Jerusalem Oak Goosefoot

2023 March 12

These plants were growing at the gravelly edge of our driveway, and I photographed them on August 22, 2022. The stalks were almost up to my knees and looked kind of “fluffy”, because they were a complete mass of either very small blossoms or ripening seed capsules.

There were some leaves, but they were almost entirely down at the base of the plant rather than up on the stalks. They kind of look like small holly leaves, or maybe thistles leaves with no thorns.

I cant’ really tell if these are very nondescript (and probably wind-pollinated) blossoms, or ripening seed capsules. At any rate, there sure are a lot of them.

Even if each individual bud/capsule only makes one seed, this plant must be producing tens of thousands of seeds, each about the size of a small grain of sand.

I believe these plants are most likely Dysphania_botrys, also known as “Jerusalem Oak Goosefoot”, “Sticky Goosefoot”, or “Feathered Geranium”. These are native to the Mediterranean region, which is probably why one of the common names includes the word “Jerusalem”. Looking at the buds, with their little spikes all over them, I bet these are one of the plants that gets carried around in the hair of animals that brush against them.

They would be an invasive plant, except that they reportedly can’t really compete with other plants on decent soil, probably because they put too many resources into their flower/seed stalks. Other plants that put more effort into growing leaves and spreading can therefore out-grow them and shade them out. As a result, these are waste-ground colonizer species, getting into rocky areas with thin soil and little or no pre-existing vegetation. Like our driveway. I expect they are going to be common in our driveway margin until they end up generating enough topsoil that other plants can crowd them out.

The Wikipedia page says that they have a strong odor reminiscent of stock cubes, and can be used in cooking. Presumably to make vegetable broths for soups. I didn’t actually sniff them, so can’t confirm that at the moment, but most likely they will be back next fall and I can check then.

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