Black Locust

White black locust bloom seems oxymoronic.

The natural ranges of black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, likely included only the Ozark Mountains, the Ouachita Mountains, and the Appalachian Mountains south of New York. Early American colonists planted it elsewhere before botanists documented its origins. It was notably used for firewood, durable lumber, erosion mitigation, and soil conditioning.

Modern cultivars are less useful for such applications, but are more appropriate for home gardens. Regardless of elegantly lofty form, delightfully finely textured foliage, and richly fragrant white bloom, the species is aggressively invasive and wickedly thorny. Cultivars can bloom pink or rosy pink, lack thorns, and develop more compact and shapely forms.

Bloom resembles that of wisteria, with many small flowers hanging in pendulous trusses. Deciduous foliage, which was absent through winter, appears in conjunction with bloom, but does not obscure it. Individual leaves are pinnately compound, with small leaflets on central rachises (stalks). Most modern cultivars will not get much more than forty feet tall, to make moderate shade.

Weeds Are Full Of Surprises

Pokeweed is rapidly becoming more common.

While it was busy naturalizing in Australia, South Africa and southern South America, the California poppy was getting forced out of parts of its own native range by more aggressive exotic plants that were also busy getting naturalized. Technically, any plant that is not native is exotic. Any exotic plant that becomes naturalized in a foreign environment is able to proliferate without any help, as if it were native. Naturalized exotic plants that get too aggressive become invasive weeds.

Weeds are plants where they are not wanted. This is a very broad definition that includes plants ranging from simple little dandelions in urban lawns to humongous bluegum eucalyptus in forests. Naturalized exotic weeds can be much more problematic than weeds that can only proliferate where they get watered in gardens and landscapes, because they can get established where they are not expected.

Water hyacinth that clogs the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta is not often a problem in terrestrial landscapes. However, giant reed, pampas grass, Acacia dealbata and blackberry brambles can infest home gardens just as easily as they infest wild lands. Because they do not need to be watered, they can get established and grow quite large in unused parts of the garden before anyone notices.

Many naturalized weeds somehow seem to much more aggressive and problematic than even the most prolific of native plants. Even the common native lupines are relatively docile compared to annual oat grass. Native blackberry may seem impossible to eradicate, but is actually neither as persistent nor as unpleasant to handle as the exotic Siberian blackberry!

Young weeds are easiest to pull now while the soil is still evenly damp, and young roots are only beginning to disperse. They will be more difficult to pull after roots are dispersed and soil hardens. Tree weeds and large perennial weeds that were cut down last year instead of pulled will likely need to be dug. Bermuda grass is a relatively low perennial grass that always seems to be difficult to dig. Mowing or cutting down annual grass weeds with a weed whacker will not eliminate them, but limits the development and dispersion of seed for the next generation. Burclover, sowthistle, bindweed, purslane, spurge and the various oxalis are some of the other common weeds that really get going this time of year.

Silver Wattle

Silver wattle is a magnificent weed.

Almost everyone on the West Coast of California has encountered silver wattle, Acacia dealbata. Some of us know how resilient it is to most methods of eradication. The more fortunate enjoy its magnificently bloom from a distance. It is almost never planted intentionally. It is an aggressively naturalized exotic species. Most grows wild near roadside ditches. Some invades home gardens.

The profuse and bright yellow bloom of silver wattle is spectacular while most deciduous trees remain bare late in winter. Big and billowy trusses of smaller round floral structures obscure most of their slightly grayish foliage. The many individual staminate flowers within this impressive bloom are actually minute. Their hearty floral fragrance is appealing to some, but objectionable to others.

Silver wattle lives fast and dies young. Some trees are so vigorous while young that they are unable to support their own weight. Without appropriate pruning, they simply fall over. Even stable and structurally sound trees deteriorate after about thirty years. Few survive for fifty. They seed prolifically though! Mature trees can get forty feet tall. The finely textured foliage is bipinnately compound.

Tree Of Heaven

Tree of Heaven or tree of Hell?

‘A Tree Grows In Brooklyn’ documents the resiliency and invasiveness of the common but typically undesirable tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima. Once a single female tree get established, the extremely prolific seeds get everywhere, including cracks in concrete. The resulting seedlings conquer wherever they are not dug out. If cut down, they just resprout from the roots.

Male trees smell horrible while blooming for about a month in spring or summer. They are pollinated by flies, so naturally smell like what flies like. The tiny yellowish or tan flowers hang on panicles that can be a foot and a half long. Female blooms are not as big, prolific or objectionably fragrant. However, stems, leaves and all other parts of both genders smell rotten when handled.

Tree of Heaven, which has earned the alternative names of ‘tree of Hell’, ‘stink tree’, ‘ghetto elm’ and ‘ghetto palm’, is no longer a tree that gets planted by choice. It is typically a tree that plants itself, and on rare occasion, happens to grow into a good situation. They should not be allowed to overwhelm more desirable trees, or get too close to concrete or other damageable features.

Young trees grow very fast to about forty feet tall. Older and slower trees do not get much taller, although sheltered trees can get twice as tall, with elegant gray bark. They do not live much more than fifty years. The big pinnately compound leaves are surprisingly pretty. On vigorous shoots, individual leaves can get as long as two and a half feet, with leaflets as long as six inches.

Santa Barbara Daisy

Some of us know Santa Barbara daisy by the less appealing name of ‘fleabane’.

Santa Barbara was not exactly its first choice. Santa Barbara daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus, is not even native to California. It is actually from Central America. It just happens to do very well here, and can naturalize if conditions are right. It can be rather grungy through summer in the wild, but with a bit of watering, it can bloom nicely all year.

The thin stems can spread a few feet without getting more than a foot deep. If even shallower growth is preferred, older plants can be cut down or pulled up as they get replaced by their own offspring. The narrow leaves are quite tiny. The white or slightly pinkish flowers are not much bigger, less than half an inch wide, with prominent yellow centers.

Santa Barbara daisy is also known as Mexican fleabane, both because it is actually native to Mexico, and also because it is supposedly useful for repelling fleas. The problem with using it to repel fleas is that only its smoke is effective. There are probably other herbal alternatives that work just as well without being a fire hazard.


Bloom is sporadic, but the delightful purplish blue color is worth it.

If the Latin name of dwarf periwinkle is Vinca minor, it is logical that large periwinkle should be Vinca major. Large periwinkle is more commonly known simply as periwinkle or common periwinkle, although it is not as common as dwarf periwinkle is, at least in landscapes. In some regions, it has naturalized as an invasive weed.

Some might accurately say that periwinkle is shabbier than the relatively neat and dense dwarf periwinkle. Others might say that it is just rustic or informal. The wiry stems stand less than a foot tall before they bend over from their own weight. Fallen stems can root where they touch the ground, and grow into new plants over winter.

The evergreen foliage is rich green, and a bit darker than the top of a billiard table. The simple paired leaves are about an inch and a half to two inches long. The slightly purplish blue flowers are about an inch and a half wide, with five petals each. Bloom is sporadic, but almost continuous, except for a lapse through winter.

Butterfly Bush

Garden varieties are less likely to naturalize than the straight species is.

Many plants are so easy to grow that they become invasive weeds. Butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii, has done exactly that in some regions, and is only controlled here by the arid climate. Yet, once established, it does not need much water at all, and can survive on rainfall in some spots. They only want good sun exposure.

Mature plants can get more than 15-feet tall and half as broad, with long arching limbs. Most garden varieties stay smaller, and some do not get much more than six feet tall. The evergreen foliage is sage green, grayish green or chartreuse. The paired leaves are about the size and shape of willow or eucalyptus leaves.

Conical trusses of densely packed tiny flowers that bloom in mid-summer can be various shades of blue, purple, red and pink, as well as dusty white. Some new varieties bloom soft orange or yellowish orange. The more compact and colorful modern varieties are not as fragrant as old classics are.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Where does this delightful columbine think it is?!

Columbine does not do well here. I do no know why. It does well enough in Colorado to be the Official State Flower there. Yet, the mildest of climates is Colorado are harsher than the climate here. It does not get too terribly warm in summer here. Humidity is minimal, but not as minimal as in much of Colorado. Nor does it exceed that of other regions where columbine does well.

We have certainly tried to grow columbine. It just does not work. Some of it succumbs to powdery mildew. Some succumbs to rust. The last batch just succumbed. Because it was expected, I did not bother to investigate. I got the impression that it was taken out by both powdery mildew and rust. Flowers that bloomed so delightfully when planted went to seed on their way out.

That should have been the end of it. I would not mind if someone tries again to grow columbine for next spring, even if it last for only a short while. I just do not expect to see it ever perform well here. None was planted this year. Even if someone had considered it, there was no need to add any prior to furlough, while cool season annuals for winter continued to bloom so happily.

What I certainly did not consider was the few seed that the last batch of columbine tossed almost a year ago. Apparently, at least one of those seed fell from the ledge where its parent plants lived briefly in now absent planter boxes, and into the edge of a small landscape below. It grew into an exemplary specimen of columbine, which is happily blooming as if it were in Colorado!

It is surrounded by a concrete retaining wall, a perpendicular granite wall and a big granite boulder!



French broom seems to be indestructible.

Shortly after silver wattle finishes blooming up high, any of four species of broom begin blooming down low. Brooms and silver wattle often naturalize together. All bloom with the same delightfully brilliant yellow. The four brooms are French broom – Cytisus monspessulana, Scotch broom – Cytisus scoparius, Portuguese broom – Cytisus striatus and Spanish broom – Spartium junceum.

Sadly, none are desirable species. All are exotic weeds. They are only a topic for gardening because they are so aggressively invasive. Not only do they overwhelm and displace native species, but they also enhance soil nitrogen to promote the growth of other exotic weeds! They are unpalatable to deer, and are not bothered by insects or disease. Furthermore, brooms are combustible!

It is best to enjoy their cheery bloom from a distance, where they grow wild where they really should not. The various species tend to dominate distinct regions, with some degree of mingling. Big specimens can get eight feet tall, but do not live long as they are replaced by herds of seedlings. French broom is the only evergreen species; but any can defoliate in response to hot dry weather.

Wild Strawberry?

Wild strawberries are worth salvaging.

Under a bank of carpet roses that I am none too keen on, this grubby ground cover competes with more aggressive weeds. To me, it looks like common mock strawberry, Potentilla indica. I never gave it much though. It seemed to me that whoever had installed cheap and common carpet roses on that bank would have employed a comparably cheap and common ground cover.

The ground cover was more prolific in open spots that were too narrow for more of the roses, and from there, seemed to have migrated under the roses as a second layer of ground cover. It would not have been installed underneath intentionally. It did not occur to me that it may have grown from seed like so many other weeds there, or migrated in from the surrounding forest.

The white flowers did catch my attention though. I was not aware of a mock strawberry that bloomed with white flowers. I really was not concerned enough about it to investigate. This part of the landscape will be getting renovated soon anyway. The roses will be relocated to where they can not extend their thorny canes into an adjacent walkway. Agapanthus will replace them.

Now that I am seeing more of these odd strawberries, I am wondering if this low ground cover that I formerly had no regard for is actually the native wild strawberry, Fragaria californica. Not only should mock strawberry bloom with yellow flowers, but it should also produce more spherical berries. Now I will need to identify it before I either dispose of it, or merely relocate it.

I prefer to not salvage exotic species that exhibit potential to naturalize from landscaped areas into surrounding forests. If this ground cover is wild strawberry, it migrated from surrounding forests into a particular casually landscaped area.