Attract Butterflies with Saltbush

Sheila Dunning
Commercial Horticulture Faculty
Okaloosa County Extension
sdunning@ufl.edu

The tiny, white to greenish blooms and fuzzy-looking fruit of the saltbush come into flower at a time when few other small trees and shrubs are flowering. Also referred to as groundsel, it is native to coastal and interior wetlands throughout Florida, often seen in its native habitat with wax myrtle, buttonbush and marsh elder. As a large shrub, filler or massed in difficult soil situations, saltbush can be a nice addition to many landscapes.

Saltbush provides nectar to butterflies. Photo Credits: Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org

Saltbush is an oval to rounded, freely branched, multi-stemmed, hardy, semi-evergreen to deciduous, cold-tolerant shrub usually not exceeding 2 feet in height. Its leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches wide, often deeply toothed, and shiny to grayish green. Saltbush could be used more frequently near retention basins and drainage ditches. It has a good tolerance to brackish water, hence the common name. However, no water is required, even on a dry site, once this plant is established. No serious pests are normally seen on the plant. However, some maintenance can improve its appearance. With proper care to remove recurring dead wood, nice small-tree specimens can be created. Additionally, saltbush will readily reseed and spread beyond its planting site, so culling out the undesirables may be necessary.

As the monarch butterflies migrate through the Panhandle, saltbush, Baccharis halimifolia, is a must visit. Adult butterflies are highly mobile and dynamic creatures with a life expectancy of only a few weeks. During that brief period, they must find a mate, reproduce, seek out food and shelter, and avoid being eaten. To meet these high-energy demands, most adult butterflies rely on sugar-rich nectar as fuel. They are strongly attracted to large clusters of small-tubed flowers that form a stable platform on which to alight. Baccharis halimifolia meets the needs of countless butterflies each year.