Thanks to the contributions of two energetic people who know plants, chavezpark.org is publishing a complete botanical inventory of the park. Jutta Burger PhD is Lead Scientist for the California Invasive Plant Council, and Bob Huttar is a certified arborist and a consulting field biologist specializing in botany generally and rare plants in particular. Together they are photographing and identifying everything that grows in the park, both common and scientific names. They’ve done the scientific heavy lifting. I’m adding some background blog-talk. We’re publishing the results in a series, with a new installment every Friday.
This week we introduce Park Species No. 128 and counting.
Fiddle Dock (Rumex pulcher) is one of the many park inhabitants that grows on disturbed soil and is often found on roadsides. It’s a relative of the curly dock (Rumex crispus) whose reddish stalks are very visible in the park. It’s invasive but not so aggressively as to draw the attention of the California Invasive Plant Council. It has no garden interest, no commercial use, is not edible, and has no medicinal value. Even Wikipedia has only a stub on it, not a full discussion.
It doesn’t look like much in this photo, where the plant is just getting started, but it will send its stalks up two feet or more and develop fuzzy flower clusters that look a bit like edelweiss. Jersey cudweed (Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum), also sometimes known as cat’s paw, can survive being frozen. It seeds have parachutes resembling those of the dandelion that can carry it long distances on the wind. It’s found almost everywhere except Antarctica. Botanists are unsure where it’s native and where it’s introduced. There’s disagreement about its taxonomy, with some botanists naming it Helichrysum luteoalbum instead of Pseudognaphalium l. The Wikipedia author leans toward Helichrysum while the California authorities go with Pseudognaphalium. Under either name, the plant is used as a food in Vietnamese rice cakes, and has played a role in traditional medicine.
New Zealand Spinach
If bugs won’t eat it and snails and slugs avoid it, you’d think twice before putting this plant into your mouth. Nonetheless, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) has centuries of cultivation as a vegetable behind it. Captain Cook supposedly grabbed it when he landed in New Zealand and fed it to his crew to combat scurvy. It’s been introduced very widely and is valued as a ground cover quite apart from its use as food. Because it spreads vigorously, it’s earned a “Limited” rating from the California Invasive Plant Council. It likes shorelines and doesn’t mind salt. In the park, it’s growing between the rip-rap at the water’s edge, true to character.
The thirsty Red Willow (Salix laevigata) manages to hang on and even thrive in the park even though there are no creeks here. It’s a native of California and northwestern Mexico. It grows very quickly. It can grow up to 50 feet tall if it gets unlimited water but here in the park rises to no more than half that. Numerous bees and butterflies feed on its nectar and help to pollinate it.