Plant Profile: Weed or Beneficial?

Botanical name: Baccharis sarothroides

Family: sunflower

Common names: Rosin bush, broom baccharis, desert broom

Range: Southern California, Southwest, Mexico, and Baja from sea level to 5,500 feet.

Desert broom-a plant that you either love or hate! Short-lived (10-20 years), bright green evergreen shrub that grows to 5-10 feet high and as wide. Heat loving, cold hardy, and very drought tolerant, it can survive on rainfall done and with supplemental irrigation will grow very fast. Useful as a privacy screen (my neighbor transplanted small seedlings outside of an existing prickly pear cactus hedge around the house-you can't see the cacti through the desert broom but unsuspecting visitors will be in for a surprise), wind block, controlling erosion, re-vegetation, providing nectar to butterflies and other insects, and my favorite use-cutting the raunchy looking ones at ground level and running it through the chipper/ shredder for mulch. Pruning will encourage the plant to grow back full and bushy.

Plants bloom in the fall. Male plants have small, flat white flowers while the females have beautiful plume like buds that open to release a bazillion white silky seeds that produce a profuse amount of plants and a mess. Seeds germinate easily in disturbed areas and are often found along roads and washes. To reduce this "seedy" behavior ask for male plants at your nursery. Unwanted plants are easy to remove or transplant when small and after a good rain. If you consider desert broom a weed remember that they, as all other "weeds" are nature's way of recovering after a major land disturbance. Hard as it may be to believe, weeds can be beneficial - they act as nurse crops trapping moisture and stabilizing the soil until other plants such as grasses and trees can get started. Their deep roots break up and pull nutrients from the ground. And when they die, their decay feeds the soil.

Baccharis sarothroides - a plant that you may want to reconsider and get to know.

Cheri Melton
October, 1996