Invasive Plants


At Pinnacles National Park, out of approximately 625 plant species, about 100 are nonnative. Those nonnative plant species with the potential for creating serious ecological damage by displacing the park’s native plant community are called "invasive." Pinnacles National Park Weed Control Program is focused primarily on yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), horehound (Marrubium vulgare), and mustard (Hirschfeldia incana). Weed control efforts focus on these four species because of their potential for native habitat destruction. Yellow star thistle and mustard are controlled by working through a sequence of large areas on a monthly basis. Horehound is much closer to being eradicated within the park and is controlled by monthly visits to 140 small plots. Eradication methods include hand pulling and herbicide application.

Yellow Star Thistle Spines
Yellow Star Thistle has stiff spines that make it difficult to manage.


Yellow star thistle
(Centaurea solstitialis)

Yellow star thistle, or “the plant that ate California,” has already degraded over 25% of the state's land and is considered one of the most invasive weeds by the California Exotic Pest Plant Council. Yellow star thistle is a summer-blooming annual in the sunflower family and native to Eurasia. The plant is often initially found in open, disturbed areas such as former ranch lands, road edges and stream channels. Through time it moves increasingly into undisturbed locations, including meadows and riparian corridors.

Yellow star thistle produces a taproot that extends deeper than other similar annual species. This allows yellow star thistle to grow well into the summer after most other annuals have dried up. Each seed head produces stiff 1-3 cm long spines that make the plant unpalatable to wildlife and painful for park visitors. Yellow star thistle imposes a serious long-term threat because of its ability to produce large numbers of seeds and its growth during the hot summer months.
Purple flowers and a thorny stem of Italian thistle.
Purple flowers and a thorny stem help identify Italian thistle.


Italian thistle
(Carduus pycnocephalus)

Native to the Mediterranean and middle east, Italian thistle was accidentally introduced to California, but is now widespread in much of the state. Plants are tall (up to 7 feet) and slender, with spines on the leaves, stems, and flowerheads. Flowers are purple and occur in clusters. Italian thistle produces two types of seeds: white seeds, which are wind dispersed, and brown seeds, which eventually fall to the ground beneath the plant. Seeds turn sticky when wet, which also helps them disperse. Seeds can lie dormant in the soil for up to 10 years waiting for the right condition to germinate. These qualities allow Italian thistle to reproduce readily, persist in different environmental conditions, and overtake native plant communities.

Italian thistle is not as well established at Pinnacles, but its preferred habitat along creeks and valley bottoms is some of the most important in Pinnacles for wildlife. Its limited quantity and potential to impact important habitat make it a good candidate for removal.

Small white flowers and leaves with tiny woolly hairs of horehound.
Small white flowers and leaves with tiny woolly hairs distinguish horehound.


(Marrubium vulgare)

Native to Europe, horehound arrived in North America as a cultivated herb. It reproduces aggressively by both seed and vegetative means. Recurved barbs on the seed can easily attach to fur and clothing, making it easy for wildlife and visitors alike to help it disperse. Horehound infestations are often located at corral sites and animal burrows, pointing to animal fur (possibly the fetlocks of horses and the fur of small animals) as vehicle for transporting horehound seeds at Pinnacles. The park staff has been successfully controlling horehound since the late 1980s, and it is nearly eradicated in the core of the park. However, horehound is still common around the campground, where frequent soil disturbances create good conditions for this species.

Green summer mustard plant.
Summer Mustard has small yellow flowers when it blooms in the summer.


Summer Mustard
(Hirschfeldia incana)

Summer mustard is a biennial (grows to flower every two years) native to the Mediterranean. The plant was first established in southern coastal California and now can be found in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Washington. Summer mustard grows extremely well in disturbed, open, and sunny areas. In the first year of growth, the mustard plant produces a rosette; in the second year, the plant produces a flowering stem, sets seed, and dies. The plant blooms May through October. In late fall, it forms dense stands of brittle woody seed stalks. At Pinnacles, summer mustard is out-competing native plant species, encroaching on trails, and the dried seed stalks are creating hazardous fuel buildup.
Close up view of a biologist holding a purple flower.

Invasive Plant Survey Results

Explore the Calflora Observation Hotline, where the latest monitoring records can be viewed in an interactive map.

A National Park Service plant biologist and intern record data during an invasive plant survey.

Early Detection Newsletter

Check out what the invasive plant monitoring team has been up to.

Researcher gathers invasive ice plant on a coastal cliff.

Pacific Coast Science & Learning Center

Browse more resources on invasive plants plants in San Francisco Bay Area parks.

Close up of invasive species Firethorn (Pyracantha augustifolia).

Invasive Plant Long-term Monitoring

Dig in to monitoring protocols, reports, and more on the San Francisco Bay Area Network's Invasive Plant Monitoring page.

Last updated: March 19, 2019

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

5000 East Entrance Road
Paicines , CA 95043


831 389-4486
Please call the number above for all park related inquiries. For camping questions contact the Pinnacles Campground at (831) 200-1722. For the park book store, please call (831) 389-4485.

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