Sunday, January 30, 2005

Oxalis -- Bermuda buttercup dispersed by gophers

A few years ago I was called to consult on a large backyard in Los Gatos. The entire yard was covered with Bermuda buttercups -- Oxalis pes-caprae -- one of the most troublesome and invasive weeds in our area, even if colorful in bloom.

It was also completely riddled with gopher burrows. This led me to believe that the weed is a prime food for gophers. Not long ago my deduction was confirmed by a post on the California Native Plants Discussion Group. A man reported digging up a gopher burrow system stuffed with Oxalis pes-caprae bulblets. Since the plant is not known to set seed in California, I have long suspected it is dispersed by animals, and gophers are likely culprits. I posit that when pocket gophers move to a new burrow system they also transfer portions of their food cache, thus spreading the weed to new areas.

Their other major food in suburban areas, I have long observed, is bermudagrass rhizomes. Back in the days when I maintained about an acre of turf in an industrial campus in Santa Clara the center of gopher activity was tightly focused on the small areas infested with bermudagrass. I actually chose to mostly just live with them because in that relatively sterile situation it seemed bermudagrass rhizomes were the only thing they were eating. Bermudagrass doesn't readily reproduce by seed, so I suppose it is also spread when gophers relocate their food caches.


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