Sea myrtle (Baccharis halimifolia) is one of the most striking native shrubs in the NC piedmont at this time of year. Its fuzzy white seed heads are a common sight beside lakes, in unmown fields, and along roads, where its tolerance for salt is a definite advantage. B. halimifolia is a member of the Asteraceae, the daisy family, although the family resemblance is difficult to see at first glance. It’s a woody shrub, instead of a forb, and its inflorescences lack the colorful ray flowers that give the showier members of the family their horticultural value. However, the white plumes attached to the seeds make the plant look as though it is covered with snow and more than make up for the lack of color.
I’m surprised that sea myrtle isn’t used more often as a garden shrub for seasonal interest. Though I have previously criticized the groundskeepers on the campus where I work, I have to admit they have done a good job incorporating some volunteer B. halimifolia into the landscape. By removing the lower branches, they have exposed the twisted trunks and turned the plants into very interesting specimens.
The only defects of B. halimifolia from a horticultural point of view seem to be its brittle wood and its production of huge quantities of airborne seeds. Many horticulturally valuable shrubs are also brittle (e.g. my Hypericum frondosum, which snapped under snow this winter), so that doesn’t seem to be a fatal flaw. More problematic is its tendency to become weedy. It is apparently invasive in southern Europe and Australia. Perhaps it would be best to grow it only in its native range.