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What is Brachyglottis?

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  • Written By: Terrie Brockmann
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The plant genus Brachyglottis belongs to the Asteraceae, or Compositae, family, which most botanists acknowledge is the largest plant family. Asteraceae plants include sunflowers, daisies, and asters, and the plants in the Brachyglottis genus resemble these plants. They are evergreen shrubs and trees native to New Zealand and Tasmania. Many gardeners cultivate them for their unusual foliage and their aster-like flowers, which are a composite of two types of flowers growing close together in one head.

Generally, a composite Brachyglottis flower is similar to the common dandelion or the leopard's bane. Essentially, these plants' flowers are composed of a pair of flower types — the ray flower and the disk flower — on one tight flowerhead. The showy, attention-getting flowers that grow at the outer edge are ray florets; the smaller disk florets are in the center.

The Brachyglottis genus formerly belonged to the Senecio genus. In the 1970s, Swedish botanist Bertil Nordenstam divided the Senecio genus into four genera, including Brachyglottis. Many people still refer to the plants in this genus as Senecio plants. A gardener might notice this when researching his or her plants. In most cases, the species name is the same. For example, some people often label Brachyglottis bidwillii as Senecio bidwillii.

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Many gardeners and landscapers select these plants for shrub borders, garden specimens, and hedges or windbreaks. The plants often make good coastal garden and landscaping plants because they tolerate the salty air. Usually, the smaller species, varieties, and cultivars are suitable for rock gardens and small garden areas. Generally, their native habitats are rocky places, coastal areas, and scrubby grasslands. Some species adapted themselves to forest regions.

Brachyglottis plants usually have dark green leaves that frequently have white or beige felt underneath the leaves. Typically, the leaves grow alternately on the stem and generally are leathery in texture. One of the uses that native people or bushmen have for the leaves is as toilet paper because of the soft under-leaf.

Generally, the flowers grow in racemes, panicles, or corymbs, but seldom singly. The small ray florets often are strap-shaped with a tubular base. The tiny disk florets usually are tubular. Depending on the species, variety, or cultivar, some of the flowers do not have ray florets. Typically, the most popular species have white or yellow flowers.

One of the most popular shrubs is the B. greyi, a mound-forming shrub that growers often call the daisy bush. Its ovate to oblong leaves usually have a shallowly scalloped edge and grow to be up to 3 inches (about 8 cm) long. Immature leaves are hairy with white fibers; with maturity, they turn a dark green above and retain their hairy underside. A study found that most nursery plants labeled B. greyi or S. greyi are actually hybrids of other species, especially cultivated plants from the B. dunedin group named sunshine.

Some of the most popular species for gardeners are the B. hectori, generally known as takaka hill tree daisy or broad-leafed tree daisy, and B. compacta. Another one, B. bidwillii, is one of the species that does not have ray florets and has white flower heads. The latter two usually grow to about 3 feet (about 1 m) tall and 4 to 6 feet (about 1.2 to 2 m) wide. B. hectori, B. buntii, and B. repanda are tall shrubs or small trees at average heights of 10 to 15 feet (about 3 to 5 m).

Gardeners might need to take extra care that no person or pet ingests parts of these plants. Generally, botanists note that all parts of B. repanda are poisonous, although some people refresh their breath with chewing gum made from the plant. Cattle usually do not graze on tree daisy plants in their pastures. Despite this, parts of B. hectori have a slight antibacterial effect against some staph infections. Experts theorize that this medicinal property may exist in other species.

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