By Jerry Roberts, Catalina Island Conservancy
Eating fennel on Catalina Island covers two purposes: One, it gives foods a gourmet flavor that can enhance any Fourth of July cookout. And two, it gets rid of this invasive and damaging plant from the Island’s ecosystem.
Fennel was introduced to Catalina in either 1896 or 1910, according to differing sources. The point of entry was Parson’s Landing. “Introduced likely as a garden herb,” says Tony Summers, who has both killed and eaten his share of fennel as the supervisor of the Catalina Island Habitat Improvement and Restoration Program (CHIRP) for the Catalina Island Conservancy.
In 2003, exactly 2,794 populations of fennel were recorded on Catalina. A year later, Catalina was cited as having 120,246,550 square feet infested by fennel. Collectively, that equals more than four of its 74 square miles.
Summers and his team go deep into select watersheds and perform full-scale eradications. Eliminating seed spread between watersheds and maintaining roadside treatments, will eventually end in victory: A completely expelled plant invader. If fennel were wiped out, it would join artichoke thistle, pampas grass and tamarisk as virtually eliminated invasive plants that have threatening effects on Catalina’s natural health.
Summers says that dormant seeds can grow after many years and invasive plants reach Catalina by other means, so vigilance is required. But for all intents and purposes, these three species have been eradicated from Catalina’s interior. If fennel joined them, it would be the most widespread invasive plant to have been extirpated.
The CHIRP program works with a hit list of more than 30 invasive plants that have hitchhiked one way or the other to Catalina, with fennel among its top priorities. CHIRP crews, which annually include AmeriCorps and American Conservation Experience volunteers, uproot fennel with picks, shovels and Pulaskis. Herbicide treatments are applied where necessary. And when desired, the eradicators eat them too.