Coastal button celery. Sounds harmless, right? But no. Another common name–prickly coyote thistle–is much more appropriate for this diminutive but sharply armored little plant. Found on bluffs and in coastal prairie, it can spread into dense mats that are impassible to dogs and even humans. It is common on my family’s land in northern Sonoma county, and many a hike has been hampered by sandals or forlorn dogs standing motionless, an afflicted paw held up in the air. Once the sharp bracts have dried and hardened, it can pierce through tennis shoe fabric, and you really don’t want to fall over in the stuff. Or sit down in it. Or bring it home in the treads of your shoes, and find it later with a bare foot.
But it is a pretty little plant, and a native. Latin name Eryngium armatum, it has several cousins, many also types of “celery” with varying degrees of prickliness to them spread across California and beyond. Some of these other Eryingium look extremely similar, some notsomuch. A few of the leggier species look much more like culinary celergy does, and make the name seem less like a cruel joke. I was unable to find any references to it being edible in any way.