Here in Cochise County, Arizona, our local desert broom plants (Baccharis sarothroides), present so many different looks that it’s easy to end up scratching one’s head when trying to identify the species–let alone the gender.
Apparently, at least according to my online research, both male and female plants produce flowers, but of different sorts. When the seeds with their silken white steamers start fluffing out, the entire plant looks almost snow covered. Additionally, there’s no way I could find a single leaf on the plants I inspected today…because the tiny leaves they do have are wet weather friends, falling off and disappearing during dry times.
Dry times, of course, are pretty much all of the year in this area except for the two to three months of monsoon rains during the summer.
In the end, it’s the common name that clinched the ID for me. They call this shrub the desert broom, and it certainly does look like a broom.
Having recently realized that I was running way behind when it came to photographing and writing about area plants, I finally started looking around with a keener eye. Not just for flowers, most of which bloom during the spring or summer anyway, but the bigger stuff as well, the trees and shrubs that dominate the landscape.
For a couple of miles along Highway 92, beginning at the Hereford Post Office and moving north, the roadside is heavily populated with desert broom plants. The “Baccharis” in Baccharis sarothroides translates as “wildly” in Latin, and this species has definitely propagated wildly in that area.
Curiously enough, the desert broom flowers and sends off its airborne seeds in autumn and early winter, basically October through January, which means that today (December 1, 2013), there were plenty of remarkable plant pictures just waiting to be taken.
Here are a few of them.
One of the most intriguing aspects of these desert broom shrubs is their ability to look “the same and yet different”. It was difficult to stop taking pictures, simply because each new plant offered a new face to the camera.
Age and gender were definitely factors in this presentation of variety, clearly, but there seemed to be more than that. In some cases, it was impossible to decide whether a particular plant was a male with a different flower or perhaps simply a holdover from the golden days of summer.
There are differing opinions out there regarding just how the desert broom rates as an allergen producer at different times of the year, but that was beyond me.
I just take the pictures, folks.
Okay, can you see what I’m getting at here? At least one online author swears up, down, and sideways, that he knows which are female flowers, which are male flowers (different plants, one sex each), and which are “summer phase” desert broom plants.
But I’m not sure he’s got it 100% right, either.
At any rate, going by that site (there aren’t that many to choose from), these would be the male flowers. (See next photo.)
Well…there’s one thing that’s “for sure”. Gender confusion or no gender confusion, every plant shown on the page is definitely a desert broom. There is that.
Immediate update: Just found a government study that states this species is toxic to cattle. It is apparently not toxic to insects. So, if you’re raising bugs for a living, no problem, but if you’re a rancher….
Update #2: The following video discusses the medicinal uses for desert broom. Although considered an invasive species here in the southwest (it’s very aggressive at taking over where the soil has been disturbed) and anything but edible where mammals are concerned, it’s also apparently medicinal. The gentleman in the vid states that chewing a few of the stem tips (or steeping them and drinking the tea) will lower a human’s body temperature. He also mentions using it like chewing tobacco to knock out a toothache.
As he points out, he’s not a doctor; he’s just letting others know what he knows about this plant. If any reader has a bit of knowledge regarding the use of the desert broom for medicinal purposes, please feel free to share it in the comments. If it’s poisonous to cattle, it’s most likely poisonous to humans as well if used incorrectly.