Mustard flowers may be beautiful, but could fuel fires


Ranger Hector Inzunza looks at the vegetation. Photo credit: Breny Aceituno

The super bloom this year has given spectators in Southern California quite the wild flower show.  

The hills alongside LA’s freeways are carpeted with bright yellows and oranges. But there is one in particular flower that has been dominating the hills.

The mustard flower, although beautiful, is not what park rangers like Hector Inzunza want to see blooming. They spell trouble for native plants and animals and for the coming fire season.

KCRW recently spoke to Hector Inzunza at Deane Dana Friendship Park in San Pedro, where he’s the Park Superintendent. He warned there’s a real dark side to this season’s super bloom.

KCRW: Can you tell me what plants we are seeing in the super bloom season that are not native to California?  

Hector Inzunza: Well, there is a whole slew of non-natives here in California but as it relates to my facility, my park, you are going to commonly see the mustard plant, euphorbia, and chrysanthemum. Those are the top three invasives here. I would add to that the Russian Thistle, which is tumbleweed.

This whole area along the peninsula, it should be in its natural state, coastal sage scrub, which helps promote habitat for specific wildlife such as the California Gnat Catcher and the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly which are both threatened species. And believe it or not, we have those species here. They have been observed here which is great. But that’s just a small part of the big picture. These invasives, they compete with the natives and they push them out.

KCRW: What happens exactly when these non-native plants go to seed, and what are they going to look like during the summer and fall and what kind of impact will they have then?

HI:  It is not a super bloom all year long. These aren’t annual plants. They’re seasonal. So once they flower, like any plant, they will go to seed. It goes to seed, and then that’s it for the plant’s cycle. It will eventually die, and dry-up, and now you have what we call “flashy fuels.” That’s a fire department term. And I hope the public really understands... [why] we’re out there mowing these plants.

I’ve been told by many visitors, ‘why are you cutting down these beautiful plants?’ And unfortunately they don’t realize what I’m doing, and they don’t understand that these are non-natives. And that I am preventing them to go to seed, so that we can do restoration work in the future to come. But it’s okay, I get the complaints, I mitigate and I educate the public. And that’s all fine and dandy. As long as they understand what I’m doing and that there’s a purpose.

KCRW: What can civilians do exactly, if anything, to kind of help Southern California get the natives back, the native plants back on this soil?

HI: Get involved. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many volunteers who are very passionate of the resources we have, and helping manage them as well. And what they can do is, like I said, get involved, become a volunteer and make a difference by assisting with restoring the lands. And all it takes is just for them to come. You know a couple hours of labor in the morning, on the weekend, if they can, to come and make a difference.

San Pedro’s Deane Dana Friendship park, we are the highest point in San Pedro, and the views here are breathtaking. I invite anyone who has time to come up here. Bring your family. Again the views here are spectacular. And how much more would that be with native plants throughout this area, rather mustards and euphorbia. We can call it a super bloom, a native super bloom. You know there is a lot of value there, and I want to see more of that.

Here’s more information if you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the Deane Dana Friendship park, or at any other LA County.



Breny Aceituno