volunteers pulling and bagging stinkwort

Stopping the Stinkwort Invasion

Despite its dainty foliage, stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens) spells big trouble on the American River Parkway.

Native to southern Europe, stinkwort was first observed in the Sacramento region in 2002, thought to have been introduced by seeds in landfill soil. This spunky plant thrives in hot, dry weather and soils that are gravelly, saline, or even contaminated with heavy metal. The fast-growing annual can be found in grasslands, but also performs well in areas where the ground is disturbed or nearly bare, such as fire breaks and along the edges of highways, roads, and trails.

Stinkwort gets its name from the camphor-like smell of its sticky, resinous foliage. The annual plant germinates in the winter, remaining small until spring when it grows rapidly into a three-foot tall, upright shrub.

Invading Spaces

stinkwort weed growing along roadway, person pulling plant

removing stinkwort along a roadway

An invasive plant like stinkwort can dominate an ecosystem by out-competing native food plants. Being non-native, it provides no benefit to Parkway animals and insects and lacks natural limitations on its growth. It crowds out native plant species by overtaking resources, such as sunlight, nutrients, and water, disrupting an already fragile habitat.

Stinkwort also contains  phytotoxins that inhibit the growth of surrounding vegetation, giving it a greater advantage over other plants.

Parkway wildlife species are dependent upon native plants for food and shelters, and some plant-eaters create important food sources for other species. For instance, insects that feed on a specific native plant may be an essential protein source for frogs, lizards, and birds. The decline of the native plant harms the insects, and the decline of the insects then harms the other animals, rippling throughout the food chain.

 

 

A Seedy Battle

stinkwort seeds

stinkwort seeds, photo credit: Country Mouse

A member of the sunflower family, stinkwort blooms in September, when other plants are already dormant or have gone to seed. Its small, yellow flowers produce highly transportable, dandelion-like seeds that are easily moved by water and wind. They also travel by gripping a variety of surfaces, including animal fur, human clothing, and vehicle or bicycle tires.

According to USDA reports, a single stinkwort plant can produce an estimated 70,000 tiny, highly transportable seeds known to move over 200 meters in the air — about two football-field lengths. This means that removal efforts must be diligently repeated until the bank of fallen seeds around the original plant has been depleted, and surrounding land must be regularly monitored for new areas of growth.

Fortunately, stinkwort seeds have a short life in soil, remaining viable for only two to three years.

 

Easy to Pull, Difficult to Contain

removing stinkwort with hand trowel

removing stinkwort with hand trowel

Stinkwort is known to defy most control methods, even returning rapidly after wildfire. Hand-pulling has proven to be the most reliable way to remove the weed. It has a relatively short root system, making it easy to pull out, especially after a rain.

However, if part of the plant remains, it can quickly regrow. Yet another challenge is that stinkwort seeds can ripen on pulled or cut plants if they have already flowered. Extracted plants must be securely bagged if they have any flowers or buds to avoid spreading seeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricky to Identify

stinkwort with small yellow flower

stinkwort with flower buds

Removing stinkwort from the Parkway habitat begins with accurately identifying the plants, which isn’t as simple as it may sound. Our Invasive Plant Management Program (IPMP) volunteers are trained to distinguish this invasive plant from important native plants that look incredibly similar.

 

 

 

 

tarweed yellow flowers

tarweed flowers, photo credit: The Amateur Anthecologist

One such beneficial plant is tarweed (Madia elegans). Like stinkwort, tarweed is also an annual shrub with sticky, aromatic foliage, small yellow flowers, and tiny seeds that easily parachute. It is also a late-bloomer and thrives in full sun, low water conditions, and the unwelcoming, hard-packed soil along roadsides.

Unlike stinkwort, tarweed is a native plant. The seeds of tarweed are eaten by many birds and small mammals, such as mourning doves, quail, mice, and ground squirrels. Blooming through the fall, tarweed is an important late-season nectar source for butterflies and pollen source for bees.

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Encounters

pulled stinkwort plant

pulled stinkwort plant

The hazards of stinkwort warrant special handling by volunteers and extend beyond the Parkway ecosystem. The plants also are known to cause allergic reactions and severe dermatitis in some people who come in contact with the sticky resin, so we provide our volunteers with protective gloves to wear while pulling and bagging the weeds.

Dogs that walk through dense patches of stinkwort have been known to vomit, reportedly from ingesting or inhaling the bristles, according to some studies.

Oils in the plant have been known to taint the flavor of meat and milk of animals that have consumed the plants. Sadly, stinkwort seeds can kill grazing livestock, such as sheep and horses. Barbs on the fluffy-tipped seeds reportedly damage the animals’ digestive systems. 

 

 

 

 

Join the Effort

Because stinkwort is relatively new to the region, we may still have time to effectively eradicate it from the Parkway with vigilant efforts.

Invasive plant management is an essential part of conserving and nurturing the American River Parkway. Stinkwort is one of several invasive plant varieties that compromise the Parkway ecosystem and are managed by ARPF and our team of trained volunteers.

You can get involved by signing up for volunteer training or by making a donation to our Invasive Plant Management Program.

close up of yellow Spanish Broom flowers, blue sky in background

Putting the Squeeze on Spanish Broom

Spanish broom (Spartium juniceum) is a beautiful, hearty shrub with elegant yellow flowers.  It is a fast-growing  variety of the pea family, growing up to 10-15 feet tall in just a few years with roots that can extend several feet below the surface, even through rocky soil conditions.

It was introduced to California in 1848 as durable landscape ornamental because of its draught-tolerant properties and ability to root in less than ideal soil. By the late 1930s, Spanish broom was planted along mountain highways to prevent erosion.

So, why the fuss over such a pretty, practical plant?

Originating in the southern Mediterranean region of Europe, Spanish broom is an invasive, non-native plant that has no natural local predators and provides no benefit to native insects and animals. With nothing to keep it in check, Spanish broom quickly overtakes resources — sunlight, nutrients, and water — needed by native plants, which are needed  by area wildlife.

Because it can grow in tall, dense patches and produce substantial dry matter, Spanish broom can also create a serious fire hazard during the dry season.

How is Spanish broom removed?

Removing Spanish broom isn’t easy, and must include pulling out the entire root system to deter it growing back stronger. It also involves specific training and diligent repetition.

Even if the whole plant and root system are removed, seeds are a factor. One plant can produce 7,000 to 10,000 seeds in one season, and the seeds can remain viable for decades. A large seed bank is likely present in the soil around any mature Spanish broom plant. Seeds can also be moved to new locations by erosion, rain wash, and possibly ants.

Parkway areas where Spanish broom has been removed in the past are likely to have new plants sprout for years to come, and the plant can also establish itself in new locations. Restoring the natural habitat is a slow process that requires regular monitoring and proper removal of Spanish broom on an ongoing basis.

Identification
Spanish broom twig with orange ribbon tag

Spanish broom plant identified and tagged.

The first step with Spanish broom removal is accurately identifying the plants. When in bloom, the plants are more visible with their bright yellow flowers. However, after the plants have dropped their leaves, this becomes more difficult. Trained volunteers may need to scout and tag the shrubs for later removal during an Invasive Plant Management Program (IPMP) group event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equipment
two orange weed wrench tools

Weed wrench tools.

Because the root system is strong and must be removed completely, Spanish broom extraction requires special equipment, including a weed wrench designed to grip the base of the plant and gradually employ leverage to lift it out. This industrial tool costs about $250 each.

Other useful tools are trowels and pickaxes to help loosen surrounding soil and dislodge rocks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extraction Process
pulled Spanish broom root

Spanish broom root system.

Ideally, the weed wrench removes the whole plant, roots and all. Extraction tends to be more difficult during a draught season and easier after a good rain. According to long-term ARPF IPMP volunteer Dennis Eckhart, an established Spanish broom plant in challenging conditions can take as long as 30 minutes to remove properly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

weed wrench close up with plant

Weed wrench in action.

In reality, this process is not only labor-intensive, it requires finesse to avoid breaking or shredding the plant stem. When seed pods are present, they must be collected before extracting the plant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

broken Spanish broom stem

Broken Spanish broom stem

If the plant stem does break, creative problem-solving is important. Broken root systems can grow back even stronger than before, making it more difficult to remove them next year. Volunteers must dig down around the root, remove rocks, twigs, and vines, and attempt new approach angles — all while trying to minimize disruption to the surrounding natural habitat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invasive plant management is an essential part of conserving and nurturing the American River Parkway. Spanish broom is one of several invasive plant varieties that compromise the Parkway ecosystem and are managed by the American River Parkway Foundation and our team of trained volunteers.

You can get involved by signing up for volunteer training or making a donation to our Invasive Plant Management Program.

Stories from the Parkway: “I feel that I am home”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from Katie Bauer –

I’ve lived in a lot of places in the Sacramento region, and recently returned here after living abroad for a time. Like many people of my generation, my family members are scattered far and wide, and I’ve moved from place to place for jobs, relationships, or school; despite making frequent trips “home” to another part of the state where I grew up and where my parents have lived for many years, I’ve always had trouble in answering the question “Where are you from?” It has only been in recent years when I’ve begun making regular visits to the American River that I’ve begun to develop what many call a “sense of place.”

While living in other parts of the world, no matter how beautiful, I began to develop a deep homesickness, though it took me a while to understand what exactly it was that I was missing. Where was this “home” I felt lonesome for? When I returned to a favorite walking spot along the river for the first time after a long absence, it suddenly struck me: the landscape of this place had become so familiar and comforting to me that being away from it was what caused the ache. I missed oak woodlands with their golden-dry hills in the fall, tall stands of cottonwood with their drifting fluff suspended in the air, and the winter fog settling low like thick wool over the river. I missed the way the land looked and felt, and I missed gazing a long way downriver to where the water has bent the land and vanishes around the turn.

The access to the natural spaces along the river through the Parkway is something I feel more grateful for every year. As a parent it offers fascinating places for me to take my eight-year-old son for walks, leading to hours of unplugged playtime and outdoor learning – you might find us photographing caterpillars or examining oak galls, skipping rocks or hunting for the prettiest shades of wildflowers growing along the trails. It brings tears to my eyes every time my son squeals with joy at seeing a salmon splash through the riffles on its own journey home, or when his voice instinctively lowers in hushed awe when we spot a doe and her baby resting in the tall summer grasses. It’s so important to me that children grow to know a place deeply enough to want to protect and preserve it, and I can’t imagine a better place to help my son develop this crucial wonder and respect for the land.

Amongst our community of friends, the river has become a place we are drawn to for marking important occasions like birthdays or graduations; more often it’s just where we go when we want to be together. It’s also where we gather with loved ones when things are just plain hard or the world seems not to make sense: does the water flowing by carry away some of our pain, or does it only seem that way? There’s something about taking note of the matter-of-factness of nature, no matter how harsh it may seem at times, which never fails to set my mind at peace: the woodpeckers are busily storing their acorns, the egret patiently stalks in the shallows, the mushrooms peek out of the duff, and the salmon are going home. And I feel that I am home, too.

All photos by Katie Bauer

Katie Bauer is an educator with a passion for all-things-science, a photography enthusiast, and is happiest when hiking or baking. She has lived in Chile, Colombia, and all over California, but has felt most “at home” in Sacramento since arriving in the area in 2001. Find her on Instagram: @aftermyown_heart.

Sunset Kayak on the American River

Stories from the Parkway: “Paddling down the river never ceases to amaze me”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from Nick Carlson –

Sliding my kayak gently into the water, it’s not hard to grasp why in a few short years how this river has become so significant to me. I’ve come to know this river’s fickle moods. Its high water winters and early spring rush, its summertime playfulness, and its autumn bounty when the native Chinook salmon swim back upstream to spawn. I’ve paddled its slumberous wide curves and through its fast water rapids. I’ve watched its water roaring like thunder pouring its last dam and followed its a clear and bright emerald ribbon of water all the way to its end to dip my bow in at its milky confluence.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure.” I heartily agree. For me and many others, Northern California’s Lower American River is a rare jewel to behold. Fed by the melting snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the river is an essential source for the area’s drinking water, a productive provider of irrigation and hydroelectric power, and recreational highway for paddlers and fishermen. In its final twenty-some miles before pouring into the Sacramento River, it dispenses a peaceful serenity and magic to every creature along its wild banks despite being so near urban complexities of the city. And yes, to a certain extent it seems to be a living being in itself.

I often tell people paddling with me that after we push off onto the river they will be experiencing a totally different world even though we are in the heart of a densely populated urban area. Paddling down the river never ceases to amaze me of how I can escape into a backyard of nature just a few minutes from the buzz of city traffic. Where the only sound you will hear is that of birds, the wind and that primeval summons to our primordial values, the call of distant rapids coming from downriver.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.”

“A river seems a magic thing,” declared photographer Laura Gilpin, “A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”

Sitting alongside the Lower American River earlier this week, the river does seem alive as it moved steadily to the sea. Flashes of Chinook salmon among the river’s ripples, scores of gulls, ducks and turkey vultures soar and flutter above, while I catch sight of black-tailed deer bounding through the stream. A large beaver tail splash serves as a warning that I’ve come a just bit to close to his domain while chattering otters bark at my passing. The trees, vegetation, and even the rocky pilings that extend all the way along the stream add to the inspirit to this living essence.

It’s nature’s age-old symbiotic relationships between the river and all of its creatures. As long as the water keeps flowing, the river and the life it nurtures will continue to exist.

As humans in the era of climate change, we need to recognize this natural world around us and make our duty to care for it, protect it, and pass it on to generations to come

Nick Carlson is a California based kayaking photographer and river guide. A storyteller and amateur theologian, he writes the weekly blog Outside Adventure to the Max where he shares about his journey and paddling & water issues.

Stories from the Parkway: “The deer was my most favorite part”

In previous editions of Stories from the Parkway, we’ve seen the Parkway from the perspective of an adult. Our next story is from the experiences of children.

The children explain why the Parkway is so important to our community and what everyone can experience on the Parkway.

Jasmine

“I like the Parkway because I like to ride my bike and see the river. I like the otters. I like everything.”
Lucy, Age 4

Mira, Age 8

Damion

Kalia, Age 6

Ibrahim

Elizabeth

KJ, Age 8

These children are some of the millions of visits that occur on the American River Parkway each year. Help us continue to conserve this Sacramento treasure so our community and future generations can have the opportunity to make their own memories here. Become a member or donate today.

Great Blue Heron on the American River

Stories from the Parkway: “Isolation from Urban Complexity”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from David Dawson –

It was before sunrise on a cold, calm November morning here in Sacramento; but I wasn’t at home. Home, where I arose in the dark to come to the river wasn’t far away; just about two miles from where I stood in the first light of dawn. It was only a short drive through suburban streets to get there with my kayak and camera. But then, with the American River at my feet, I saw nothing of the two million human beings who surrounded me in the Sacramento metropolitan area. I saw no streets, no cars, no buildings, and no lights.

In his 1912 book “The Yosemite”, John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” And that’s what I sought, even so near to home: isolation from urban complexity, the peacefulness and serenity, the beauty and the magic of the river and the wild creatures who live within, beside and above it.

It was an auspicious arrival at riverside where I launched the kayak, because it was a “twelve rabbit morning”. No fewer than a dozen jackrabbits scampered away in the headlights as I approached the river. Then, through grey mist rising, there were dimly to be seen only the gravel bar on which I stood, the river, the trees and foliage, and the emerging dawn twilight rising in the east.

I launched the kayak in a quiet backwater and settled in with my camera, and even though I wasn’t going fishing, I felt the same kind of excitement, of hope, of opportunity that I felt long ago as a kid on the first day of trout season. I thought now in this 76th year of my existence, “What is it, what extraordinary thing, will I be amazed by on this day?” The kayak moved easily, gently into the current, and, as expected, I maneuvered to meet a friend, an exceptional wildlife photographer, who had launched from the other side of the river.

Together we drifted wordlessly, silently downstream near the riverbank, as golden sunlight broke above the horizon and swept through the mist, low across the water. Ahead of us, emerging from the fog, a great blue heron stood tall, patient, mystical, on a log near the bank, framed by the river and the autumn colors of a tree behind. Our minds, our hearts, and our cameras captured that moment; and, no matter how many great blue herons we’d seen before, we both felt awe at the beauty of this creature in this setting.

We drifted beyond the heron and went our separate ways. My friend headed downstream in search of river otters, and I moved quietly toward an inlet where two Canada geese, on the water and in the mist, were backlighted by the golden rays of the sunrise. Again, there was an intense feeling of “Wow” as my camera recorded the scene. On that same morning I photographed otters, both great and snowy egrets, a green heron, and double-crested cormorants before heading back to the launch point.

I had spent about 2 ½ hours on the river, and as I creakily extracted my elderly body from the boat, my mind stayed full of the wonders of this time on the river, and I was eager to see the photographs that came from such a memorable morning, so near to home.

Back at home, framed, on a wall near my desk, and written in calligraphy, there is a 4th century BCE quote from the Chinese philosopher Mencius. The quote says, “The way is near, yet we seek it far off.” Today, as on that November morning, the way to the wondrous beauty of this world where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul… that way is not far off. It’s very near…. Indeed, right here before us if we are open to see it.

[Originally written January, 2016; edited September, 2019]

David Dawson is a retired State of California executive, a wildlife photographer, and the 2019 American River Parkway Foundation Volunteer of the Year. He has enjoyed the Parkway with his family since settling in Sacramento in 1976.

Pup on the American River Parkway

Stories from the Parkway: “Woof, woof!”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from Sarah Madden – dog mom & founder of SacTownDogs

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What can I say about the American River Parkway? Well, I love it and so does my dog!

From exploring its land and riverscapes since I was a little girl to now bringing my fur kid almost daily for a swim or walk, it feels like my personal sanctuary away from the hubbub of the city. I relish the times that I’m able to sneak away and enjoy a few hours with my pup along the Parkway, meeting new fur-iends and humans too.

During the Dog Days of Summer, you’ll find me most evenings waterside at Sailor Bar with my Labrador, Lily. She loves having a cool place to play during the intense Sacramento heat and I’m always happy to dip my toes in too! The geese and ducks always join in on the fun, swimming alongside Lily, quacking happily.

As we transition into fall, Lily’s best fur-iend Dexter will tag along for a walk along the river trails while I admire the color changes and enjoy the brisk autumn air. We’ll stop for a quick swim and linger into the evening so we can catch the sunset. It’s my favorite time of the year. There’s nothing like seeing a fall sunset glistening on the water with your best fur-iends!

American River Parkway’s marked, well-maintained trails and roads ensure hours of exploring even during the cold months. The miles and miles of scenic beauty and abundant wildlife are a perfect way to stretch our human and puppy legs and get some of those winter crazies out! It’s our favorite way to spend a chilly morning or afternoon.

When spring is in full bloom Dexter & I love to stop and smell the wildflowers, while Lily keeps an eye out for puddles. She can’t help but splash in every one along the way…typical lab! I always have my camera ready to capture the new life and beauty of the Parkway. If we’re lucky we’ll catch a glimpse of a doe and her fawns grazing in the tall green grass.

With this year-round wonderland offering unlimited opportunities to stroll, explore and splash around with your pup, it’s no wonder Sacramento is listed as one of the top ten dog friendly cities in California.

A few years back I started SacTownDogs, a community website & social network for dog owners to exchange useful information, local events, and places to explore in and around Sacramento. One of the questions we receive on a regular basis from our followers is “Where’s a good place to take my dog out?” American River Parkway is always one of our go-to answers. In fact, a picture of Lily at Sailor Bar was my inspiration for the SacTownDogs logo.

The American River Parkway is an incredible asset to the community, and we are truly blessed to have this natural treasure in our little city. So, grab your pups (and those leashes) and get down to the Parkway! Woof Woof!!

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Sarah Madden is the founder of SacTownDogs – a community website & social network for dog owners in and around Sacramento.

Note from the editor: For the safety of you, your dogs, other Parkway users, and wildlife, dogs must be on a leash while on the American River Parkway. The maximum length of a leash (including retractable ones) is six feet.