One morning recently, I was out in my backyard doing some gardening and enjoying the unusually warm weather. I’ve planted a variety of California Natives back there, and one of my favorites is the Phacelia Californica. It’s a lush green bush with thick velvety leaves, and radiant purple flowers that bloom during the spring and summer. Butterflies and bees love it, and since it’s a Native, it pretty much takes care of itself.
So I was admiring the Phacelia, contemplating its shape and intricate structure, when I noticed several small, bright yellow flowers aggressively poking up between its leaves. Uh-oh! The telltale signs of the very invasive weed Oxalis pes-caprae, also known as Yellow Oxalis. Apparently several of these invaders had established themselves near the base of the Phacelia. I knew it would be a tedious and time consuming task to pull each individual Oxalis plant and separate it from the Phacelia. But I also knew that the weed would spread if I didn’t stop it. “Might as well do it now,” I murmured to myself. “Time to get rid of it.” The weather was surprisingly mild for San Francisco in February. I felt the warmth of the sun on my back and a cool breeze caressing my skin. The light chatter of bird songs mingled with various city sounds to create a soothing ambience. For a few moments I just stood there taking it all in, as my thoughts gradually blended into the fabric of the morning.
I began by following one of the thin green Oxalis stems downward from its tiny flower top. As I separated the Phacelia branches, tracing the Oxalis stem down between them, I breathed in the earthy vegetative smell of the plants and the soil. But when I got down to the cooler, shaded area under the very lowest Phacelia leaves, I discovered something unexpected. The stems from all of the Oxalis flowers converged into a single trunk. Surprise! They were all part of the same plant. When seen from above, the angry-bright yellow flowers had looked like many separate plants; but that was an illusion. Actually they were all connected to the same little trunk, and you can remove all of them at once by pulling out that little trunk and root. I laughed out loud when I realized how easy it is, when you know exactly what to do.
So, using my thumb and index finger, I grabbed the little weed trunk at the point where it entered the dark, moist soil and pulled firmly but steadily. The motion felt familiar and automatic. Soon, the root popped free with a faint sound and a very satisfying feeling of release. It came out intact, very long and very white, having been hidden underground away from the sunlight. Its whiteness was a shocking contrast to the many delicate, bright green stems, and tiny yellow flowers dangling from it.
The gentle percussive sounds of a woodpecker echoed through the neighborhood as I ran my finger along the length of the long white Oxalis root and felt its smoothness. Wisps of tiny root hairs and a light residue of soil clung to the root. A bumble bee hovered nearby, attracted by the Phacelia. Its soft humming mixed with the other sounds and created a gentle crescendo as it flew a little closer. Sunlight caught the bright yellow pattern on its little black body as it circled the plant and then buzzed away in a zig-zag pattern.