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Iva frutescens and Baccharis halimifolia

Salt marshes are highly stressful habitats and relatively few plants are able to adapt to periodic inundation by salt water. These plants must be able to survive oxygen deprivation below the soil and prevent salt from dehydrating tissues. In addition, the mechanical damage by tides and wind on winter ice shears plants off at ground level. It is not surprising then, that there are only two woody plants in the salt marshes of our region. These are Iva frutescens (marsh-elder) and Baccharis halimifolia (groundsel bush). Both are common shrubs in the aster family (Asteraceae), found in brackish and saline marshes. They are similar in appearance. Both are multistemmed and reach a maximum height of about 10 feet. They often form thickets that can be used as shelter by small birds. The roots are important for soil stabilization. Both plants bloom and fruit from August to October. The leaves of Iva frutescens are eaten by Paria thoracica, a Chrysomelid beetle.


Iva frutescens is found at the margin between high and low salt marsh, at about the mean high tide line. It ranges along the east coast from Nova Scotia to Florida and Texas. In our region it is usually not more than three or four feet tall. Although it is a woody plant, many stems die back in the winter. The leaves are opposite, but sometimes alternate at branch tips. They are gray-green, rather fleshy with sharply toothed margins. The flowers are small and greenish. Seeds are probably dispersed by water.



Iva frutescens.Gary P. Fleming.Virginia Department of Conservation and


Baccharis halimifolia is generally found above the mean high-high tide line, at the upper edges of salt marshes. It ranges from Massachusetts to Florida and Texas. Unlike Iva, it does not tend to die back during the winter and, in our region, is often semi-evergreen. The leaves are alternate, and wedge-shaped, the lower fairly broad, coarsely toothed on the upper half. The upper leaves are narrow, untoothed and covered with sticky resin, a deterrent to insect attack. Male and female sexes are on separate plants. Female flowers have white plumes for seed dispersal by wind. Male flowers are yellow, due to the copious pollen.