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What is a Fairy Duster?

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  • Written By: Steve R.
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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A fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) is a low-growing perennial shrub native to the southwestern United States. The thornless shrub is a member of the pea family and typically stands between 8 and 20 inches (about 20 to 50 centimeters) high with a 3- to 4-foot (about 91- to 122-centimeter) spread. The fairy duster contains white or pink flowers along with green, lacy foliage.

Also known as the mock mesquite, mesquitella, hairy-leaved Calliandra, and false mesquite, the fairy duster grows in deserts and grasslands in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as Mexico. Drought tolerant, the small shrub is able to grow in almost any type of soil and typically is found in dry and rocky soil at elevations between 1,000 and 5,000 feet (about 305 to 1,524 meters). The fairy duster grows best in areas where it gets full exposure to sunlight. It also is capable of growing in areas where temperatures plummet to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (about -12 Celsius). If the shrub gets covered in frost, it is able to recuperate quickly.

The puffy flowers bloom from February through May. The flowers contain dense clusters of pale to deep pink stamens that are long and slender. Flowers typically are darker in the center and are 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) wide. Along with flowers, the fairy duster contains brown fruits and seeds, which are produced in the summer and fall.

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The dark green leaves of the fairy duster are composed of tiny leaflets and are about 1.5 inches (about 4 centimeters) in length. In the winter, the leaves thin out. A significant amount of leaves may fall off or wilt if the plant becomes water deprived or experiences severely cold temperatures. Leaves will typically grow back after a rainfall.

The fairy duster is often used to create a hummingbird garden. The shrub entices hummingbirds and other birds including finches, verdins, wrens, and gnatcatchers with its nectar producing flowers. Bees, flies, and other insects are also drawn to the shrub for its nectar. Seeds are consumed by quail, doves, and rodents. Deer enjoy the shrub for its foliage and twigs.

The shrub needs minimal pruning to keep its naturally rounded shape. In landscaping, the fairy duster is used to accent one's property and also for informal hedges. The shrub has almost no problem with diseases or pests, although rabbits have been known to graze newly planted shrubs.

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