Showy native plant can attract amazed gazes

December 10, 2011 

I was wondering if you could tell me what the bush in this picture is. It is in my yard and is flowering now.

Tolik Melechko

Raleigh

It would seem you have a UFO - Unidentified Flowering Object - but to be more precise, your picture is actually Unidentified Fuzzy Object. It is called groundsel bush or salt bush. This native plant caught your attention, and I can guarantee you that it also has had many drivers along our highways scratching their heads at this time of year because of its silvery white, hard-to-miss displays that just shout "Look at me! Can you guess what I am?"

Roadside ditches are a favorite habitat of this deciduous woody plant, because it performs best in moist soil fully exposed to the sun. And while groundsel bush does bloom in October and November, your picture shows the fuzzy seeds that form on the female plant after flowering, producing bright, billowing spectacles along byways and in backyards.

Although groundsel bush is a common sight along our coast, where it is very salt-tolerant, this hardy native has begun to successfully migrate inland into the Piedmont. A happy groundsel bush can grow from 5 to 15 feet tall.

Groundsel bush is one of the few woody members of the Aster family. Botanically, it is known as Baccharis halimifolia. This handful of fancy syllables is important because it helps to differentiate the groundsel bush from a small, annual plant that is also known as groundsel. Scientifically classified as Senecio vulgaris, this groundsel is an aggressive, land-grabbing weed introduced from Europe that has the similar looks - and irritating spread - of dandelion.

Trimming honeysuckle

Do I need to cut back my honeysuckle vine each fall? I haven't been doing so, and it's come back beautifully each year. I do not remember the particular name of my vine.

Anissa Harry

Raleigh

Since I am not sure which honeysuckle vine you have, I'm going to guess that it is one of the two more commonly grown in area gardens, either the Japanese honeysuckle or the coral honeysuckle.

Japanese honeysuckle ( Lonicera japonica) is an invasive import from eastern Asia that is quite a bully in the garden as well as in the wild, but it can be effectively corralled by brave, determined gardeners. If you don't want this fast spreader to swallow up the family car or cat, it needs to be pruned every year. Late winter is a good time to clip this vine, and if it is completely out of control, whack it all the way to the ground. It will take about a year to recover completely, but it will come roaring back. Japanese honeysuckle vines that are within their proper bounds can be tamed by snipping out the top one-third of the branches in late winter, concentrating on clipping the older, woody growth. Additional tip pruning in the spring will create a bushier vine, but don't overdo it because the fragrant white flowers form on new growth.

Coral honeysuckle ( Lonicera sempervirens), also known as trumpet honeysuckle, is a native beauty that celebrates the summer with waves of tubular, scarlet-orange flowers that are hummingbird magnets. Although this vine is better behaved than Japanese honeysuckle, it still needs an occasional trim to keep it under control. This is best done after the vine finishes flowering in the summer. Aggressive pruning is usually not necessary - a light snipping for shaping purposes will normally be enough.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to askthegardener@newsobserver.com: For more gardening tips, visit L.A.'s website, southeastgardening.com.

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