Bastard Cabbage: Displacing Wildflowers Like Wildfire

Bastard cabbage, scientifically known as Rapistrum rugosum, is an aggressive spreader that quickly turns the tide of war in its favor, swarming beloved natives such as bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and other native wildflowers.

Kelly Lyons, a biology professor at Trinity College, maintains that a root cause of its proliferation is climate change – drought has allowed bastard cabbage to persist in areas where indigenous grasses are unable to.

The introduction of Mediterranean grasses by profit-driven seed companies have also inadvertently allowed them to flourish alongside cool-season native grasses.    

Then, once this waist-high invasive has steadily amassed its numbers, the siege begins. They seemingly sprout overnight, turning fields once strewn with confetti-layers of wildflowers into a monoculture of yellow grass-greens. Its appearance innocuous enough not to raise alarm, it spreads insidiously through its wispy stalks, each of which carries hundreds of seeds.  

Bastard cabbage's ability to blend in as an imposter is almost impressive.

Many simply stop by and view the spray of yellow flowers as a mere curiosity. Bastard cabbage thrives in overgrazed fields, disturbed swaths of land, and riparian habitats, lending a creeping normalcy as it swiftly ousts out native species.  

Bastard cabbage, be gone!

A true solution calls for communities and individuals to band together at all levels – the state and local levels.

The usual extrinsic methods of removal have all been suggested, either manual removal or the application of herbicides. Many of these remain unsatisfactory (hand-pulling is too strenuous, and herbicides spawn an entire can of worms involving its adverse environmental consequences). 

One intrinsic solution, proposed by Lyons, entails the investing of native seeds and heavily reseeding areas where bastard cabbage used to thrive, which would potentially rejuvenate the local seed industry as a side benefit.

As evidence, the practice of growing Indian blanket has been shown to suppress the growth of bastard cabbage. Volunteers can also dedicate their time to pulling out its stems and then disposing of their seed heads in the trash. The hori hori knife, its edge whetted on many an unruly weed, is recommended when dealing with stubborn root balls. 

However, perhaps the first step involves spreading awareness regarding the pernicious nature of bastard cabbage. A ploy to pathos can paint a powerful picture: striking fields of bluebonnets depleted by the avaricious bastard cabbage – a dire omen of what’s to come.  

In recent years, social media has become a powerful tool to disseminate information otherwise underreported by traditional news outlets. If you’re spurred on by social change and believe you have the means to cultivate a passionate following, consider partnering with Vego Garden to become an affiliate.

Vego Garden has also spearheaded multiple giving back programs designed to acquaint as many people as possible with the innumerable wealth and beauty of all that nature has to offer.

Foraging for bastard cabbage

Every year, intrepid foragers test their mettle by foraging for bastard cabbage in the craggy Texan wilderness. Since it’s part of the mustard family, all of which are generally benign, misidentification won’t spell a trip to the ER. 

So, how do you prepare this bastard? The flowers and seedpods can be added raw as garnish to salads; the florets can be cooked in much the same way as broccoli, then drizzled with cheese. Older leaves tend to be bitter and unpalatable; instead, sauté the younger leaves with garlic, sea salt, and lemon.

They’ve been said to taste like asparagus, with a nutty flavor, which becomes negligible when paired with heavier flavors like mushrooms – a plus if you don’t particularly enjoy consuming greens. 

The devil of Del Rio

At its core, bastard cabbage and humans aren’t that different. They are, after all, the ones that brought them to the Americas. Both are locked in a destructive death spiral with nature – with disastrous results.

Some flowers are bestowed pretty names (belladonna, angel’s trumpet, and oleander), though they might kill you. Others, like bastard cabbage and Devil’s claw, are cursed from the start, a burned creature at the bottom of the barrel. Its alternatives names (common giant mustard, ball mustard, and ball turnip) aren’t exactly enticing.  

And because it favors a creeping “slow violence,” lawmakers are likely to turn a blind eye to the devastating effects of bastard cabbage and its noxious kin.

Bastard cabbage may be the worst neighbor on this side of the Rio Grande, but there’s still time to mitigate its spread.

Listen to the world around you, from the quiet thrum of border towns to the plangent whirring of cicadas. If nothing else, take the time to consider the intricate interconnectedness of life itself, even if it’s as seemingly insignificant as a field of bluebonnets.  

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