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Watch out for this one!

2012 March 29

Though beautiful, tiny flowers of youngia open only a few hours in the morning and produce copious seed to infest nearby ground. Photo by Johnny Randall

Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

Well now, I had a wonderful, easy-to-grow, native wildflower groundcover all lined up for this week’s Flora when an awful, innocent-looking plant alien pushed it aside.

It’s most important that you know about this plant bully, Youngia japonica, called youngia or Asiatic hawk’s beard.

It is an annual with a leafy rosette that looks a bit like the common dandelion, but the leaves are a pale yellow green and a bit hairy. Learn to recognize it, pull it up and throw into the trash. Don’t dare put it in your compost pile or toss it aside to die. Though it is an annual, it has quite a taproot, so dare not turn your back on this little monster unless you are certain you have extracted the whole plant, root and all! It may continue to set seed even after being pulled from the ground.

A relative newcomer in terms of exotic invasives, it was first brought to my attention a little more than a decade ago by horticulturist Sally Heiney at the N.C. Botanical Garden. She called it to the attention of all the staff as soon as it began showing up along the garden edges. Sally dutifully warned that if it were not immediately and completely destroyed, it would show up the next season by the hundreds.

Learn to spot youngia's rosette of yellow-green, hairy leaves. Photo by Ken Moore

I learned the hard way. I did not bother with the single plant I noticed in my yard several years ago, and the following spring the yard was literally covered with youngia, as Sally had warned. So I spent an hour or two extracting every plant and have kept careful watch every since and only now and then do I notice one or two here and there.

Take another good hard look at that basal rosette of yellowish-green leaves. Like the staff at the botanical garden, I have learned to recognize it by sight and pounce on every one I see. It literally is running rampant across gardens and pathways in Carrboro and Chapel Hill and even along some of the edges of the well-manicured plantings on the UNC campus.

How amazed I was two weeks ago while viewing the spectacular Dutchman’s breeches display along the Flat River north of Durham; several of us spotted a single rosette of this plant hunkered down amongst all those native beauties. You really do learn to spot it. We pounced on it in unison and brought it out with us. We kept a watchful eye out for more and were happy to find none.

Flowering stems of youngia stand from 6 to 20-plus inches in height. Photo by Ken Moore

Those tiny airborne seeds, typical of the aster family, fly far and wide, so no area is safe. We felt honorable that at least we had kept dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new plants from invading that lovely spot next year.

I know of no other exotic that has become so invasive in so short a period. So please do your part. Study the images and keep a watchful eye, and don’t leave a one to survive.

Thanks for paying attention, and next week I promise a happier story!

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

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