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U.S. Forest Service

Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the species may be found. Baccharis salicifolia range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Baccharis salicifolia Baccharis salicifolia. Photo by St. Mary's College of California.

Baccharis salicifolia Baccharis salicifolia. Photo by Steve Matson.

Baccharis salicifolia Baccharis salicifolia in habitat. Photo by Steve Matson.

Mule Fat (Baccharis salicifolia)

By Mary K. Byrne

Mule fat is easily identified by its petit compound feathery clustered white flowers that bloom nearly year-round. Since mule fat is in the aster family it distributes its seed like a dandelion, letting the wind carry the abundant bristled seed far and wide. The slender green leaves look similar to willow leaves. Salix is the generic name for willows, an easy way to remember mule fat’s Latin name, Baccharis salicifolia. This native shrub can grow up to 12 feet tall.

Mule fat occurs throughout the Southwest of the United States and parts of Mexico. It can survive on very little rain fall. It can generally be found near wetlands, riparian areas and moist valleys, but not always, and can occasionally occur in drier areas.

Baccharis salicifolia is considered a common and secure species, however it is listed as imperiled in Utah and critically imperiled in Texas by NatureServe. Like many western species the combination of land use changes, changing fire cycle, and invasive species are threatening mule fat’s range.

Numerous types of insects pollinate Baccharis salicifolia, including many kinds of bees and butterflies. Butterflies use mule fat as a nectar source while bees collect pollen from the small white flowers. Since mule fat blooms nearly year round it makes a great addition to a garden if you are hoping to attract pollinators.

The common name, mule fat, comes from the gold mining days when prospectors and cowboys would tie their mules to the shrub to browse. Native Americans had many uses for mule fat, including using the leaves as eyewash and to stop baldness. Some California tribes would use the stems as hand fire drill.

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