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Fight is on to stave off invasive weed

Sahara mustard could harm native vegetation and even wildlife in Huntington Beach.

March 25, 2013|By Anthony Clark Carpio
  • Sahara Mustard weeds, foreground, are robbing local wildflowers of water at the Brookhurst Marsh in Huntington Beach.
Sahara Mustard weeds, foreground, are robbing local… (KEVIN CHANG )

There's an invasion happening along Pacific Coast Highway between Brookhurst and Magnolia streets. They've come by the hundreds and more are on their way, slowly consuming Brookhurst Marsh and threatening the areas around it.

It's the Sahara mustard, an invasive weed that has been in Southern California since 1927 but has boomed in population over the last 20 years, according to the California Invasive Plant Council.

It has overwhelmed the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego and now it has made its way to Huntington Beach.

"We have two major issues that we constantly struggle with. One is trash coming down the flood channel and blowing over from the beach and the other one is weeds," said Dr. Gordon Smith, chairman of the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy. "We've got the usual clovers, foxtails and dandelions, but this is a new one."

Smith said California State Parks environmental scientist David Pryor found the North African-native weeds a few weeks ago along the shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway and upon closer inspection found them growing in the sand dunes along the north side of the highway.

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"It completely surprised me and it's scary," Pryor said. "It's like it was planted there."

An average driver traveling along PCH probably wouldn't think twice about the vegetation growing alongside the road, but to a trained eye the presence of the mustard is truly apparent.

"This has all happened in the past few months," Smith said. "We watch things along here pretty closely for weeds, and it's just astonishing how fast these have grown."

The Sahara mustard is adaptive to dry, sandy locations, Smith said.

Dr. Elizabeth Brusati with the Invasive Plant Council said that the weed has a serious ecological impact.

 It's unknown how the weed made its way to Huntington Beach, but Smith believes that its seeds may have gotten stuck underneath a vehicle and were then blown into the marsh.

Pryor said the mustard has a quick germination period and would probably negatively affect the bright yellow beach primrose that grows along PCH — along with other native vegetation — by robbing it of the water and sunlight it needs. Its growth could also hurt the indigenous animals.

If the Sahara mustard overwhelms the area, it could kill off plants these local animals feed on, endangering their survival in the process, Pryor explained.

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