California artists and chefs use inventive methods to address the potentially harmful “superbloom” of wild mustard

Max Kingery, a fashion designer based in Los Angeles, has faced scrutiny for removing the yellow flowers carpeting the hillsides of California as he aims to use the plants to dye his spring and summer clothing lines.

However, rather than taking offense at being accused of destroying their beauty, he views this as a chance to draw attention to a harmful and invasive species of flower that proliferated in the state. Following an especially wet winter, wild black mustard has become an issue across California, prompting Kingery and other artists and chefs to find creative ways to address the superbloom’s potential for destruction.

Max Kingery, a clothing designer from Los Angeles, has encountered criticism for uprooting the yellow flowers that cover the hillsides of California.

Nonetheless, he has opted to extract color from the plants to dye his spring and summer clothing lines, perceiving the action as a chance to raise awareness about the harmful effects of the invasive and germinal species of flower referred to as wild black mustard that has spread across the region following a particularly wet winter.

To confront the potential for destruction caused by the superbloom, Kingery and other artists and chefs have sought out innovative solutions.

Kingery is a member of a growing community of creative professionals such as artists, designers, and chefs who are taking on the issue of invasive mustard plants by using them in various ways from creating dyes to incorporating them into pesto.

Foragers have organized events that involve walking to spots where the plant grows and sampling its leaves and peppery flowers. Workshops and guides have been created to teach individuals how to transform the plant into things like paper, fertilizer, and a spicy variation of the popular condiment.

Kingery’s clothing collection entitled “Pervasive Bloom” includes garments such as sweatshirts, pants, and tank tops that have been naturally dyed using mustard. The Olderbrother website features images of models wearing mustard-dyed jackets while holding uprooted weeds. Additionally, pictures show areas where the plants have been cleared away.

The Olderbrother retail store located in Los Angeles features a large wall panel adorned with the stalks, leaves, and flowers of the mustard plant, which were skillfully woven onto a loom by designer Cecilia Bordarampe. The panel is made from the material harvested during the first round of collection when Kingery and his team gathered around 450 pounds (204 kg) of the plant to make the dye. Since then, they have continued harvesting, removing over 100 pounds (45 kg) of the plant weekly from public lands in Los Angeles.

However, Kingery admits that even this amount is only making a small dent in the problem. The plant, which originates from Eurasia and was initially brought to California in the 1700s, has become increasingly prevalent after record rainfall between December and April this year. Additionally, years of wildfires have contributed towards creating more spaces for the plant to thrive, especially in disturbed lands.

State and local agencies remove mustard from managed lands, but it’s spread to places beyond.

At its peak bloom this spring, undulating swaths of yellow lined freeways. Hillsides jutting up from urban landscapes glowed. Sidewalk cracks were abloom.

“Physically, it’s been demanding,” Kingery said. “And yes, there seems in sheer volume, if you zoom out a bit, that there could be enough wild mustard here to make salads and dyed sweatshirts for everyone in the United States.”

But when Kingery sees native plants sprouting in plots that have been cleared, it makes it all worth it, he said. And, he added, to get the hues that he wants requires a lot of mustard, which in this context is a good thing.

“We don’t want to rip a bunch of plants out of the ground for no reason,” Kingery said. “The idea of something being utilized that is growing out of the sidewalk is a pretty cool concept.”

Erin Berkowitz, the artist behind Berbo Studio, specializes in creating dyes from invasive species and has contributed to Kingery’s clothing line dye.

Berkowitz has previously co-hosted workshops alongside a chef who creates pesto from the mustard greens while also using the flowers as dressing.

According to Berkowitz, the mustard plant is a plentiful art supply that is readily available. She believes that her work in collaboration with Kingery highlights the potential that could be achieved if more people became aware of the plant’s uses.

Erin Berkowitz, the talented artist and creator behind Berbo Studio, has made a name for herself by creating dyes from invasive species. She has previously collaborated with Kingery and contributed to his clothing line dye. In the past, she has co-hosted workshops alongside a chef who creates pesto from the mustard greens while also using the flowers for dressing.

Berkowitz believes that the mustard plant is an abundant art supply that is readily available, and her work with Kingery is a testament to what people can achieve if they become more aware of the plant’s uses.

Erin Berkowitz is a well-known artist and creator who is known for developing dyes from invasive species. She previously collaborated with Kingery to create the dye used in his clothing line.

In the past, she has also partnered with a chef to conduct workshops, where the mustard greens are used to make pesto and the flowers are used for dressing.

Berkowitz notes that the mustard plant is an abundant art supply that is accessible universally. She believes that her collaboration with Kingery showcases the limitless potential that can be achieved if people become more aware of the plant’s usefulness.

Jutta Burger of the California Invasive Plant Council is impressed by the creative use of the invasive mustard plant, and she suggests that people reach out to land management agencies to obtain leftover seeds when areas are cleared.

Burger acknowledges that it will not be possible to eradicate the mustard plant entirely, especially where it has already become established for an extended period.

However, Burger points out that similar creative efforts in the past have had an impact. For instance, when chefs started cooking and serving the predatory lionfish in restaurants, its population began to decline in certain areas and people were made aware of the species’ threat to native marine life.

Moreover, Burger believes that it’s essential for people to know that those vibrant yellow fields were once home to not only yellow mustard plants but also pink, purple, and blue wildflowers.