California Creatives Confront Destructive ‘Superbloom’ of Wild Mustard with Innovation

by Sophia Chen

Max Kingery, a clothing designer in Los Angeles, has faced criticism for uprooting and eliminating vibrant yellow flowers that cover the hillsides. However, instead of taking offense, Kingery, who uses these plants to dye his spring and summer clothing lines, views it as an opportunity to raise awareness about the destructive nature of wild black mustard. This invasive flower has flourished in California after an unusually wet winter, posing risks such as fueling wildfires and choking native plant life.

To combat this issue, a growing community of artists, designers, and chefs have taken on the challenge of harvesting the plant and finding creative uses for it. Foragers organize edible hikes to collect the peppery flowers and utilize the leaves. Workshops and instructional guides are available to learn how to transform the plant into paper, fertilizer, and even a spicy condiment.

Max Kingery’s fashion line, aptly named “Pervasive Bloom,” showcases sweatshirts, pants, tank tops, and other items naturally dyed using mustard. The Olderbrother store in Los Angeles features a large panel made from woven stalks, leaves, and flowers of the mustard plant, crafted by designer Cecilia Bordarampe. Kingery’s team has been tirelessly harvesting mustard from public land, removing over 100 pounds (45 kilograms) weekly since their initial harvest of 450 pounds (204 kilograms).

Despite their efforts, Kingery acknowledges that more needs to be done to address the problem. The plant, originally from Eurasia, was introduced to California in the 1700s, and its presence exploded this year due to heavy rainfall and the aftermath of wildfires, which created ideal conditions for its growth.

While the sight of blooming yellow fields may seem appealing, the invasive mustard smothers native plants and disrupts the natural landscape. However, artists like Erin Berkowitz of Berbo Studio emphasize the potential of these invasive species as abundant art supplies that can be utilized in various ways. By raising awareness of its uses, Berkowitz believes more people can contribute to the solution.

Through collaborations with organizations like Test Plot and the creation of a zine by ecological horticulturist Alyssa Kahn and artist Nadine Allan, efforts are being made to educate the public about the uses of black mustard. The goal is to broaden the definition of land care and involve individuals who may not typically see themselves as environmentalists.

Jen Toy of Test Plot explains that the restoration of biodiversity in neighborhoods is a key objective. By witnessing the removal of mustard and the resurgence of native plants in places like El Sereno, the hope is to inspire others to take action and engage in land care practices.

Jutta Burger of the California Invasive Plant Council commends the innovative approaches taken by creatives and suggests that people collect leftover seeds when areas are cleared, although complete eradication is challenging once the plant is well-established. Burger draws a parallel with successful efforts to combat other invasive species, such as the lionfish, which decreased in population after being creatively incorporated into culinary experiences.

Burger highlights the importance of recognizing that the yellow fields were once a diverse array of colors and urges people to understand the broader impact of invasive species on the environment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about superbloom

What is the superbloom of wild mustard in California?

The superbloom of wild mustard in California refers to the proliferation of the invasive plant known as black mustard, which has spread extensively due to an unusually wet winter. It blankets hillsides and landscapes with vibrant yellow blooms.

Why is wild mustard considered destructive?

Wild mustard is considered destructive because it poses several risks. It can act as fuel for wildfires, as its stalks can help flames climb and spread. Additionally, it smothers native plants, inhibiting their growth and transforming the landscape. Its rapid spread creates a mono-thicket that displaces other species.

How are artists, chefs, and designers addressing the wild mustard invasion?

Artists, chefs, and designers are addressing the wild mustard invasion by finding creative uses for the plant. They harvest it to create dyes for clothing, incorporate it into pesto recipes, and explore other applications such as making paper and fertilizer. They aim to raise awareness about the issue and demonstrate the potential of utilizing invasive species in innovative ways.

Can the wild mustard problem be completely eradicated?

Complete eradication of wild mustard is challenging once it is well-established. Efforts are made to remove the plant from managed lands by state and local agencies. However, due to its adaptability and ability to thrive in disturbed areas, complete eradication is unlikely. Instead, the focus is on managing its spread and mitigating its impact through creative approaches and public education.

What is the impact of the wild mustard invasion on native plant life?

The wild mustard invasion has a negative impact on native plant life. It smothers native plants, inhibiting their growth by competing for resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. This disruption alters the natural ecosystem and reduces biodiversity. Efforts to combat the invasion aim to restore native plant communities and promote a healthy ecological balance.

More about superbloom

  • California Invasive Plant Council: Link
  • Test Plot: Link
  • Olderbrother (Max Kingery’s company): Link
  • Berbo Studio: Link
  • Alyssa Kahn: Link
  • Nadine Allan: Link
  • Wild Mustard (Brassica nigra) Profile by Cal-IPC: Link
  • Lionfish Threat by NOAA Fisheries: Link
  • El Sereno neighborhood: Link
  • California Wildfires: Link

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ArtisitErin June 17, 2023 - 1:09 am

luv this! Using invsve species for art! More ppl need 2 get involved, broadn land care, save nativ plants, biodivrsity #BerboStudio

NativePlantFan June 17, 2023 - 5:36 am

Mustard may look prtty, but it’s harming nativ ecology! So glad artists & designers r fighting back & raising awrness! #SaveNativePlants

GreenThumbChef June 17, 2023 - 7:49 am

Pesto from wild mustard greens?! Now that’s a recipe I gotta try! Kudos 2 chefs & artists for using what’s already ther. #Creativity

PlantLover June 17, 2023 - 9:27 am

Wild black mustard invsion is a problm! Smothering nativ plants, causing wildfires, but thes creatives show there’s hope! #InvasiveSpecies

JenToy23 June 17, 2023 - 2:00 pm

wow this is amazing! Artists & chefs fighting the invsve mustard bloom! so creative, dyes, pesto, raising awreness! #CaliforniaCreatives


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