Free Weed Nextweek Weeds are free next week Sun, 29 Mar 2020 00:13:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Theodore Payne Virtual Garden Tour Sun, 29 Mar 2020 00:13:37 +0000

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As the corona virus spreads and LA is facing an exponential increase in infections, illnesses and even death, our new reality is a stay-at-home world. Theodore Payne was scheduled to run its popular Native Plant Garden Tour this weekend. As it became apparent that they could not hold the tour, they quickly and creatively converted it to a virtual experience. Hope you are enjoying the garden visits right now either on Youtube or Zoom.

Garden 28, Wild Suburbia

My house, Garden 28, will be featured on Sunday, March 29th from 12:30 – 12:50. Unfortunately neither my Wifi nor cell signals are strong enough for me to walk you through the garden live at that time. So, we decided to try something new as well. My husband and I created the following virtual tour on Thursday. It took over a day to get them uploaded, but you can see them on the Wild Suburbia Facebook page or YouTube. It is also embedded in this blog post.

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Scandal at Wikipedia Thu, 06 Feb 2020 16:40:36 +0000 Scandal at Wikipedia

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Just how to Do a Summary to get a Research-Paper Thu, 06 Feb 2020 12:00:44 +0000 Just how to Do a Summary to get a Research-Paper

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BBB- Typing From Home Jobs Wed, 05 Feb 2020 18:20:26 +0000 BBB- Typing From Home Jobs

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Keep It Messy for Nature Sun, 26 Jan 2020 00:30:42 +0000

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Monkeyflowers (Diplacus 'Miranda')
Cultivar, Miranda monkeyflower

I grow California native plants for many reasons. The biggest one is that I love California and the plants that evolved here. Who can resist the happy faces of our sticky monkeyflowers (Diplacus aurantiacus)? Also, it is nothing less than a miracle that the creamy flowers of California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) appear in the hottest, driest time of the year. 

Camp Native Versus Camp Other

Some might say that this is a frivolous argument at a time when global climate change and mass extinction threaten our very existence. In fact, gardeners who are concerned with environmental issues divide themselves into several factions when it comes to the importance of gardening with native plants. Some advocate growing only local natives, while others prefer a less rigid approach using native plants plus exotic ornamentals. There are even those who believe we can create excellent habitat using plants from anywhere so long as they provide ecological services needed by the animals we wish to attract. 

It is unfortunate that people create these divisions. It gets heated and sometimes even mild-mannered gardeners call each other names, claiming that their way is the right way. But as in all things, it is more complicated. How we garden is as important, environmentally speaking, as the plants we select.  

An Unnatural Native Garden

It is actually quite possible to create a most unnatural garden of native plants, a place that is unusable by pollinators, birds and other critters. This hypothetical garden may include a collection of locally native and appropriate plants, but if it is too neat and tidy, neither bird nor lizard can gain purchase. And if we use machinery to maintain it, the place can become inhospitable to all. What lizard can withstand the desiccating breath of the monster leaf blower? Even escaping the vile machine, the dinner choices would be sparse. By removing leaves and organic detritus, the villainous blower leaves little for insects to eat, and no place for them to stay. And, as most of you know: no bugs, no lizards; no bugs, no birds; no bugs, no spiders. 

This imaginary native plant garden may be designed as a formal landscape – you know, with geometric grids of live-forever (Dudleya virens ssp. hassei) or California fescue (Festuca californica). When a fallen twig, some leaves, or even the occasional death of a plant breaks the symmetry, the gardener has to take action. The design is preserved over the needs of any garden occupants, save the two-legged ones.

What Does a Lizard Need?

Western fence lizard
Lizard sunning herself on log

In order to better understand how to increase available habitat in our urban and suburban places, let’s consider what a garden denizen like a lizard wants. For just a moment, visualize yourself as a common western fence lizard. There are four things on your mind. One is avoiding the disastrous fate of becoming a canapé for the resident cat. Second, you must warm yourself up in the mornings and stay cool if the day is hot. Third, you have to eat. And finally, what is life without a family? If you are a male, you need territory and a lookout to find both food and females. As a female you need to be able to find an acceptable mate when the time is right, and a safe place to lay your eggs.

White-lined sphinx moth in wire grass
white-lined sphynx moth

Given all of these requirements, you want a place with a bit of mess. It should have rocks and logs where you can catch some rays, look for food, and if you are a male, show off for the ladies. Decomposing logs provide a nice perch and are a place where insects (yummy food) congregate. They also allow you to instantaneously disappear when the hungry cat is on patrol. Furthermore, you blend into the colors of the organic matter that covers the garden floor. What you want, therefore, is a less tidy garden.  

A Watchful, Gentle and Messy Gardener

Rather than arguing about the advantages of native versus nonnative plants in the garden, let’s take a look around and see what nature really wants. I love native plants, but some nonnatives – so long as they are not invasive – may be fine too. More importantly, to invite nature into our gardens we need plants that appeal to pollinators, plants with berries and seeds, and plants that offer cover and perch. Native plants, animals and microorganisms evolved together, and so their relationships have been tested in time. We can learn much from them, but let us remember that it is not just who is in our garden, but how we treat them. I am writing this piece right after New Year’s Day, and my 2020 resolution is to be watchful, gentle and messy in my garden.  How about you?

Black phoebes
Black phoebes enjoy insects in my messy backyard

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Lawn out. Wildflowers in. Mon, 09 Dec 2019 19:33:48 +0000

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When you peel off a layer of turf grass, the soil beneath is often compacted, depleted of nutrients and life, and polluted with salts and other chemicals. These chemicals may have accumulated from ongoing applications of fertilizers and pesticides. Or possibly, poor irrigation practices – short, frequent watering periods – that leave behind salts found in our water, especially here in Southern California. Healthy soil, in contrast, is full of life – microbial organisms, insects, and other animals. This blog post is about how one can one change a boring, green desert called lawn into a vivacious, biodiverse Southern California ecosystem supported by dynamic, living soil.

Wildflowers for a healthy garden

Lawn will be replaced with natives plants
Weedy Bermuda grass

Many gardeners view bare dirt as an artist’s canvas. If it is compacted and depleted, they may till or turn it, amend it, and build it. They pull or poison weeds, and then they design and color it with new plants and paths.

To me, however, gardening is a kinder, more gentle activity. Every action one takes in the garden is a form of disturbance, even destruction. In fact, I must confess, each time I take a shovel to the soil I apologize for any damage done. Insects, microorganisms, worms and more are trying to make a living below, and so I whisper, I am sorry if I am disturbing you. And this is why annual wildflowers are so important to me as a gardener.

I try to guide the land towards health by taking clues from nature. Amazing wildflower displays often occur in natural areas following violent disturbances such as fires or floods. These annuals burst into bloom reminding us that life includes loss, and loss is often followed by the greatest gifts. Wildflower seeds may have laid dormant for years, awaiting a catastrophic event, and then it is their turn to shine. The lost trees and shrubs will return in time, but the nearly instantaneous growth of wildflowers prepares the soil for them.

Native grasses and shrubs planted in parkway
Newly planted native grasses and shrubs look quite sparse. Wildflowers can fix this!

A newly turf-liberated area can burst into exuberant bloom, similar to naturally disturbed lands. Unlike natural land, the newly exposed garden soil has few seeds, and probably those are mostly noxious weeds. As a gentle gardener, I provide the seeds that should have been there. I wish that I had a supply of seeds from the wildflowers that graced our land before Europeans burst on the scene, but I have to make do with what I can get.

I have found that my garden responds in a manner similar to what I observe in nature. The best wildflower displays occur during the second and third years after I free the garden from the lawn. Gradually, as the perennial shrubs and trees become established insects, lizards and birds take up residence in the garden, and the wildflowers take a back seat. Still, wildflowers put on an amazing display each spring, and I look forward to wonderful colors both at home and in the wild.

Wildflowers are best a couple of years after the area is planted. Poppies, lacy phacelia and tidy tips shout out in orange, blue and yellow in this young garden.

Plan and acquire seed

The first step to a beautiful wildflower display is planning. Decide which wildflowers you want and whether you want them mixed, in drifts, or in small patches. After the first year, the wildflowers themselves will help you decide who and where they will be.

Be sure to purchase seeds from reputable growers (eg. Theodore Payne Foundation, S&S Seeds, Larner Seeds, Seed Hunt) who specialize in California natives. If possible, use locally-native wildflower seeds, but note that it is illegal and unethical to harvest seeds from public lands without a permit. Wildflowers have been in decline for many years, leave the seeds in place.

Seed mixes from trust-worthy sources include native annuals that are adapted to similar conditions, such as dry shade, coast, or mountain mix. In addition, they are free of seeds from nonnative, invasive species.

As a rough guideline, one ounce of seed will cover approximately 140 square feet (14’ x 10’), though this depends on seed size, percentage of viable seed, and how much chaff is in the mix. In fact, I have found seed coverage numbers on the web that vary from one ounce of seed per 100 square feet to 1,000 square feet! Nonetheless, S&S Seed, and Tree of Life Nursery give an estimate of one ounce for 136 square feet. If you use too much seed, you will both waste money, and are likely to have a less showy display. The crowded seedlings will compete for nutrients and sun and may not develop into large, showy adults.


Weeds can be a major impediment to a successful wildflower garden, therefore it is important to remove as many as possible before seeding. If you have peeled back the lawn, then you have gotten rid of many weeds, however, weed seed and pieces of weedy grass that can grow new roots and leaves are likely to be present below the surface. Since it is easier to remove weeds from an empty bed than to try to work around wildflower seedlings, you may want to water newly exposed garden beds to encourage weed growth and removal before you sow the seeds.

Once you are ready to sow the seeds, lightly rough up the surface with a rake. Do not cultivate the soil deeply. This is unnecessary and counterproductive as it creates more soil disturbance and brings up additional weed seeds. If the soil is covered with leaves or mulch, clear the surface, sprinkle the seeds and replace a light layer of mulch, no more than about two to three inches. Avoid coarse wood chip mulch that will bury the seeds. A thin layer of medium-sized pebbles or sand can also provide a good surface for seeds to germinate on. Roughing the surface and lightly covering it with mulch provides nooks and crannies for better contact between the seed and soil, and it keeps the seeds from drying out.


It is best to sow seeds before or during the rainy season, from late fall to early spring. If rain is predicted, get out there and sow your seeds! A gentle, long rain will give your seeds the best chance of germinating. Continue sowing over a period of weeks to extend the wildflower season. In milder regions, and with certain plants, like the California poppy, it is okay to continue seeding into spring.

It is easy to disburse large, coarse seeds, like poppies. It is more difficult to distribute fine seeds like lacy phacelia. In this case, mix the seeds with sand or saw dust before broadcasting. Or, try using a kitchen spice or powdered sugar shaker. Another technique suggested by a colleague of mine is to toss the seeds gently into the air with one hand and bat at them with the other. This technique is fast, effective, and fun!

Seed-soil contact

As mentioned above, it is important for the seeds to have good contact with the soil. If they are lying lightly on top of the soil they will dry out, blow away, or be eaten by birds. After sowing, rake the surface very gently. A light layer of mulch, either fine, weed-free organics (not coarse woodchips) or gravel can keep seeds from drying out and give them a better chance of making it. Some websites suggest walking on the surface to make sure that seeds are firmly in contact with the soil.


Water with a fine spray to moisten soil and seed, and improve seed-soil contact. If rain is not in the forecast, water gently to keep bed moist as seeds germinate and begin to grow. For many native wildflowers you can taper off supplemental water when annuals are a few inches tall during winters with average rainfall. Provide supplemental water in spring to extend bloom period.


Wildflowers in container
Baby blue-eyes and Stardust phlox in container

It is essential to stay on top of weeds or they will quickly overwhelm the new wildflowers. When you start the garden, sow some wildflower seeds in pots to help with seedling identification. If weeds or insects are decimating the seedlings, seeds grown in pots or flats can be transplanted once they are large enough to make it in the cruel world (about four inches), though this can be a tedious process. Check Sowing Wildflowers for more pictures of seedlings of both wildflowers and weeds found in Southern California. If you sowed the seeds too thickly, you may want to thin the seedlings by hand.

Additional tips

  • Remove wildflowers (and weeds) that are crowding new perennial plantings. Show no mercy.
  • Cut flowers for bouquets, and deadhead – remove spent flowers – to extend the bloom period. Remember to leave some seeds for the birds and for next season.
  • Collect seed in late spring to summer for next year’s garden but, again, leave some for the birds. Store seeds in a cool, dry location.
  • Most residential gardens will look better if spent annuals are removed at the end of the season, although it is best not to rush this from a habitat standpoint. Balance between keeping your neighbors happy, yet providing for the birds.
  • If you want wildflowers to reseed during the following spring, do not water during summer since the seeds will decompose in hot, wet soil.

As with all of your gardening, remember to enjoy the wildflower season. If you are a lazy gardener or one who is especially busy in late spring and summer, a large wildflower display may not be the best idea. You can grow wildflowers in containers and then hide them behind the garage once they no longer please. Or travel to California’s spectacular wildflower areas and enjoy color as only Nature can paint it.

Web resources

If you like this blog post, check out my book, Wild Suburbia – Learning to Garden with Native Plants.

How to Create a Wildflower Garden

(Click on thumbnail for full picture and slideshow)

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3 Garden Pests – Thrips, Scales, Ants Tue, 24 Sep 2019 21:07:01 +0000

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I rarely write or talk about garden pests. Like many of you, I just want them to go away. However, wishing is sometimes not enough, so let’s talk.

This summer I had three insect pests that I want to address: thrips, scales, and ants. The thrips are enjoying my barberry, while the scales are on toyon and other shrubs, The ants were (yes, past tense) on my prized manzanitas and one Ray Hartman ceanothus. There is a lot to cover here but I think many will gain something if I go through them one by one. And I’m sure that someone will suggest a treatment that I have not tried.


Thrips are tiny, sucking insects that are often not seen, though the damage to the leaves is unmistakable. Damaged leaves are sometimes silvery, stippled or discolored. There are many species of this order of insects but the ones on my barberry are probably greenhouse thrips. Noticing a lot of leaf damage late in the summer I finally decided to look at the tiny yellow insects that were also present on the leaves. They are very tiny and my pictures aren’t great but good enough to be pretty sure of the identification.

Thrips on barberry
Yellowish larva and a few darker adults near stem.
Thrips on barberry
Adult thrip on underside of barberry leaf
Thrips on barberry
Silverinng of barberry leaves due to thrips

I have a simple approach to this and other common garden pests. I trim off and dispose of the most infested parts. The University of California, Integrated Pest Management web resource, Pest Notes, confirms the efficacy of this method. Thrips don’t usually kill their hosts, though they can weaken them. They are difficult to control, and spraying with insecticides is unlikely to be very effective. More important to me, though, is the fact that I really don’t like to use poison in my garden. I fear for the health and safety of other nearby critters, birds, beneficial insects, lizards, and so on.

Furthermore, the barberry plants that are affected can be pruned back according to UC-IPM: “Prune to remove old, damaged wood.  Cut plants down to within a foot of the ground in late winter to rejuvenate plants in the spring.” Excellent! Next I will cut the ugly-looking mess nearly to the ground, rake out the leaf mulch to clean up some of the eggs and insects that may have fallen to the ground. I think I will water these stressed plants when they re-emerge next spring, especially if the winter is dry.

Remove infected stems

This general approach: cutting off infected stems, cleaning up the ground, and then babying the new growth has served me well in the past. It is especially helpful for plants with aphids on new spring growth. In this case, however, I usually don’t water much because I don’t want to encourage the growth of the soft stems and leaves that aphids so enjoy. Rather, I tip prune until the temperatures rise and the aphids decline due to the hot, dry conditions. I also look for lacewing and ladybugs that love these tasty, tiny pests because they can clean off an infected plant lickety-split. This is extremely common for young sages because they grow so quickly. I water them enough to keep them from getting drought-stressed, but not enough to encourage rampant growth.


Like thrips, the are many kinds of scales. These sucking insects, however, lack a distinctive head and other body parts. They usually look like tiny blobs attached to plant stems or leaves. Some types of scales excrete honeydew, a sweet liquid prized by ants.

I have had scales on toyons, annual wild sunflowers, manzanitas and even purple nightshade. Once again, I treat the plants by removing and disposing of branches and stems that have an abundance of these pests. The purple nightshade and the annual sunflowers only show the scales towards the end of the season, so the nightshade plants are cut to the ground, and the sunflowers are pulled out. For shrubs, like the manzanita and ceanothus, I prune heavily infested branches. It is equally important to get rid of ants that may be partners in crime with the scales. This is harder to accomplish but I discuss it in the next section.

Scales on toyon
Scales on toyon branch
Scales on sunflowers
Scales on annual sunflower stems


Argentine ants, those most common in Southern California, do not directly damage plants. Rather, they “farm” insects that can stress and even kill them. The insects that ants farm feed on plants by sucking sap and then excreting a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew. The honeydew nourishes the colony of ants. The ants protect aphids, scales, mealybugs and other sucking insects by interfering with the activities, like egg laying, of natural predators and parasites, and even killing these beneficial organisms. Without the presence of natural predators, the sucking insects increase to numbers that can result in extreme stress and even death to the plant.

If you see ants climbing up and down the trunk or stems of a plant, you will almost certainly also observe some of the most common plant pests: aphids, mealybugs, soft scales, and whiteflies. The ants must be controlled for the health of the plant!

Ants on my manzanitas

In December 2013 I planted two one gallon manzanitas (Arctostaphylos manzanita) to flank the front walk to my symmetrical craftsman home. The color of their bark and leaves matches that of the house. Once grown, the stature and grace of these shrubs will provide a striking welcome to the house and garden.

Manzanita planted in December 2013
One of the twin sentries to the front path, now over five years after planting (9/23/19)

This year, over five years after planting, they were finally starting to look like something, and so I was very, very dismayed to see some stems covered with scales. I trimmed those branches and noticed that there were ants marching up the main stem. Now, I am a patient gardener, and I rarely get too bothered when I lose a plant. Monkeyflowers have come and gone, some ceanothus have bit the dust or been removed because they got too large for their space, and I have not lost any sleep over it. But these manzanitas have taken nearly six years to be even noticeable. I am 66 years old and will be 72 in another six years. I don’t have that kind of time! I want these to make it.

So when I noticed the ants I sprung into action with more fervor than knowledge. I sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants, and it worked! The ants were agitated and with a bit of time they all disappeared along with the scales.

Ants on manzanita
Diatomaceous earth around stem of manzanita. I brushed it away from the crown and have not watered it since. There have been no ants since January.

Sounds like a success story, but I have learned a bit since then. The diatomaceous earth desiccates the ants. Furthermore, they carry the fine dust back into their nests, killing other ants as well. The negative is that one must be careful using this fine powder since it is unhealthy to inhale it. Furthermore, it will wash into the soil with irrigation or rain. Not ideal for the roots, and it loses all efficacy if wet. There is a better approach.

Although there is a ton of info on the web about “natural” pest remedies, I always go to a source I can trust and that source is the University of California, Integrated Pest Management website. They suggest on their Pest Note about ants using sticky tape, like Tree Tanglefoot, on the stem of plants or trees rather than diatomaceous earth. You will need to check the tape to make sure it is continues to provide a barrier to the ants, but I’m sure it is better than having fine powder wash into the root zone. UC-Pest Notes on ants also suggests using a bait with .05%-1% borate insecticide to kill the ants in the nearby colony. Their Youtube video, Managing Argentine Ants Around the Home, is very helpful. If the ants return to these manzanitas I will once again spring into action, this time with a scientifically proven method.

Mantid (praying mantis) is a voracious consumer of many garden pests

The following general tips have kept my garden reasonably healthy without resorting to chemicals that could endanger the health of my family or critters who rely on my habitat garden.

General Tips

  • Notice your plants. Do they have an unusual number of yellow, brown or otherwise weird-looking leaves? Are they wilted? Do you see ants on their branches or stems? Is there a lot of ant activity near the base of the plant?
  • Know what a healthy plant looks like. Learn what your plants need and what they look like throughout the year. Some plants will drop their large winter and springtime leaves as the weather gets hotter and drier. Smaller and sometimes curled leaves is merely summer attire for some natives like sages, monkey flowers and even some ceanothus. Many currants, gooseberries and other deciduous plants turn brown and drop their leaves in spring or summer. Watering in an attempt to reverse dormancy can stress plants, and invite diseases like pathogenic microorganisms and insects.
  • Remove and dispose of stems with aphids, scales, or other sucking insects. Prune heavily infested stems and dispose of them in the garbage. A hard spray of water can dislodge enough sucking insects to allow your plants to thrive even with these pests around. It is best to hose off leaves in the morning so that they can dry quickly, reducing the growth of leaf mold.
  • Keep the crown (base) of the plant clean and clear. Move mulch away from the base of plants. Check for ants. Keep it clean!
  • Make sure your plants get the correct amount of water. Plants that are drought-stressed are more susceptible to pests. Similarly, over-watered plants produce soft, delicious growth that is favored by aphids and other pests. Learn to tell when your plants need water, and when to allow their growth to slow down and even go dormant or semi-dormant.
  • Accept limited pest activity. Remember, you will never be able to rid your garden of all pests and weeds. Furthermore, some of these undesirables feed birds, lizards and beneficial insects. A dynamic and diverse ecosystem will have fewer serious pest problems. Gardens should be places of health; toxins have no business being there.

How does your garden grow? Do you have suggestions on ways to keep your plants clean and healthy without resorting to pesticides?

The post 3 Garden Pests – Thrips, Scales, Ants appeared first on Weeding Wild Suburbia.

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How To Write My Research-paper Cheap Mon, 26 Aug 2019 17:03:22 +0000 How To Write My Research-paper Cheap

What’s the better way to publish my research paper economical? You can do lots of things to spend less in writing and submit papers.

The first thing that you need to think about is your money. Most students are strapped for cash and do not have enough for a good research paper. That is why the Internet has opened up new avenues of analyzing and earning cash at home.

The Web offers many types of online lessons. It’s possible to take a complete online course or you may certainly do self-study and publish research documents. The latter means you get credit for whatever you are doing. You earn money out of this nevertheless, you don’t cover the course’s tuition fee.

If you wish to decide on an internet course then it’s strongly advised that you join an accredited university. But if you select self-study then you definitely should avoid having anything related to the universities. Faculties usually charge per credit hour. If you go for an internet course, ask your school’s research department for getting lower cost tuition to do this part of one’s study.

If you want to write your own research document, you then may go with a research assistant. They’ll help you get going and also you are going to have the ability to submit a nice quality research paper for your research faculty.

However, in the event you truly want to write your research papers, you then is going to a writing shop. These shops also offer courses about how to write well for the research papers. You may be taught how to present your own research paper a unique feel.

These shops may even coach you on just how to get keywords, the way to receive your research paper published and how to submit papers to journals. These hints are important for the students who need to get great grades in their own research newspapers. Students with the right writing tips are going to have the ability to find a fantastic level when writing their own research paper. This is why your goal needs to be to learn how to compose your research documents.

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Elderberry Season Mon, 08 Jul 2019 07:47:51 +0000

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To Eat or Not to Eat

Before eating the blue elderberries that are ripening up right now, I decided to check to make sure they are safe. An online perusal left me a little confused and unsure.

There was only one report from the CDC of poisoning from elderberry juice. It happened here in California back in 1983. Eleven people were sickened and one hospitalized after drinking elderberry juice. All recovered quickly. Reassuring? Maybe not. 

Turns out, they drank juice that they made by squeezing raw elderberries, twigs and stems included, through a sieve. Add sugar and apple juice, and voilà: nausea, vomiting, abdominal â€¦well you get the picture. 

Ask the Experts

Most articles online and in books caution one to avoid unripe berries. Some stated that cooking the berries is enough to neutralize the toxicity. Although this was reassuring, I wanted more. What if some of the berries were not very ripe? Would cooking unripe berries be enough? 

After a cursory, but less than satisfactory, Internet investigation, I turned to an expert source for information, my niece. She is a family practitioner, so I thought she might know something about this. Her comment was, “I try to avoid things that can lead to nausea and vomiting. Maybe it’s just me.”

Next stop, Facebook, of course. Here I heard from someone who had just recovered from food poisoning. You can guess what she had to say.

Next I emailed a local expert, Christopher Nyerges. Author and head of the School of Self-Reliance, I was sure he would steer me right. He said that cooking the berries should be enough but that the berries in the picture I sent him (see below) looked very immature. Indeed! They were plump and bluish with white powder on the shrub, but once rinsed, they were quite green. He also said that ripe or unripe, uncooked berries sicken about half the people eating them, “so you should try a little and see how you like it, but since you cooked it, it should be ok. Let me know.” 

Unripe elderberries
First batch of elderberries. Quite green and immature.

My husband’s contribution to this discussion was, “Why would you do this?” And let me answer that. The berries while cooking have a delicious aroma. Furthermore, the color makes me swoon – it is gorgeous. How could I not try that? 

The Internet to the Rescue

While this whole drama was playing out, a friend of mine who also picked some berries was also researching their suitability for consumption. So emails and text messages with more information were being exchanged.  

Finally, we found two websites that provided the more in-depth, scientific-sounding information that I was looking for. The first one, Compound Chemistry has the most scientific looking poster, The Chemistry of Elderflower and Elderberries.

The article that goes along with the poster is both understandable and convincing. Turns out, the color comes from anthocyanins, also responsible for the blue in blueberries, cherries, plums, etc,. The aroma is due to a more complex set of compounds, the most significant one being cis-rose oxide.

Though the flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, “the plants’ leaves and stems, and the seeds of the berries, can cause nausea, and general unpleasantness if ingested without cooking.” The culprit is cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin. The cyanide group is bonded to a sugar. The sugar bond can be broken during digestion, resulting in the toxic effects of cyanide. Alkaloid compounds, including the poisonous alkaloid sambucine, are also present in the leaves, stems and berries. 

According to Compound Chemistry, “Toxicity from the juice of raw berries has been reported, but if the berries are being cooked, there is no cause for concern. This is because cooking breaks down the cyanogenic glycosides and sambucine present, rendering them harmless.”

Finally. This is what I was looking for! 

But is it ripe?

The next elderberry puzzle was, why did I think the berries that I picked were ripe when they were so obviously green? In my first attempt to pick ripe berries, I selected plump berries with a bluish tint covered with a white powder. I was finding that darker berries, still dusted with white powder, seemed to fall off the stems before I could even get to them. Furthermore, most that remained were somewhat dessicated. 

Cluster of plump but immature elderberries
Berries from first batch. I picked the plump bluish berries in front, to the left. When washed they looked like the green berries shown above.

A blog post by Wineforest Wild Foods entitled: Elderberries: The Mystery of Ripeness provides clear information on how to select ripe berries. You have to squish a few berries before picking. The juice of ripe berries is a lovely wine red, while immature berries have a clear, greenish juice. Armed with this new information I returned to the elderberry bushes to squish and pick. 

Clear greenish juice of immature berries
The squish test demonstrates that these berries are unripe.
Ripe berries have red juice
Though this cluster has fewer berries and they are less plump, the squished berries release deep red juice.
Small cluster of ripe berries
This is what the ripe berries looked like on the shrub.

I cooked and tasted juice made from both the first batch of immature berries and the second batch of ripe ones. Although I added sugar, both were tart, somewhat astringent, but truly delicious. On the first go-around I tasted a teaspoon of juice and waited until the next day to try more. No ill effects! I tasted a couple of tablespoons more before making a new batch with the ripe berries. The ripe berries weren’t much sweeter, but they had a deeper, richer flavor. I’ll dream about elderberry juice until I get a chance to collect some more.

Separating berries from stems
Separating berries from stems was a bit tedious. One website suggests freezing the berries and they will fall off the stems. I used this method on the first batch of unripe berries. These ripe berries actually fell off without freezing.
Cooked berries
This picture does not do the color justice. It is deep and rich, and the smell is heavenly. You can see some small stems in the pot. I poured the berries into a strainer. Using a spoon, I strained out the pulp and stems, collecting the juice in a jar. I added about 1/4 c sugar. I drank it (about 1/2 cup of juice) over an hour ago and still feel good. 🙂

Word of caution

Before leaving I’d like to caution everyone about foraging. First, never taste or eat anything that you are unsure about. Second, we live in a densely populated region. Although you may only be collecting a small amount of plant matter, if others do this too we are likely to stress an already highly stressed system. Only forage native plants where you have permission. Better yet, grow these plants yourself so you can enjoy them year after year. Be sure to leave plenty of seeds and berries for birds and other critters. Also, remember it takes many attempts for plants to successfully reproduce and naturalize. Forage responsibly!

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Joshua Tree National Park Thu, 30 May 2019 03:44:39 +0000

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Last week I went to Yucca Valley to visit my daughter who lives and makes pottery there. Check out her website, zzieeceramics, and Etsy site to see or purchase her pieces. On June 8th and 9th she will be selling her work at the West Coast Craft Fair, so unless you can visit her in SF, you may have to wait a few weeks to get an online response.

Cottage Cheese Vase from zzieeceramics

She took a break from throwing, glazing and firing to join me on a botanical foray in Joshua Tree National Park. There were a surprising number of wildflowers still blooming. The spiny senna (Senna armata) was finishing up after a spectacular display. But even without the exuberance of peak wildflower displays, the desert was glorious. Rain clouds over the distant mountains were both ominous and awe-inspiring.

Some of the plants and flowers that we saw are uploaded on iNaturalist. These include a couple of grasses, big galleta and desert needle grass. Also, we saw some nice blooms and pods on paperbag bush (yes, isn’t that a great name!). Other little pretties include San Felipe dogwood, prince’s plume, small wire lettuce, rabbitbush, white bursage, and even a spectacular desert mariposa lily.

As an aside, if any of you can distinguish – from my not-so-great photo of rabbitbush – whether the plant is yellow rabbitbush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) or rubber rabbitbush (Ericameria nauseosa), please comment below. These DYCs (“damn-yellow-composites” for the non-botanists) are tricky!

Hope you enjoy the pictures, or better yet, go to the desert and experience the glory for yourself.

Joshua Tree N.P.

Joshua Tree N.P.
stormy weather

Joshua Tree N.P.

Joshua Tree N.P.
Cholla Garden

Spiny Senna

Spiny Senna
Senna armata

Paperbag Bush

Paperbag Bush
Scutellaria mexicana

Paperbag Bush

Paperbag Bush
Scutellaria mexicana

Teddy Bear Cholla

Teddy Bear Cholla
Opuntia bigelovii

White Bursage

White Bursage
Ambrosia dumosa

White Bursage

White Bursage
Ambrosia dumosa

Desert Needlegrass

Desert Needlegrass
Stipa speciosa

Desert Mariposa Lily

Desert Mariposa Lily
Calochortus kennedyi

Wishbone Bush

Wishbone Bush
Mirabilis laevis var. villosa

Wishbone Bush

Wishbone Bush
Mirabilis laevis var. villosa

Sonoran Desert CA Buckwheat

Sonoran Desert CA Buckwheat
Eriogonum fasciculatum var. flavoviride

Sonoran Desert CA Buckwheat

Sonoran Desert CA Buckwheat
Eriogonum fasciculatum var. flavoviride

Silver Cholla

Silver Cholla
Cylindropuntia echinocarpa

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree
Yucca brevifolia

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree
Yucca brevifolia

San Felipe Dogweed

San Felipe Dogweed
Adenophyllum porophylloides

Prince's Plume

Prince’s Plume
Stanleya pinnata

Prince's Plume

Prince’s Plume
Stanleya pinnata

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