Idyllwild Botany: A Premonition Come True …

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On Tuesday July 26, Tom Chester and friends conducted a survey in the small section of the Mountain Fire burn area now open to hikers from Humber Park. The results mark concerns about the spread of invasive weeds in the wilderness.

Here is an excerpt of his report:

“Now the bad news. We observed new, non-native species in Tahquitz Valley:

“• Sonchus, which is sow thistle, is a new, non-native weed here — five plants, which I removed from the highest elevation, except for a single voucher from Hidden Lake at 8,700 feet and Garner Valley at 4,700 feet.

“• One plant of the lactuca serriola, commonly known as prickly lettuce, I also removed. But it looked like it had already dispersed its seed at the 4,400 feet.

“• We found one plant of Taraxacum officinale, common dandelion, growing in a habitat and location where it had not been seen before. We had seen this previously only in the riparian areas; this area was a flat area above Skunk Cabbage Meadow.”

These three non-native invasive weed species they encountered are wind-borne. All three prosper in Idyllwild.

The same updrafts that keep the gliders soaring above the village can waft their seeds from Idyllwild to the higher elevations of the wilderness. No length or depth of forest closure can prevent this.

In my time in Idyllwild, I have advocated for weed control. I have given talks at the Lemon Lily Festival about the weeds found locally, written about the harm they inflict on native and rare species, sent out email alerts of weeds I have spotted in Idyllwild whenever they are in season and can be recognized, attempted to organize weed-removal parties and written about other successful volunteer “weed-warrior” projects.

Tom and I have removed the weeds we have encountered in our surveys both in the wilderness and in Idyllwild. Sadly, most of our meager efforts have been conducted alone with a trash bag in hand or at the ready in my car, but the fight is too big for just one person.

There is no quick fix, but it is not too late to make an impact. You can start on your own properties by identifying weeds and removing them. You can inquire about Forest Service volunteer projects and join them when they occur. Or you can mobilize your own organization to enlist someone with knowledge of non-native plants to help seek them out and remove them.

Many non-natives in the wilderness will first appear next to established and used trails where they have been inadvertently carried by hikers and climbers. A prompt and intense eradication effort by the Forest Service that includes a long-term monitoring component can help to minimize their impact.

However, the battle must be fought at the source. The wilderness is too vast and remote for even the most aggressive eradication effort to prevail. We in Idyllwild have the good fortune of living next to an unsullied wilderness. Let’s not be part of a problem that despoils it, but instead, a solution to help keep it pristine.

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