Should you buy those seashells sold by the seashore? On beach walks, seahorses and collecting sea shells

Kelp on beachesI love seashells.  I am a collector of little shells and interesting objects I find while walking on the beach.

While some beaches are known for their variety of seashells and for beach combing (like those in Florida, Hawaii and Gulf states), at the beaches here in  Monterey Bay, you will likely run into seaweed or giant kelp that have lost their tether and left their undersea home, rather than shells.  It is not a beach you visit to collect seashells.

Kelp on the beach web

My grandson, Gabriel, having fun with kelp that washed up on the beach.

But…you will see sand dollars, broken clam or mussel shells (perhaps remnants from many sea otter lunches), a lot of driftwood, and depending on the beach, pretty little stones, or smooth glass pieces.

Lining up sand dollars with barnacles web

The boys lining up their find of sand dollars… At this beach walk, each of the sand dollars they found (oddly) had barnacles growing on top.

The few shells that do end up on the beach are usually clean, because the animal that lived inside was already eaten by other creatures, shore birds and beach scavengers…or have rotted away before the tide and waves pushed them onto the beach.

My grandsons have picked up my little beach object collecting habit, and we have come back from beach walks with bits of shells, a pretty rock or tiny driftwood.

I started to put  their treasures in glass jars, not because they are colorful or striking like those found at other beaches, but because they liked it and picked it up, and it was a little treasure to them.

Beach combing shells

Some of the little shells and rocks my grandsons collected are in this glass jar.

Although Monterey Bay beaches are not known for pretty seashells, tourist stores — especially those at the Fisherman’s Wharf — do sell colorful sea shells from different parts of the world.

Just as people enjoy eating seafood when visiting seaside towns, people also like buying shells and related products as souvenirs.  I’m sure stores that sell seashells and dried up starfish and other marine animals can be be found in just about any seaside community that caters to tourists.

seashell-store-california

A few years ago, during the off-season for tourists, I stopped by a store off of Highway 1 that sold shells and seashell products.

Their sign indicated “Sea Shells from Around the World”… but really, the majority of the shells are from a certain part of the world, and that is the Philippines.  In fact, when I went inside to browse, about 90% of the shells were marked as being from the Philippines.

Why is this?  First, the Philippines has a rich and diverse ocean life (cited as “the center of the center” of biodiversity by researchers at the California Academy of Sciences) with an amazing array of seashells — many of which are prized by collectors.

Second, the Philippines is a poor country…so those in the shell trade could easily exploit locals with low pay to collect these shells for export to tourist shops.

Sea shell shop off season

Sea shell shop Monterey Bay “Off-season”

Growing up in the Philippines, I was accustomed to seeing seashell products fashioned into jewelry, necklaces and decorative items, or dried marine animals like starfish, seahorses glued onto frames and home decor items.

Because they were so common, I always thought that these seashells and marine animals were picked up by beach combing… as in, the creatures are already dead and washed ashore.

After a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seahorse Exhibit, I learned otherwise.  From my blog post about the exhibit…

This is not the case, and much of these animals are collected ALIVE and dried to make these souvenirs.

I am saddened at how uninformed I was  about this practice! Family and friends, please do not buy these souvenirs.

With everything else happening to our oceans, we all have to do our part to stop this. And please spread the word about protecting these fragile and fascinating creatures.  In the process, we also protect and  preserve their homes —and our home. More here

This poster from the Aquarium says it best…

Seahorse 1 rd

In support of World Oceans Day and as part of a series for the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers blogging challenge, I am again posting this information.

If I made this incorrect assumption about the shells and dried starfish or seahorses sold at tourist shops, then there are probably others who do not know this information.  More from a shell article in Wikipedia:

…the majority of seashells which are offered for sale commercially have been collected alive (often in bulk) and then killed and cleaned, specifically for the commercial trade.  This type of large-scale exploitation can sometimes have a strong negative impact on local ecosystems, and sometimes can significantly reduce the distribution of rare species.

I am also re-posting this video from the California Academy of Sciences, on the dramatic decline of seahorses all over the world.  Excerpt from my post about seahorses:

…The huge economic boom in China means even more trouble for seahorse populations, as seahorses are highly sought after for use in traditional Chinese medicines.

US Customs at the San Francisco airport recently confiscated a shipment of at least 1,000 seahorses, and the US Fish and Wildlife turned over the dried seahorses to the California Academy of Sciences to help determine their source.  See full post here… including a link about the sea dragons (and seahorses) supply chain and market.

Have you heard of, or used products with dried seahorses?

I can’t help but think that we are doing the same thing to our ocean and its resources, as we did with our forests.  Are we going to look back 25 years from now and find out we unknowingly wiped out certain species of marine life because of unsustainable fishing… and what seems like an innocuous shell collecting hobby?

Can we stop and first find out how these shells are harvested?  If it is done sustainably, or if these creatures are collected beach comb style, then we can happily collect to our heart’s content.  But if not, then we need to find ways to educate the public so we can make responsible choices about the shells we buy.  I don’t want my grandchildren to ask why our generation let the same thing happen to our oceans, as we did to our forests in the Philippines.

Are you  a seashell collector?  If you buy seashells from seaside tourist shops, should the shops let consumers know if the shells were collected from the shore, or sustainably harvested?

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To participate in the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ blogging challenges hosted by Jane from Just Another Nature Enthusiast or to see other submissions for the theme “Healthy Oceans – Healthy Planet” click here.

Philippines – A Marine Biodiversity Hotspot (Post for Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ #11)

When my daughter was little, one of her favorite places to visit was the California Academy of Sciences, located within San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  We spent a lot time looking at exhibits there, from the dramatic dioramas in the African Hall to working in a show at the Morrison Planetarium.

Of all the permanent and temporary exhibits at the Academy, the place where we spent the most time was the Steinhart Aquarium.  It was a fascinating place for kids and adults, and when we had family visiting, it was often a place we took them during their stays with us.

The California Academy of Sciences looks much different today than it did when we lived in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and the Steinhart Aquarium now feature a Philippine Coral Reef Exhibit.

Philippine Coral Reef at SteinhartThe 212,000 gallon exhibit includes the largest display of living coral in the world — all from the Philippines, a country that has the most diverse reef ecosystem in the world.

I’ve always wondered what the connection was between the Steinhart Aquarium and the Philippines, and recently learned that researchers from the Academy have worked in and around the Philippine archipelago (of over 7,000 islands) for over 100 years.

Last year, a team of scientists from the Academy explored new sites and depths in an area of the Philippines off the coast of the main island of Luzon, near Batangas.

Map of Philippines highlighting Batangas

This area  — near Isla Verde — is called the “Coral Triangle” and reportedly has over 1/2 of the world’s species of coral.

Isla VerdeFrom the Academy’s website…

Within the Coral Triangle is an area known as the Verde Island Passage—waters teeming with such an abundance of life that Academy scientists suspect it may be “the center of the center” of biodiversity.

Our 2014 expedition sought to document the astounding life in the Verde Island Passage by collecting and identifying species not yet described (and in many cases never before seen) and creating a base of knowledge that will help to protect this area going forward.

And what Academy researchers found in this “Coral Triangle Area” last year was amazing.  On June 8th, 2015 — and to celebrate World Ocean Day — they made this announcement:

100 new marine speciesHere are photos of some of the new marine species found during the expedition…

Philippine new nudibranch

 

Multi colored Philippine tunicates

Nudibranch Philippines

These new marine species are stunning, and how incredible to learn that there are still undiscovered species living in our oceans!

And who knows… perhaps one of these newly discovered creatures will help us produce a cure for cancer or hold keys and answers to the mysteries of life on our planet.

So the challenge is…. how can areas like this “Coral Triangle” be protected, knowing what we do about the severe threats to marine life and the health of oceans surrounding the Philippine islands due to pollution, over-development of coastal areas, poverty, overpopulation, climate change and unsustainable fishing practices?

From the Academy website:

To combat these dangers, the Academy developed a practice of rapidly translating data collected in the field into effective marine conservation actions.

By working with Filipino and international governments, organizations, and communities, we’ve been able to create real-world change.

Real world change means that as new discoveries are made, scientists take the data and work in collaboration with Philippine government officials and decision makers so that in turn, policy makers can take immediate actions to help protect these areas.

I realize solving the problems that harm our oceans are complex, and will require global cooperation and focus — especially as it relates to pollution and poverty.  But it seems to me, the method directed by Academy scientists may be a good model if immediate steps are indeed taken to preserve natural resources.

It is easy to be cynical (I know I am at times!) but I do think this approach, and increasing awareness about marine life is a positive step towards helping us — and the next generation of human beings — to be better stewards of our oceans and our natural resources.

Maybe the next time someone is tempted to leave trash or plastic bottles on the beach, they will remember these amazing creatures and the harm that it will cause…and do the right thing.  Ideally, the new generation will place as much focus on conservation issues as is placed today on celebrity news / political gossip.  Yes, I’m hopeful!

This video from the Academy tells how the 7,107 islands in the Philippines came to be…and the urgency in studying its marine biodiversity hotspots.

Have you heard of these new discoveries?

Are you hopeful, as I am, that scientists, conservation groups and a willing government / policy makers (and we, the public) can reverse the decline of our ocean’s health… or do you think it is too late?

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This post is part of a series in support of the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers blogging challenge hosted by Jane from Just Another Nature Enthusiast.  To take part in this blogging event and to see other submissions for the theme “Healthy Oceans – Healthy Planet” click here.

Previous Earth-Friendly Chroniclers articles posted on LolaKo.com are here.

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Related:

10 Ways to Rise Above Plastics

Article about the plastic bag ban in California (California is the first U.S. State to ban single use plastic bags)

Link to California Academy of Sciences

Purple flowers for Cee’s Photo Challenge — and they are invasive in this part of California

I’ve seen this plant with beautiful, spiky purple flowers growing around Monterey Bay for many years.  I took photos a few months ago when they were in full bloom.

P1180902

The flower photo above is from a shrub growing in the wild, near the Salinas river, where the river merges with the Pacific Ocean.  I spotted it while taking photographs for a post about my watershed.

I’ve always found these flowers attractive — and also photographed some in bloom at the entrance of Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

Monterey Fishermans Wharf yellows and pink 1

I read on one of the blogs I follow that Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge theme this week was purple, and remembered these flowers.  I have wanted to take part for a while, and thought the flowers were perfect to post for the theme.

Not knowing the name, I did an image search and learned that they are called Pride of Maidera (Echium candicans).  It is a perennial shrub native to the island of Maidera in Portugal, much loved by bees and butterflies for its nectar.  It is drought tolerant, and a popular ornamental plant in coastal California.

Great to know!  Except… it is also an invasive plant species, and now being removed in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area so that the native habitat can be restored.  Sigh 🙁

And so… I’m also linking this post to Just Another Nature Enthusiast’s challenge — Earth-Friendly Chroniclers #9 — focused on invasive plants.

Here is another beautiful purple flower from a plant that I know is not native to California.  Right  now, it is growing all over our landscape, from fields, to the side of the roads and embankments.

Do you know what it is?

Wild Radish flowers purple

The flowers are from a wild radish.  Most wild radish have white flowers, but sometimes, they also have purple flowers.

From the CalFlora website:

Wild Radish California

I pulled out one of the plants and sure enough, I get that it is a wild radish… It is tiny, but the root smells like, and looks like a radish.  A miniature of the “daikon” types I see at Asian stores.

Wild Radish  roots

Wild Radish notes

Some more purple flowers for the theme… and I’m pretty certain these are not invasive here in my little part of the world.

My favorite purple flower shot thus far are the wisteria at the Pacific House Memory Garden, posted for the changing season photo challenge.

Memory Garden Wisteria

Click on the photo for more garden images, taken at the historic Monterey downtown area.

And lastly, a non-flower related (but these young girls are pretty as flowers!) photo of Baile Folklorico dance group members, performing for a community celebration on the occasion of Cesar Chavez Day.

P1180870

Click on the photo to see more dance photos, for the commemorative holiday that celebrates the legacy of civil rights and labor movement activist Cesar Chavez (promoting community service).

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is everywhere – post for Earth-friendly Chroniclers’ #10

Poison Hemlock flowers 1It is easy mistake the poison hemlock plant (Conium maculatum) with another plant called “Queen Anne’s lace” (Daucus carota – and also called wild carrot).

Poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s lace belong to the same family of plants (carrots and parsley).  So, not only are the delicate, pretty white flowers similar, the leaves are similar too!

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed seeing the beautiful white flowers of these plants in different parts of California.  I spent a lot of time on the road in my prior work — and a lot of time stuck in traffic in the Bay Area — which means, a lot of time to look out the window and see plants growing on the side the road.

I thought these flowers all came from the same plant (Queen Anne’s lace) and did not know very much about them.

Through the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge this month — focused on biodiversity — I now know that there are two different plants with very similar flowers that grow here in my ecoregion.

Blue Sky and trees

Challenge, #10 asked that we play a naturalist version of I “Spy!” at our ecoregion, to take a camera, and observe what we see.  I went to the greenbelt space behind where we live here in the Central Coast.

I “spied” these familiar flowers and wanted to know more, because there were many of the plants here.  Most were already flowering, with white, lacy blooms.  There were rather tall plants (taller than me) and some of the flowers came from shorter plants.

Unlike the yellow starthistle or iceplants (posted for Challenge #9), which are listed as a high priority invasive plant, the Calflora website listed the poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) as a “moderate” problem.

Poison Hemlock in CaliforniaWhile it is good to know that this plant is not (at least not yet) as problematic as the iceplant or starthistle in California, it was disturbing to learn that these plants have naturalized here and are now invasive.

Even more disturbing is to learn that all parts of these plants are toxic (flowers, seeds, leaves, canes)…and even the dead parts of the plants can remain toxic for up to 3 years.

Poison Hemlock flower details

And not mildly toxic, or an irritant, but really TOXIC, as in the plant is deadly for humans and animals.

Poison hemlock is native to Europe’s Mediterranean region.  The ancient Greeks used the plant to poison prisoners condemned to death — including the philosopher Socrates.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David 1787

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Because these plants are in the same family of plants as carrots and parsley, it is understandable how people can accidentally ingest the plants.  From a May, 2015 Food Safety News article:

All parts of poison-hemlock can kill humans and animals, even when it is dried. Foragers can easily mistake it for wild carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace), parsley, parsnip, sweet cicely, anise, fennel, wild chervil, and caraway, as well as other plants in the parsley or carrot family (Apiaceae), such as the violently toxic western-water-hemlock, or watercress, which is in another family.

…“Misidentifying poison hemlock or other toxic plants can have truly tragic results,” says Alison Halpern, executive secretary of the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. “Learn from an expert before foraging for wild plants, and if you think you have poison hemlock on your property, contact your county weed board, conservation district, or WSU Extension office to learn how to safely get rid of it.”

While poison hemlock is considered invasive, the Quee Anne’s lace plant, though not native to California (and a plant that has also naturalized in the wild), is not considered invasive.

Queen Annes Lace CalfloraWhich means…the plants that I’ve observed growing by the side of the road and in other places in California for all these years, were likely poison hemlock and not Queen Anne’s lace.

In other parts of the U.S., it may be easier to differentiate the two based on bloom periods, but in California, the flowering periods are similar:  Poison hemlocks bloom from April to September, while the Queen Anne’s lace flowers from May to September.

Poison Hemlock Plants

Poison hemlock plants can grow up to 8 feet tall.

Last summer, my grandsons and I spent time a lot of time walking around this greenbelt area (where there are also invasive Himalayan blackberries — and poison oak).

They know to stay away from poison oaks…and I’m glad they did not try to pick any of these flowers.

Poison Hemlock flowers 6

Unless you are absolutely sure which plant is which, it is best to treat these lovely flowers as poisonous, and to be careful of handling them.

I don’t have photos of the Queen’s Anne lace plant yet, but you can view a good collection at this USDA plant database page.

Poison Hemlock flowers

If you want to learn more about how to remove this toxic plant from your area, please contact your local agency, e.g., for Monterey County, start with the Agricultural Commissioner’s office, or see this USDA State Resource page.

The King County (Washington State) website has a section on noxious weed control. Excerpt and link below…

Removing poison hemlockWhen digging or mowing large amounts of poison-hemlock, it is best to wear gloves and a mask or take frequent breaks to avoid becoming ill.  One individual had a severe reaction after pulling plants on a hot day because the toxins were absorbed into her skin…(click here for more).

Poison Hemlock Plants 2Since writing this post, I’ve noticed these plants in spots (by the roadside mostly) here in Monterey County, and I’m surprised that it is not listed on Monterey County’s weed threats.

Do poison hemlocks grow where you live?

Did you get the flower and plant confused with the Queen Anne’s lace flowers, as I did?

The Iceplant Invasion: Post for the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ #9

Ice Plant flowerIceplants (Carpobrotus edulis) are also called “sea fig” or “hottentot fig” and the second plant I’m learning about, and featuring for the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge #9.

The focus for challenge #9 is biodiversity and invasive plant species…and what Jane, the host of the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ call the plant “bullies”.

As with the yellow starthistle (my 1st post for this challenge) which grew all over Contra Costa County, the iceplant is another plant I mistakenly thought as native to this part of the central coast of California.

Ice Plant by Fort Ord Dunes 1

Photo taken just a few weeks ago at Fort Ord Dunes National Monument area. Don’t let the pretty pink flowers fool you, these plants are very aggressive, and crowds out native sand dune plants.

Why did I think it was native?  Well, because these plants are plentiful all along the coast, especially around the Fort Ord Dunes area (photo above).

Articles about the beautiful coastal Monterey County town of Pacific Grove feature images of iceplants in full bloom —- including on the official city website.  The Perkins Park area of Pacific Grove is noted for its “magic carpet” of iceplants.

City of Pacifc Grove Website

Main page of the Pacific Grove official website. The mass of pink flowers are all iceplants.

Among the first scenic coastal photos we took when we moved here, featured ice plants in the background.

The photo below is my grandson, Jun-Jun, at a popular beach side / highway stop near Seaside, California.  He is surrounded by…you guessed it, ICEPLANTS.

Jun surrounded by iceplants

And at a paved road area at the Fort Ord Dunes (part of the Monterey Bay Coastal Bike Path) here is Jun riding his bike with his grandfather, where you can see iceplants growing on both sides of the road.  To the left of the photo is traffic from California State Highway 1.

Jun and Jeff riding bikes at Fort Ord Dunes

The photo below of my younger grandson, Gabriel, zooming away (actually, slowly foot pedaling away) on his toy cycle shows more of the red-hued leaves of the iceplant in the background, facing the Pacific Ocean.  Yes, way more iceplants.Gabriel at Fort Ord Dunes area

Iceplants are found on many beaches here in the Monterey Bay.  The greenery you see on the sand dunes below at Fort Ord Dunes are indeed…more ice plants!

Fort Ord Dunes beach and iceplants

Iceplants are so common in this area that it is easy to assume that they have always been here.

Non-native plants have been brought to California since the first contact with Europeans.  A little about the big problem of the loss of grasslands, and native coastal plants from ElkhornSlough.org:

Approximately 99% of California native grasslands have been lost over the last 200 years, making them one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in the U.S.

Loss of coastal scrub in some parts of California has also been severe. Within the Elkhorn Slough watershed, coastal scrub assemblages often face threats from infestation by tall exotic weeds, such as poison hemlock, fennel, and jubata grass.

Because most of California has a mild Mediterranean climate, it is easy to see how plants from other parts of the world, especially with similar weather, can naturalize here.

Iceplants creep across Moss Landing State Beach

Iceplants growing across the Moss Landing State Beach area, farm fields across the river water.

Typically, these plant invaders have no natural enemies, or wildlife that eat the plants, so it is easy for them to become plant bullies.

Photos above of iceplants spilling past fence areas at the Moss Landing State Beach pathway.

Apparently, iceplants are really good at crowding out native plants…the photo below is a good example:Ice plant circling the native plant

The plant in the middle of the photo is a beach Sagewort (Artemisia pycnocephala), which is the most common California native plant found around sand dunes.  You can see that this one is being encircled by the aggressive iceplant, which will eventually choke out the sagewort.  Iceplants are very good at spreading!

While iceplants in their native South Africa are great for the wildlife there (where turtles, snakes, antelopes, lizards and other animals eat the plant’s leaves, flowers and seeds) it does not provide food or shelter to native California coastal wildlife.

Ice Plant Bagaud French Mediterrennean

Photo of iceplant covering landscape on the French Mediterranean island, Bagaud island, in the Port-Cros National Park. Photo by Vincent via Wikipedia and public domain

In parts of the Mediterranean coast where the iceplant naturalized, the plant also helps other invasive species to thrive.  I found this part about invasive mutualism of interest from a Wikipedia article:

On the Mediterranean coast, Carpobrotus has spread out rapidly and now parts of the coastline are completely covered by this invasive species. Moreover, another invasive species, the black rat, has been shown to enhance the spreading of the ice plant through its feces. As the ice plant represents a food resource for the rat, both benefit from each other (invasive mutualism).

Invasive Plants in the Western United States

Here is more about invasive plants from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California:

Estimates indicate that invasive plants are spreading at about 4,600 acres per day on federal lands alone in the Western United States.

Weeds have invaded approximately 17 million acres of public rangelands in the West – more than quadrupling their range from 1985-1995. In northern California, yellow starthistle increased from 1 million acres in 1981 to 10 million acres today.

While the yellow starthistle were introduced by accident, the iceplants were planted in this area on purpose.

Ice plants at Moss Landing Harbor

Ice plants at Moss Landing Harbor (in the water are two Southern Sea Otters)  Click on the photo if you would like to see more photos and learn about sea otters that live in the Monterey Bay area.

Concerns about soil erosion, and the belief decades ago that iceplants would help to stabilize soil and sand dune areas led to mass plantings, especially in military bases, like at Fort Ord.

In the 1970s, drought issues and the need to use drought tolerant vegetation along California highways led CalTrans — the California Department of Transportation, who manage over 50,000 miles (80,467 km) of the state’s highways and freeways — to plant iceplants on some freeway embankments and dividers.

Except…the folks who promoted the use of iceplants to stabilize soil did not have the information we now have, or the awareness about biodiversity issues, and the extent (and ability) of these plants to crowd out native plants.

On the use of iceplants as a soil stabilizer, from a Wikipedia article:

Despite its use as a soil stabilizer, it actually exacerbates and speeds up coastal erosion. It holds great masses of water in its leaves, and its roots are very shallow. In the rainy season, the added weight on unstable sandstone slopes and dunes increases the chances of slope collapse and landslides.

Oh no! So now what?

A lot of work will need to be done to remove iceplant infestations, and to re-plant native plants and restore dune habitat areas with California coastal plants.

The photo below from Moss Landing State Beach, where dune restoration projects are in place, gives an idea of what the sand dunes around these parts are supposed to look like…

Dune Restoration

Removing iceplants will give native plants a chance to recover, like the yellow sand verbenas (Abronia-latifolia)…

Abronia latifolia yellow sand verbena

and the Monterey spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens).

Monterey spineflower Chorizanthe pungens via Wikipedia commons

So that eventually, the dunes here will look more like the photos below, instead of iceplant intensive, like what we are used to seeing…

Monterey Bay Sand Dune Plants

Coastal cities and public agencies, as well as non-profit organizations are putting forth dune restoration projects, working sections at a time to remove highly invasive species like iceplants.

Native plants returning to dunes

There are still many iceplant patches in this area that need to be removed, but native plants are returning to dunes at the Moss Landing State Beach area.

This will take funding, a lot of work, a lot of volunteers, and educating the public about the “return of the natives”.

Native Plants Dune Vegetation

Because ice plants are succulents and have a high water content, burning is not a recommended way to eradicate these plant bullies.  They will have to be removed by pulling the plant out (thankfully, it has shallow roots), flipping them over and piling them up to compost in areas where it makes sense to compost them.  I’ve also read about cities and agencies allowing the use of a specific type of herbicide to kill the plants, under expert supervision (see the Pacific Grove city website and type in “ice plant” in the search box for more details).

I hope by posting this information and photos, you learned more about this invasive plant (as I have), and it is another step towards helping to control the spread of this plant bully in the Monterey Bay area.

To join in the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Invasive Plant Challenge, click here, and be sure to visit blog posts for this event, including from South Africa / Cape Peninsula – by Nature on the Edge, from Australia – An Evolving Scientist and in Oregon, by challenge host Just Another Nature Enthusiast.

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Talk about iceplants just being part of the landscape here…we got this magazine yesterday, and I see the red hues on the iceplants make a very nice addition to the front page cover photo.  

Ice plants on cover of VIA magazine

Screen shot of digital version of Via Magazine’s Summer 2015 issue.  The spot is listed inside the magazine as from Marin County, California (in the North Bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge)

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ABOUT FORT ORD – DESIGNATED A NATIONAL MONUMENT IN 2012

If you visit the Monterey Bay area and want to go to a super clean beach without many visitors, check out the Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

In April, 2012, a large part of the Fort Ord area became a National Monument, and is federally protected from further development — a good thing for the Monterey Bay!

Before becoming a U.S. National Monument, Fort Ord land was used by the U.S. Military as a training area.  Starting in 1917 and up to the 1990’s, almost 1,500,000 troops trained at Fort Ord. In addition to its role as a major training base for the army, it was also a staging and deployment area for army troops that fought in World War II as well as the Vietnam war.

Ft Ord Barracks

Fort Ord Barracks — awaiting demolition. Despite the military base closed for over 20 years now, ice plants survive — as you can see on this photograph — and are seen all over the Fort Ord land.

The base officially closed in 1994, and many of the military structures (mostly barracks) have been demolished, and the land now houses facilities used by California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), and other tracts of land are being developed for housing and commercial uses.

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More information:

Return of the Natives – A California State Universtiy Monterey Bay (CSUMB) community and school-based environmental education program to restore native habitat – On why they are doing this work:

The Monterey area’s natural landscape and ecosystems are under siege from an army of invasive “exotic” plant species or WEEDS.

Most have been introduced for horticultural purposes, or came as agricultural stowaways, from areas of the world that have similar climates to central California. Spreading onto disturbed soils such as road cuts, and lacking natural enemies, these non-native invaders quickly replace native plants and overrun fragile ecosystems.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary page about Coastal Dune Community

The Importance of Native Species – Information and resource links from the Elkhorn Slough Foundation / National Estuarine Research Reserve

Coastal Training Program from Elkhorn Slough – Endangered Species Fact Sheet

About iceplants(Carpobrotus edulis) – Wikipedia article

President Barack Obama Proclamation – Establishment of the Fort Ord National Monument

Yellow Starthistle: Invasive plants and the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge

Sometimes, it is hard to know what plants are native to the area.  If you see it everywhere, for as long as you can remember, it must be native, right?

Field of Yellow Starthistles

Field of yellow starthistle – Photo via Invasive.org (Creative Commons) by Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California – Davis, Bugwood.org – See more at: http://www.invasive.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5374358#sthash.rDPc2dA5.dpuf

Or maybe the weather and the soil is perfect for the type of plant, and actually it is an invasive plant — a “plant bully”, the theme for this week’s Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge hosted by JustAnotherNatureEnthusiast.org.

Yellow Starthistle Detail

Photo – Creative Commons by Stephen Ausmus, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org – See more at: http://www.invasive.org

When we lived in the East Bay area (Contra Costa County, California), yellow starthistles grew by the side of the road, in between paved walkways, in open fields…and in our backyard.

The spines under its bright yellow flowers were notorious for its strength and sharpness, and often flattened my daughter’s bike tires.

These thistles were brought to North America  by accident in the 1800’s, and now grow in just about every state in our nation, and in Canada.

It is considered an invasive species in California, and as you can see from the first photo for this post, absolutely thrives in many parts of California.

From the California Invasive Plant Council:

Yellow starthistle is native to southern Europe and western Eurasia and was first collected in Oakland, California, in 1869. It was most likely introduced after 1848 as a contaminant of alfalfa seed. Introductions prior to 1899 were most likely from Chile, while introductions from 1899 to 1927 appear to be from Turkestan, Argentina, Italy, France, and Spain (Gerlach in prep., Hillman and Henry 1928).

By 1917 it had become a serious weed in the Sacramento Valley and was spreading rapidly along roads, trails, streams, ditches, overflow lands, and railroad rights-of-way (Newman 1917). In 1919 Willis Jepson observed its distribution near Vacaville and stated: “It is 1,000 times as common as ten years ago, perhaps even six years ago” (Jepson 1919).

Yellow starthistles grow and thrive all over Contra Costa County, and in particular in the Black Diamond Mine areas (part of the East Bay Regional Park District), where these photos of our dogs Jake and Sara were taken in spring and early summer.

Jakey Boy

Jake — our black lab mix and best pound dog ever!

Sara Sassafras

Sara — the smallest, and sweetest Newfoundland…

During hikes in the summer and fall, we had to check our dogs during and after in case thistle spikes lodged near their paws, or attached to their fur.

Jake and Sara Contra Costa County hike

Our dogs Jake and Sara — ahead of us in scenery typical of Eastern Contra Costa County, California. By summer, many fields (like this one) will be blanketed with yellow starthistle flowers…establishing itself in wider and wider areas…

By summer, you could see the yellow starthistle’s flowers across many of the fields and hiking trails.  It crowds out native plants…and because of its long tap root, uses water that would otherwise be used by native grasses and native plants species.

It took me several years to completely get rid of it in our backyard.  I don’t like using herbicides (or pesticides) so I manually pulled each one I found.  Because of its long tap roots, I had to get at the base of the plant (with gloves because the rest of the plant also had sharp and itch-producing properties) and do a sort of twist and pull motion to get at it, and then dispose of it in the garbage.

Garden area

After pulling out yellow starthistles from the backyard, we eventually had a decent garden and patio area. Photo of the garden area by the side of the house is of my daughter (in the middle) her friend, Jennifer at right, and our dog, Sara to the left.

With diligence, it is possible to get rid of yellow starthistles in an enclosed area, and once our garden plants and pavers were in place, I did not see anymore of it.

It’s another story in many parts of the Western United States.  Again, from the From the California Invasive Plant Council:

Yellow starthistle had spread to over a million acres of California by the late 1950s and nearly two million acres by 1965. In 1985 it was estimated to cover eight million acres in California (Maddox and Mayfield 1985) and perhaps ten to twelve million acres a decade later. It is equally problematic around Medford in southwestern Oregon and in Hells Canyon in Oregon and Idaho (Maddox et al. 1985). It also infests, to a lesser degree, areas in eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and Idaho (Roch and Roch 1988).

Aside from small-scale manual removal, other methods to control this invasive species are listed on the California Invasive Plant Council, including mechanical methods (mowing down the plants before the flowers produce seed in the summertime).

The USDA has also approved and continues to experiment with insects that attack the plant’s flowers to minimize seed production.

Horse

Photo of horse taken at a ranch in Placer County, near the Sacramento Metropolitan area.

I’ve seen articles that indicated the yellow starthistle is poisonous to horses, but grazing by sheep, goats or cattle before seeds are formed can be an effective way to control growth if done at the right time (May and June).

Do you have an invasive plant in your area — or backyard and want to join in the WordPress challenge?  Click here for details about this challenge, and visit links for the challenge guideline.

My next post will be about another invasive plant where we now live in the Central Coast of California  —- the “ice plant”, which are seen along the coast and in the backyards of homes here in Monterey County.