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Looking for Spring weeds in Southern California; picture heavy!

Discussion in 'Tortoise Diet and Food' started by RosemaryDW, Mar 7, 2018.

  1. RosemaryDW

    RosemaryDW Well-Known Member TFO Supporter

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    In preparation for our tortoise coming out of hibernation, I went out to find and photograph some safe weeds you might find for your own tortoise. I’m in a naturally dry, scrubby spot in California and there hasn’t been much rain here so it’s slim pickings. Even worse, my community association has already mowed some of our open areas, perhaps looking to prevent wildfires next fall? But look close enough and you’ll find something. While I eventually found weeds close by, the photo ops weren’t very good. As a result, I took some ID pictures near curbs and other areas. Rest assured I do not feed my tortoise anything that grows next to a parked car!

    I’ll start with some of the easiest ones to find in my area, the dandelion and chicory relatives. These tend to be obvious, as they are large plants with yellow leaves. But which is which?

    I’ll start with spiny sow thistle; you can see where it gets its name; it looks very prickly. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you or your tortoise.

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    I couldn’t find a good spot for a photo op so here is a very healthy smooth sow thistle next to a neighbor’s house. It’s got a red/purple stem, like the spiny thistle but the leaves are very different, they take on an arrowhead shape as they grow and don’t have such pointy edges. Take a look at the many flower buds getting ready to bloom. It’s not like dandelion, which has only a single flower head per stem.

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    Finally, the most common chicory around here: bristly ox tongue. It tends to be the bushiest of the three and here already has multiple large yellow flowers. Its most distinct feature are hairy litle bumps are over the leaves. The hairs cause the leaves to stick to your clothes.
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    Here are all three together:

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    You might confuse ox tongue with wild sunflower but sunflowers have obvious brown centers, unlike ox tongue’s all yellow ones. Sunflower is edible as well, if you’d like to pick some.

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    Wild fennel is beginning to show at the root line of old plants that died back the prior year. My tortoise occasionally takes a bite; I take a bit. Fennel gets much larger going into the summer; you might recognize it fully grown, as in the second picture.

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    Here is a wild mustard that is beginning to reach full height. Like all the brassicas it has a four-petaled flower. It gets more bitter as the season progresses but my tortoise is very fond of it when she wakes up.

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    If you’re in California like me, you’ll likely find some cactus. You can pick it yourself if your brave but since you are in California, you can just buy the peeled stuff at the grocery store or just grow some of the kind without spines.

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    In another field I look at some low growing weeds. What on earth are you supposed to make of this? It all looks the same: green!

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    But looking closer I see one plant sticking a little higher up, it’s young prickly lettuce. This plant develop longer, thicker stems and leaves as it grows several foot tall; but the leaves will stay the same, with their distinctive shape. This one is also popular with my Russian in the spring; later on it gets too bitter even for her.

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    Some of the other plants in the photo look like clover but which one is it? Trick question! There are two clovers here! The first one is burr clover. It has delicate clover leaves, very small yellow flowers and, if you look closely, plenty of the sticky burrs that give it its name. When I pull some out you can see how the plants have grown out of the burrs that later developed into dry brown seed pods.

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    Harder to spot in this patch is sweet clover. It’s not the easiest thing to see at first but these clovers grow longer and taller than burr clover, with thicker stems. Their three petaled leaves are much larger and the plants eventually throw off long yellow flower sprays.

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    Sweet clover is a plant not everyone agrees on. It’s a do not feed in the Tortoise Table as it can be dangerous to cattle. Some experienced users feed it, knowing that tortoises and cows process food differently; I offer a little each year. You should know what to look for, whether you want to intentionally pick it or avoid it altogether.

    I find another low mat of plants. These frilly leaves and purple flowers are filaree; safe.

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    I look at another lump of green and spot some wild geranium, with its delicate round leaves.

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    Finally growing into mounds is mallow. There is just about always mallow! Early in the year my Russian enjoys the plant’s immature seed pods; I believe she uses them as a protein source.

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    What weeds are you finding this spring?

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  2. Maro2Bear

    Maro2Bear Well-Known Member

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    Wow, very nice walk through the weedy side of California! Thanks.
  3. trickspiration

    trickspiration Active Member

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    Super helpful, thanks for this!
  4. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    I feed all of those except the wild geranium. The wild mustard keeps growing the longest and into the beginning of summer. The mallow is my favorite, but it dries up and dies early in spring. I seldom get any past April.
  5. Little Leopard

    Little Leopard New Member

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    Was looking for something like this, thank you!
  6. RosemaryDW

    RosemaryDW Well-Known Member TFO Supporter

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    I offer it but the Russian never takes more than a bite. It’s interesting that the weeds she prefers are all non native plant invaders from Eurasia, where she is from. She eats all the chicories and mustards but has no love for filaree or geranium. Not much interested in clover either.You eat what you grew up with!

    I keep offering them in the spring though, hoping she’ll be hungry enough to try them.
  7. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    We just don't have the wild geranium here. I've offered "regular" geranium, and they aren't too interested in it.

    Mine all eat the fillaree when its mixed in with other stuff, but mallow is a winter staple and favorite of all my tortoises. I feed out piles and piles of the stuff.
    RosemaryDW likes this.
  8. trickspiration

    trickspiration Active Member

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    Lucky! Although I also find my weeds in SoCal, I don't get nearly as much variety as you do - just the dandelion, catsear, kidney weed, filaree, mallow (occasionally), and sow thistle.
  9. RosemaryDW

    RosemaryDW Well-Known Member TFO Supporter

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    You really just started looking; you’ll find more~
  10. Greenjeans13

    Greenjeans13 New Member

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    Thanks for the photos and info. Can't wait to go on a weed walk in the three open areas near my house and in my own yard once the rains stop here in Eureka to look for tasties for my Russian, Curley.
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