Thank you mother may we have another?

Rain storm that is… loving these late season inches… should clear out in time for a full slate of weekend treks and trails. CNPS will be in town leading a hike up Sulfur Mountain, the Audubon society will be doing a lap around Casitas and Lanny will be clocking a double bill, my isn’t he energetic.  Follow the pied piper of plants up to San Antonio creek in Santa Barbara on Sunday:

This is the closest to a wild, natural trail as you will find in Santa Barbara unless you head over the mountain into the backcountry. Most of the frontcountry trails are overrun with invasives like Cape Ivy and Rock-Rose. San Antonio Creek, on the other hand, while bordered by some private homes and gardens with the attendant exotics, has many large native trees like Sycamore and Bay interspersed with lush stands of Hummingbird Sage, Mugwort and Black Sage. This Herb Walk has a special coming-full-circle significance for me as this was the trail I walked with Juanita Centeno, the late Chumash plant expert, who was one of my early and primary teachers. By the way, the Santa Barbara News-Press is running a story with photos on Saturday.

CNPS will also be having a tour of Santa Barbara county home gardens featuring natives so make a day of it.

On to our mystery plant from Shelf Road.  I knew it was a non-native but I didn’t expect such an elaborate and exotic origin story.  Thanks so much Judith G for the plant ID.

Meet Ailathus altissima, better known as the tree of heaven

Just an 8 foot sapling

Some tidbits courtesy of the omniscient and infallible Wikipedia:

  • A native of China it is known as “Chouchun”, which literally means malodorous tree.  Known in the US as the “tree from hell” and the “ghetto palm”
  • Roots, leaves and bark are all still used in traditional Chinese medicine
  • Can grow to over 50 feet in 25 years, possibly the fastest in the United States
  • Loves full sun and disturbed areas, spreads aggressively through root sprouts and prodigious amounts of seeds
  • Can grow in damaged acidic soil equal to that of tomato juice. Extremely pollution tolerant; can withstand mercury, sulfur dioxide, cement dust, coal tar fumes
  • Epic hardiness and ability to thrive in adverse conditions made it the literal and metaphorical subject of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”
  • Produces allelopathic chemicals, which prevents competing plants from growing
  • Supposed medical benefits include hair growth formulas, treatment of dysentery, malaria,  asthma, epilepsy and even cancer
  • In China a well known idiom to scold a child is “good-for-nothing ailanthus stump sprout”  Ouch.

Have a dandy weekend, thanks for reading.  As always I could use pictures from your hikes, outings, yards, and base-jumping freefalls.

9:45 AM update – Yes, we were out in this craziness… Luke is scared out of his furry pants… By the way if any brave soul wants to help me pull weeds at the Old Baldwin trailhead I’ll be down there at 9:30 AM tomorrow (Saturday).  Bring gloves.

This entry was posted in Getting Involved, Mystery plant, rambling and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Thank you mother may we have another?

  1. doctorkdog says:

    Thanks for sharing the info about my Santa Barbara Herb Walk on Sunday. Saturday’s walk is scheduled for Horn Canyon unless it’s raining in the morning. You’ll notice I restrained myself from identifying Tree of Heaven but I’ll make up for it now by pointing out a typo in the Wikipedia
    entry. The correct word for the chemicals is “allelopathic” . Allelopathy is “the chemical inhibition of one plant (or other organism) by another, due to the release into the environment of substances acting as germination or growth inhibitors.” Some of our other local plants, including natives such as Purple Sage, are believed to practice allelopathy on their neighbors but evidence is still inconclusive. I would say more but I think it would make an excellent topic for a future Ojai Rambler blog so I’ll leave it at that.

  2. brian says:

    Tree of heaven has been used to reclaim mine spoilings. They plant it on spoils of old mercury mines, where it actually sucks up mercury and other toxins while creating biomass for the soil. I might need to look into the hair growth capacity, could be valuable 🙂

  3. Judith Gustafson says:

    The Ventura County Guide to Invasive and Native Streamside Plants (given to me by the OVLC) lists Tree-of-Heaven as an invasive tree. Under “ecological damage” it describes “fast-spreading Tree-of-Heaven can quickly overrun native vegetation. It produces toxins that inhibit natives, and can quickly take over forest openings.” Maybe next time someone’s up on Shelf Road, this puppy could be dispatched, humanely or otherwise. Just sayin’.

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