of sweet dill and sea air. Over the years I observed that Coyote Brush does not become aromatically fragrant unless the ambient temperature reaches about 74 degrees F. I actually went to my local nursery a few years back to buy one of these plants before I knew what they were. They of course sold me the wrong variety, sort of a similar looking ground cover version. I later found a real Coyote Brush seedling and transplanted it next to my driveway gate so I could enjoy its aromatic properties in the warmer months. It wafts right in my house if I leave the nearby window open.

It seems a hearty plant and almost says "Thank you" when you water it. You could run over it with a bus and it would come back. I keep it shaped and trimmed as it is a fast growing plant. I also like the fact that it is an evergreen and fairly clean plant. They are quite enjoyable when in bloom. Some people hate them, others tolerate them, while those like me, just try to appreciate this fellow native Californian.

Barbara Radisavljevic (author) from Templeton, CA on December 09, 2012:

I'm glad this was useful to you. I've been out pulling baby coyote bushes today. Would have replied sooner, but this mistakenly got filed as spam and I hadn't checked that file lately. Thank you for your comment.

Jack Duggan on October 10, 2012:

I was looking for information on coyote bush and found your piece. It was excellent, clear, concise, lots of good information and personal. I got what I wanted to find and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

Barbara Radisavljevic (author) from Templeton, CA on December 06, 2011:


I agree there is always more to share. After last night's frost, the coyote in bloom are the prettiest of the flora in this area, since I noticed this morning my favorite vineyard across the fence is now brown. Yesterday it still displayed its lovely autumn dress. Now its changed to winter brown. Coyote is still green with white tops.

Thanks for coming by to comment.

Eiddwen from Wales on December 06, 2011:

Another wonderful hub,thank you so much for sharing.

Here's to so many more to share on here.

Take care and I wish you a wonderful day.


s on December 05, 2011:

hi i like the coyote bush

Barbara Radisavljevic (author) from Templeton, CA on November 22, 2011:

Thanks for letting me know the comment module really does work, Audrey. The hired help was able to free the trap from the ground, but we still aren't sure how to get the trap door open and get the rest of the plant out.

I have a bunch of mint that has taken over almost an entire side bed and part of the front yard at what was my mom's house. I brought some home in a pot a couple of years before she died, and after all these years it seems to have sent a few roots out into the rest of the herb garden. At least, though, it is an herb garden.

The thing about coyote bush is that it's bigger and taller than mint and it would take over the entire property if one didn't stop it. Have you noticed how nature abhors a vacuum or bare ground?

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on November 22, 2011:

Well, now you have one comment~ Don't fret - I have a lot of hubs that I don't think have a comment on them.

Gotta love the trapped plant inside the cat trap! This plant seems a lot like my cursed peppermint, although THAT I planted willingly and of my own volition. I have been trying to eradicate it from 3 separate plant beds ever since! I finally pulled it and stuck it in its own pot and am wondering even with that if it will break rank and seed itself into my gardens once again.

It is pretty though~~~It kinda reminds me of junipers in this part of Oregon - they are simply EVERYWHERE - and the bad thing is a lot of my friends are horribly allergic to the pollen.

I always ask why some plants are so prolific and others so hard to keep going but it is not mine to question why, just to garden~