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.
Finding new species has become seasonally more difficult. The park’s mowers have slashed, flattened, and buried a lot of the interesting small stuff, and in any case the blooming season, where plants advertise themselves, is past. Nevertheless. Jutta managed to find three new species in just one hour. Here they are:
The name of the Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has nothing to do with old age; it comes from an Anglo-Saxon root meaning fire, because the hollow stems of the plant were useful for blowing on sparks to make flames. Its flowers and berries have centuries of employment to make juices and fermented beverages. There are various medicinal claims. It’s also quite pretty, as the photo shows, and is often grown as an ornamental.
The Sweet Hakea (Hakea suaveolens) came here somehow from far southwestern Australia, where it’s native, or from South Africa, where it became naturalized, not to the pleasure of conservationists. Its seeds have little wings that allow the wind to carry it considerable distances, and it’s considered an invasive pest there, officially.
It’s prized by gardeners, nevertheless, for its powerful honey-like fragrance when in bloom. Naturally, bees like it also. Here in California it has such a small footprint that CalFlora, the comprehensive database of anything that grows wild in this state, has no listing for any Hakea. The California Invasive Plant Council does not list it, either. Luckily, UC Berkeley’s CalPhotos database shows 15 images of the plant under its H. suavolens name, including one 2017 find of a tree in nearby Albany. So maybe that’s how this plant got into the park? Seeds blowing in on a strong northeast gale?
This is another plant with dueling scientific names. Wikipedia says that the H. suaveolens name is outdated, and goes with the purportedly more modern H. drupacea nomenclature.
If you suffer from sword throat, an occupational ailment of sword swallowers, then Willow Dock (Rumex salicifolius) is your go-to medication. And if you are a woman who wants to get pregnant, it helps with that, too. So, at least, goes the traditional lore about this plant. What’s less iffy is that this Rumex is a cousin of Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) which grows all over the park, but not a close cousin. Curly Dock is native to Eurasia, whereas Willow Dock is native to the Western United States, including California.
Flora Friday isn’t limited to publishing species that haven’t been recorded before in the park. She can also publish pictures that are just plain pretty. Here’s a shot taken by Jutta B. showing the Rabbitsfoot Grass (Polypogon monspeliens) against a field of Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).