At our April 13 hands-on stewardship outing, where our primary mission was pulling weeds and knocking back exotic invasives in the Native Plant Area, we also discovered two plant species new to our Chavez Park Plant List: the California Mugwort and the Fumitory.
California Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana)
The California Mugwort grows on the edges of the southern portion of the Native Plant Area. It’s a California native also found in other Western states. When it flowers, it attracts numerous pollinators. Birds eat its seeds and some native bees use its leaves as nesting material. It occasionally spreads by seeds but grows mainly through its dense network of rhizomes, which run about six inches underground and help stabilize sloping soil. For thousands of years, this plant has played a role in traditional indigenous medicine. Wikipedia summarizes a great deal of more detailed literature:
“Artemisia douglasiana was used by Native American tribes as a medicinal plant to relieve joint pain and headaches, and to treat abrasions and rashes (including poison ivy). It was also used to treat women’s reproductive issues, including irregular menstruation and was occasionally used as an abortifacient.
Note the little spot of Spittlebug foam near the crown of the plant in the photo. This plant is one of the species vulnerable to infection by the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria, which the Spittlebug may carry and transmit, as detailed in a previous post here. However, not all Spittlebugs carry the bacteria and the plants here appeared healthy and vigorous.
A number of local nurseries carry this plant for garden use. Notable among them is the Native Here nursery, co-founded by Charli Danielsen, a principal in the nonprofit group Design Associates Working with Nature (DAWN) that established this forested garden of California native plants in the park in the early 1980s. The DAWN gardeners may well have planted the ancestor of the plants we found. More about this plant: Calscape Calflora UCI
Drug Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis)
This Fumaria grows very near the Artemisia. It flowers earlier. Its scientific name refers to smoke (fumaria). It’s unclear whether that comes from the appearance of the flowering plant seen from a distance, or to the blurring of vision when rubbing the eyes with its sap. It’s a native of Eurasia and North Africa. It’s been known for medical uses since Greek antiquity.
According to the Wikipedia writers, “In 17th century Europe it was publicized as good for the eyes (due to remarks by Pliny and later Olivier de Serres that rubbing its juice in one’s eyes caused excessive tearing). The most common traditional uses were as a digestive aid and a diuretic, but various folk traditions throughout Europe ascribed to it a multitude of uses: constipation, cystitis, arteriosclerosis, rheumatism, arthritis, as a blood purifier, for hypoglycaemia, infections, and possibly to cleanse the kidneys. In Sicily and perhaps elsewhere it was used to treat skin blemishes, and in Britain into the modern era as an eyewash to treat conjunctivitis.
It’s had a checkered modern history as an alleged medicinal herb, with some countries permitting and others restricting its sale. A number of studies have attempted to test its efficacy or toxicity without consistent or scientifically persuasive findings. One researcher has warned that the plant is poisonous, but others disagree. Read more: Wikipedia Calflora Calphoto WebMD