Knowing Your Enemies: Not all Natives are Equal

I have a 4 day break from work. Yesterday, Thursday, I had a lovely lazy day. I walked the garden and took pictures of a particular set of tall rangy plants that has sprung up. I know some are Madia sativa, Coast Tarweed, which are native to here and other places coastal - east and west. They are a distinctly unpleasant plant to touch as they are full of sticky resin - you can see it forming bubbles in the picture above, on the plant's most attractive feature, a cluster of tiny yellow flowers that forms at the top of the plant. The plant can be 8 feet tall, and can grow as a single stalk or a cluster (in front of a 4 foot fence):

I've been letting some grow to see what they do, but today they are going to depart. There are smaller Madia plants too, a bit less obnoxious and a bit more locally native - Madia gracilis, Slender Tarweed. I'll leave those. But they're still not anything you'd want in your entrance garden:

(The picture above is near the composting area, which needs to be properly set up.)

I'm going to show you some ugly natives, but before I do, let me shore you up with some beauty. A great picture or two I caught of our Coast Range Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii.

He was sunning himself on a chunk of the concrete rubble Town Mouse gave us, and which I'll use one of these days to extend a little terrace wall. I love that you can see the blue along the side of the belly of the male - they are also known as "blue bellies." Then another one jumped up and - I swear - put her hand on his, and they stayed there quite a while like that, before she moved off and ate a small fly. You can sort of see the yellowish color on the back of her hind leg, which is another distinguishing mark.

So back to the weedy natives. The other tall plants I was wondering about turn out to be variations on Conyza canadensis, Canadian Horseweed which is another "native-everywhere" type of plant. I thought there were three species, but they are variations on one, as I'm told by experts who post to the Gardeningwithnatives Yahoo! group - thanks be for their support! Here's one photo that shows the different leaf forms, some with serrated edges, some entire (no serration):

They are not attractive and speak to me of wastelands. Maybe I could sit there and read them T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland:
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Actually April is pretty cruel, and so is May. That's when the jays and crows feast on the baby birds while their parents watch - it's a real Greek tragedy around here. You can't be an observer of nature and see only the nice pretty stuff.

I don't know what's going on with the housefinches that nested in the Webster in the garage. She sat again for a couple weeks, seemingly brooding a second clutch of eggs, then vanished. Today I saw a housefinch sitting on the deck railing nearby, singing tentatively, and I don't know what happened about the nest. Maybe today I'll get a ladder and peek inside.

Speaking of not seeing just nice pretty stuff, here's another interesting and very spiny weedy native. This one is a local native, but it is also going to get yanked today. Xanthium spinosum, spiny cocklebur. It grew incredibly quickly:

Well, let me end on a more positive note. A couple of the volunteers I'm seeing this year turn out to be rather more attractive natives and good for wildlife. Here is Gnaphalium ramosissimum, Pink Everlasting, a biennial native only to California.

And this one is Scrophularium californicum, Bee Plant. It's got nice leaves and tiny red flowers, and the bees certainly do like it, and so do the Chalcedon Checkerspot caterpillars. I'll post a better photo when some younger plants are coming up:

Well, I'm off to do some subtractive gardening now!


Awwww, the lizards are so cute. I agree not all natives are wonderful or pleasant, and some can be just as invasive as exotics. I do love most native plants and grow a lot, but some people seem to equate native with good and non-native with bad, and it ain't necessarily so, as you pointed out. Thanks!