Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - Richmond's Official Weed
August 7, 2021

Years ago, the City Council adopted the perennial purple tree collard as Richmond’s official green.

With the sorry state of maintenance of Richmond’s roads and streets, it may be time to adopt Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) as Richmond’s official weed. I don’t mean “weed” as in cannabis; I mean weed as in “invasive exotic plant.”

Fennel is listed in the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States and is illegal in Richmond (Richmond Weed Abatement Ordinance) because it is a pervasive invasive exotic plant species. According to the California native Plant Society, “The extremely invasive Foeniculum vulgare … crowds out native plant species and can drastically alter the composition and structure of many plant communities, including grasslands, coastal scrub, riparian, and wetland communities.”

Fennel is now the predominant plant species along roadways and medians in Richmond.

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Figure 1 - Fennel along the edge of the Richmond Parkway is over 6 feet high!
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Figure 2 - Fennel in the median of the Richmond Parkway

How did this happen? The current city manager, Laura Snideman, does not place a high value on infrastructure maintenance, and neither does the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) whose members now control the City Council. The RPA City Council members continually whine about how native plants will be endangered if the Point Molate project proceeds, even though 70% of land is preserved as open space, but they are completely blind to the endless invasive exotic plants, like fennel, that are taking over our existing streets, roads and parks.

Another issue has to do with herbicides. At one time, Richmond Public Works crews used glyphosate (Roundup) freely to eradicate weeds. Glyphosate has been linked to the development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the City Council banned its application in Richmond several years ago. The manufacturer of Roundup, Bayer, announced on July 30, 2021, that it is pulling the product from the U.S. home and garden market, “…as the company currently faces around 30,000 legal claims from customers who believe use of these products — including the flagship Roundup — caused them to develop cancer.”

Public Works staff have long complained that without Roundup, they cannot control weeds like fennel.

There are, however, effective organic solutions that have been scorned by Public Works, such as simple vinegar. Incredibly, Public Works managers considered vinegar “unsafe” and a risk to employees and refused to use it. A couple of days ago, I picked up a bottle of 30% vinegar at Whale Point Hardware and walked across the street, spraying it on a fennel plant next to the curb across Cutting Boulevard from Whale Point. Within hours, the fennel had wilted and turned brown on the ground.

Vinegar may not kill the roots like glyphosate, and repetitive applications may be required for complete eradication. Digging up the tap root will remove the plant permanently. When the RPA shifted police funding for a summer jobs program for young people, I suggested using thosre resources to clean up Richmond, like digging up fennel, but my suggestion was scorned.

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Figure 3 - Fennel along Cutting Boulevard
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Figure 4 - Same fennel as in the photo above 24 hours after treatment with 30% vinegar

Figure 5 - 30% vinegar I used on fennel

Figure 6 - You can order 45% vinegar from Amazon
Homemade Weed Killer - 3 Ingredients - Kitchen Fun With My 3 Sons
Figure 7 - Adding dish detergent and epsom salt makes vinegar and even more powerful organic herbicide

Often I am horrified at the ragged and unkempt condition of Richmond’s infrastructure. I wish we had a City Council and a city manager who are concerned about Richmond’s appearance and are willing to do something about it.