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SCV Outdoor Report – Swallowing Ground

By Wendy Langhans

Common Groundsel grows best in moist soil and in cooler weather

It wasn’t much to look at right now – less than 6 inches tall, about half its mature height.  If I hadn’t been looking for wildflowers I would have walked right past it.  But the bright yellow flowers peeking out from the protective tubular green bracts caught my eye.


I noticed that few of the blossoms had even gone to seed.  There was nothing left but the dried-up remains, with barely a hint of the riotous seed dispersal that had just occurred.  For you see, this plant was common groundsel, sometimes known as old-man-of-the-spring on account of its white parachute-like seed tufts. Under optimal growing conditions, one plant can produce 25,000 wind-borne seeds.


That’s why it was given the common name groundsel.  The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon “groundeswelge”, which means “ground swallower”, an apt description of the rapid way this plant spreads. 


According to the UC Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, common groundsel is an invasive weed and is toxic to horses, cattle and pigs.  It originally came from Eurasia – some sources say it was brought by the Pilgrims in 1620. 


Now why would the Pilgrims bring a plant that spreads rapidly and was toxic to farm animals?  Well – it turns out that common groundsel was also considered a medicinal herb.  It was used as remedy for chapped hands, stomach pains and headaches, as well as a poultice for treating wounds and removing intestinal worms from children.


So it seems to me that balancing the needs of humans against the needs of the natural world is not a new dilemma.  But to be fair:  life was hard then and many children died at a young age.  In those days we put a priority on relieving suffering and protecting our children.  That hasn’t changed.  What has changed is the growth in human population and our understanding of how our actions affect the environment.


It’s amazing what you can find when you go for a walk, isn’t it?


Upcoming Outdoor Events:  (Remember, heavy rain cancels MRCA-sponsored events)


Saturday, Jan. 26, and every Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.

Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout. 

For more information call Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565 or

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


Saturday, Jan. 26, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM.  Magic Mountain Micro-Trash Clean Up.

For more information contact Dianne Erskine

Sponsored by the Community Hiking Club.




You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to


SCV Outdoor Report – Swallowing Ground

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