Field Of . . . ?

P91228KThis . . . was a ball field. It might eventually be one again. The old backstop at the upper left corner of the picture is almost completely obscured under a thicket of blackberry brambles and a fallen boxelder. It would need to be replaced. So would the decommissioned irrigation system, all the bases, the basepath, the turf . . . and everything else that goes into a functional ball field.

The turf had naturalized and overwhelmed the basepath long before last year. I collected wild mustard, radish and turnip greens from around the perimeter last spring and summer. By the time they were finishing, the blackberries were ready. I got stinging nettle from the bank of Zayante Creek in the background of this picture. Dock is already regenerating off to the far right.

There are naturalized wildflowers here too. I got pictures of perennial pea, purpletop vervain, Saint John’s wort, four o’clock, calla, narcissus, teasel, common thistle and California poppy, all within the perimeter of this ball field. Native trees include Douglas fir, California bay, California buckeye, bigleaf maple, white alder, cottonwood, coast live oak, canyon live oak and redwood.

The ball field looks like the moon now only because a construction company used it as a parking lot for trucks and machinery. We dumped excess soil removed from landscapes on the infield, where it was evenly dispersed by the machinery before it left. A low mound of road debris remains just past the foul line in the background. Firewood gets stocked out of view to the far left.

Restoring this meadow to a ball field would be like starting from scratch. The only salvageable asset is the flat space. Even though turf would be the most substantial feature of a finished ball field, a restoration project will involve more engineering and construction than horticulture.

California Pepper Tree

00101It has been naturalized in Southern California long enough to seem to be native. California pepper, Schinus molle, is actually endemic to Peru and adjacent arid regions of South America as far south as Central Argentina. Furthermore, although its small pink fruits with hard black seeds are sometimes used for culinary purposes, it is actually not related to black pepper, and is mildly toxic.

California pepper is as at home here as the name implies. Established and naturalized trees can survive on annual rainfall. They are better foliated if watered a few times through summer, and do not mind average landscape irrigation if their soil does not stay too damp. When they are not dropping a few leaves, they are dropping floral frass or dried berries, so their mess is considerable.

Old trees can eventually get forty feet wide, and almost as tall. Young trees grow rather aggressively. Growth slows with maturity. The distended and irregularly structured trunks and main limbs are picturesquely gnarly, with handsomely flaky tan bark. Foliage and outer stems are delightfully pendulous. The pinnately compound leaves are finely textured, and about three to six inches in length.

Four O’ Clock

40910Not only does it start to bloom late in summer, but as the name implies, four o’clock, Mirabilis jalapa, blooms late in the afternoon to attract nocturnal moths for pollination overnight. By morning, the white, yellow, variable pink or rarely pastel orange flowers are closed, and their yummy fragrance is gone. Individual flowers often display irregular stripes or blotches of alternate colors, and can be divided into zones that are shaped like slices out of a pizza. Plants get nearly three feet high, but then die to the ground with the first frost. They regenerate from big tuberous roots as winter ends, and can seed profusely.

Cortaderia jubata

P90908It is known by a few different common names, including ‘Andean pampas grass’, ‘purple pampas grass’, and simply ‘pampas grass’. ‘Andean pampas grass’ sounds almost like an oxymoron, since the Andes Mountains are in a separate region to the west of the pampas region of Uruguay and eastern Argentina. ‘Purple pampas grass’ is even sillier, since it is devoid of any purple.

I know it simply as ‘papas grass’. That is just how I learned it. The problem with this common name is that it is the same common name of Cortaderia selloana and its cultivars, which is a distinct species that is, on rare occasion, planted intentionally in landscapes. Cortaderia jubata is one of the most aggressively invasive of exotic species on the West Coast, so is not planted.P90908+

Cortaderia selloana is safe to plant because it is ‘supposedly’ sterile, so can not naturalize. Technically though, it is not really sterile, but merely exclusively female, without male flower parts for pollination. It reproduces by apomixis, which is a fancy way of saying that it produces viable seed without pollination. No one has bothered to explain why that makes it any less invasive.

Cortaderia jubata reproduces by apomixis too, but makes much more of problem with it. It is very prolific with its unpollinated seed! To make matters worse, it will hybridize freely with Cortaderia selloana if it gets the chance. How does that even work?! Pollen is needed for that sort of hanky panky! Nonetheless, the hybrids are almost as aggressive as Cortadera jubata is!P90908++

I just don’t trust any of them. Cortaderia selloana cultivars can work well in large landscapes in urban areas, where they can not escape into the wild. For rural or suburban landscapes that are near wildlands, there are plenty of other less invasive options.P90908+++

Six on Saturday: No Category


I do try. I prefer to submit pictures that conform at least somewhat to a particular theme. It just did not work out that way for this week. The only thing in common with these pictures is that they are from the same garden. It is garden at work, but one that I do not do much in.

1. Grape, which I still think of as dago wisteria, was planted here years ago, by someone who is no longer here to take care of it. The established vine grows like big voracious weed. I pruned it back last winter, and pulled up several stems that rooted where they flopped onto the ground. There are still six copies left at the storage nursery. I would like to plant some of them this winter, but the one original is already too much work. The grapes are somewhat tart when ripe, which makes me suspect that it is not quite warm enough here for them. It gets warm during the day, but cools off at night.P90720

2. Succulent of an unknown species grows so close to the grapevine that it was overwhelmed before I pruned the vine back. This is a common exotic succulent that has been around in the region for a long time. I remember that it grew on the sides of some of the roads in Montara, along with other vegetation that naturalized from the gardens of homes that had been there during the Victorian period. I suppose that it is naturalized also in some spots, but does not seem to be aggressive or invasive about it. This particular specimen was likely put here intentionally. The foliage is always yellowish.P90720+

3. Tillandsia, along with a few other epiphytic bromeliads, were added to this garden just this year. They are wired onto this branch from the Eucalyptus cinerea that I mentioned in ‘Silver‘ last week. The branch is a scrap from pruning that was just propped up in the landscape for the ephiphytes. The big gray limbs in the background are of an old ‘Kwanzan’ flowering cherry tree. The epiphyllums that I mentioned two weeks ago on Sunday in ‘Epiphyllum Surprise‘ get hung from the cherry tree while they are in bloom, and then sent back to the storage nursery for recovery when they finish.P90720++

4. Spanish moss hangs with the tillandsias on the same branch of the Eucalyptus cinerea. It does not grow here naturally of course. It would probably prefer a significantly more humid situation. It gets watered and misted automatically from above. So far all the epiphytes seem to be happy here, and do not see to mind that the stem that they are clinging to is from a eucalyptus. Mosses that cling to native oaks do not cling to eucalyptus trees until the trees are old. While viable, young eucalyptus bark is toxic to mosses and other epiphytes, and exfoliates too regularly for much to cling to it anyway.P90720+++

5. Alyssum happens to be one of my favorite wildflowers in this garden. When I was little kid, I found a small envelope of mixed wildflowers seed in a Sunset Magazine in a waiting room in a hospital. It is a long story, but to be brief, I ‘borrowed’ the seed, and put it out in my mother’s garden. The alyssum from that mix naturalized and self sowed quite nicely for decades. The original plants might have bloomed more colorfully, but eventually reverted to basic white, just like these that grow wild here. I still believe that white is the best, but would not mind other colors if I ever grew it intentionally.P90720++++

6. Morning Glory is another favorite, but for a different reason. I like it here because it is so much prettier than it ever was in any of my gardens. I sowed the seed, and cared for it, but morning glory was never very happy for me. In this garden, it sows its own seed, and does reasonably well. The vines are not as voracious as they are supposed to be, but the flowers are pretty. That is probably a good thing. These vines happen to be next to the grapevine, so could make quite a mess on top of the mess of the grapevine if they grew as well as they are supposed to. This is a good compromise.P90720+++++

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

Perennial Pea

90710Whether it is grown intentionally, or considered to be a common roadside weed, there is no denying that perennial pea, Lathyrus latifolius, knows how to brighten some of the wilder parts of the garden with brilliant purplish pink bloom. Some garden varieties bloom either pale pink or white, just like a few random feral plants do. Bloom resembles that of sweet pea, but without fragrance.

By their second year, the potentially six foot long vines might be a bit too rampant for more refined situations. They happen to work nicely to climb over wood piles and otherwise unsightly chain link fences though, even if only temporarily until they die back to their fat subterranean taproots by the end of summer. They will be gone before the firewood they conceal becomes useful again.

New bluish green growth regenerates vigorously at the end of winter, but does not bloom until early summer. The compound leaves are comprised of only a single pair of narrowly oblong leaflets with a branched tendril in between. Each leaflet is about two inches long and less than half as wide. Stems and petioles are winged. Once established, perennial pea can be difficult to eradicate.

Wild Radish

P90623This is why I do not bother growing greens in the garden just yet. Wild radish grows here wild; and there is way too much of it. Most but not all of it gets mown in meadows or cut down with weed whackers on the edges of roadways. There is no need to cut down that which is out of the way. Besides, we could not cut it all even if we wanted to. There is wild turnip and mustard too. All are prolifically naturalized and invasive exotic species.
These radishes do not make the distended roots that garden varieties of radishes are grown for. Nor to the wild turnips make distended turnip roots. They, as well as the mustard, do make good greens though. They may not be quite as good as fancier garden varieties, but I can’t beat the price, or get any other type of vegetable for such minimal effort. I only need to go grab what I want when I want it. There really is no cultivation involved.
Even though their seed is not sown in phases to extend their season, they remain productive for a long time, and only stop producing if they get too dry in summer. If I were to grow a garden variety of turnip green, I would sow a few phases a few weeks apart so that, as an earlier phase finishes, a later phase begins producing. Unlike other types of greens that must be gathered prior to bloom, wild greens can be taken from blooming plants.
Wild greens can be canned like collards, but are better if simply frozen. Unbloomed floral trusses are like tiny bits of broccoli. If gathered while still young and tender, thicker stems can be chopped and cooked like broccoli stalks, and can even be pickled.

Like Peas In A Pod

P90622KGenerally, that is how they are. Almost all perennial pea flowers bloom with the same bright purplish pink color of the bloom in the picture below. That is, of course, before their pods develop, but you get the point. We sort of know what to expect from them.

As I mentioned in the ‘Six on Saturday‘ post last week, from which the picture below originated, variants like the pink bloom in the picture above are sometimes observed. The rare clear white flowers are my favorites. There might be fluffier double flowers too; although, in my opinion, the single flowers are prettier and look more like pea flowers should look.

I also mentioned last week that, although perennial pea has a sneaky way of growing where it is not wanted, it typically does not grow reliably from seed sown intentionally where it might actually be desirable. I have tried. The seed just did not cooperate. I managed to get a few to grow, but only because I put out a few hundred to compensate for the expected minimal rate of germination.

Because I like the white so much, I took seed from a vine that had bloomed with single white flowers. I figured that they would be more likely to produce a few white blooming progeny. I would have been satisfied if only a single vine in a group of several bloomed white, but got only a few vines that all bloomed with the typical bright purplish pink. They were pretty nonetheless, but were ironically removed when the site was redeveloped.

I also collected seed from vines that bloomed with the common single bright purplish pink flowers, just in case the viability rate of their seed might somehow be better. They were sown into a different situation, so even if I happened to know how many of the seed that were sown germinated and grew, it would not be an accurate comparison. Regardless, I was no more impressed with the result. Perennial pea is best appreciated as weed.P90615+++++

Six on Saturday: Serious Weeds


The humongous perennial pea that I showed off last week was relatively innocuous. These six are some of the more prolific weeds. Actually, except for the first two, these are some of the most aggressive and problematic weeds in this region. All are exotic, which means that they are not native. Some were imported intentionally. Some were more likely stowaways. All except for #2 were found right outside here. #2 was found closer to town.

1. Vetch was most likely imported intentionally as a cover crop, forage crop or both. Because I do not know which vetch this is, I do not know why it is here. This is neither of the two species of vetch that are native here. It is a polite and pretty weed that never seems to become much of problem. Consequently, not much is known about it, or how it affects the ecosystem. Most of us just let it do what it wants to because it improves the soil.P90622

2. Queen Anne’s lace might have been imported intentionally because the young roots, young leaves and flowers are edible. It is, after all, a wild version of carrot. However, the small roots mature quickly and become too tough to eat, and often develop bad flavor. Furthermore, it is avoided because it it too easily confused with the extremely toxic poison hemlock! It can be a companion plant for attracting pollinators, but is mostly ignored.P90622+

3. Saint John’s wort was imported intentionally as a ground cover for landscapes, and escaped into the wild where it competes aggressively with native plants. It is toxic to grazing animals, so must be removed from where it appears in pastureland. Unfortunately, its wiry but tough stolons are extremely difficult to eradicate. This species is unavailable here, not just because it is invasive, but because it is so susceptible to rust. It never looks good.P90622++

4. Broom is one of the nastiest. Some believe it to be Scottish broom (which we call ‘Scotch broom’). Some believe it to be Spanish. Actually, it is most likely French. It doesn’t matter. It is terribly prolific and aggressive, with seed that remain viable and continue to germinate for many years after parent plants get removed. It was imported intentionally just because it is so pretty in bloom. So many of the worst weeds arrived here like that.P90622+++

5. Himalayan blackberry, like Queen Anne’s lace, might have been imported intentionally because it produces something edible. It happens to makes decent blackberries. However, it is neither as reliable nor as productive as garden variety blackberries. Berries might be sparse and of inferior quality, and are very difficult to pick because the canes are so very wickedly thorny! Canes are extremely vigorous and aggressive, and difficult to kill!P90622++++

6. Thistle was likely a stowaway. There is no realistic reason to have imported it. Nothing eats it. It is too wickedly spiny to handle. It does not work as a cover crop, although it does try to cover as much area as it can get its prolific seed into. There are other thistles that are more invasive, but none that are as mean as this one is with those formidable spines! I do not know for certain what species this is, but it is not one of the native thistles.P90622+++++

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

Naturalizing Within Constraint Of Cultivation

90508thumbPampas grass, blue gum eucalyptus, giant reed, broom and Acacia dealbata are some of the best examples of the worst naturalized exotic species. They were imported for a variety of reasons or by accident, and now proliferate aggressively in the wild. With few of the pathogens they contend with in their respective native homelands, they have unfair advantages over locally native flora.

Such naturalization is a serious problem for native fauna as well. Monarch butterflies that swarm to the bloom of blue gum eucalyptus are amazing to observe, but are being distracted from native flora that rely on them for pollination. Both native and exotic rodents proliferate unnaturally within the protection of thickets of naturalized English ivy, and consume too many seed from other plants.

Fortunately, there is a difference between naturalization and sustainability. Many exotic yuccas can survive quite nicely in chaparral regions without irrigation or other intervention, but are unable to disperse seed and truly naturalize without the particular species of moth that are their exclusive pollinators in their respective native homelands. Cultivars of pampas grass are ‘supposedly’ sterile.

Some plants that seem to naturalize do not proliferate or migrate enough to become aggressively invasive or truly naturalized. That is why daffodil can be planted on roadsides to bloom annually, and hopefully multiply somewhat, but does not spread far from where initially planted. In fact, it is unfortunately less likely to naturalize, and more likely to slowly diminish through several years here.

Many plants that proliferate within the cultivation of our home gardens and landscapes will not migrate far from where they they get regular watering. Even after fancier and more colorful varieties revert to their most basic feral forms, they are delightful weeds that are more often left to bloom wherever they appear. Those that appear where they are not wanted are easy enough to eradicate.

These include sweet alyssum, forget-me-not, four-o’-clock, campion, cosmos and nasturtium.