Groundsel Bush – Adding White Flare to Fall Colors

Fall flowers put on a great show along our roadsides and fields, adding great contrast to the deep blue skies during this time of year. Yellow tends to dominate, but blue, pink and white flowers add to the palate of color.

One of the most dramatic of the white flowered fall plants is Groundsel Bush, Baccharis halimifolia. This moderate sized shrub erupts out of the green of our landscape with its sprays of bright white long-petaled flowers, and along with the yellow of Goldenrod, signals that fall is upon us.

The significance of all of these fall flowers is not limited to our enjoyment, as many provide pollen and nectar for the multitude of pollinators that are preparing for winter. According to my honeybee friends, Groundsel is one of the most important of these sources of pollen and nectar for bees.

But as with many things in nature, a closer look at these now obvious shrubs exposes something else about the lives of many plants. Groundsel is a dioecious species – having separate male and female plants.

Dioecious is a word of Greek origin meaning two “di” houses “oecious” (from the original word oikos) – the male flower in one, the female in another. Both flowers attract insects that transfer pollen from the male or “staminate” flowers to the female or “pistillate” flowers. In the case of Groundsel, the female flower petals are long and showy, whereas in male flowers, they are much reduced.

But bees are not the only visitors to Groundsel, as a multitude of flies, wasps, beetles, moths, butterflies, and other insects take advantage of the abundance. But where there are pollinators, predators are sure to follow, including other insects, spiders, lizards, and birds that are also preparing for cooler weather or migration.

It is always interesting to spend time watching the activity on any flowering plant, but the fall provides an exciting richness of species and drama with the blossoms of fall flowers. Groundsel is no exception and a close look at the beauty of both male and female flowers is worth your time.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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