Baccharis salicifolia Care Guide: Thriving with Mule’s Fat

Pronunciation:

Introduction

Baccharis salicifolia, commonly known as mule fat or seepwillow in the United States, is a perennial shrub native to the southwestern regions of North America. This plant is valued for its adaptability to various environments and its use in habitat restoration and erosion control. It is also appreciated for its ornamental qualities, particularly its attractive foliage and flowers.

Classification

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Tracheophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Asterales
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Genus: Baccharis
  • Species: Baccharis salicifolia

Description

Baccharis salicifolia is a woody shrub known for its willow-like leaves and robust growth habit. It is a dioecious plant, meaning that individual plants are either male or female, with both sexes required for seed production. The plant is recognized for its ecological value, as it provides food and habitat for various wildlife species. It has ornamental appeal due to its dense foliage and fluffy flower clusters, making it a suitable choice for natural gardens and landscapes. Although not typically known for being invasive, it can spread vigorously under favorable conditions.

Size

Baccharis salicifolia typically reaches heights of 4 to 12 feet, with a maximum known height of approximately 15 feet under optimal conditions. The general growth rate per month varies, but the plant is considered to be fast-growing. Its roots are fibrous and extensive, which helps in stabilizing soil and preventing erosion. There are no known issues with the roots causing problems in urban or garden settings.

Leaves

The leaves of Baccharis salicifolia are simple, alternate, and lanceolate with serrated margins. They are typically 1 to 3 inches long and have a bright green color. Botanically, the leaves are characterized by their glabrous surface and pinnate venation, which contributes to their willow-like appearance.

Flower

Baccharis salicifolia produces small, fluffy flowers arranged in dense clusters. The blooming period occurs in the late summer to fall. Male flowers are cream-colored and release pollen, while female flowers are white to pale yellow and develop into seed heads after pollination. The flowers are an important nectar source for bees and butterflies.

Fruit

The fruit of Baccharis salicifolia is an achene, a small, one-seeded fruit that is typically dispersed by wind due to the presence of feathery pappus attached to the seeds.

Stem

The stems of Baccharis salicifolia are erect, branching, and can become woody with age. They have a reddish-brown color and may exhibit a smooth or slightly furrowed texture.

Cultivation and Care

Baccharis salicifolia is a hardy plant that requires minimal care once established. It is well-suited for naturalized areas, riparian zones, and water-wise gardens.

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Planting

To plant Baccharis salicifolia, choose a location with full sun to partial shade. Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and of the same depth. Place the plant in the hole, backfill with soil, and water thoroughly. Mulching around the base can help retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Soil Preference

Baccharis salicifolia is adaptable to a range of soil types, including sand, silt, clay, and loam. It prefers well-drained soils and can tolerate both acidic and alkaline pH levels.

Watering

Once established, Baccharis salicifolia is drought-tolerant. Water deeply but infrequently to encourage deep root growth. During the first growing season, water weekly to help the plant establish. Afterward, reduce watering frequency, especially in cooler months.

Sun Requirements

Baccharis salicifolia thrives in full sun but can also tolerate partial shade. Planting in a sunny location will promote the most vigorous growth and abundant flowering.

Pruning

Prune Baccharis salicifolia in late winter to early spring to maintain shape and encourage new growth. Use clean, sharp pruning shears or loppers to remove any dead or damaged branches. Pruning can also be done to control the size of the plant.

Propagation

Propagation of Baccharis salicifolia can be achieved through seeds or stem cuttings. Seeds should be sown in the fall, while stem cuttings can be taken in the spring or summer and rooted in a moist growing medium.

Health & Safety

There are no known toxic or poisonous parts of Baccharis salicifolia to humans, dogs, or cats. The plant is not known to have thorns, spikes, or cause contact dermatitis, making it safe for planting in areas frequented by people and pets.

Pests and Problems

Baccharis salicifolia is generally resistant to pests and diseases. However, it can occasionally be affected by aphids (Aphidoidea) and spider mites (Tetranychidae), which can be managed by hosing off with water or using insecticidal soap. Proper cultural practices, such as avoiding overhead watering and maintaining good air circulation, can help prevent these issues.

General Information

Plant Name:Baccharis salicifolia
Etymology:Genus: Baccharis – Named after Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, due to the resemblance of some species’ leaves to those of grapevines.
Species: salicifolia – Derived from Latin “salix” meaning willow and “folium” meaning leaf, referring to the willow-like appearance of the leaves.
Common Name:Mule’s Fat
Genus:Baccharis
Species:salicifolia
Family:Asteraceae

Plant Characteristics

Height:0.5-4 meters, 1.6-13.1 feet
Width and Spread:Width: 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters)
Spread: 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters)
Plant Type:Perennial
Habit/Form:Growth Habit: Shrub
Growth Form: Erect
Leaf Type:Simple, alternate, evergreen
Leaf Arrangement:Alternate
Leaf Shape:Lanceolate to linear-lanceolate
Leaf Margin:Serrate
Leaf Color:Green
Fragrance:Yes, Baccharis salicifolia has a fragrance. It smells herbal or resinous.
Stem Description:Square, glabrous, sometimes slightly winged.
Stem Is Aromatic:No
Texture:Leathery, glandular
Leaf Feel:Glabrous to glandular-pubescent.
Leaf Length:5-10 cm
Leaf Description:Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Shape: Lanceolate to narrowly elliptic
Leaf Margin: Serrate to nearly entire
Leaf Surface: Glabrous to sparsely hairy
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Length: 1-10 cm
Leaf Width: 0.2-2 cm
Leaf Base: Tapering
Leaf Apex: Acute to acuminate
Leaf Texture: Thin, flexible
Petiole Length: Very short to almost sessile
Hairs Present:No
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Cultivation

Light Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Preference:Sandy, loamy, well-drained soils; tolerates various soil types including poor soils.
Water Requirements:Low to moderate.
Fertilizer Requirements:NPK Type: Balanced (e.g., 10-10-10 or 20-20-20)
Frequency: 1-2 times per year
Timing: Early spring and/or late fall
Pruning Requirements:Minimal; tolerates heavy pruning if necessary.
Seed Germination Time:nan
Display/Harvest Time:April to October
Fruit/Seed Production:Fruit production: Yes
Seed production: Yes
Growth Rate:Fast
Growth Habit:Shrub or small tree
Root System Type:Fibrous root system

Flower and Fruit Information

Fruit Type:Achene
Fruit Description:Dry, one-seeded, without pappus.
Flower Color:White to pale yellow
Flower Shape:Discoid
Flower Inflorescence:Inflorescence type: Panicle
Arrangement: Terminal and axillary
Sex: Dioecious (separate male and female plants)
Flower type: Discoid (male), Pistillate (female)
Flower color: White to cream
Flowering Season:Spring to fall
Bloom Duration:Not documented

Tolerance and Hardiness

Drought Tolerance:Moderate to high
Frost Tolerance:Not documented
Heat Tolerance:Not documented
Wind Tolerance:High
Shade Tolerance:Low to moderate shade tolerance.
Salt Tolerance:Salt tolerance: Moderate
Soil Compaction Tolerance:Low
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones:9-11
Photoperiod Sensitivity:Not documented

Wildlife and Landscape

Pollinator Attraction:Yes. Bees, butterflies, and other insects.
Wildlife Value:Nectar source for butterflies, cover for birds, habitat for insects.
Problematic Insects:Aphids, spider mites, scale insects.
Allelopathic Properties:Yes
Habitat Enhancement:Baccharis salicifolia provides nectar and pollen for pollinators, stabilizes soil with its root system, and offers habitat for wildlife.
Erosion Control Potential:High
Landscape Location:Riparian areas, wetlands, streambanks, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and desert washes.
Landscape Theme:– Riparian restoration
– Drought-tolerant gardens
Wildlife habitat gardens
– Erosion control projects
Native plant landscapes
– Informal hedges or screens
Design Feature:Yes. Baccharis salicifolia, commonly known as mule fat or seepwillow, is used in landscape design for erosion control, as a screen or hedge, and for habitat restoration. It is also valued for its drought tolerance and attractiveness to pollinators.
Ethnobotanical Significance:Ethnobotanical uses include treatment of colds, stomachaches, and wounds; also used as a diuretic and for ceremonial purposes.
Naturalization Ability:High
Companion Planting Suitability:Companion plants for Baccharis salicifolia:

1. Salvia sp.
2. Penstemon sp.
3. Eriogonum sp.
4. Festuca californica
5. Nassella pulchra
6. Artemisia californica
7. Rhus integrifolia
8. Ceanothus sp.
9. Zauschneria californica
10. Achillea millefolium

Health and Safety

Edibility:No.
Edible Parts:Not documented.
Toxicity:Not documented
Poison Parts of Plant:Not documented
Toxic to Humans:Not documented.
Toxic to Cats:Not documented.
Toxic to Dogs:Yes.
Causes Contact Dermatitis:Not documented.
Air Purification Qualities:Not documented
Medicinal Properties:Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory, Antimicrobial, Analgesic, Hepatoprotective.
Thorniness or Spikiness:No.
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