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S.C.V. History
April 13
1935 - Gladys Carter convicted of manslaughter in fatal shooting of Frances Walker, of the Placerita Walkers [story]
Gladys Carter

Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Feb 21, 2016

DianneErskineHellrigelThe last century saw a big increase in the use of herbicides, both in the home garden and in agriculture. Some of them, like DDT, became known for their high levels of toxicity, and their use was eliminated. While this in itself is great news, there are many other legal herbicides that are still in use that could be highly dangerous.

Many people feel if it can be purchased in a store, it’s safe to use. Home gardeners rarely use precautions when applying chemical substances to their gardens. They spray toxic substances in wind; without a breathing apparatus, skin protection or eye protection; and without giving a thought to nearby pets – or pets that might later chew on the plants.

Herbicides have been shown to be toxic to human placental cells. They can poison humans and animals; they can be carcinogenic to children; and they can lead to kidney failure, coma, grand mal seizures, convulsions, birth defects, brain cell death, behavioral defects, numbness, asthma attacks, profuse sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, dizziness and severe headache, to name just a few. Any of these maladies can lead to death.

The Community Hiking Club removes non-native, invasive plants. Every non-native, invasive pull we accomplish is without herbicides. Not only do I want to avoid exposing volunteers to these chemicals, but I also refuse to introduce the chemicals into our environment.

I have known of groups that have used herbicides to prevent ingrowth of weeds onto a trail. Both sides of the trail were sprayed with a noxious substance. Days later, as we traveled down the trail, the effects of the herbicides were evident among several of the hikers. Headaches, dizziness and vomiting were the most common side effects. Two people had to treat themselves for asthma attacks.

The Community Hiking Club removes tamarisk, Spanish broom and Chinese sumac (Tree of Heaven) from our local environment.

weeds2 Tamarisk (aka salt cedar): There are 50 to 60 species of flowering plants in this family. Originally they came from the Middle East and Africa and were brought to America as ornamental garden plants. The pink flowers grow on long spikes, in clusters, and they can be very showy. This is why they were so popular in the United States.\

The problems with tamarisk are many. They spread both by seeds and by runners. Each plant can have up to 500,000 seeds per year. Therefore, they can spread rapidly. They have a long taproot and can exploit groundwater. Each plant can pull 300 gallons of groundwater per day out of the ground and transpire it into the air. Streams and creeks can quickly become dry when tamarisk infests their banks. The Colorado River loses billions of gallons of water due to tamarisk.

The Community Hiking Club has removed tamarisk by digging it out of the (mostly) riparian areas in five of the six major canyons in Santa Clarita. It is a neverending process, however, since seeds and any runners left behind can quickly replace any plants that have been removed.

weeds1Spanish broom: This plant is originally from the Mediterranean areas in Europe and Northwest Africa and can also be found in South America. In these areas it is used as an ornamental plant, as well. People enjoy the honey-scented, yellow, pea-shaped flowers. The foliage can also be made into a coarse broom that is great for sweeping out traditional mud floors. It is also used as a flavoring agent and as an essential oil (genet absolute), and its fibers have been used to make cloth. The plant also produces a yellow dye.

In California, however, it is an introduced, noxious weed. If allowed to take over an area, it will prevent our native plants from growing. The infestations can become so great that other plants are denied water and sunlight and cannot grow. When the seed pods pop open, they virtually explode, sending seeds far and wide so that a complete takeover can happen quickly.

In order to remove these mischievous plants, we do not use herbicides; rather, we use a device called a weed wrench. These tools work on a lever system and yank the plants, roots and all, right out of the ground. Removing these plants is much more fun, and the work goes much quicker than with tamarisk.

chinesesumacChinese sumac/Tree of Heaven: This tree can also be called Rhus chinensis, nutgall tree, Chinese gall or stink tree. The Chinese sumac is a tree. It can reach up to 25 feet high. Once these trees are established, they can form dense groves, so they should be removed when small and just beginning to spread. If you wait too long, you will have to do major restoration work.

Birds will nest in these trees, and the dense cover is great for ungulates that like to hide under this cover. If this tree is planted as an ornamental, it will send out shoots and seeds and quickly kill other nearby trees and other plantings, trying to take over the entire landscape.

My suggestion is not to plant it at all, and if a seed or runner comes from a neighboring yard, address it as soon as possible to prevent it from taking over your entire landscape.

In the wild, we try to address this the moment we see one. One of my volunteers calls these the “ultimate weed tree.” Truer words were never spoken. It produces a terrible rotting peanut sort of smell that is an herbicide that kills nearby plants and prevents natural competition.

We remove these plants with the Weed Wrench, as with Spanish broom. Once they are established, it is easy to pull seedlings, but the plants established via runners are difficult to eradicate. If you are removing the runners, you will have to dig down about 2 feet to remove them. It’s a great deal of work, and unless you have a crew of hundreds, you will undoubtedly admit defeat before you are able to finish.

If you would like to help us improve the environment in Santa Clarita, we’d love to have you come out for a non-native, invasive plant pull. With tamarisk, we’ve seen water return to creeks, even in the drought, when the tamarisk were removed. With Spanish broom and Chinese sumac removals, we’ve seen native plants return to areas where they have been absent for more than 10 years. We love to see the open spaces, forests and wilderness heal.

For those of you who are home gardeners, consider staying away completely from herbicides for your family’s health and well-being. It’s a little more work and exercise, but the payoff is in a better, healthier life for all.



Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.




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  1. Tim Burkhart says:

    DDT is not a herbicide. It’s a pesticide. If you wanted to create a sense of unwarranted hysteria through inference, you should have said Agent Orange.

  2. Jean Haley says:

    The spray that you used also will kill birds etc. if they try and eat any seeds on the ground. Plus the shrubs you are yanking out of the ground, birds also rely on. I guess they don’t matter though, right?

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