Know Your Non-Natives

You’ve been reading along for over three years now, so you are obviously all well-versed in the ways of our local California native flora.  But walk down any trail this time of year and lo and behold at ground level you’ve got 90% non-native plants.  Such is the plight of disturbed, high traffic areas; diversity gets its botanical butt kicked in favor of the aggressive and adaptible invasives.  What can you do about it?  Not much, but knowledge is a good start, here are some of the most common ones:

Let’s start with some that get a pass from me for various reasons, their non-native status nonwithstanding.

Sweet fennel

Sweet fennel

Fennel isn’t horribly invasive, smells good, pretty flowers, and somewhat edible.  All-in-all, not so bad.

Bermuda buttercup

Bermuda buttercup

The backyard favorite.  They’re pretty and the stems are lemony tasting too, or so I’ve heard.  I also get great satisfaction from yanking them out.

Black mustard

Black mustard

Ah mustard, why even fight it anymore.  A California staple, local butterflies, bees and other insects have come to depend on the nectar and seeds.

Wild radish

Wild radish

Mustard’s cousin.  With so many colors I can’t hate you either.

Scarlet pimpernel

Scarlet pimpernel

A very unique color in our wildflower pallette, I have a soft spot for this diminuitive invasive.

Now that I’ve got your attention with the pretty stuff, I shall now stultify you with some grasses.  Bear with me, if you learn these four you will be in permanent possession of knowledge that you can use to amaze friends on all future hikes.  This stuff is literally everywhere:

Red brome

Red brome

Soft chess

Soft chess

Wild oats

Wild oats

Ripgut brome

Ripgut brome

See that wasn’t so bad.  And don’t you feel smarter?  A few more non-natives that aren’t quite as benevolent as the first group, but are not quite despised (by me at least)

Petty spurge

Petty spurge

Another backyard favorite.  They’re easy to pull out at least right?

Milk thistle

Milk thistle

The cool variegated foliage makes up for the aggressiveness of the species… almost.

Purple vetch

Purple vetch

Yes, it tries to strangle other plants.  But the purple is pretty intense and when you have it wrapping around the gold of the mustard it’s like a Laker’s dream come true.  As for Knick’s fans like me…

Yellow sweet clover

Yellow sweet clover

White sweet clover

White sweet clover

Yellow sweet clover is especially ubiquitous this year.  Still, I don’t hate them.

Curly dock

Curly dock

I’ve hear people use the dried dock flowers in arrangements.

Last and least, although these three may have some redeeming qualities, they are overall aggressive, nasty, difficult to get rid of and should be launched en masse into space if at all feasible.

Red-stem filaree

Red-stem filaree

Along with a few filaree cousins these SOBs can take over acres of land with a strangulating mat of spikes which love attaching themselves to passerby.  The sheer obnoxiousness of this species far outweighs the momentary frisson of seeing the carpet of purple flowers.

Italian thistle

Italian thistle

Try pulling these out without gloves.  Heck, try pulling them out with gloves.  Nighmare either way.  And finally

Tocalote or yellow star thistle

Tocalote or yellow star thistle

Enough said.

Enjoy the heat and happy hiking.

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9 Responses to Know Your Non-Natives

  1. Great tour, Ron, and your sense of humor is appreciated, as well as your admiration for some of these lowly weeds. I find the Scarlet Pimpernel to be a pleasant no-maintenance ground cover here and there in my garden. One slight amendment. While I happen to enjoy year-round guilt-free fennel foraging I have seen it wreak havoc on Santa Cruz Island where it literally took over. Once established it is very difficult to remove and would definitely be considered invasive.

  2. an aggravated Ojai local says:

    Ohh, that evil Italian thistle!

    • ojairambler says:

      I once spent an hour pulling them, wearing gloves and long sleeves. I still had a rash all over my stomach where they had nicked me through my shirt as I bent over to pull them. Nasty nasty

  3. JJ says:

    When we pulled out Italian thistle in the Atascadero area, we found a) a sleeping fawn and b) a wild turkey on about a dozen eggs. Amazing how adaptable some animals can be.

    Fennel is an invasive further south e.g. San Diego, but there it grows to 6′ high.
    Enjoyed the post, did not know most of the above, so thanks Rambler.

  4. Myrna says:

    My comment on Bermuda Buttercup (Buttercup Oxalis) A small patch came up in our front garden and crowded out some native Iris. After seeing nearly a 1/4 Acre of this at a friend’s home I did some research. Have weeded out the Buttercup and did not compost, but put to garbage. Tried to get as many of the little “bulbets” as possible. Will cover with cardboard and/or black plastic and just keep weeding when I see new critters emerg. Some little bulbs are less than 1/16″ long! I think this is not a desirable plant for most home gardens. Hah, use lemon for your salad tang and keep weeding them out or they will spread to 1/4 A or more. See: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/WEEDS/bermuda_buttercup.html

    • ojairambler says:

      Thank you Lanny, Myrna, June and everyone for their personal favorites. Joel Robinson of Naturalist-for-You fame sent me an email taking me to task for my sensationalist tone. He makes some excellent points, he’s a bit shy so I’m pasting his email here:

      I read your most recent blog post and noticed the frequent use of the word “invasive.” I like the intent of your blog, but I think it would be more effective if you avoided the word “invasive.” The word is misunderstood and misused by the general public. Another word you use is “aggressive.” I understand that you may be trying to deflect the hate speech towards lovely plants, but you are using it just the same. I recommend a much more delicate delivery, such as “Many of the plants may be introduced to the area, but they are mostly opportunistic, which means they are adapted for the type of disturbances/conditions that humans have created along trails and other human occupied areas. They are harmless immigrants that have established themselves in the areas that we created for them. In fact, many were brought here on purpose by early Europeans for food, medicine or materials.”

      You could also mention that many of these plants are not capable of expanding beyond the trails into more “pristine” or “healthy” habitats without the help of more human disturbance, including trampling, compaction, grading, scraping, altered fire regime, weed pulling, scarification, etc. If someone finds these plants beyond the trail, it is most likely because the area was farmed, overgrazed, burned frequently or impacted by humans in some other way.

      By the way, the petrochemical industry has taken advantage of the words “weed” and “invasive” in their marketing campaigns to sell more pesticide products.

  5. Myrna says:

    well … not involving the petrochemical industry in my plan to “get rid of” the buttercup oxalis, but doing the job by weeding and layer of cardboard … and weeding again … and again! … i do find the buttercup to be invasive, aggressive, opportunistic … somehow introduced into our garden by the planting of a native iris

  6. JJ says:

    Thanks to Joel and to Rambler for posting Joel’s text. Many of us who have some understanding of native plants vs. ‘the others’ intrinsically understand, from the experience of our own yards or observations on the trails that non-natives are not equal in their potential for harm. Joel’s careful text is a strong reminder that others may not understand this. I plan to speak more carefully about non-natives in the future – and reserve the hate speech for my neighbor’s Siberian elm shoots within the privacy of my own yard.

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