Baby’s breath

Identification & Biology
Alias' : Bristol fairy, maiden’s breath
Latin Name : Gypsophila paniculata
Category : Terrestrial Plants
Description :
  • Perennial plant 40-100 cm tall 
  • Delicate white blooms, flowers have five petals 
  • Bushy branched stalks 
  • Stout woody taproot that can grow up to 4 m deep 

 

Baby’s breath is an herbaceous perennial plant that is commonly used in the floral industry for dried and fresh flower arrangements. Plants reproduce by seed, and can produce more than 10,000 seeds that can travel long distances and remain viable for up to two years. A complete stalk can break off at ground level and roll freely like a tumbleweed, spreading seeds. Baby’s breath plants do not flower until the third year when flower buds develop. Its small, delicate white flowers bloom in early June.   

Another introduced Gypsophila, G. elegans (annual/showy baby’s breath), is used by florists and considered to be an invasive annual in some parts of the US. Many are double flowered and have pink to maroon petals. This species is more often an ingredient of wildflower mixes than the perennial baby’s breath. 

Baby’s breath can be confused with the native Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), which can be distinguished by its soft, hairy, alternating leaves and clusters of white flowers with yellow centres.

Look Alikes
Habitat

Baby’s breath was introduced from Europe and Asia in the late 1800s. It is commonly found in well drained sandy or gravelly soils, such as vacant lots along fence lines, pastures, grasslands, rangelands and ditches. Baby’s breath is now widespread across British Columbia and the rest of Canada.  

Impact & Risks
  • Baby’s breath can mix with hay and reduce the protein value of the crop.  
  • It outcompetes native perennial grasses and desirable forage species, and can form monoculture stands that are difficult to control. 
Prevention & Mitigation

The most effective way to ensure that your lands do not become infested with baby’s breath is by prevention. Here are some recommendations to prevent invasion: 

  • Maintain your crops and natural lands in a healthy, vigorous condition to ensure a competitive plant community; competitive perennial grasses and forbs utilize water and nutrients that would otherwise be readily available to baby’s breath. 
  • Regularly patrol your property for baby’s breath plants and immediately control or remove infestations before seed set.  
  • Cooperate with adjacent landowners and encourage them to prevent baby’s breath spread. 
  • Immediately re-vegetate disturbed, bare soils with a suitable seed mixture that provides dense, early colonization to prevent weed invasion.  
  • Ensure soil, gravel and fill material are not contaminated. Do not move contaminated soils to a new area.  
  • Avoid unloading, parking, or storing equipment and vehicles in infested areas.  
  • Plant suitable alternatives in your garden such as pearly everlasting,  common yarrow or white-tufted prairie aster 
Treatment & Disposal
  • Hand-pulling or digging is effective against small infestations or individual plants, but can be difficult to do because of the plant’s relatively large taproot.  
  • Heavy grazing and mowing before seed development can help control baby’s breath, but will not kill it.  
  • Burning is not recommended as new plants can re-grow from the root crown. 
  • Chemical control is also an option. Herbicides are most effective when applied during the bolt to pre-flower growth stage. Before applying herbicides, read the label for full use and precautionary instructions.  
  • For further information on the selection and application of chemicals to protect your crop, contact AgriService BC at 1-888-221-7141 or email AgriServiceBC@gov.bc.ca 
  • There are currently no biocontrol agents (natural insect enemies) available for use in BC.  
Okanagan Distribution

Priority Level Definitions

Watch For - Poses a significant threat (very high risk) and does NOT presently occur in the region OR is relatively new to the region and is very limited in extent.
High - High risk/impact; limited population with significant potential to spread in the region.
Medium - Medium risk/impact; limited distribution – broader population distribution with potential to spread further in a region.
Low - Low risk/impact; may be widespread or not, may be of concern in specific situations with certain high values – e.g. specific agriculture crops. Some species may be treated primarily with biological control agents.