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My Own Little Wetlands Restoration Project

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 14:50:43 PM PST

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The other day, I was exiting the highway near my house and I noticed some interesting plants along the roadside. At first, I thought they might be rushes (Juncus spp.) but they aren't. A little later I returned on foot to check it out. It was a drainage ditch that served as a home to many native plants and waterfowl - and an awful lot of invasive plants and trash too.

I'm pretty powerless in the face of shaping the larger environment on the planet, in my state, or even my county. But I can clean up this one little area. (Although once I do, there's no way I'm putting the plants to any edible use, due to pollution.)

Jill Richardson :: My Own Little Wetlands Restoration Project
If you look "upstream," you can see a large paved canal of sorts that pours all of the runoff into the little wetland I've adopted:

God knows what types of chemicals are running off with that water. Fortunately, the aquatic plants will clean up the pollution a bit, but I sure wouldn't want to eat any of those plants.

The other day, I visited for the third time to collect and remove trash. I always see an egret there, and it was there:

There were also ducks! I've definitely seen mallards before, but this time I also saw a different species - or two. I can't tell if I saw buffleheads or ruddy ducks, or both. I couldn't get very close to them, and I couldn't get a picture.

As I walked to the spot where I wanted to collect trash, I passed a plant I only know as "sourgrass." This is edible but toxic in high doses due to oxalic acid. It's invasive. It reproduces by growing little bulbs along its roots. Then each new bulb grows into a new plant.

Sourgrass - the plant with the yellow flowers

There are a few Eucalyptus trees - a plant I hate because they suck up so much water. Also invasive.


Lots of Brazilian pepper trees. F$%^#$ing invasive. Thanks Spanish colonists.

Looking down into the pond area, there is a huge build up of dead and rotting plant matter, covered with trash:

This visit, I found some wild radishes. Pretty but invasive.

Wild radish

As always, I saw tons of California sagebrush, Artemisia californica. As implied by the name, it's a native. This one smells GREAT. It's not terribly useful for much, but I love it.

There's one plant I cannot recognize... any ideas?

There's lots of California poppy growing. All above-ground parts of this plant are useful medicinally to ease anxiety or insomnia.

Up top near the fence, I found these beauties:

Anyone know what these are?

My best guess: Evening primrose.

I think I spotted some wild oats too. Totally a shame about the pollution, since these guys could be useful.

There are tons of cattails growing in the water. These are edible, but no way I'd eat the ones here. You need to be really darn sure that the water where cattails grow isn't polluted if you're gonna eat them.


This visit, I brought with me a bunch of willow cuttings from native willow species. Willows are a common inhabitant of riparian areas around here, so I thought I'd plant them. They are chock full of root growth hormone, and they easily take root and grow into a new tree when you stick a willow cutting in the soil. The catch is that willows are dioecious, meaning that each tree is either a male or a female. In order to make baby willows, you need both.

I took cuttings from several different trees in hopes of getting at least one of each sex. The tricky part is that the area where I gathered them might have two different species (Arroyo Willow and Sandbar Willow) and so two different-looking trees might be different sexes of the same species, or different species altogether. The way to tell the species apart is by the leaves, and they don't have any leaves right now. The way to tell the sexes apart is by the flowers - which they do have right now - but I swear, I can't tell them apart even though I'm trying!

At any rate, I needed to plant my willows right near the water where the soil is wet, so I tossed my 5-gallon pail down ahead of me and then tried to climb down the steep slope. I fell, but it accomplished my goal of getting me down there all the same.

Here's what it looked like down there:

There was so much dead and rotting plant matter that I could actually walk on it. And while that's not great for a lot of reasons, it was pretty handy to have a way to walk where I needed to collect all of the trash. I planted my willows and then filled up my entire 5 gallon pail with trash.

After filling the entire bucket to the brim with trash, I managed to climb back up the steep slope to the top. I really didn't cover much ground even though I got so much trash! You can see how far I went in this picture. I first descended down to the water at the end of the fence, and I came back up with a full bucket of trash at the point where I took the photo:

I think for now, I'm gonna continue to get the rest of the trash out of this area. Long term, I'd love to get rid of the invasives and plant more natives. Of course, the big guys like the Eucalyptus trees aren't going anywhere, but maybe I could get rid of that sourgrass. It's a start, anyway.

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Castor bean (4.00 / 2)
The 1st one you couldn't ID looks to be the super invasive castor bean. The black beans it produces are used to make the deadly poison ricin.

oh duh (4.00 / 1)
Of course it is. You're right. So I'll remove those, huh? After I get rid of all the damn trash.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
it could also be Japanese Aralia, a landscape item (4.00 / 2)
also known as "false castor bean"... we have one of those (we think) in a very sheltered corner up here in Eugene. ours makes little black berries, not beans of any sort... but the leaves look identical. ours also doesn't ever have any of the red touches on the fruiting spike that Wiki shows for castor bean, and that your pic is showing. you might want to take the flower spike and a leaf to a local (GOOD) nursery for confirmation before you yank. if it is an Aralia, it's probably an invasive too, I think what we finally ID'd ours as (which I now can't remember, of course), was a SEAsian native.

umm, not to rain on your parade, but is there any chance that the State Roads Division planted any of the plants in your swale? Picking up trash is always a virtue, but if there IS any official source of highway landscraping, they might not appreciate active interference with it. Of course, I've never noticed much in the way of planting in CA, not like we get up here in OR, where we have so much more natural rain to keep things alive, so this may not be an issue. OR official policy about planting invasives may have changed since some of those things were installed... like, years ago, all officials might have been thinking about was what they wanted a plant to do, with no consideration of whether or not it was local, invasive, toxic, etc. That might have changed. You could probably find out a lot on-line, about what the State Roads Dept plants, or doesn't; whether or not they have a program for volunteering to clean stretches of road of trash & so forth; what plants they DO plant, if any; what plants Roads and/or State currently consider invasives...

oh yeah? something I'm currently paranoid about... do be sure you know what you're grabbing before you put bare hands on it. Another castor/aralia cousin is this monster  None reported so far south as you are yet, but we're moving somewhere it has recently been found...

[ Parent ]
thanks (4.00 / 1)
I tried checking with my city about the area, but it appears to be out of their jurisdiction. So back to square one on that. I don't think I'm gonna do much besides pick up trash til the trash is all gone.

I think it really is castor bean based on the flowers, but I'm gonna have a closer look at the flowers next time I'm over there to confirm that.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Purple vetch (4.00 / 2)
for the climber. They're an exotic. They fix nitrogen, so sometimes they were (are?) planted for cover crop. But they climb up the crops. When I had that fancy heritage Sonora wheat, it had some vetch seeds in it - even though that wheat grows 4 feet tall and shades out the other weeds.

We used to eat sourgrass when I was a kid in So Cal. Those bulbs make it very difficult to get rid of.

thanks (4.00 / 1)
I THOUGHT it looked like vetch, but I'm such a novice with plants that I didn't trust my own judgment. I grow hairy vetch as a cover crop.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
tip my hat (4.00 / 3)
to your enthusiasm to do something good for the benefit of all....brilliant and well done

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