The Importance of Coyote Bush

A Western Gray Squirrel with a black walnut nut in its mouth.
Finally a chance to sit and eat!
A native black walnut tree after a severe frost that has dropped most of its branchlets on the ground.

On this fine crisp fall day, I am noticing the dryness of the landscape. There are very few flowers left and the grass seed heads have mostly fallen off their stems. The leaves on the trees are beginning to change into browns and yellows. Walking past a group of large coyote bushes, Baccharis pilularis, I notice they are alive with sound and movement. In the fall and winter, this common shrub is a critical source of nectar for many native bees, butterflies, and other insects when most other plants are finished with their flowering.

One other interesting thing about this shrub is that it is a dioecious plant, meaning that it has male and female flowers on different plants. The female flowers produce the white fluff full of seeds that can make these plants messy. Therefore, nurseries tend to sell the male plants – not so messy with their rounded, neat stamen filled flowers.

This tough member of the aster family can grow to 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It is adapted to many kinds of soil, including alkaline and clay. This means it is found in different habitats like oak woodlands, chaparral, and coastal areas. Because it is adapted to drought conditions, it is a useful plant for restoration projects, and It is used to help curb erosion. It can provide cover for other native plants to germinate. It is used extensively by wildlife for shelter and is attractive to natural insect predators that eat aphids, mites, and whiteflies. Coyote bush has been used extensively on the mitigation land for all these purposes.

The hum and buzz of all the insects are a welcome sound to my ears. With the news that insect populations, especially native bees and butterflies, are declining world-wide, I am thrilled to see so many different kinds on these bushes.