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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jun 08

Did I Read that Correctly?

Posted on June 8, 2018 at 8:36 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

While doing some research for another project, I googled information regarding the best plants to use for erosion control. There was a bevy of websites to investigate, and I randomly picked one that ended up causing me great consternation.

As I read through the suggested list, one of the plants recommended to help hold a bank from eroding due to heavy rains or overhead irrigation was foxtail (Hordeum murinum). Admittedly this plant has an extremely dense matted root system that would hold the earth together during heavy storms. And by the looks of my place, it’s very easy to grow! However, this experience highlights the importance of considering all of a plant’s characteristics before planting—not to mention googling with caution.

dried foxtails
Dried foxtails
In my opinion, foxtail is a bane to society. Its seeds require their own line item in the household budget for trips to the veterinarian’s office for extraction from our furry friends. When it dries out, it increases the threat of ground wildland fires. Not to mention that it is a very stubborn, invasive weed.

If reading this website’s recommendation raised the hairs on the back of my neck, even worse was finding websites that sell it. I wondered why anyone would intentionally buy and plant this weed. As I gazed about the ranch and my feeble attempts to eradicate the little devils, it seemed like a case of more dollars than sense. 
As I further perused this particular website, I decided while this site might know about our California dry climates, it missed the mark regarding wildland fires and invasive plants. 

To complicate matters, there are other plants known by the common name of foxtail. These include Bromus madritensis (foxtail brome), Setaria (foxtail millets), and Hordeum jubatum (foxtail barley)—the last a native perennial grass. Perhaps these other foxtails are less a nuisance? All of this highlights the importance of finding good information.
I recommend checking your sources with Cal-IPC for invasive plants, FIRESafe MARIN for plants that are slow to burn, and your own common sense before proceeding with internet recommendations for any planting scheme. There are right plants for right places in all accounts—just be certain you’re using a reliable information source. A garden should be appreciated and enjoyed for it beauty, a place of respite from the whirlwind of life—not an avoidable task at hand.


David Kessell
June 8, 2018 at 9:26 AM
Please provide plant recommendation for erosion control under shaded grove of eucalyptus trees on a hill with sections from 15% to 45% slope. Fire people and gardening people are deafeningly silent on this tough problem
Anonymous User
June 8, 2018 at 10:54 AM
Thank you Charlene! No kidding you need a separate line item for vet visits not to mention the pain caused our furry family members when they get in the ears or nose. Don’t get me started on info on the internet...wonderful on one hand and yet horrifying on the other. Thanks for your wonderful posts.
Anonymous User
June 11, 2018 at 6:22 PM
David. You do face a serious problem Euc's typically create so much leaf litter that I would think the litter would disburse the rainwater rather than cause erosion. Dray shade as well as fire suppression are two other factors that you are dealing with. There are a few natives that might help. Carpenteria californica is one or Ribes sanguineum would be another to try. The 45% slope many require erosion netting as it would be difficult for any plant to take hold in such a steep condition. I hope this offers a bit of help!

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