The distinctive silhouette of teasel (Dipsacus sativus) is a familiar sight in the coastal parts of California. Thick, pointed bracts jut out, like splayed arms beneath the cone-shaped flower head. This structure stays standing long after the small white flowers have faded; people collect the dried stems for decoration. The spiny flower heads are so stiff they were used to card wool before metal carding combs were created!
Sadly this odd-looking plant is also a fairly nasty invasive. It can form dense chest-high thickets that are impassable to both people and animals. This European invasive likes to grow in disturbed areas: along roadways, in ditches and on grasslands. Another species, wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is less common locally but more widespread throughout North America. It has pink-to-purple flowers and sharply upcurved bracts. Just to confuse things, both species also go by the common name of Fuller’s teasel.
Orange-red flowers grow in the dappled shade of a dry stream bed. This is the scarlet monkey flower, or Mimulus cardinalis–one of the most lovely of this group. With bright green leaves and flashy flowers it is a treat in gardens and wild places alike.
Hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects also love this plant, but deer do not. Native plant gardeners rave about the monkey flowers in general for this reason.
Scarlet monkey flower is usually found near water, and so when you see it you have a strong clue that you’re in a wetland or near a stream (and below 8,000 feet, which is the upper limit of its range). You can see them growing in most parts of California from the northern Sierra to San Diego. Outside of the state, it grows north into Washington state and east as far as New Mexico.
Hiking across a remote meadow, I suddenly find myself in a knee-high field of daisies. This is the invasive oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), a striking flower with stark white petals around a yellow center.
This bloom was introduced from Europe and is now widespread throughout Marin and much of California. It has a cousin, Shasta daisy, which is less common and has (very slightly) larger flowers and leaves. Oxeye daisy is a moderately problematic invasive, growing so densely in places that it excludes other native vegetation. It also is known for giving cows’ milk an unpleasant taste if they eat it.
This plant is a weed, but I kinda like it. The whole plant is sticky (is that why it’s called catchfly?) and the small pinkish-white flowers are perched atop a vase-shaped calyx. The petals are fused together, with little toothlike projections sticking up like a fringe around the inner edge. There are distinctive stripes running perpendicularly along the calyx (which is all the sepals taken together). The whole thing is a nice bit of floral architecture – if you can forget that it’s an invasive that was introduced from Europe!
Also, Silene gallica is another member of the Caryophyllaceae (a.k.a pink, or carnation) family. So check for the swollen nodes where the opposite pairs of leafs join the stem that I talked about a few posts back!
You may wonder why I always talk about families – the reason is that whether you are keying or looking plants up in a guidebook, being able to confidently narrow your options down to one or two families makes the whole process a lot easier. It also helps train your eye and mind in the detailed way of looking at plants that is needed for good identification.