If This Is A Trash Tree, I’ll Take a Landfill

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 13, 2013 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Tiphiid Wasp (Myzinum spp.) nectaring on groundsel
Tiphiid Wasp (Myzinum spp.) nectaring on groundsel

I’ve heard people refer to Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) as a “trash tree”. I assumed that it had this reference because it is a short-lived perennial with somewhat weak limbs, but I was curious about what others actually meant by this.  Various definitions I’ve found of “trash tree” are

“A rapidly growing, short-lived deciduous tree that is shrubby in habit and has no landscape, lumber, or fruit value.”

another:

“trash trees are those trees that, for one reason or another, have been given a bad name in the plant community at large.” – —Mitch Fitzgerald, Trash Trees: Why We Love Them

Groundselbush Beetle Larvae (caterpillar) (Trirhabda bacharidis) is a larval host for some wasps
Groundselbush Beetle Larvae (caterpillar) (Trirhabda bacharidis) is a larval host for some wasps

The latter is more to my liking because when it comes to Saltbush a.k.a. Groundsel or Silverling, if you believe the first and think it has no value, well, you have been severely misguided.

the adult Groundselbush Beetle (Trirhabda bacharidis) can chew leaves, but also pollinates. Look at those antenna
the adult Groundselbush Beetle (Trirhabda bacharidis) can chew leaves, but also pollinates. Look at those antenna

In spring it is a favorite among nesting birds for its cover and also for its wide variety of arthropods which feed young nestlings.

And juvenile beetles can feed birds, treefrogs and anoles
And juveniles can feed birds, treefrogs and anoles

Come late fall and early winter, Saltbush provides one of the more beneficial late-nectar sources for the pollinator community and hunting ground for other fauna’s major players. It is a more bountiful provider than any landscape could hope for.  It is dioecious and a male specimen is what caught my attention this week.

Syrphid Flies such as Palpada agrorum
Syrphid Flies such as Palpada agrorum

Native to the Coastal states in the Eastern U.S. from New York/Connecticut down to Florida and then west to Texas. It can be used as a specimen or lined up as a hedge. Clip it to keep it at whatever height is most desirable to you.  I let mine grow to their natural form.  With prolific seeds, it can be somewhat aggressive, but I manage to control it but pulling up seedlings and if it appears in any of the paths, mowing it down while young.

Butterflies such as the Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) dive in
Butterflies such as the Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) dive in

So, why do I think it is so valuable?  If you’ve been following the photos, as a wildlife gardener you probably have started to realize just how many species are rewarded by what is held within.

Margined Leatherwing Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) love the pollen and their larvae are predatory on some caterpillar pests of crops
Margined Leatherwing Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) love the pollen and their larvae are predatory on some caterpillar pests of crops

Loved by paper wasps:

Copy-of-saltbushWaspDec2013
Loved by  mason wasps:

Copy-of-saltbushredblackwasp
Unfortunately, loved by invasive Cuban treefrogs who lie in wait

Copy-of-saltbushcubantreefrog
But then again, another who lies in wait is the much revered Florida native  Green Anole.

Copy-of-saltbushanoleDec2013-682x1024

Another critter who is a patient predator is the Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata fasciata):

Copy-of-saltbushjaggeDec2013A

Beetles join the party:

Beetles are a favorite of many species up the food chain
Beetles are a favorite of many species up the food chain

Of course, the old standby exotic Honeybee joins in:

Copy-of-saltbushhoneybeeDec2013

Bottle flies are efficient pollinators:
Copy-of-saltbushblueflyDec2013D

So, when it comes to trash trees, B. halimifolia makes a wildlife garden a landfill full of life.

Hail, hail the gang’s all here. How many pollinators can you count?
Hail, hail the gang’s all here. How many pollinators can you count?
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