hard to miss the silky white tufts that appear on the
groundsel tree, each one almost floating against the
backdrop of fallís clear blue skies.
late October, the female plant produces these fruits and
their coverings," says Helen Hamilton, a
Williamsburg, Va., resident who taught biology,
chemistry and earth science for 30 years. She is
co-author of "Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginiaís
the fall flowers fade, the silvery appearance of
groundsel tree persists into winter. Earlier in the fall
the male flowers were on another nearby plant ó small,
yellowish and rounded, they are shriveled by the time
the female flowers are forming fruits."
known as Baccharis halimifolia, groundsel tree has many
common names, "groundsel" referring to the
cottony tufts on the female plant, she adds. You see the
tree, nicknamed "saltbush" and
"sea-myrtle," often growing along saltwater
waterfronts and roads with heavy salt applications in
winter. Itís also known as "silverling,"
which describes its small tree-like look.
plant that thrives along coastal areas from Nova Scotia
and along the eastern and southern regions in the United
States, groundsel tree likes moist soil, including the
edges of ponds, roadside ditches and old fields, making
it a good garden plant if you have a wet spot, according
of drought, heat, and salt spray, groundsel tree forms
the saltbush zone on the margin of marshes, along with
marsh elder (Iva frutescens).
fruiting, these two plants can be distinguished by their
leaves," says Hamilton.
on groundsel tree are alternate on the stem,
wedge-shaped with a few coarse teeth. The leaves of
marsh elder are opposite and lance-shaped with finer
teeth along the edges. Marsh elder requires more water,
and tends to be the first shrub to appear in marshes,
while groundsel tree is usually on higher ground, with
less moisture in the soil. The leaves of these plants do
not change color, and often persist into winter. Both
plants are members of the Aster family."
gardeners with deer problems, groundsel tree can be used
to form a barrier against deer ó they donít eat it
because the foliage contains toxic substances they
avoid, according to Hamilton. The plantís male flowers
have rich nectar that attracts bees, wasps, hoverflies,
butterflies and other insects looking for food in late
tree reproduces mostly by seed production and resprouts
when clipped above ground. It likes full sun and is
common along the Coastal Plain into Florida and Texas,
are amazing insects ó "grasshopping" as they
move quickly about fields and gardens, using their legs
as a catapult or wings, according to Hamilton.
can both jump and fly up to eight miles per hour, and
eat their weight in food each day," she says.
though they are voracious eaters, donít confuse
grasshoppers with locusts, advises Hamilton.
have said: "all locusts are grasshoppers, but not
all grasshoppers are locusts." The swarming
behavior occurs when food is scarce, and the insects
gather around patches of vegetation.
crop-damaging grasshoppers in the Americas are usually
found in the western states, according to Hamilton. But
in Florida, the American bird grasshopper (Schistocerca
americana) damaged field crops, vegetables, ornamentals
and trees. This species overwinters as an adult, and
normally has two generations per year.
grasshoppers, Schistocerca spp. are exceptionally strong
fliers, which may explain the reference to birds in the
common name. They are large, and like most grasshoppers,
voracious feeders on all sorts of plant material,
including flowers like you see on the native groundsel
grasshoppers feed as long as they can find leaves and
grass. As winter nears, adults die after the female lays
eggs in soil, leaving them in clusters with a protective
covering. In spring, young emerge as nymphs, resembling
the adult, but small and wingless, according to
Hamilton. Five or six nymphal stages occur over summer
until the adult is fully formed.
insects are nutritional bird food, with high protein and
fat content, and make great roasted snacks for people.
roasted grasshoppers were a favorite snack in high
school biology classes," says Hamilton of her
earlier teaching days.