Agricultural purple flowering weed corkscrew seed

Sierra Foothill Garden

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

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, 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

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 in flower

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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 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, 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

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 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.

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The Prickly Lettuce seedling is pictured below, so you can watch for it

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 Filaree

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

Northern Arizona Invasive Plants



Common name(s): Filaree, redstem filaree, cranesbill, storksbill

Scientific name: Erodium cicutarium

Family: Geranium family (Geraniaceae)

Reasons for concern: This plant is very adaptable and can survive in a wide variety of soil and climate conditions. Its habit of growing flat and close to the ground prevents the germination of desirable native species important to wildlife and pollinators. Its seeds survive for a long time in the soil.

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Classification: Non-native

Botanical description: Low‐growing and spreading herbaceous plant with a strong, pungent smell.

Leaves: Feathery, fern-like and hairy. Very delicate. Each leaf is made of up 3 to 9 fern-like leaflets that are opposite each other on the stem.

Stem(s): Numerous stems. Leafy and hairy. Usually reddish. Stems form a rosette of dark green leaves that grow very close to ground.

Flowers: Plants have 2 to 12 small 5-petaled flowers that appear as early as February through July on 4 inch hairy stalks in clusters. Pink to purple in color.

Seeds: Fruits are long and pointed with 5 lobes, and a characteristic beak-like projection.

Roots: Shallow rooted. Thick and white central taproot with fibrous lateral roots.

Native to: Europe or Asia

Where it grows: Grows in full sun in gardens, lawns, roadsides, and fields. Wide elevation range, 1,000 to 7,500 feet.

Life cycle: Winter annual or biennial

Reproduction: By seed

Weedy characteristics: Each plant can produce between 2,000 and 10,000 seeds. When seed pods open, fine seeds are flung far from the mother plant, spreading into new territory. Each seed has a long tail that coils into a spiral when dry, and burrows its way into the soil. Seeds are carried by water and in animal fur or feathers to new locations. This plant flourishes in early spring when there is more precipitation than usual.

Look-alike native plants: Native Texas stork’s bill (Erodium texanum) can be distinguished by lobed leaves, as opposed to the dissected leaves of filaree, and larger flowers and petals.

Control strategies: Eradicate plants when they’re young and easier to pull, dig or hoe. Do not let them go to seed. Keep track of weedy patches, and check them regularly. Try heavy mulch. Plant desirable species to outcompete invasives.

Images: Click on an image to enlarge and see the image citation.