Sometimes, this time of year, it looks like it is snowing, as the salt myrtle spreads its dandelion-like seeds out across the sky in fluffy clouds. Salt Myrtle, or Baccharis halimifolia, is a native plant of the coastal plain. The white seeds are the female flowers; the male flowers have yellow blooms and appear on separate shrubs. Monarch butterflies can be found gathering nectar on the male flowers. This plant is also known as groundsel, silverling, and sea myrtle, and consumption weed. It grows quickly in our area, and can tolerate some salt spray and wet feet. It even transplants easily when it is young, so if you have an area that needs plants, it’s a good choice for a native garden. Marsh wrens, swamp sparrows and shorebirds may nest in salt myrtle, and it provides cover for other birds. In our yard, we often have Yellow-rumped warblers flitting about in them, and I have seen a Northern Parula in a groundseltree more than once, as well as Common Yellowthroat.
Supposedly, the name “consumption weed” came from a tea that could be made from the bark and roots which would treat colds and coughs. In the late 1800’s, a Physician Porcher recommended the tea as a palliative for consumption, though he described the taste as “bitter and mucilaginous.”
The plant was also used for brooms in pre-Colonial and Colonial America.
Last year, I learned (the hard way) not to bring this inside in flower arrangements. Clean-up requires chasing all the fluffy seeds around the house.