• Existing weeds and non natives

    Common weeds of the Sierra foothills

    ….and how to identify them

    Woolly Mullein, Verbascum thapsus

    Woolly Mullein, Verbascum thapsus

    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.


    Cynosurus echinatus; Hedgehog Dogtail

    Cynosurus echinatus; Hedgehog Dogtail

    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.


    Plantago lanceolata English plantain

    Plantago lanceolata English plantain, photo courtesy Slichter

    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.

    French broom, Genista monspessulana

    French broom, Genista monspessulana

    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

    Napa star thistle flower

    Napa star thistle in flower


    Napa star thistle, Centaurea melitensis

    Napa star thistle, Centaurea melitensis seedling,…attractive, right?  But get rid of it at this stage.

    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

    Klamath weed Hypericum perforatum

    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.


    Hedgeparsley stickers are really seeds

    Hedgeparsley stickers are really seeds


    Hedgeparsley, Torilis arvensis

    Hedgeparsley, Torilis arvensis

    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.

    Rumex crispus Curly Dock

    Rumex crispus Curly Dock

    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 and Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus

    Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola and Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus

    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

    Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola

    Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola


    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.

    Erodium cicutarium Filaree2

    Erodium cicutarium Filaree


    Erodiums, cicutarium (Left) and botrys (Right)

    Erodiums, cicutarium (Left) and botrys (Right) They both have red stems and a circular flat appearance in the garden

    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

    Secrets for a weed free garden – mulch, compost and cultivation

    The story of California native gardens is the story of weeds 

    More Natives:

    Trees and Shrubs

    Perennials and Grasses

    Ephemerals and wildflowers

    Wildlife in the Sierra Foothill Garden

    14 Responses to Existing weeds and non natives

    1. Steve
      February 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm

      It would be helpful if there were pics posted.

    2. February 22, 2012 at 6:46 am

      I know Steve, I’m slowly working on this for all the natives I’ve listed so far! I do have thumbnails of all the seedlings I ID’d last year. On my navigation bar, CA Native Seedlings…. I imagine you’ll have lots of the same ones. I had to identify them all so I could weed out the non-native ones in the new meadow.

    3. Francoise Upton
      March 25, 2016 at 9:39 am

      How do we control dilated and fix tails in my yard?

    4. Francoise Upton
      March 25, 2016 at 9:43 am

      I meant filaree and foxtails

    5. April 12, 2016 at 9:22 am

      Four years ago, when we moved to Nevada City, I didn’t know hedgehog parsley was such a baddie and our entire backyard was covered in it (that should’ve made me suspicious right there!). It went to seed. Oh, I’ve been fighting that danged stuff every year since, but I know enough now to pull it up when it’s little. Trouble is, our neighbor’s (unused) side yard is also covered in it and they don’t care. sigh ….

      • Sue Langley
        April 12, 2016 at 9:55 am

        I know what you mean! We judge how bad a weed is by how badly the seeds get stuck to our dog. I guess this is how the weeds survive and spread,…by how they stick and get carried places. I’m sure the weeds blow in as well from neighboring ground. Just pull everything that looks like carrots. 🙂

        Your neighbors sound pretty philosophical about weeds…

        In the city, I had a neighbor who allowed a tree seeding to knock over a block wall, even after we offered to have it cut down. She said God planted it there. I should have poured Round-up on it in the night or something. When the tree, Chinese elm, grew big enough, the wall finally fell on my row of roses.

    6. Dede
      April 12, 2016 at 9:35 am
    7. Carolyn Honnette
      September 30, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      How do you get rid of poison oak?

    8. January 7, 2017 at 8:51 am

      Great site, Sue! I am fairly new to the foothills, still in part time fixer upper mode, but just with a glance, I know that I will be using your information over the next few years as I move from the house to the yard. I have 2 acres in Groveland, and started dreaming about the star thistle, to where it started to smell good enough to eat (in fall). So good, in fact, I had to look it up, and sure enough -it appears edible. So far I am still picking by hand, and not adding to my morning smoothies…. but….

      Have you written anything/ researched wild edible plants/weeds in the foothills?

      Thanks for such a great resource!

    9. Norma
      October 18, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      I can’t say how much I appreciate the pictures I have been trying to get rid of these weeds I was told all before the rains come should I start if we are going to expect rain this weekend but definitely in the spring I will be waiting with a weed control substance I think you for your pictures and information

      • Sue Langley
        October 24, 2017 at 9:22 am

        You are welcome, Norma…
        I began taking these photos for my own reference, but posting them here may help you and others, so good!

    10. Mary Lou
      October 7, 2018 at 2:41 pm

      Thank you for helping identify what we have called bum’s lice. I see it here as hedgeparsley. My sweet little dogs are pestered by this. I now know what it looks like before it makes the burrs. You can bet I’ll be weeding our property come March/April!

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