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After Intense Downpour, Superblooming California Has a Problem

In a word: weeds

Among all those poppies is something less beautiful—noxious, invasive weeds. (Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS - Flickr/Creative Commons)
smithsonian.com

Lately, thousands of Californians have created traffic jams where they’ve rarely been seen, flocking to usually sparse desert landscapes that have turned into spectacular floral sights. They were able to do so because of record rains that brought much-needed moisture—and lots of flowers—to formerly parched areas. But there’s a downside to all of that rain, reports Louis Sahagun for The Los Angeles Times: a new overgrowth of weeds.

Sahagun writes that non-native vegetation like stink net and Mediterranean split grass is growing out of control in rain-drenched areas. The weeds can have negative effects on birds of prey and endangered kangaroo rats among other animals and are crowding out native wildflowers as they multiply and go to seed. And they’re growing not just in the desert but on highway medians and in yards all around Southern California.

The problem has sprung up so quickly that it is difficult to control. As Gary Walker reports for The Argonaut, volunteers at Southern California’s Ballona Wetlands have spent years trying to do away with the invasive iceplant and mustard plant that once threatened the wetlands’ original landscape. But now, the moisture has sparked an overgrowth of another invasive weed—terracina. According to the California Invasive Plant Council, terracina can spread rapidly, reducing the ability of other plants to grow because of its toxic sap.

California has long had a problem with invasive plants, even during its drought. The non-native plants threaten public and private lands that are critical to native ecosystems. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state is home to about 1,100 kinds of non-native plants, nearly 200 of which are classified as “noxious weeds” by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. 

Since threatened and endangered species are already so vulnerable to changes in habitat, the agency says, they’re at particular risk when weeds thrive. While it may be almost impossible to control the weed problem now that they’re growing and going to seed that won’t keep ecologists and determined volunteers from trying.

The problem just might bring more attention to what invasive weeds mean—and give ammunition to continued attempts to curb their effects. No matter what, it’s a reminder that there’s a downside to everything…even a long-needed abundance of rain.

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