I follow more than a few pages of plants and pictures on social media, and it’s always interesting to see people get poetic about some of our most aggressive invasive plants. Often they (people) are transplanted to the area and these plants are not a problem where they come from, but there are also people who simply think that Scotch broom is “so so pretty!” Well, yes, it’s pretty. Can’t disagree with this, but it also takes over the hills and wipes out many native plants. So rather than jump on the less constructive wagon of not planting this, I thought I’d offer some alternatives to the pretty plants that are invading just about every area of the county.
Let’s start with the Scotch broom (and its cousin, the French broom). It is a harmful invasive species that has spread to many areas of the West Coast. It likes acidic soils, which is part of why it does so well here on the coast. When going to seed, the plant literally bursts the pod with an audible crack, throwing the seeds away from the parent plant. But what about those pretty yellow flowers?
Here are some plants you can plant instead (not that you actually plant Scotch broom, because that would be just crazy): California goldenrod, California gumdrop and yarrow or yarrow, which are all native. Another beautiful plant with long-lasting yellow flowers is forsythia (not a native plant), which you see blooming around town from early February, for a few months if the weather conditions are good.
Next, let’s talk about knotweed. It has these beautiful fluffy white flowers, usually appearing in July. It was originally planted to fight erosion and hello, did it succeed! He also managed to take over all the other plants that grow near waterways. Rather than knotweed, try planting goatsbeard, also known as bride’s feathers. It is often found in mountainous regions. The flowers are feather-like and grow on leafless branches. Another option is the silk pom pom. An excellent stand of this native plant can be seen in the Humboldt Area Foundation landscape on the Indianola Cut in Eureka.
Yellow lupine is another plant that people talk about over and over again on various Humboldt County Facebook pages. It’s all over our local beaches and along roads throughout the county, especially towards Samoa and Manila, and along US Highway 101. Rather than this plant, consider planting lupine at large leaves. Sure, it’s not yellow, but it has gorgeous flower stalks that range from deep blue to purple, which is a favorite for pollinators such as native bees, bumblebees, and bees. Bigleaf lupine is considered invasive in parts of Europe and New Zealand, but so far has remained a well-bred plant here on the North Coast. The non-native yellow lupine is so invasive that Friends of the Dunes hold their annual “Lupin Bash” event to remove at least some of it. If you need a place to vent your frustrations and irritation, I highly recommend attending this little festive event. I believe it was on hold due to COVID, but watch for more Bashes to come on the FOD page www.friendsofthedunes.org.
Next up is one of my best plants that I would eradicate if I could, but can’t because I’m just a mere human: pampas grass. Ah. It invades hills, dunes and beaches. It will also easily and quickly take over disturbed areas, such as a forest fire or clearcut (there is a small example on Elk River Road). Rather than this harmful invasive, consider planting Pacific Reed, aka Nootka Reedgrass, which is native to our area. It also prefers coastal areas, dunes, coastal forests and riparian areas.
Another beautiful native grass is tufted hair grass. This grass closely resembles pampas grass in the flowering stems. It also tolerates shady places.
Another showy invasive that I always beg customers to pull out when young is the cotoneaster. It has dark green leaves and clusters of red berries that birds find very attractive, which is why they easily spread everywhere. Everywhere. They have a nasty taproot once established, and it’s quite difficult to pull it out, even as a small plant. Please do not plant them and if you have any in your landscape, pull them up. Alternatives to these pretty red berry plants include: California blueberry, cascara, bearberry, gooseberry, and gooseberry (the latter two produce edible fruit, so that’s a bonus).
These are just a few of the alternatives to invasive species here on the North Coast. Luckily, the California Native Plant Society is about to hold one of its annual sales. The spring event will take place Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 at Freshwater Farms Reserve (5851 Myrtle Ave., Eureka). You must register in advance so that there are not too many people crammed into the area at once. You can register for a slot at www.northcoastcnps.org. Find more native species at the Humboldt Botanical Garden Plant Sale on May 7 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (the May 6 preview from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. is for members only). Visit www.hbgf.org for details.
Julia Graham-Whitt (her) is the owner and operator of the landscaping company Two Green Thumbs. She wrote this article in collaboration with Mir de Silva who, in addition to being the other Green Thumb, is a local artist and illustrator. You can find her on Instagram at @art.by.Mir.