What is Coyote Brush?

R. Britton
R. Britton
Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Coyote brush is a woody evergreen with a large number of cultivars. The botanical name of this flowering shrub is Baccharis pilularis. Each individual plant produces only male or female flowers and never both sexes on the same plant. The large, complex root system and resilient nature of the coyote brush means that this species has many uses in a wide variety of difficult settings.

As an evergreen, this species retains its foliage all year, even in the colder winter months. Numerous cultivars have been developed which offer growers different spread and growth habits. Height varies widely among the cultivars, with some species in excess of 9 feet (2.7 meters), while others rarely reach 3 feet (0.9 meters). Foliage shades and flower color also vary among the cultivars.

Generally this species produces large numbers of spreading branches, which gives the plant a loose spreading habit. The leaves of the coyote brush are toothed and usually a pale green, and the flowers tend to be white, cream, or yellow. Only one type of flower is produced on each plant. Male flowers are known as staminate and female as pistillate. Because of this arrangement, there must be both male and female producing plants in reasonably close proximity for pollination and reproduction to occur.

Flowers begin to appear from early summer and last until mid winter. Combined with the evergreen nature of the coyote brush, the long lasting flowers make this species a popular choice to add color to an otherwise barren winter garden landscape. Resistant to deer when established and mature, the coyote brush does provide a valuable food source for many insects. It also has a long history of medicinal use as a poultice for wounds and as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory.

The large, complex root system allows the coyote brush to survive in very dry and nutrient poor soil because the roots are able to absorb water and nutrients from a wide area. Although it tolerates any soil type, this species cannot cope with waterlogged soil. The huge root system means the coyote brush is very useful for planting in sites at risk of erosion; the roots hold large areas of soil together, thus limiting erosion.

It is commonly planted in exposed locations because it does not suffer from exposure to harsh weather conditions; the growth will be much denser, however. As this species is able to tolerate a small amount of salt water, it is widely used in nutrient poor, eroding coastal areas. In these areas, few other plant species will grow because of the salty spray from the sea, but the coyote brush is unaffected by a low-to-moderate salinity level.

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