Monday, August 04, 2014

Ox Eye Daisy, Cheerful, Useful, and Instructive!

The ox eye daisy is a common field and roadside wild flower here in the Pacific North West.  It also makes a lovely carefree addition to garden borders, where it attracts beneficial insects and offers nectar to our very important pollinators.  

It is reported as being a European immigrant and sometimes as invasive.  However, just because a plant that is considered an alien naturalizes itself into a niche in the environment, does not mean it should be considered invasive or even unwanted.  

Before considering a plant invasive, ask yourself a few questions:
1.  Does it provide pollen and nectar or other food to important pollinators or native animals?
2. Does it provide ecosystem benefits; such as stabilizing slopes, slowing erosion, building top soil, providing animal habitat, or reducing human and domestic animal impacts to the land?
3.  Does it increase or decrease the genetic diversity of an area?
4.  Is it useful to people for food, medicine, or utility and does it grow where they can access it?
5.  Is it crowding out rare or endangered plants or animals?

Let’s apply these questions to our ox eye daisies:
1. Yes it provides nectar to pollinators and pollen to beneficial insects, as well as seeds to birds later in the season.
 2. Yes, it provides ecosystem benefits, in that it is often found growing on disturbed slopes, where it helps stabilize the soil and reduces erosion.
3. Simply by its presence it increases the genetic diversity by one, the insects and birds that depend on it may also help increase the genetic diversity of the area.
4. Yes, it is useful to people as food, medicine (see links below), and for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden and to foraging areas.
5.  Probably not, but if so, and someone is committed to tending the threatened native plants, the ox eye daisies should be weeded out with as little physical and chemical disruption to the area as possible.
When we really stop to think about it, many of the plants that are targeted with eradication as aliens or invasive may be better off ignored, or even embraced, used, and celebrated.  The eradication activities are often more harmful to the environment than the plants that are removed. In addition, unfortunately, known endemic plants are often targeted as 'invasive,' by people who have not done their research and make unfounded assumptions.  For more words of caution regarding being overly quick to judge and destroy plants that are considered alien, as well as a discussion about who profits from their eradication, please see:

Many plants that were once considered alien and invasive have turned out to be indigenous.  We owe this knowledge to the botanical archaeology conducted on fire pits and midden mounds, as well as cores taken on lake bed sediments.  There is no definitive list of all the plants that were here in North America before contact.  However, a truly invasive plant is often easy to recognize. A truly invasive plant quickly crowds out other plants and reduces diversity, over a season or over a number of years.  And it does it, right before your eyes.  Plants that quickly colonize soil that has been bared for any reason, such as mud or landslides, floods, or fires; even plants those plants that form near monocultures on hillsides or meadows are not necessarily invasive or alien plants.  Be sure to do your homework before you undertake or participate in any plant eradication efforts.
Back to our cheerful ox eyes, I’ve never done more than taste these daisies, so I am not an expert on their use or identification.  Not all daisies are edible, and some are actually insecticidal and may be toxic to people too.  Always be very sure of your identification of any unfamiliar plant, and study up on the toxic and poisonous plants in your area, so you know what to be cautions of.

Here are some links to more information on edible, medicinal, and historic uses of ox eye daisies:


Comments, questions, tips are always welcome.  If you find typos or broken links please leave a comment and I will fix it up as soon as I can!


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Updated 10.30.15


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Tim said...

The criteria listed above should also include one more, sine qua non, is the environment where the plant is proliferating and inviting scrutiny undisturbed, pristine, relatively natural, that for good reasons should be protected from the so-called invasive? Vs. for example kudzu growing along superhighways in the South? What is the natural or expected baseline natural environment bordering superhighways?

Harvest said...

The issue with kudzu in the US, typically, is that it is greatly reducing genetic diversity nearly everywhere it occurs. On the other hand, all parts of kudzu are edible, some are medicinal, and it has economic value. It seems to me that in a would were there is hunger and malnutrition, and where there are people who need work, kudzu could be utilized in beneficial ways if we were creative enough to do so. Considering kudzu's actual invasive potential, its ability to out grow and smother nearly everything in its path unless aggressively managed, it puts itself into an entirely different category than ox eye daisies . . . Ox eye daisies are not going to strangle mature native trees.

You bring up some very good questions. What in deed is the natural or expected natural environment bordering superhighways? But I would go a little further. In fact, do we expect the environment bordering super highways to be natural? And I can think of even more related questions to add. However, this is a blog about gardening and food, primarily, and my expertise on correlating these things to the borders of super highways is very limited, and even more so when speaking of the South, where I have never lived and never even visited. It is still find it a very worthy subject, and I hope there are venues where it is being addressed in depth.

Thanks for your comment!