Six on Saturday: Politely Naturalized Exotics +1

Exotic plant species that appreciate endemic climates and soils seem like they should be the next best options to native plant species. A few unfortunately naturalize aggressively enough to displace native plants species, and interfere with the natural ecosystem. A few can not naturalize without their preferred pollinators that did not come with them from their origin. Some have potential to naturalize, but either refrain, or are civil about doing so. Some that are invasive within landscapes are not as invasive in the wild, particularly if they need more water than they get from local weather. I occasionally find exotic plant species, including a few that I am surprised to find.

1. Sticky monkey flower is the ‘+1’. It is the only one of these six that is native rather than exotic. Its odd name leaves one pondering how a monkey is involved and why it is sticky.

2. Mock orange seems to be naturalized, but contrary to common belief, may actually be native. A single flowered variety and a double flowered variety may be different species.

3. Jupiter’s beard is most certainly exotic and naturalized, but does not seem to be polite about it. It can get quite invasive. However, it does not get far from irrigated landscapes.

4. Iris remains a mystery to me. I grew this same seemingly simple species while in high school, but have never identified it. It naturalizes, but only where it gets sufficient water.

5. Spanish lavender is obviously not native since it is from, well, Spain. It can naturalize, but is not aggressive about it. The honeybee is much more aggressively naturalized here.

6. Crinum, like the Iris, is unidentified. I am not even sure if it is a Crinum. It grows wild with sticky monkey flower, in sandy soil that gets dusty, dry and warm through summer.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Not all weeds are unwelcome.

Unplanned acacias certainly put on a show when they bloom. It is not easy to dislike something so impressively colorful.

Even the best tended gardens get weeds. Most weeds, particularly annual and perennial weeds, meet a quick demise by getting pulled out or sprayed with herbicide. A few shrub and tree weeds though, are sometimes allowed to mature into functional members of the landscape.

Many sneak into the garden by growing within overgrown or otherwise concealing shrubbery, where they can hide long enough to get established. Others are left to grow because they are recognized as desirable plants. The main problems is that many end up in situations where they eventually become problematic.

Mexican fan palms are distinctive trees. Unfortunately, many grow below utility cables, because that is where birds drop the seed as they eat the fruit. Unlike other trees, palms can not be pruned around utility cables, so must be removed when they get too tall.

Silk tree, black locust, tree of Heaven and various oaks, pines, acacias and eucalypti are some of the more common trees that can sneak into gardens. Sometimes, they happen to land in good situations. More often though, they get too close to foundations, eaves, pavement or other features that they damage as they grow. Like Mexican fan palms, they are easier to remove while young, before they become problematic.

Pittosporums, cotoneasters and privets are commonly seeded shrubbery with less potential for problems. The main problem with glossy privet is that it can be too prolific and aggressive, so that it can crowd out more desirable plants. Most pittosporums and cotoneasters that get seeded are from plants that are ‘straight species’ (not cloned cultivars or varieties). Those that happen to be from cultivar or variety plants will not be ‘true to type’, which means that they will be more like the straight species than like their parents.

The few fruit trees that can sometimes grow from seed have the same problem, since only some of the more genetically basic types may resemble their parents. Fancier types and (non-sterile) hybrids probably will not. Fruit trees that grow from root suckers of grafted trees instead of from seed will be nothing like the parents, and may produce useless fruit.

Pampas grass is a prolific and sometimes welcome perennial weed near untended parcels or forested areas where pampas grass has naturalized. Broom is a shrubby weed that is even more prolific, but never welcome.

Algerian and English ivy rarely grow from seed, but can be really nasty weeds if they get where they are not wanted. Bear’s breech (or breaches), Jupiter’s beard, calla, mint and various yuccas that were planted may be very difficult to eradicate if they are no longer desirable, or if they migrate into areas where they become problematic.

Four O’Clock

Four o’clock is not obsessively punctual.

Most who enjoy four o’clock, Miribilis jalapa, do not grow it intentionally. It tends to sneak into gardens from outside, and then bloom too delightfully to be unwanted. It naturalizes, but not aggressively enough to be a weed. New seedlings develop tuberous roots during their first year. They regenerate to produce abundant seed as early as their second year.

Flowers are supposed to open at 4 o’clock. They may open earlier during warm or humid weather. They remain open through the night, and perhaps for part of the morning. Floral color ranges through white, yellow, orange, red, and many tints of pink. Flowers might be striped or spotted with the other colors. Individual plants might bloom with various colors. 

Mature four o’clock plants do not get much taller than three feet. They might sprawl twice as broad. Rich light green foliage is quite full, and obscures unexpectedly soft and lanky stems with knobby nodes. Bloom continues through most of summer, but decreases with increased seed development late in summer. All growth above ground succumbs to frost.

Perennial Pea

Perennial pea has potential to naturalize.

Although rarely planted intentionally in home gardens, perennial pea, Lathyrus latifolius, is somewhat common near rural roadside ditches and in riparian situations. It naturalizes to a minor degree, generally where the soil retains a bit of moisture after the rain finishes. It can eventually become somewhat overwhelming in unrefined but irrigated landscapes.

Bloom is typically rich purplish pink during late spring or early summer. A few specimens might bloom white or pale pink. Seed for varieties that bloom in any of these three colors, as well as red, is available online. Flowers resemble those of annual sweet pea, but are more abundant, and lack fragrance. Their delicate foliage might be slightly bluish green.

Vines might be lean through their first season from seed, but can get six feet long. By the middle of summer, they begin to die back to their plump perennial roots. They last longer with watering. Without watering, they may finish before July. Vines that grow from mature roots as winter ends after the first season should be bigger, fuller and perhaps voracious.

Jupiter’s beard

Jupiter’s beard tolerates only minor shade.

It is rare in nurseries, but common in and near old gardens. Jupiter’s beard, Centranthus ruber, was popular at least a century ago, and is now naturalized. It migrates so liberally, and transplants so easily, that there should be no need to purchase it. Those who grow it in established colonies may be happy to share. Specific cultivars can be elusive though.

Bloom is typically pinkish red, but can be brick red, purplish red, purplish pink, pale pink, or white. Individual flowers are tiny, but abundant, in rather dense and somewhat conical trusses. Bloom begins in spring and becomes more profuse until warm summer weather. A cool situation can inhibit primary bloom, but promote sporadic bloom through summer.

Jupiter’s beard prefers sunny exposure. Although a bit of shade can preserve foliar color and extend sporadic bloom through summer warmth, it compromises profusion of bloom. The slightly rubbery evergreen foliage of bloomed stems deteriorates slowly. Removal of older stems after bloom eliminates shabby growth, and also promotes fresh new growth.

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.