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California Native Plant PR

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

December 2005 Los Feliz Ledger Column - "Invasion of the Eco-Snatchers"

The preservation, perpetuation and survival of California native plants depend on many factors. First and foremost, we have to use them in public and private landscapes. Second, but no less important, we must eliminate existing invasive non-native plants—“exotics”—from our yards and refrain from purchasing them in the future.

Many plants that are not native to California, but are easy to grow and have been trusted to perform well for many years, are now decimating native species through rampant spreading.

In the process, they have wiped out and continue to decrease habitats for many of the native wildlife, dramatically reducing the state’s biodiversity and throwing its delicate eco-system out of balance. They block streams, cause flooding and create fire hazards by an over-production of biomass.

This leads to public safety hazards as well as increases in landscape maintenance costs to homeowners and the government. Public dollars have to be spent on clean up when invasive exotic plants reach wild areas, parks, sides and centers of highways and inside rivers.

Some of the worst offenders are in our own backyards, along the roads of Los Feliz and throughout our beloved Griffith Park.

Here are the worst of the worst: Morning Glory (Ipomoea indica), Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana—all cultivars and varieties), Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum—all cultivars and varieties), Iceplant/Hottentot Fig (Carpobrotus edulis), English/Irish/Algerian Ivy (Hedera helix/hibernica/caneriensis), Lantana, Periwinkle (Vinca minor & major), Bridal/French/Portuguese/Scotch/Spanish Broom (Retana monosperma/Genista monspessulana/Cytisus striatus & scoparius/Spartium junceum).

But wait, there are more: Acacia/Western Coastal Wattle (Acacia Cyclops), Myoporum (Myoporum laetum), Mexican Fan/ Canary Island Date Palm (Washingtonia robusta/Phoenix canariensis), Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), Peruvian or “California” Pepper (Schinus molle), Blue Gum/Red Gum Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globules/camaldulensis), Tree of Heaven (Alianthus altissima), Bailey Acacia (Acacia baileyana), Tamarisk (Tamarix spp.).

Most invasive plants look innocent enough. When they’re a foot tall in the nursery you certainly wouldn’t expect that they could cause much damage, like the Broom species have done by invading over 1 million acres.

The fact that the plants on this list are even for sale would seem to indicate that they’re perfectly suitable to put in your yard.

This is where personal responsibility comes into play. It is, unfortunately, up to customers to know which plants not to purchase. My hope is that there will, one day, be a ban on many or all invasives.

Until then, it is imperative to research any plant you’re thinking of using.

If any of the above-mentioned plants are in your garden currently or are in pots on your property, please remove them with great care not to leave behind roots or seeds. Stay away from herbicides. Recent research has found that most common brands—thought to be innocuous—stay bound up in soil, kill earthworms and beneficial insects, seep into the water table, cause environmental illness in farm and landscape workers and more.

The best approach to eradicating invasive plants is to pull them out. For trees, call your local certified arborist. For large shrubs and grasses, your gardener and a small crew should suffice.

If you want to find out what else in your yard might be invasive, please contact the California Invasive Plant Council at: www.cal-ipc.org. Their “Don’t Plant a Pest!” brochure (subtitled: “Give them an inch and they’ll take an acre . . .”) was a source of inspiration for this column.

All hope is not lost if your yard is currently swimming in a sea of these pesky plants. It may take a while to remove them, but I assure you it will be time well spent. You’ll feel good about your contribution.

When you’re done, you can choose from a long list of more suitable, preferably native, plants that should be growing in our area. They can be purchased by special order at the local nursery (Sunset, for instance) or through the website of a primarily native plant nursery, El Nativo, in Azusa: www.elnativogrowers.com.

I’ll provide some suggestions on sensible substitutes for the eco-snatchers next time around.

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