Sunday, November 09, 2014

Why I Stopped Hating Coyote Brush

Garden Fence Tries to Keep Coyote Brush from Invading Garden. That deer fence is six feet high. 

When I first moved to Templeton, California in 1991, I could not even name the invasive shrub that seemed to spring up everywhere, often in the company of poison oak. In the photo above, you see it lurking just on the other side of my garden fence. What you can't see in this photo is the poison oak lurking behind it and in its depths, making it hard for someone to go in and get rid of all of it. You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it to see the original size.

Female Coyote Brush in Bloom
Once I got a garden planted inside the fence, I found out just how invasive the coyote brush was. Its seeds blow in the wind like dandelion seeds, and where they land they become new little coyote brush plants. Soon ground not covered with anything else was full of small coyote brush plants. You can read all about coyote brush and see photos of everything I'm describing in detail in my HubPages article "Coyote Brush: Blessing or Curse."

Many photos in the article referred to above show you how long the roots of even the smallest plants are and how annoying coyote brush can be when it's not controlled. It ruined a trap I forgot to put away. It often grows right next to something you value before you even notice it, making it very difficult to safe the plant you want. The article will help you recognize even the smallest seedlings, since the best way to get rid of this is to pull the plants while they are still small.
Root of Small Coyote Brush

It's only after years of living with and studying my coyote brush and that on other properties that I'm beginning to discover that it has some virtues. First, in a land often without enough water to sustain many shrubs, the long roots of the coyote brush enable it to seek water the roots of most plants can't reach. This makes it drought resistant. It is also resistant to fire. In dry country where hillsides can be tinderboxes, coyote brush does not provide good fuel for any fires that might break out.

Although deer don't like to eat it, coyote brush does help hide them, and it also provides shelter for other small wildlife and birds. Quail love to take cover under its branches, and I often see them scurrying near it. Bees and butterflies also love its nectar, and since it blooms in late fall and winter, it helps the bees survive the winter when they can find little else to eat.

One very cold winter, almost all the plants in my neighborhood lost their leaves and turned brown. Only evergreens kept their color, but that still left a countryside mostly green and brown. It was then I noticed that the coyote brush was the one contrast to a very drab landscape. It was coyote brush that lightened the hills . See how this bush stands out from the dormant poison oak around it? The snowy white bushes are the females, and the males are mostly green from this distance.

Coyote Brush in Winter
The dead looking brown shrubs surrounding it are dormant poison oak. They can still give you a bad rash. 

I have come to the conclusion that coyote brush serves a purpose in God's plan I was late catching on to. It adds beauty to winter hillsides and helps feed the bees when they have little for forage. Having several of these shrubs on your property can help protect against fires spreading. So if you have lots of space you don't need for other plants, you may find coyote bush is a friend you can give a home. Just keep it where you want it and watch out for spreading seedlings where you don't want them. This forest was once just a couple of bushes.

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