Eight of these blooms observed during the month of May are new additions to the inventory of plants in the park, listed here. The others are more or less familiar. Again, as in April, this survey isn’t exhaustive. Left out are the common thistles and weeds like the ubiquitous Bristly Oxtongue, all of which have been covered here previously. As in the past, big thanks are due to Jutta Burger and Bob Huttar, ace naturalists and the brains behind last year’s groundbreaking Flora Friday column.
Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)
Growing directly alongside a path through the DAWN area (the forested grove on the west side of the park), this and several other Poison Hemlock plants present a face of pretty white flowers that conceals a deadly danger. Just a handful of leaves, or a small amount of root or seeds, can be fatal to an adult human. Many other mammals similarly fall victim to it: cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys, rabbits, and horses. Even inhaling the odor or having contact with the skin can induce minor poisoning symptoms. It is most poisonous in the spring while in flower. It may be confused with wild carrot plants, or wild parsley, and sometimes with cow parsnip or yarrow.
Conium maculatum is the plant that killed Theramenes, Socrates and Phocion. In ancient Greece, hemlock was used to poison condemned prisoners. Socrates, the most famous victim of hemlock poisoning, was accused of impiety and corrupting the minds of the young men of Athens in 399 BC and his trial gave down his death sentence. He decided to take a potent infusion of hemlock. Plato described Socrates’ death in the Phaedo:
The man … laid his hands on him and after a while examined his feet and legs, then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. He said “No”; then after that, his thighs; and passing upwards in this way he showed us that he was growing cold and rigid. And then again he touched him and said that when it reached his heart, he would be gone. The chill had now reached the region about the groin, and uncovering his face, which had been covered, he said – and these were his last words – “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Pay it and do not neglect it.” “That,” said Crito, “shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.” To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved; the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conium_maculatum
The Chavez Park Conservancy has notified Parks management about the presence of several stands of this plant in the DAWN area and urged its removal.
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Up in the sunlight on a northwest path grows this stand of the Common Yarrow. Yarrow presents a sharp contrast to Poison Hemlock. Where hemlock was used in ancient Europe to kill, yarrow was valued for its believed ability to staunch bleeding and reduce pain of wounds. It has a long and broad reputation in traditional medicine. According to Wikipedia,
A. millefolium has seen historical use as in traditional medicine, often because of its astringent effects. The herb is purported to be a diaphoretic, astringent, tonic, stimulant and mild aromatic. It contains isovaleric acid, salicylic acid, asparagine, sterols, and flavonoids. The genus name Achilles is derived from mythical Greek character, Achilles, who reportedly carried it with his army to treat battle wounds…
Yarrow, known as Biranjasipha in sanskrit, is widely used in Ayurvedic medicines in India. It is known for its diaphoretic and carminative properties, and is added to multi herbal preparations used for gastrointestinal disorders. …
Yarrow and its North American varieties were traditionally used by many Native American nations across the continent. The Navajo historically considered it a “life medicine” and chewed the plant for toothaches and used its infusions for earaches. The Miwok in California use the plant as an analgesic and head cold remedy.
The occidentalis variety is used medicinally by the Zuni people. The blossoms and root are chewed and the juice applied before fire-walking or fire-eating. A poultice of the pulverized plant is mixed with water and applied to burns.
The Ojibwe people historically sprinkled a decoction of yarrow leaves on hot stones and inhaled it to treat headaches, as well as applied decoctions of the root onto skin for its stimulant effect. They also smoked its florets for ceremonial purposes, as well as placed them on coals and inhaled their smoke to break fevers.
It has also been used to treat hemorrhaging, as a poultice to ease rashes, and as a tea made from the leaves to cure stomach ailments.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achillea_millefolium
But yarrow is dangerous to pets. According to the ASPCA, yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses, causing increased urination, vomiting, diarrhea and dermatitis. However, the plant is a magnet for dozens of species of butterflies and other insects, and is frequently planted in butterfly gardens and as a companion plant that attracts beneficial insects and keeps harmful insects away.
Crown Daisy (Glebionis coronaria)
There is a scattering of Crown Daisies in the southeast corner of the park, in the area that UC Berkeley student volunteers organized by the Chavez Park Conservancy seeded with wildflowers last October 26. A few others stand along the east side a bit further north. All yellow or yellow-with-white variants are common.
This lovely and fragrant annual ornamental is not only pretty to look at, it’s considered a vegetable in many Asian cuisines, and it’s rich in minerals and vitamins. It’s sometimes known as edible chrysanthemum or chop suey green, among other names.
The plant’s greens are used in many Asian cuisines. They appear in Cantonese cuisine and Hong Kong cuisine in stews, casseroles, and hotpots. The leaves are also an important ingredient in Taiwanese oyster omelettes and, when young, are used along with stems to flavor soup and stir-fry. In Japanese cuisine, it is called “spring chrysanthemum” (春菊 shungiku), and is used in nabemono. Korean cuisine uses the greens in soups, stews, and alone as a side dish (banchan). In a hotpot, it is added at the last moment to the pot to avoid overcooking.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glebionis_coronaria
However, there is a downside. In certain environments, this can be an invasive plant that kills off everything in its path. The California Invasive Plant Council gives it a “Limited” rating and warns:
Crown daisy commonly invades riparian areas, coastal dunes, prairies and scrub. It is a common ornamental plant that escapes garden settings and easily invades disturbed areas. The seeds of crown daisies sprout very quickly after rain, even in relatively dry areas. Seedlings may grow to be up to five feet tall and may form dense stands that crowd out native vegetation. Dead plant mass can remain in place for many years, preventing native plants from recolonizing.https://www.cal-ipc.org/plants/profile/chrysanthemum-coronarium-profile/
New: Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
These two colors of the Common Poppy also grow in the area seeded last October 26. The scientific name Papaver rhoeas means “milk” and “red.” Like other poppies, the plant bleeds a milky sap when wounded. Although a mild sedative can be extracted from the sap, this variety of poppy is not to be confused with the Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum. This poppy’s history is that of an agricultural weed, able to flower and go to seed before neighboring crop plants such as wheat are ready to be cut for harvest. It’s mildly distasteful to cattle. The seeds of this poppy can be eaten plain or baked into bread, and can be a source of a culinary oil. Whether it will regrow next year in this crowded and difficult location remains to be seen. More about them on Wikipedia.
New: Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Like the daisies and poppies, Cornflowers come in different colors. The blue is the classic and most common variety, as its scientific name (cyanus) suggests. It’s also commonly known as Bachelor Button, and it has a long and tangled history as a symbol in various cultures, subcultures, and commercial promotions, which you can read about in Wikipedia. It’s edible and sometimes used as decoration in salads, or in dried form as an herb for tea. Much like the Common Poppy, the Cornflower has thrived as a weed companion to agriculture, growing abundantly in fields of grains (“corn”) and completing its reproduction cycle before the grain harvest leveled the fields. It’s found among the alyssum, poppies, and daisies in the wildflower patch seeded last October 26.
New: Chinese Forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile)
This exotic cousin of the common forget-me-not is tucked away among taller wildflowers, grasses, and weeds in the southeast corner. It’s also known for no obvious reason as Chinese Hound’s Tongue, from the scientific name Cynoglossum meaning tongue of dog in Greek. The epithet amabile is Latin for lovely or lovable. The flowers are about 1/4 inch in diameter. Unlike the common forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), this plant is not invasive. It has gained the UK Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. More about it on Wikipedia.
New: Blue Wild Rye (Elymus glaucus)
In contrast to all the previous plants in this post, this is a North American native. It’s one of the few native grasses still found in the park. When the park was first built on top of the garbage dump, the builders hydroseeded native grasses over most of the park territory. But the installation of the flare station in the late 1980s brought widespread soil disturbance. This opened the door to exotic aggressive invasives such as the Kikuyu Grass. In a few years, the native grasses were overrun in most of their range. Wild rye like this now grows in only a few spots. More about it on Wikipedia and Calscape.
New: Harding Grass (Phalaris aquatica)
Speaking of imported invasive grasses, this is Harding Grass (Phalaris aquatica), which came from Southern Europe. Ranchers planted it as livestock forage, and it escaped to spread wherever disturbed soil could be found. Some subspecies can cause brain damage and other organ injury, and can be fatal to sheep. Others contain the tryptamine hallucinogen DMT and related compounds. It’s not known to which subspecies these plants in the park belong. The California Invasive Plant Council gives this a “moderate” invasiveness rating. More on Wikipedia and CalIPC.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) Red Variant
Sometimes the familiar California Poppy gets bored with being orange and produces a hot red variant. We saw several of them along the east shore of the park, but you have to look hard to spot them.
Dutch Iris (Iris x hollandica)
Some creative human planted this Dutch Iris in two spots on the north side of the park. It’s bloomed reliably every year. It’s a hybrid developed in the US after the Second World War from an international ancestry originating in North Africa, Spain, and Portugal. See Wikipedia for a bit more.
Crimson Flax (Linum grandiflorum)
Let’s enjoy this one while we can. This native of Algeria (aka Scarlet Flax) is popular in American gardens but rarely manages to self-seed and regrow the second year. In the densely crowded habitat of the southeast corner its chances are slim. Check Wikipedia for more.
Pale Flax (Linum bienne)
This flax species, by contrast to the crimson just above, has already established itself in the park. It’s found in several locations east and north. It’s a perennial not often found in gardens. The commercially cultivated flax used for making linen fabric among other things is thought to be derived from this dainty-looking wildflower. Bees and wasps take care of pollination. A bit more on Wikipedia.
New: Peach (Prunus persica)
A few years ago, a park visitor tossed the stone of a peach into the rip-rap along the path on Marina Boulevard, just outside the park entrance sign. This grew into a modest bush that put out lovely pink blossoms, noted and pictured here. I’ve not seen it bear fruit before. In orchards, the plant sets fruit in the third year. The peach has been cultivated since about 6,000 BC in China. From there it came to Persia (today’s Iran) where Europeans discovered it and gave it the name, “Persian plum” (Prunus persica). It was supposedly brought to the American colonies in the early 1600s. Today, Georgia styles itself the Peach State, and South Carolina, Alabama, and Delaware call the peach the state fruit or flower. But Georgia’s peach production is about five per cent of the U.S. total; both South Carolina and California produce more. China dominates world peach production with more than 60 percent of the total. Source: Wikipedia.
New: Morning Glory (Calystegia sepium)
This is one of the plants that occupy a grey area between “weed” and “garden plant.” Nurseries carry it because some people love it for its showy white flowers and its ability to climb fences. In the wild it has a tendency to climb up and over other plants and kill them off. Once established, it can be hard to get rid of. It spreads via creeping rhizomes that can range over four yards, and its seeds can remain viable in the ground for 30 years. There are small stands of it both on the east and west sides of the park. More on Wikipedia.
New: Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius)
Many dozens of these bloomed in the park last year. They seem to be having an off season, or maybe the others are late. It’s an import from the Mediterranean now growing wild just about everywhere in the US. It has a history stretching at least into Roman antiquity as a vegetable, eaten primarily for its root, like a parsnip or carrot. The greenery and flowers are also edible. Commercial varieties develop larger, fleshier roots. Source: Wikipedia.