Let Our Tarweeds Grow!

The tarweeds have a bad reputation.  It all started with the name-- to me the resin smells buttery and lemony. To whoever named the plant, it smells like tar. 

Then there’s the “weed”.  (Don’t get ecologists started on this word).  To many people, weeds are plants that are inherently unwelcome.

So that bring us to today, where the very qualities that make tarweed one of our most impressive native plants-- resilient, fragrant, and a welcoming host to beneficial native insects – render it a pest in unenlightened circles. 

Five reasons to bring back the California tarweed!

1.     Tarweed is the last guest standing at the party.  Tarweeds' deep tap roots allow them to outlive other plants and remain blooming and strong in the hot, dry, California fall. Because they are some of the few plants to last into fall, they serve as a critical resource for wildlife like native bees and butterflies, predatory insects, and birds.

Late summer, early morning. Madia elegans, a species of tarweed, produces beautiful flowers that are conspicuous in the early morning and late evening during the summer, but they close during the day. You can see that besides tarweed, everything in the background is pretty brown. For native birds and insects, this means that tarweed is a critical food source during the hot, dry CA summer.

Late summer, early morning. Madia elegans, a species of tarweed, produces beautiful flowers that are conspicuous in the early morning and late evening during the summer, but they close during the day. You can see that besides tarweed, everything in the background is pretty brown. For native birds and insects, this means that tarweed is a critical food source during the hot, dry CA summer.

2.     Tarweeds look gooooood.  Tarweeds' beautiful yellow flowers – sometimes with red rings – open for sunrise and sunset, closing during the hot day to protect their sensitive components from the sun.

3.   The tarweed feeds our birds. Tarweed heir seeds are highly nutritious and adored by birds.

4.     The tarweeds protects our bees.  The sticky secretions that give them the ‘tar’ part of their name are used by a variety of native bees; the bees use these glue-like compounds to fortify their nests, making them impenetrable to would-be predators and parasites. Plus, bees eat tarweeds' nectar and feed their babies tarweed's pollen. Especially in the barren fall, tarweeds are a bee safety net.

5.     Tarweeds supports beneficial insects. The sticky secretions also catch small insects like flies which in turn feed a variety of predatory insects that provide the plants with protection from pests.  Once in the neighborhood, these predators stick around and guard your other plants from bad bugs as well.

A beneficial insect - the assassin bug Pselliopus spinicollis - feeds on a fly that got stuck to tarweed's sticky hairs. These entrapped insects provide season-long food for beneficial insects, ensuring that they maintain high populations and provide sustainable, natural pest control for your garden.

A beneficial insect - the assassin bug Pselliopus spinicollis - feeds on a fly that got stuck to tarweed's sticky hairs. These entrapped insects provide season-long food for beneficial insects, ensuring that they maintain high populations and provide sustainable, natural pest control for your garden.