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’s Flora starts with four plants with names that may alert you to be careful around them. There’s the Dwarf Stinging Nettle, the Showy Island Snapdragon, the Rush, and the Bank Catclaw. We conclude with two plants that don’t sound threatening, but really are: the Oblong Spurge and the Carolina Cherry Laurel.
Dwarf Stinging Nettle
The name of the Dwarf Stinging Nettle (Urtica urens) is not misleading. It stings! It packs more sting into its compact form than the taller, bushier common stinging nettle. It’s a native of somewhere else — Europe and/or Asia. Like many other plants that can harm you, it has medicinal uses. It is not widespread in the park, so if you stay away from dense bushy undergrowth you probably won’t see it.
Showy Island Snapdragon
The Showy Island Snapdragon (Gambelia speciosa), of course, won’t snap at you. It’s more a victim than a predator. It’s an endangered species in its native habitat, the Channel Islands in Southern California. However, it’s a moderately popular item in the nursery trade, where it’s valued for its flowers, which may bloom year round in good conditions, and for its drought tolerance and attraction for hummingbirds and pollinating insects. This one grows in the forested grove on the west side of the park.
This Rush won’t rush you or give you a rush. It’s a member of the Juncus family that grows in wet spots along the north shore of the park. It resembles a grass (although it is not a grass), and is used in Japan and parts of the Mediterranean for weaving mats.
The Bank Catclaw (Acacia redolens) has no thorns and there’s no obvious reason why it bears its menacing name. It was used in many areas of California as a ground cover alongside freeways. It grew fast and didn’t much care about what kind of soil or how much water it got. Those same virtues soon turned it into an invasive weed. However, it has managed to stay off the California and USDA noxious plant lists. The California Invasive Plant Council lists six related varieties of acacia, but not this one. It bears fuzzy yellow flowers and grows in the forested grove on the west side of the park.
The Oblong Spurge (Euphorbia oblongata), also known as Eggleaf Spurge, is a California listed noxious weed imported from Europe/Asia. Many spurges are highly toxic. In Washington State it’s listed as a noxious weed in quarantine. However, its tiny yellow flowers are pretty. It grows along the shore on the southern tail of the park.
Carolina Cherry Laurel
The Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana) sounds sweet and it produces quantities of small black cherries, about half an inch in diameter, that stay on the tree through the winter. Birds eat them without harm. However, fruits, leaves, and twigs contain high amounts of cyanide that is a hazard to children and livestock, so beware! This smallish tree grows in the forested grove on the west side of the park.