Feast of Green Fennel

July 1, 2009


Fennel is a plant with a sordid reputation. Known for being high end real estate for several of the Lepidoptera species butterflies, ladybird beetles, white and golden crown sparrows, garter snakes and rodents.. It is also viewed as the godzilla, of invasive species, displacing native wildflowers, and homogenizing ecosystems. All of this appears to be true of the plant, and to add to its many functions- I recently discovered that with the use of an iron mordant, this plant makes the most excellent green dye!


In viewing many roadside stands today, I observed fennel growing in every nook of available turf, even pushing out some of the more hardy natives- commonly known as bee plant, and mugwort. The native flower- Perideridia kelloggii, that once hosted the Lepidoptera butterflies, was no where to be seen. There are so many factors contributing to the success of fennel, that I have no distaste for the plant itself, it is only responding to the conditions it has come to grow in.


California soils have dried, due to the loss of perennial grasses, that once blanketed the landscape, keeping in water, and holding back the effects of erosion. These perennials have been replaced by annual grasses that dry out only weeks after the last rainfall- hence, the golden hills of California. Our waterways have been re-routed, and drained to make way for roads, homes, and agriculture. The changes we have made, and the level of disruption caused to the ecosystem, it seems only natural that a plant as virulent as fennel would take root, a plant so hardy it can grow in almost any soil. While it can act as a band-aid, it can also function to take over diverse ecosystems, whose soils and water are still in tact.


I am still wondering a bit about the impact of harvesting fennel. While I would very much like to see less of it, and have it replaced with native wildflowers and bunchgrasses, I know that it’s existence plays a role in the life of many insects, and for this reason, I am unable to commit to wholesale destruction with my harvesting. Yet, I will never propagate this plant in my garden, like I do the native dye plants. I will remain a roadside harvester of fennel. My follow-up harvest will include clay balls filled with perennial native grass and wildflower seed- so where ever I remove fennel, I will leave a gift behind.. I’ll keep you posted on
this process!

2 Responses to “Feast of Green Fennel”

  1. We live in rural Manitoba, Canada and are attempting to rid our site of introduced/invasive species to replant the yard with native forbs, grass, sedge and shrubs. We have created a website around our project. http://www.silverplains.ca
    Living in an agricultural area this is not an easy task. Where we live the native species (what few remain) are living in the margins, mainly in ditches. In the past this was tallgrass prairie but the productive soil has meant agriculture, creating monocultures and reducing diversity.
    I understand your concern for the insects that have come to make use of the runaway fennel and applaud the little native seed laden clay balls you leave behind. The fauna will reward you for your kindness. Especially the species which are threatened or at risk.


  2. ecologicalartist Says:

    I looked over your website extensively. It is so wonderful what you are doing. Thank you so much for sharing your work, I hope that it inspires many others to do the same

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: