The Tolerable, The Bad and The Ugly

After 2 hours of pulling weeds on Saturday there’s nothing I wanted to write about more than all of our nasty little non-native plants.  As much as I love the Ventura river preserve, the very nature of the area makes it a hotbed for invasives.  Not only does the river bring seeds from miles away (good and bad), but the numerous uses over the decades of the preserve have ensured a riotous mix of introduced flora.  Livestock grazing, kiwi farm, orange orchard, oil and gas exploration have all brought their unique foreign flavor to our trails.  I’ve found that the more I learn the non-natives the more I appreciate the plants that actually belong here.  So here are a few of my choice favorites, stuff that you’d be likely to see blooming now.

Black Mustard

Brassica nigra

The Tolerable: Introduced from the Mediterranean, the sight of entire mountainsides covered in bright yellow flowers is iconic California.  Can actually be used to make mustard, take that Gulden’s.

The Bad: They’ve taken over, I mean everywhere, to the point that eradication projects don’t even bother anymore.  In past years the Ojai Meadow Preserve by Nordhoff has been a literal 8 foot tall forest of mustard, the tide is turning though, nice work OVLC.

The Ugly: Produce chemicals that discourage natives from growing.  Can increase the risk of wildfires in chaparral areas.

Italian Thistle

Carduus pycnocephalus

The Tolerable:  Kind of a nice purple when it blooms.  Definitely intimidating looking, would make a gnarly weapon if you could grab it.

The Bad:  Seeds remain viable in the soil for years.  The spines are everywhere on the plant, particularly brutal when they dry out in summer.  As I am typing this I have itchy red pinpricks up and down my arms and legs even though I wore long sleeves while yanking them.

The Ugly:  They can achieve almost 100% coverage of an infected area, completely wiping out competitors, wind blown seed can form distant colonies.  Known as a “mid-story fire ladder”

Storksbill Filaree

Erodium botrys

The Tolerable:  Next time you are hiking.. look down at the side of the trail, see that purple carpet?  Isn’t it pretty? Good forage for local rodents as well.

The Bad: Look closer, see those nasty little spears forming?  Those are seeds which are going to end up sticking to your polyester bell bottoms or your pet wombat’s fur.

The Ugly: Just ask Brian Stark OVLC restoration coordinator how much he loves the purple carpet choking the ground in every direction, regardless of drought.

Ripgut Brome

Bromus diandrus

The Tolerable: I suppose seeing a field of them waving in the wind could be comforting for the mentally disturbed

The Bad: It is slowly choking out our native grasslands, spreading via easily dispersible seeds

The Ugly:  It’s called ripgut for heaven’s sake.  The scourge of pet owners, the nasty little fishhook barbs work their way into paws, eyes, noses, often requiring surgery to remove.

Castor Bean

Ricinus communis

The Tolerable:  Pretty impressive looking, see that person in the foreground of the picture?  Can get 15 feet tall, lush green leaves mixed with shades of purple, big funky spike fruits would make a gnarly projectile

The Bad:  They just love to grow into massive bushes in any type of roadside or disturbed soil.  Easily shading or crowding out any native plants

The Ugly:  Guinness Book of Records named it the “World’s Most Poisonous Plant”.  All parts toxic to humans and livestock.  Ingested seeds can kill.

OK take a deep breath.  I know you’re worked up.  Of these 5 which of them gets your vote as the biggest pest

Just a few to get you going on this lovely Monday morning.  I know there are dozens of others, I’ll save those for another day.  Would love to hear any stories you have with these, please leave a comment.


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8 Responses to The Tolerable, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. ocdreader says:

    Those thistles are trying to take over in cow town of the Rice/Wills Canyon loop – dislike those suckers!

  2. Elaine Ferguson says:

    Speaking of invasive species: they include us; WASPs Pat for Luke.

  3. doctorkdog says:

    Thanks for another informative post, Ron and Luke. As much as you are correct that Ripgut Brome is invasive and produces seeds that are a hazard to animals, I believe that the common, non-native species we locals know as “foxtail grass” is Hordeum murinum AKA Foxtail Barley. Its heads are larger, more compact and produce many more “foxtails.” That’s the one the causes the most problems for dogs, getting between their toes and in their eyes. I’ve heard they can work their way into the bloodstream. Check it out, readers, and let me know if you agree.

  4. stermondt says:

    I vote Italian thistle although I didn’t know that Guinness had the Castor Bean as most poisonous plant. Also, I am not a groupie. I would like to think of myself as more of a native plant roadie. That being said, I’m totally down to go machete that tree of heaven after I take a few more pictures of it. It reminds me of Ginkgo surviving the atomic bomb.

  5. chuck says:

    Ok got it! Black Mustard=yellow flower? No wonder i have such a difficult time remembering the true name of some of these plants! And this is an easy nn. Looking at the complete areas covered with them, I can see how aggressive and invasive they seem to be. Even after a property owner has done their weed abatement for fire season, it seems to be the plant that dominates during the regrowth stage. Hence, my vote of the day!! Thanks R&L.

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