It’s mid-September, and the vast majority of endemic native plant species are done flowering for the season. However, in the last couple of weeks, one hold-out, Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis), also known as Chaparral Broom, has only just begun to bloom.
Like many late-season native blooming plants in this region, Coyote Brush is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), despite bearing little resemblance to a sunflower whatsoever.
Coyote Brush is a very common species found in coastal sage scrub and chapparral communities throughout north and central California. It is not a plant that will cause your neighbor’s jaws to drop, and is not really suited to a well-manicured landscape, although it can be used as an informal hedge or screen.
Coyote Brush is variable in height, ranging from 3 to 8 feet tall. It’s deep rooted, and drought tolerant, making it well suited to planting on slopes to curb erosion.
The leaves are simple and alternate along the stem, but reduced to bracts at the tips.
The bloom period for this species typically ranges from late August to November.
This species is dioecious, producing tiny male and female flowers on separate plants, although neither flower type is particularly showy. What the flowers lack in size though, they make up for in numbers.
It’s a rather unassuming plant from a distance, and quite easy to ignore, especially when it’s not in bloom. As such there are two types of gardeners when it comes to Coyote Brush. Those who feel it has a deserved place in the habitat garden, and those who cringe at the mere thought of it in the landscape. However, it does have tremendous ecological value.
Up close at this time of year though it becomes apparent that this species is perhaps one of the most singularly important native plants in bloom, at least from a pollinator’s perspective. Even before you can see them you can hear the myriads of flying insects buzzing between the blooms.
In the early autumn native plants in this region that provide nectar are quite scarce. As a result, at least here, Coyote Brush is a highly prized nectar source for many species of native, and non-native, pollinators alike.
Coyote Brush grows in open areas, in full sun. We only have a few mature specimens growing here at the moment, mostly around the periphery of the orchard, in part because some plants were removed when the kitchen garden area was graded. These few plants that remain down-slope from the apiary are absolutely swarming with activity though as the bees restock their winter larder stores before the weather changes.
I now regret removing, rather than moving, some of the plants that were cleared during the installation of the kitchen garden. At that time, in my ignorance, I just viewed these plants as common, and rather weedy looking. I honestly didn’t recognize much value in them at all.
However, I’ve now come to appreciate that this species has a very important place here on the farm.
They’re tough, surviving on no supplemental water once established, growing in very poor loose and sandy soils, and virtually deer-proof.
This plant clearly appeals to wide range of insect species…
…and it provides valuable food and shelter for bird, and reptile species too, like this juvenile Coast Range Fence Lizard (note this baby is perched on an oak leaf, which shows how small he is).
As the female plants can be somewhat messy as they finish blooming, male plants are the ones that are predominantly available in the nursery trade. Both sexes are required for seed production. Seed production here, however, does not seem to be a problem!
If I can propagate more of these plants myself, either from seed, or through cuttings, they will be useful to fill in some areas down-slope of the orchard, and across from the goat barn.
November should be the best time to try propagation from woody cuttings, but should that fail, the best time to collect seed is between now, and December. I can harvest seeds as they mature in the fall, and hold them until spring. The seed doesn’t need any pre-treatment, and can simply be sown in flats.
That, though, is a project for a rainy day in the greenhouse. First I need to clear some bench space as the greenhouse is a little crowded at the moment with native sages, and buckwheats. Thankfully, fall planting season is almost here!