the gloriously messy coyote bush

The coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis) that I grew from wild-collected seed a few years ago is now a pretty major heap of greenery, something on the order of ten feet tall and even wider. The plant is a reliable, bright green, informal background shrub that asks for almost no water. Insects appreciate its late-season flowers for nectar when few other natives offer nectar on the menu.

Coyote bush seed litter, floating
Coyote bush seed litter, floating
Coyote bush seed litter--stuck on doormat. It can get everywhere...
Coyote bush seed litter–stuck on a doormat. It can get everywhere…

Coyote bushes are either male or female, though almost all cultivars sold in nurseries are male plants, for reasons about to become obvious. Also, the most commonly-grown versions of this plant around here are the low-mounding groundcover forms like ‘Pigeon Point.’ My plant is a female, and beginning in November or so it also puts out an enormous quantity of seeds that are attached to a fluffy white structure called a pappus. The plant makes so many of these seed structures that the branches look like they’re covered with snow. And when the wind blows, these seeds float poetically on the breezes the way dandelion seeds do. (Both the dandelion and coyote bush hail from the ginormous daisy family of plants.) But the poetry stops and the cursing begins when the seeds land and you have coyote seedlings everywhere in the garden. I kid you not when I say that I pulled well over a thousand of these seedlings from around the garden just this past spring. These things are prolific.

Snow- (and endless maintenance-) on-a-stick
Snow- (and Maintenance-) on-a-stick

The last couple of years I’ve been giving the plant a good trimming before the seed production gets too out of hand. I didn’t get to the task this year until a week ago, after the plant had already begun broadcasting its seed. Doing it in early to mid-November would have been ideal. The plant doesn’t mind the haircut, and by the beginning of spring you can hardly tell the plant has been pruned.

Cutting back the coyote bush trimmings--One way to reduce the amount of seed litter
Coyote Bush trimmings–One way to reduce the amount of seed litter

We can let wild plants into our gardens, but we often exert at least some level of control to make “nature” conform to the needs of a city garden. Now that I’ve lived with the mess and maintenance the last few years, I think that it’s time to pot up a half dozen or so seedlings and select for a male plant to replace this gloriously messy female. I’ll miss the late-autumn “snowfall,” but not the pruning and weeding. Sometimes what works really well in nature doesn’t transition so well into our little cultivated plots of land.

7 thoughts on “the gloriously messy coyote bush”

  1. I’ve wondered how much trouble a female coyote bush would be, because the seeds are so interesting to look at, and it would be trivially easy for me to collect local wild seeds. But I think you just talked me out of trying to grow one. They are pretty, though!

  2. we have a wild rosemary, which sounds and looks to fill a similar daisy shrub with fluffy seed niche. But ours produces fluff which the birds use for nests and not a problem amount.

    1. Interesting to know about your South African counterpart. With a name liek “wild rosemary” it must be fragrant. On my plant I suspect the fluff could be used later for nesting, and the seeds for food, so I did leave a wee bit on the plant.

  3. I like to consider myself a friend of the coyote brush, but I’m not all that great a friend as I only tolerate the volunteers that come up at the wildest edges of my plantings and I’ve only planted the low growing cultivars a couple of times and not recently. That’s a cool idea, to come up with your own male plants instead of buying Pigeon Point, I never really thought of doing that but of course it wouldn’t be so hard.

  4. I loved reading your post and find it remarkable that a plant native to San Diego is also native up here by me in Portland. I am looking for native plants to revegetate a former jail site turned shelter so will have to keep my eyes open for seeds of this plant. It would have plenty of room to go wild and propagate. 🙂

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