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.
With every venture into the park’s 90 acres, additional plant species get discovered. The list is now well over 100 species and, says Jutta, may well hit 150 species before it’s complete.
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) is a California native well known to the local Ohlone people, who used an infusion of roots and leaves as a cure for indigestion and stomach pain. It takes a sharp eye to spot this plant, as the flower is only about half an inch in diameter, and the plants seem to grow in isolation in the park, not in showy bunches. They’re not considered invasive, which may put them at a disadvantage in this environment.
Strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum) is the fourth variety of clover found in the park. See Crimson Clover, Rose Clover, Hop Clover. It seems to be the shy member of the family, mostly hiding under cover of other plants. Or maybe it’s just gathering its forces before spreading out and covering the hillside, as it does in some other places. It was introduced in California as a cover crop, for hay and silage, as green manure, and as host for honey bees. It’s not considered invasive.
This flower is only about a quarter inch in diameter. The plant is a cousin of the only slightly larger Cut-leaf Geranium that also lives in the park. Both are not to be confused with the common garden plant often labeled “geranium,” which is really a Pelargonium. The Small-flowered Crane’s-bill, also called Small Geranium (Geranium pusillum), has not developed much literature. The Wikipedia entry runs one line, and CalFlora only knows that it was introduced from elsewhere. So there you have it.
The botanist who gave ragweed the genus name of ambrosia must have had a warped sense of humor. Ambrosia is a delightful nourishment that promotes immortality. Ragweed, in reality, makes millions of people so miserable they may contemplate death as preferable. A single plant can produce a billion grains of pollen per season, and the wind may carry the pollen hundreds of miles, even out to sea. Ragweed causes about half the cases of allergic rhinitis in the U.S. It’s also one of the plants native to the US that has traveled abroad to make people in other countries miserable.
Ragweeds native to the Americas have been introduced to Europe starting in the nineteenth century and especially during World War I, and have spread rapidly there since the 1950s. Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, has been badly affected by ragweed since the early 1990s, when the dismantling of Communist collective agriculture led to large-scale abandonment of agricultural land, and new building projects also resulted in disturbed, un-landscaped acreage.
A vigorous stand of this brush grows in the forested area on the park’s west side.
The California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) is not a fuchsia at all; it is related to the evening primrose. Its flower does hang and flare, as do many of the fuchsias, so the name has stuck. It’s native to California and other Western states. Hummingbirds like it. It grows wild but also has a huge garden following.
Rabbit’s Foot Grass
Rabbit’s foot grass (Polypogon monspeliensis) is native to southwest Europe but is now found throughout the temperate world. It likes moist places, which probably explains its presence near the picnic area on the west side of the park, where drainage is poor and another marshy area has developed, similar to but not as severe as in some years past. It’s considered an invasive weed with a Limited rating from the Cal Invasive Plants Council.
From rabbits foot to rat tail, another invasive grass. Festuca myuros, aka Vulpia myuros, is another Eurasian import now naturalized throughout most of the globe. It’s rated Moderately invasive by the California Invasive Plants Council. It’s widespread in the park.
Here’s another invasive grass, worse than the two above. This one is named “ripgut” because when sheep eat it, it can penetrate their intestines. Like the barley (hordeum murinum) that grows densely in the center of the park, this grass (Bromus diandrus) is known to dog owners as “foxtail.”
The seeds easily break out of the spikelet. They are very sharp and very rough due to tiny barb-like hairs that face backwards, allowing the seed to catch and lodge like a fish hook. This characteristic makes the seeds a danger to animals, which can easily get a seed lodged in a paw or eye. Motion can cause the seed to work itself deeply into flesh.
Ivy, familiar from buildings and as ground cover, is also found in the park. Here it climbs one of the trees in the forest glade on the west side. Hedera helix on brick buildings conveys tradition and prestige — think Ivy League. But the same plant on wood walls eats the paint and damages the wood; on trees it may choke off their sunlight, and as a ground cover it kills off just about everything else. That’s why it’s on the official noxious weed list in Washington and Oregon states. It’s illegal to sell or import this ivy in Oregon. The California Invasive Plants Council gives it a High invasive rating. Confining it or getting rid of it is a challenge Hedera helix develops flowers that are rich in nectar, followed by berries that birds love to eat, spreading the seeds. A single plant in a garden can soon populate the neighborhood.
The Bull Mallow (Malva nicaeensis) is a true edible. Wikipedia says,
In the Levant, mallows grow profusely after the first winter rains. The leaves and stems are edible, and are widely collected by indigenous peoples for food, as they make an excellent garnish when chopped and fried in olive-oil with onions and spices. In Israel, the Arabic name for this plant, “chubezza” (Arabic: الخبيزة), is well-known and is used also by Israelis whenever referring to the plant.
There are 25 to 30 Malva species, distinguishable by their leaves and by the shape of their buds, among other characteristics. Note that the bud of the Bull Mallow, above, has numerous thin, almost invisible ribs and almost no hairs, while the Cretan mallow here has fewer but clearly defined ribs and is fuzzy all around.
The mallow has a long history. Wikipedia relates:
This plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. The third century BC physician Diphilus of Siphnus wrote that “[mallow] juice lubricates the windpipe, nourishes, and is easily digested.” Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: “Me pascunt olivae, / me cichorea levesque malvae” (“As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance”). Lord Monboddo describes his translation of an ancient epigram that demonstrates malva was planted upon the graves of the ancients, stemming from the belief that the dead could feed on such perfect plants.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malva
Next week: Even more species!