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.
In today’s Flora Friday, we feature more bloomers. At this time, the park is thick with blooming plants. Not all of them are showy. Some of them are so small that as you walk on the grass, you step on them by the dozens without noticing. Today’s featured flora are poa annua or annual bluegrass, two kinds of vetch (common and purple), a scarlet pimpernel, three members of the geranium family, arose clover, and the California poppy. More bloomers next Friday!
Poa Annua — Annual Bluegrass
I don’t usually think of grass as a flowering plant. This grass, however, flowers eight months of the year, and then drops its seeds, assuring that it spreads rapidly in favorable conditions. The flowers are tiny, but there are equally tiny insects that see them and pollinate them.
The Common Vetch (Vicia sativa ssp. sativa) grows in several park locations, but is especially dense in the seasonally protected Burrowing Owl area in the northeast corner of the park. It’s a useful plant; it fixes nitrogen in the soil and thereby improves it. It may be grown commercially as fodder for horses or cattle. The seeds also have a long history in human consumption. It can climb like a vine for several feet, and is sometimes grown along with oats or other upright plants as support for upright growth. Without support it tends to sprawl.
The Purple Vetch (Vicia benghalensis) differs from its common relative in having hairy stems and longish flowers that are not quite as showy. There is also a question whether eating too much of it can be toxic to humans and livestock. Apart from that, the Purple Vetch has the same commercial utility as a soil improvement. Its dense growth helps suppress weeds, and makes a productive feed source for honey production. In the park, the two kinds of vetch often grow in close proximity and may get entangled.
This tiny member of the Geranium family (Geranium dissectum) is also known as Cut-leaf Cranesbill or simply, wild geranium. These true geraniums are not to be confused with the common garden plant by the same name, which is properly called Pelargonium. Some members of the geranium family project their seeds from a curved spike that grows out of the flower; hence the name Cranesbill. It isn’t clear whether the dissectum has that capability.
These tiny pink and purple flowers grow by the many hundreds in the grass on the kite lawn in the southwest corner of the park. You don’t notice them unless you get down and look close. They are Erodium cicutarium, Red-stemmed Filaree, another member of the geranium family. They have an ingenious propagation mechanism. As the seed pod dries, a spiral filament on the seed acts as a spring and launches the seed into the air. The filament spreads out and serves as a parachute to float the seed on the breeze. Once it lands, the spiral filament goes to work like a drill and buries the seed in the ground. No wonder there are so many of them! The plant is edible and is said to taste like sharp parsley if picked young. The flowers provide much pollen and nectar for honeybees. The Cal Invasive Plant Council describes it as “aggressive … it often carpets large areas, out-competing native grasses and forbs.”
The White-stemmed fFilaree (Erodium moschatum), unlike its red-stemmed cousin, tends to stand out above the lawn a foot and a half or so. As a result, here in the park it doesn’t need an ingenious spiral mechanism to spread its seed. The mowing machine does the job for it.
The Rose Clover (Trifolium hirtum) was introduced to California from Turkey in the 1940s as a forage crop. It finds commercial service as a cover crop and for fodder. It easily escaped its commercial boundaries and today it’s a widespread presence on roadsides and other uncultivated areas, such as the park. The Invasive Plant Council rates it as limited invasive because it can outcompete native clovers.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis or Lysimachia a.) owes its widespread name recognition to a 1905 play and novel of the same name, featuring a British aristocrat who rescues his French cousins from the revolutionary guillotine. As a plant, it has proved less popular, due to the fact that it is toxic in several dimensions to horses, dogs, cattle, poultry, rabbits, birds, and humans. However, its pungent oil emits a smell that repels many insects, similar to the action of some marigolds.
If you thought a plantain was a cooking banana, as I did, think again. This plantain, Plantago lanceolata, is a flowering plant whose only fruits are tiny seeds. It’s considered noxious to livestock. However, the leaves are said to be useful as teas and herbal remedies. These individual plants grow on the northern side of the park. The plant rates a “limited” invasive rating from the Invasive Plant Council.
The familiar California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is the only plant in today’s Flora Features that’s a native of California (and Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora and northwest Baja California (Mexico)). It’s been the state flower of California since 1903. Thousands of acres in several Southern California locations get covered with these flowers in normal blooming season, and the superblooms this spring are visible from satellites in space; they’ve drawn massive traffic jams from flower peepers. Oddly enough, California poppies remain rare and isolated in Cesar Chavez Park. We have rampant fields of oxalis, bunches of wild mustard and radish, and much else, but only scattered handfuls of this lovely poppy. Why is that?
Next week: Still more bloomers!