Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Sea Myrtle

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A woody daisy that blooms in November?  Even when lapped by salt water?  Baccharis is your plant.  And what a garden-worthy oddity it is, too.  First, it's  is the only woody daisy that's hardy north of Florida.  (Next time you're in California, though, check out all the subtropical woody species there, with shrubs and even trees among them.)  And it's native from Nova Scotia to Corpus Christi, too. 

 

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The flowers—yes, those are the flowers in the pictures above—sure don't look like daisies.  That's because they don't have any of the "ray" flowers that provide a daisy's petals.  They're only "disk" flowers, which are the little jobs at the eye—the disk—of the daisy.  But the disk flowers of Baccharis halimifolia also have long white fluffy tails.  They're still young and whippet-thin in this shot, but they'll fluff out as they age.  Don't we all.

 

Baccharis has interesting leaves, too.  They're flat and toothy like cilantro, but are densely flecked with silver. 

 

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They're inedible by man or beast, so add being deer-proof to sea myrtle's list of talents.

 

 

Here's how to grow this unique woody daisy:

 

Latin Name

Baccharis halimifolia

Common Names

Sea Myrtle, Groundsel Bush, White Caps, Baccharis

Family

Asteraceae, the Aster family.

What kind of plant is it?

Broadleaved semi-evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9.

Habit

Broad, mounding, and multi-stemmed.  Evergreen in mild climates, deciduous (with welcome reluctance) in cold ones. 

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A colony ten feet tall and wide.

Texture

Baccharis is both subtle and striking.  Its billowing mounds of smallish blue-green leaves are always a welcome contrast in their favored salt-marshy sites, which are more typically the province of reeds, bayberry, and (at least here in New England) serviceberry, and winterberry.  But then, well on into Fall, the leafy mounds become topped with an enduring frothy whiteness that is not wind-whipped sea foam, nor an early and very fluffy snow, nor even what you'd expect of a bush in the Fall: seedheads.  It's the flowers.

Grown for

its uniquely late bloom.  Only after everything else in the wetland landscape has gone to seed, to berry, to plume, to fruit, to sleep—or just to hell—does Baccharis begin to flower.  Baccharis is dioecious, meaning that bushes are separately-sexed.  Only the flowers on the female bushes are showy.  After the flowers have matured to seeds, the fluffy portion—the "pappus" in horto-Latin—remains for weeks, to catch the wind and, as the seeds finally release from the bush in Winter, to parachute the seeds far and wide. 

 

its intriguing leaves.  Flat and with a variable amount of gentle toothiness, in shape, the foliage will remind you of cilantro.  But the color is much more blue, and the surface is peppered with innumerable silver flecks.

 

its intrepid toughness.  Baccharis is broadly native to salt- as well as fresh-water wetlands from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico.  Because it's able to grow by both fresh water as well as brackish, Baccharis has been extending its range inland.  It also occurs in ditches and low spots far away from open water: the seeds are also fluffy, and can be dispersed widely.  

 

its unique status:  Baccharis is the only woody member of the Aster family native to the East Coast.  All the other Eastern asters are herbaceous.  There are many warm-climate asters that are shrubby, and a few that are truly tree-like.  Baccharis is the only woody aster tough enough—as well as cosmpolitan enough—to grow in wetlands from the southern tip of Nova Scotia to Galveston, Texas.

 

its value to bees and butterflies.  Baccharis flowers even later than most perennial asters—or even adult ivy, another Fall treat for nectar feeders—so is one of their last nectar sources before Winter descends.  Baccharis bushes are either male or female; the female flowers are much showier, but the male flowers have the nectar. 

Flowering season

Mid-Fall.  November here in Rhode Island.  The flowers are showy for many weeks, even after the leaves have been shed due to serious cold.

Culture

While Baccharis is very adept at handling ground that's saturated with fresh water as well as brackish, it will also grow in regular garden soil, too, as long as drought stress isn't part of the assignment.  Sandy soil, then, is fine as long as it's bordering the water; sandy soil in Arizona, though, would be fatal.  Full sun is best.

How to handle it

Baccharis is great for naturalizing, especially if planted in wetlands or along fresh or tidal ponds.  Plants grow fast, so there's no need to worry about buying big ones. 

 

The Fall flowers are so surprising.  Even experienced gardeners will think they're the seed-heads of the true flowers that, earlier in the season, they've once again failed to notice.  Only the flowers of the female bushes are showy.  Alas, there's no source I know of that sells Baccharis by sex, so be sure to buy a few plants.  Almost certainly, most will be female.

 

After they've all "come out" in terms of sex, you can decide if you want to yank the males (if you have any).  That will give a multi-bush colony the most uniform look during the long flowering season.  On the other hand, because it's the male bushes that produce the flowers with the nectar, you'll probably want to keep any male bushes as a late-season food source for bees and butterflies.  The ideal would be to grow Baccharis in single-sex colonies.  Each will have the most consistent show in terms of flowers—the female colony will be dramatically white and cottony when in bloom and the male colony won't—and nectar-feeders won't have to waste time prowling around female bushes in their search for additional males.

 

Additionally, male bushes are shorter than females, so you'll want to keep the sexes separate just in terms of a colony's overall profile, too.  It would look odd to have a male—shorter and, comparatively, drab when in flower—interrupting a full-on display of taller and wider females all abloom.   

 

Baccharis prefers but doesn't require wetlands; it will grow in any soil that doesn't get dry by August.  This Spring, I'm going to transplant my female bushes to small bog gardens in the reflecting pool.  They're really just a couple of galvanized ten-gallon washtubs full of dirt, with a few holes drilled in the bottoms to let the water in, and set on enough bricks so that the lip of the tubs is four inches above the water.  I'll need a pair of Baccharis colonies in the pool, one on each side, so they'll both need to be the same sex.  Because the female flowers are visible even at a distance, and the reflecting pool is over two hundred feet from the house, this means I'll be selecting the females.  I'll leave the males in the regular garden bed.   

 

Baccharis flowers at the tips of growth that emerged that same season, so last year's growth isn't helpful in terms of flowering.  And it might just make the bush too tall for where you need it, too.  No problem:  Cut the bush to the ground in early Spring to renew it, and also to keep it shorter.  I'm going to experiment with doing it every Spring, just like you'd do with buddleias.

 

Alternatively, you could experiment with limbing-up a Baccharis bush, to create a small tree.  Better yet: Limb it up whenever needed to keep a trunk clear of sprouts, and cut back the remaining canopy each Spring, to create a Baccharis standard.  Be still my heart!   

 

The off-white flowers and gently blue-green foliage go with everything. 

Downsides

Baccharis has become invasive in Europe and Australia.  Its foliage is avoided by herbivores, so the bush can successfully colonize grazing areas here in the United States.  The seeds are fluffy, as well, and can become wind-dispersed widely.  Check with the local extention office of the USDA to see if there are any cautions about Baccharis where you garden.

Variants

There are nearly 500 other species of Baccharis, making it the largest genus in the Aster family.  None but B. halimifolia is hardy enough to plant north of Zone 7.  B. halimifolia 'Orient Point' is shorter—only to five or six feet—and has a subtle bit of red at the base of the flowers, which, perhaps, is only of interest to Baccharis fetishists.  You know who you are.        

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By cuttings as well as by seed.

Native habitat

Baccharis halimifolia is native to every state bordering the Atlantic as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

 
 
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