Identifying the deer buffet

We call it mellow yellow

Identifying the deer buffet

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMay 17, 2012 

— Once again, Mother Nature has sprayed our fields and hillsides with springtime yellow. But just what is all that gilding out there?

About half of our large meadow is paved with individual golden blooms that close up tightly at night and spread open wide under bright sunshine. The perky blossoms look like dandelions, marigolds, gerberas or other daisies or maybe even African daisies, also known as cape marigolds.

But ours are not any of those, and it’s been a challenge finding out what they really are. For all the above, our flowers’ stems are too short, or the plants are too low slung or the slightly fuzzy, deeply “cut” foliage is decidedly wrong.

Finally, I did what I should have done all along. I took samples to my acquired brother Forrest Warren, who enjoys solving quirky mysteries as much as I do. He checked with his horticultural associates at Miner’s in Morro Bay, then confirmed what I’d suspected: Our yellow flowers are arctotheca calendula — or cape weed, not a very pleasant common name for such a sprightly flower.

Fortunately, our nonnative plants aren’t considered as villainous as cape ivy, although they’re just about as hard to eradicate.

But native, shmative! We’re not about to yank out an acre of bright yellow flowers, no sir.

Any plant that’s not a real bad actor gets to stay, because it helps prevent erosion. We’re at the steep headlands of Strawberry Canyon, and we really don’t want our soggy soil sliding down the hill in rainy weather. The cape weed helps anchor things where they’re supposed to be.

Besides, if we tried eradicating our blooms, I’ll bet we’d have a picket line of deer marching up and down the meadow, bearing signs that read, “Unfair! Bring back our buffet line!”

The largest influx of deer hits our meadow in spring, sometimes as many as 20 of them at once … bucks in velvet, spotted young ones trailing mama, yearlings playacting and prancing and lots of pregnant females. They step delicately through the grasses, voraciously devouring one yellow blossom after another after another. The deer doc must prescribe a diet with lots of “yellow” vitamins (Beta carotene? Vitamin C?).

But what are the other pretty yellow plants out there, especially on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and other open lands?

I’m told there’s yarrow, California and maritima “coastal” poppies, native oxalis, hops clover, beach primrose, yellow verbena in the dunes, tiny flat-to-the-ground goldfields, the dramatic flannel bush that can grow to 20 feet tall, and little native buttercups looking like droplets of gold flicked onto a lush mat of green.

Yes, there’s wild mustard by the acre — those tall plants with fluffy, puffy, sneeze-triggering yellow heads. There’s also the dreaded French broom, a horticultural bad guy that runs rampant, squeezing out native species. It’s tough to eradicate, because it will quickly grow back if just cut off at ground level, and pulling it out is like trying to move an elephant by tugging on its tail.

But there’s even more gold out there ... for instance, how many vividly yellow cars have you seen lately?

What first commanded our attention was a bright yellow Lamborghini Gallardo. Of course, a $204,000 sports car would have stood out in any color, even avocado green.

Then we spotted a daffodil-yellow Ford Focus, a Chevy Camero, a Hummer, a Ford Fiesta and a VW beetle. And I saw a spiffy, butter-yellow, two-seater Mazda in the Cookie Crock parking lot, with a license plate that read “2ND BNNA.”

There’s even a Website geared to owners of yellow cars, appropriately titled http://yellowswarm.org.

While there do seem to be more vibrantly yellow vehicles recently, apparently it’s been a trend for a while. Chris Woodyard wrote in July 2010 (USA Today) that, “If you want to feel really strange, drive a blindingly bright yellow car … you stand out like a sore banana… Lose your car in the parking lot? Not a chance.

“But,” he continued, “then we spied an upside. Who would dare steal a yellow car?”

Um, yes.

But cars aside, at least our mini-mystery’s solved, and we now know what entree to write on the deer menu … mellow-yellow cape weed du jour.

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