As you drive along our highways and byways, perhaps for the season's last visit to the beach, tucked among the turning Autumn grasses and shrubby undergrowth, you'll see a soft haze of silver. This beautiful, feathery show is put on by the fruits of the Groundsel Bush, Baccharis halimifolia. Each Fall, after flowering, this shrub is covered with thousands of little fruit resembling tiny, white paint brushes. Each "paint brush" is actually a collection of silky hairs, called a "pappus", which surrounds every individual fruit. Together, all the pappi make a striking display that looks like a cloud of angel hair on each shrub.
Groundsel Bush is a native, deciduous shrub that offers unique character to any Fall landscape. While the leaves do not develop noticeable Fall color and the flowers are nothing to speak of, the silvery white pappi on the fruit add a beautiful, fairy-like dimension to a mixed border or naturalized area. Groundsel Bush is particularly striking when planted with other fall blooming plants that it can be found growing near in the wild; like Asters, Goldenrods and Ironweed. For the botanists among us, Groundsel Bush is related to Asters and Goldenrods by virtue of being one of the very few shrubs in the Compositae, the plant family of mostly annuals and herbaceous perennials such as Sunflowers and Daisies.
Groundsel Bush grows rapidly to reach 5 to 12 feet in height. It is an open, airy textured plant that spreads to 10 feet wide with a loose, irregular shape. Groundsel Bush is a native pioneer species, once found only near coastal areas, that has successfully colonized inland regions as well from Massachusetts to Florida. Groundsel Bush is quite cold hardy and will tolerate most growing conditions. Its a good choice for coastal landscapes because it thrives in full sun and is very salt tolerant. Don't hesitate to use Groundsel Bush in non-coastal areas as well, however, because it also makes a fine garden plant in inland regions, tolerating heat, drought and poorly drained soils.
In spite of its many virtues, it is rarely seen in commercial nurseries with production only by a very few native plant nurseries. However, you might consider growing this plant yourself. This species is dioecious which means that male and female flowers are on different plants. Seed collected from female plants in the Fall needs no special treatment and can germinate in 1 to 2 weeks to a readily growing seedling. Groundsel Bush can also be propagated vegetatively from softwood cuttings taken in Summer from selected superior plants.
At The North Carolina State University Arboretum, walk along the Mixed Border. Among this border's many interesting shrubs, grasses, groundcovers and perennials, Groundsel Bush can be found by the rustic arbor, painting the Fall landscape with its lovely, silvery white brushes - a plant with an artistic palatte indeed!