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Nature in my Neighborhood

Through our virtual programming series, Nature in your Neighborhood, we challenged volunteers to go out into their neighborhoods or backyards to see what plants sparked their interest. Whether plants are native or non native, we can all appreciate a connection to nature and the curiosity that it can spark!

By: Henry Cheng

Shortpod Mustard (Hirschfeldia incana)

The shortpod mustard, or Hirschfeldia incana, is a flowering plant species that originated in the Mediterranean Basin, from which it receives its other name: Mediterranean mustard. It has been introduced to many other parts of the world, including California, and is an invasive species that often harms agricultural crops. In recent years, it has become an especially major problem in southern California. As it grows, it forms wide, oval leaves that lay flat against the ground. Shooting above these leaves are its stems, which grow in a variety of directions. The bright yellow flowers on the tip of each stem help make it look like a bouquet. On the stem and foliage are small white hairs. The leaves of the shortpod mustard are edible and have been used as vegetables in diets.

Field Bindweeds (Convolvulus arvensis)

Field bindweeds, also known as the European bindweed or convolvulus arvensis, is a species of flower that is native to Europe and Asia. The small leaves below the flower are arranged in a spiral. The flowers themselves are usually pale white, with a hint of pink along the edges, though some can be light pink. Many field bindweeds are invasive species, but there are many that are grown for appearance. They grow extremely rapidly, outcompeting other plants for resources, and are difficult to remove, as some estimates of the root length of the plant stretch from nine to thirty feet below ground. Also, the seeds of this flower can remain viable in the soil for decades, meaning that it can sprout up into a full plant at any time. Convolvulus arvensis are often food plants for the larvae of butterflies and moths, including the convolvulus hawk moth and the sweet potato leaf miner, which are found wherever there are field bindweeds.

Elder (Sambucus)

Elder, also called elderberry or Sambucus, is a genus of shrub native to California and many other places in the temperate to subtropical parts of the northern hemisphere. These trees are found near farms and homesteads, since they rely on nitrogen and live near places of organic waste disposal. They have bright white flowers and small, folded leaves. After two years of being planted, the tree will produce berries, either black or red, depending on the species. These berries are poisonous when uncooked, though it will only cause minor illness. Elderberries are food for birds, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Historically, elderberries have also been used as a traditional, but not scientifically proven, medicine.

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