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Saltbush is a pretty pest

SALTBUSH--The saltbush is a beauty or an invasive beast, depending on the eye of the beholder. (University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture photo by Don Plunkett.)

With its attractive white blooms featuring prominently among fall foliage, the wild elegance of common saltbush has captivated many Arkansans. That beauty, however, can be a double-edged sword, said Don Plunkett, Jefferson County staff chair with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

The plants have been showing up in Jefferson County over the past few years, and are easily seen along Interstate 530 and down Highway 65 South.

"People have called for the past couple of years wanting to know what the pretty white-flowered plants were that they were seeing in the fall," said Plunkett. "Some just wanted to know what they are, and others want to know if they can start some of these in their landscape."

As its name implies, saltbush can grow in salty soil along wet areas. "As you drive around Jefferson County, most of the saltbush you will see are in wetter areas and undisturbed areas," Plunkett said. "I have found them as far west as Benton."

Saltbush may be planted into landscapes, according to some research. Other publications indicate it is a weed.

"It can be considered an invasive weed or plant," Plunkett said. "One of our Master Gardeners is fighting this weed at his place."

And those pretty white flowers? Not flowers at all, said Plunkett.

"What people see in the fall are not blooms, but seed heads. The white, feathery seed heads can fly in the wind like dandelion seed and horseweed seed. This method of seed dispersal is what makes saltbush an invasive weed," he said.

Steve Bender, who runs a blog for Southern Living magazine titled, "The Grumpy Gardener," agrees that saltbush will establish itself easily.

"You'll look long and hard before you discover a plant that's easier to grow," he said. "All saltbush wants is sun. It tolerates almost any soil, from dry to rocky to sandy to moist to wet. Heat, cold, wind, bugs and fungi pose no problems.

"For all I know, it's immune to gamma rays, too," he joked.

Saltbush is a colonizer of disturbed soil and will grow rapidly until trees fill in to shade it out, said Bender. This, coupled with its seed distribution method, makes it difficult to contain--thus its designation as an invasive weed.

"If you're worried about it taking over, cut off the seed heads in fall before the seeds ripen and drop," he said.

For more information on saltbush, weeds and plant care, visit www.uaex.edu or contact your local county Extension office.

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