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Ananya’s Neighborhood Plant Journey

By: Ananya Madabhushi

One of the most common plants I found throughout my neighborhood was the African Blue Lily (Agapanthus praecox), a non-native perennial herb that also happens to be a monocot. It is considered a wild plant that can sustain itself with little human interaction (this one seemed to suddenly pop up in my front yard this summer). However, due to its grand abundance in my area tied with the fact that it is also not native makes the Agapanthus an invasive plant, and it really does seem to be outcompeting all of the plants around it judging from how many front yards contained this species. The Lily remains deer-and-rabbit-resistant due to certain mutations and attributes that dispel the two, while also attracting different varieties of butterflies, birds, and bees from its original land. The plant is a Southern African native, however, and because of the growing demand of its beauty and ornamental quality all around the world during the 17th century, it quickly became imported and cultivated all around the globe (including California). There seem to be no special qualities other than the fact that it is a perennial herb (meaning it can live longer than 2 years, or non-biennial), and it is quite beautiful and ornamental in stature.

Perez’s sea lavender (Limonium perezii),

We yet again see a non-native, perennial invasive species in our Northern California suburbs! The Perez’s sea lavender is a Canary Islands, Spain native, but has somehow found its way blooming abundantly in California’s coasts. Like the Agapanthus, this species was also quite common in the front yards of my neighborhood, and seems to retain that similar ornamental quality that people here prize so much. In their native habitat, Sea Lavender are a common food source for butterflies due to their easy-to-grab surface for feeding along with the exorbitant supply of nectar within their petals. Many describe the origins of its migration to California also similar to the Blue Lily in that it was used for ornamental or landscaping design, and eventually became an “escapee” of sorts in cultivating itself around the entire Northern Californian area.

Fortnight Lilies (Dietes) are an invasive, perennial herb native to Southern Africa (no surprise there). Some of the most interesting physical characteristics of this flower are the bright yellow dots connected by a pale purple middle, all surrounded by white outer petals. This intricate design is unique to this flower, and it looks quite more like a wilder flower than what it is really used for, which is cultivation and ornamentation. Interestingly, if one were to eat certain parts of the Fortnight Lily, they would fall victim to stomach aches and vomiting, putting it under the tier of quite toxic. In terms of its contribution to the broader ecosystem in South Africa, the Dietes primarily serves to feed nectar to the nearby bees and beetles, which in turn provide sustenance to insect-consuming birds. This plant was also brought to California through tradesmen for the sole purpose of its ornamental quality. Again, the special qualities (other than its physical appearance) is its apparent inedibility and toxicity towards human consumption.

The plant I see birds and insects use the most in my backyard is quite possibly the Annual Saltmarsh Aster (Symphyotrichum subulatum), which is also part of the same family as the Sunflower. These plants were coincidentally dried out within my backyard, either due to the “annual” part or the aspect that birds and insects seem to love coming back to this source of sustenance. Interestingly, this plant is Native to the U.S., except it comes from Texas and the East Coast rather than from California. In this situation, it is kind of a pseudo-native species within our state.

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