Ah, ’tis a cursed plant, that Verbesina enceloides, Cochise County’s own golden crownbeard! Toxic to grazing critters like sheep and goats, equally deadly to other plants that would dare to try sharing its space, robustly invasive, loves sun and disturbed soil, avoided by nesting birds, what a villain we have here!
Still…this annual member of the aster family, native to most of the United States and found throughout much of the world, does have some redeeming qualities. The yellow petals of the flowers, surrounding yellow-orange centers, present a mighty fine treat for the eye, massive patches with some individual plants near the Border Fort towering as much as seven feet high, swaying in the wind. The gray-green raggedy-spear shaped leaves may not be all that, but the butterflies and other insects mob the blossoms with frenzied joy during late summer.
Or at least, so it seemed today.
Golden crownbeard is too common on our place to draw much of our attention–we’re admittedly jaded in that regard–but as I was wandering by the monster patch in the back yard this afternoon, a butterfly caught my eye. Out came the camera. This particular butterfly was a great model, too, staying long enough on each blossom to make multiple photographs possible. Ah, but then another butterfly of a different species joined the party, a white and black moth (or butterfly…no, probably a moth) decided not to be left out, and the game was on.
Naturally, the less flashy insects find the golden crownbeard blossoms worth visiting as well.
There are, of course, other parts to the Verbesina encelioides plants than just the bright, insect-attracting blossoms. One thing that startled me was the size and appearance of the trunk–and that’s the only word for it–of one seven-foot plant. We’ve seen these golden crownbeards around from the first year we arrived here (2009), never mind that I’d misidentified the species until this evening, but never had we seen growth so monumental that it produced what looked a whole lot more like a tree trunk than like a mere weed.
These plants may run off other vegetation, but they’re plenty sociable with each other, mixing and mingling like nobody’s business.
It’s easy enough to tell autumn is coming. Certain sections of the golden crownbeard patches are already beyond the blooming stage, going to seed, leaves going limp and then drying out completely.
A final note about this “invasive weed”, to wit:
Quite a few plants that irritate folks in wetter states find they’ve more or less met their match in southern Arizona’s arid-except-for-July-and-August climate. The golden crownbeard is no exception. When we first purchased acreage here in April of 2009, the seller hired a man with a backhoe to run our main water line “around the loop” from the wellhead for nearly half a mile to our place. This produced a long, narrow line of disturbed earth, which the crownbeard plants absolutely loved. For several years after that, ninety percent of the Verbesina encelioides we saw were in spots along that line. But they didn’t last there in any great numbers. This year, they’ve made the jump over to follow our French drain ditch which is disturbed every year by the backhoe during the ditch’s annual cleanout.
In other words, the Arizona desert is capable of limiting the golden crownbeard’s spread. Leave the land alone for a few years and things will come into balance, limiting the plant’s presence automatically. Which means we can enjoy the massive plant patches with their brilliant yellow blooms and visiting butterflies without worries…or get out the heavy duty brush cutter, a bit later on in the year.