By Shannon Schmidt
Perhaps not the flashiest of tropical plants, saltbush is nevertheless a knockout because of its ability to perform well in the conditions of the Caribbean. Although we have the luxury of not using snow shovels or ice scrapers in the Cayman Islands, the sea can be unforgiving on the plant population. Occasional strong winds bearing sea salt from big swells and periods of drought call for wise choices in the landscape and saltbush is an excellent choice on Grand Cayman.
Fabulously salt and drought tolerant, saltbush, or Baccharis dioica, is native to southernmost Florida, the Yucatan Peninsula and the West Indies. Like the mangrove, a key element of the ever-important shoreline habitats, the saltbush has the remarkable ability to grow on the edges of salt-laden standing water and fresh water as well. Also known as “broombush falsewillow,” saltbush prefers soggy soils and can be found growing among the mangroves, in and around sand dunes and in hammocks.
A woody, perennial, and evergreen shrub growing upwards to 10 feet, with a spread of 1-3 feet, the saltbush should certainly be given room to grow into its intended space.
Saltbush is a superb addition to any landscape with its clusters of yellow-white flowers that are a major attractant for both bees and butterflies. Its subtle, yet recognisable fragrance is best enjoyed in a full sun location.
Listed as endangered in most of its native habitats, saltbush thrives on Grand Cayman, thanks in part to the efforts of the Dart Nursery after propagating from a plant that was found on Little Cayman. It can be found in landscapes across the Dart portfolio, and can be seen thriving on the Rise in that full sun environment that it craves.
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Focus on flora: Saltbush.”