Common weeds of the Sierra foothills
….and how to identify them
Mullein, Verbascum thapsus These biennials start out as large, grey, furry-leaved rosettes the first year, which are really the only reason to keep them in the garden. The leaves are as soft as Lamb’s ears(the plant) and very touchable, especially to a child. In the next year, the imposing rosettes grow large, to two feet across, and architectural, soon bolting into tall, 5-6 foot spires of mostly nondescript yellow flowers. Mullein is native to Europe, northern Africa and Asia, and introduced in the Americas and Australia.They reseed easily and you can just lay down the spire filled with millions of seeds where you want more. They get pretty unkempt in the fall, so may be better far out in the garden. Control to prevent large colonies from establishing as they are harder to eradicate when mature. In the near garden simply hack off the spire before it seeds and the plant will melt away over the season.
Hedgehog Dogtail Grass– This grass, with its tipped, fuzzy seed heads, comes from Europe and grows throughout the property and even into the forest. I see it everywhere along the roadsides here in the foothills. An even dull gold color, it has an attractive texture and since impossible to eradicate, can easily be enjoyed.
English plantain, Plantago lanceolata Native to Britain, this like-able weed has been introduced to the Americas, and naturalized in the wild. Delicate, unusual cream flowers rise above tall stems. Leaves are strappy and the main tap root is stubborn and deeply planted. Difficult to eradicate, it’s best to tolerate what can’t be pulled in Spring.
Scotch or French Broom, Genista monspessulana, came from Europe in the 1800s actually used to make brooms or to be used as packing material. Now, it has naturalized and in our mild climate crowds out our native plants and forms large, dense stands of just broom. Other names are Bridal broom, Portuguese broom, Spanish broom, Retama monosperma, Cytisus striatus, Cytisus scoparius or Spartium junceum
Star Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis
Terrible awful weed, with a pretty seedling,…it will sneak up on you and invade your garden. Don’t let it go to seed.
Klamath weed, Hypericum perforatum is common St. Johnswort, medicinal and not really a bother in the garden, but I remove it because it could crowd out the more desirable natives I want to thrive.
Spreading Hedgeparsley, Torilis arvensis
This one is another baddie and as you can see, will stick to pants, shoes socks and sweatsuit material. They can ruin clothes and stick terribly to a dog or cat. Hedgeparsley looks like a carrot plant, with the same ferny leaves. Try to keep it out of your garden by weeding it out in March or April, before they go to seed.
Curly Dock , Rumex crispus
For some time, I mistook the seedling of Curly Dock this with the desirable Hooker’s Evening Primrose, a CA native wildflower, sowed from the Wildseed Farm’s Western wildflower mix. I removed so many before realizing this! Both seedlings grow flat to the ground and curly dock is less lush…more scraggly in the center of it. Deep-rooted, it’s very hard to pull by hand, once mature. The seeds are an attractive bronze and I do allow a few to grow in the garden.
Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola is a field weed you can easily remove and eradicate from your garden,…if you catch it before it goes to seed. You’ll see both Prickly Lettuce and Turkey Mullein along every roadside in the foothills in summer, but don’t let it live in your garden.
The Prickly Lettuce seedling is pictured below, so you can watch for it
Filaree, Erodium cicutarium and E. botrys
There are two kinds on the property, Red-stem filaree, Erodium cicutarium, with ferny leaves in a distinct circular pattern and Erodium botrys, Longbeak Stork’s Bill, with a wider leaf with red veins. Long pointed “stock’s bills” form with corkscrew seeds that peel off as they dry and screw themselves into the ground or into a dog’s fur. Surely that is how they are meant to spread.
Large infestations of filaree leaves that tightly overlap in layers will soon smother other seedlings, including native seedlings. Filaree is a nutritious feed for cattle and was a indicator of good cattle land for stockmen in early California. I weed these out of my wildflower meadow and flower beds in March and April, using a common steak knife.
A good source of information about invasive plants is here, California Invasive Plant Council