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Redstem Stork's Bill (Erodium cicutarium)

Also known as redstem filaree, common stork's-bill, pinweed.

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Summary

An annual or biennial, native to the Mediterranean, and introduced in North America, where it is most abundant in the arid southwest and on the west coast, but also widespread throughout the continent. It has become a dominant plant in annual grasslands of the California central valley.

The plant's common name "Stork's Bill" references the shape of its seedpods, which resemble a stork's open bill.

USDA Plants Profile for Erodium cicutarium

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Erodium cicutarium

Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) Article for Erodium cicutarium

Similar Plants

Habitat

Prefers full sun and exposed conditions. Tolerates mesic conditions when there is less competition from other plants, but usually found in drier conditions. Sensitive to air pollution, especially sulfur dioxide. Prefers a mediterranean climate, but adaptable to a wide range of climates, including wet ones, and ones with cold winters and short growing seasons.

In the eastern U.S., where moisture is abundant, mostly found in anthropogenic habitats. The leaves grow close to the ground, making it able to survive regular mowing. Occasionally grows in drier parts of lawns, in south-facing exposures adjacent to buildings, and in narrow strips of mowed grass between parking lots, where the exposed conditions and reflected heat give this species a competitive edge against less drought-tolerant plants.

In the southwest, found in a variety of natural semi-arid habitats, including shrublands, meadows, and various montane habitats.

A dominant plant in annual grasslands of California's central valley.

Life Cycle

Erodium cicutarium is classified as an annual or biennial. It's life-cycle is predictably short, but it can be classified as a biennial because, especially in warmer climates the seeds often sprout in fall before the previous generations of plant have completely died down. In colder areas, the seeds may not sprout until spring.

Seeds usually germinate in response to rain, with greater germination under heavier rains. If it germinates in the fall, the plant establishes a small basal rosette of leaves which goes dormant over the winter.

Starts flowering in spring, and continues flowering sporadically through fall. Plants usually are able to flower within 2-4 months of germination.

If fruiting stems are removed, such as by grazing or mowing, the plant responds by producing new flowering stems low to the ground, which makes this plant well-adapted to both grazing and mowing. In the absence of mowing or grazing, the plant will grow more upright.

The seeds of this species exhibit some intriguing adapatations. Seeds become spring-loaded as they dry, and are launched from the parent plant, although most seeds fall relatively close. A spiral-shaped awn then expands and contracts in response to changes in humidity, often pulling the seeds deeper into the soil. Animals also aid in distributing the seed, particularly rodents, which cache the seed. Not all seeds germinate each year, and the plant can remain in the seed bank for years. The depth of the seeds helps protect them from surface fires and contributes to this species having a longer-term seed bank than many annuals.

Uses

This species is an important forage for domestic livestock, including cows, horses, and sheep. It is sometimes intentionally planted for this purpose.

Although intentionally planted in some areas, it is considered a noxious weed in others.

The flowers are a source of nectar for honey.

There are other Erodium species in North America, including both native and introduced ones, but none are as common or widely distributed. Most occur only in isolated locations.

The broader Geraniaceae (geranium) family contains numerous species, both native and introduced.

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