Addendum

p90105kThere is much more to the landscapes at work that I wrote about earlier this morning at https://tonytomeo.com/2019/01/05/six-on-saturday-cabin-fever/ . Otherwise, my job would be quite boring.

I do not climb big trees; so any work that the redwoods need must be done by someone else. The big redwoods, as well as the ponderosa pines, Douglas firs and various oaks, are of course the most prominent and memorable features of the landscapes. There are also a few other exotic trees that were added to the landscapes years ago. My primary work with those that have grown beyond my reach is identifying problems for other arborists to correct or remove.

However, there is plenty at ground level to keep us very busy.

Our landscapes are simple and somewhat unrefined. They take as much work as they do because they are so big and dispersed over a large area. There seems to be only a few small beds of flowering annuals, but collectively, these flowering annuals cover quite a significant area. There are likewise only a few roses here and there, but they add up to quite a big collection.

This firethorn lives in one of the landscapes that we maintain that is more than a mile away from the pictures that I posted earlier this morning. It is an area forested with big ponderosa pines and chaparral plants. Unlike the deep and dark redwood forest, this area is warm and sufficiently well exposed for all these bright red berries to develop. It is a completely different climate zone, soil type, and landscape style. Because it is within the context of a much larger and rustic landscape, I do not notice it like I should. Now that it got my attention, I got its picture before the birds take all the berries.

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The Bad Seed

P80818KThis salvia would probably look badder without it. Yes, that’s badder and not better. I mean, if all these slightly unsightly seeded stems were cut back, then the even more unsightly deteriorating foliage below would be more prominent. When one looks at it that way, the bad seed suspended above does not seem all that bad.

It is doubtful that the ‘gardeners’ who ‘maintain’ this site put that much thought into it. They are, after all, the same who ‘maintain’ the firethorn that is pictured in this article from June 27 (The Wrong Plant In The Wrong Place https://tonytomeo.com/2018/06/27/horridculture-the-wrong-plant-in-the-wrong-place/ ). There were probably too busy botching something else to notice that this salvia is in need of botching as well.

There is some unpruned black sage nearby that displays similar but smaller seeded structures on more irregular and arching stems, rather than vertical stems that stand upright. They too are somewhat appealing in a weirdly sculptural sort of way. They might stay like that until winter, when they will likely get pruned back as they deteriorate in the weather.

Sunflowers are commonly left after bloom just because finches and other seed eating birds like them so much. They do not get cut down until the birds are finished with them. To many, this is the main reason for growing sunflowers.

Another excuse to be lazy about deadheading spent blooms is that many will provide seed that can be collected for the next season, or merely allowed to self sow and naturalize. Leaving open pollinated vegetables out to go to seed is a common practice. For example, the last few radishes to be pulled might just be left to bolt, bloom and go to seed. Cosmos tends to throw its seed whether we want it to or not.

Squirrel!

P80408Wildlife and domestic animals seem to follow me everywhere I go. When Brent and I lived in the dorms at Cal Poly, our room was known as the Jungle Room, not only because of all the greenery, but also because every little bird that got knocked out while trying to fly through the big windows at the dining room was brought to our room to recuperate. A baby squirrel that weaseled into my jacket while I was out collecting insects for an entomology class lived with us for a while. There were two baby ducks that need a bit more explaining.

When I moved south of town, where my roommates boarded horses, the horses worked diligently to open their gate to come to the house to eat my rare plants. The neighbor’s cattle sometimes did the same! When it rained, creepy crawdads came out of the ditch at the railroad tracks and up to my porch.

When I moved to Los Gatos, it seemed that every stray dog in town eventually arrived at my home. In fact, my home was ransacked by the FBI just because their bloodhound who was supposed to be pursuing a suspect of a crime wanted to come by! Again, that takes a bit more explaining. Birds flew through freely. A pair of some sort of small bird nested in my shower, and before I realized it, started to raise a family . . . and finished. Pigeons tried to nest repeatedly in the same spot on top of the refrigerator, but got evicted. A squirrel moved into the guest room, and refused to leave. It sometimes tried to join me for breakfast.

Then, at my second home, there was Timmy the baby deer, two feral cats, skunks, coons, squirrels and more neighborhood dogs than I can remember, as well as Bill the little terrier who actually lived there. I could go on. https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/timmy-in-the-garden/

Squirrels are a common denominator. They are everywhere.

My home in town was in the Live Oak Manor district, which, as you can guess, was dominated by huge old coast live oaks as well as comparable valley oaks. The valley oak next door was supposedly the largest in the Santa Clara Valley. Squirrels were everywhere and very well fed!

The east facing window over my desk would have had a good view of Mount Hamilton if the view had not been so cluttered with utility cables. The wildlife that used the cables could get annoying at times. Crows made their annoying noise. Pigeons just stared at me stupidly. Squirrels scurried by with bits of fruits and vegetables that they stole from the garden, and sometimes stopped to cuss at me. I sometimes cussed back, but also reminded them to be careful as they jumped from the high voltage cables into the tops of the neighbor’s hedged redwood trees below. The redwoods sometimes grew dangerously close to the high voltage cables between clearance pruning.

As you can imagine, the unimaginable but obviously predictable happened. I do not know if he was coming or going, but I would guess that he was jumping from the tree to the cable. I only heard a loud ‘ZAP’ and subsequent ‘FIZZLE’. By the time I looked out, the unfortunate squirrel was a swinging charred carcass with a death grip on the cable he was reaching for. The death grip was impressive. He stayed there for a long time, swinging in the breeze. Silent sparks could sometimes be seen at night, where his tail brushed against the tip of the redwood shoot. I do not know if a crow finally got him, or if he just fell into the neighbor’s yard. Either way, he did not get a proper burial.

Late Cotoneaster

80214The bright red berries of late cotoneaster, Cotoneaster lacteus, that ripen in autumn may not be as profuse or as bright red as those of firethorn, but they last longer, and even into winter. Birds strangely seem to avoid them. Although the clustered small berries can look just like firethorn berries, they are usually less shiny, and darker red. Clusters of tiny pale white flowers bloom in spring. The small evergreen leaves have a nice glossy and veined texture on top, with hazy gray or tan tomentum (fuzz) below. The grayish brown bark of old stems resembles that of apple or pear trees.

Tall arching stems can get just tall enough to reach first floor eaves, or taller if they happen to be shaded or leaning onto other larger shrubbery for support. In full sun, growth is more dense. Mature plants get a bit broader than tall. Unlike firethorn, late cotoneaster lacks thorns, which make it easier to work with as an espalier or informal hedge. Growth is a bit too irregular for a formal hedge.

Established plants do not need much water, and in some situations can do well without any watering. Unfortunately, late cotoneaster has naturalized as an invasive exotic weed in some regions.

Colorful Berries Feed Overwintering Birds

80214thumbPlants compensate for their immobility by procuring the services of animals and insects. They bloom with flowers that attract pollinators with colors, fragrances and flavors. Their fruits use similar techniques to attract those who consume the fruits to disperse the seeds within. It is a pretty ingenious system. The animals and insects probably think that they are taking advantage of the plants.

Firethorn, toyon, cotoneaster, English hawthorn and the hollies all produce profusions of small bright red berries that are designed literally for the birds. They are just the right size for birds to eat them whole. If they were smaller, birds might prefer other fruits. If they were any bigger, birds might eat them in pieces, and drop the seeds. The bright red color is a blatant advertisement to birds.

Firethorn is probably the most prolific with its berries. It might also be the most popular with the birds. If the colorful berries are not gone yet, they will be soon. Toyon berries seem to last longer, perhaps because they do not all ripen at the same rate. Because it gets big and takes some work to contain. toyon is more common in unrefined landscapes and in the wild than home gardens.

English hawthorn and cotoneaster are variable. Some varieties are more productive with berries than other are. Some types of English hawthorn are grown more for their bloom or foliar color in autumn. They are deciduous, so their berries hangs on bare stems. Late cotoneaster produces more berries than other cotoneasters, and somehow manages to keep its berries late into winter.

Holly is not related to firethorn, toyon, cotoneaster or English hawthorn, which are all in the Rosaceae family, although the bright red berries suggest that it should be. Because most holly plants are females that lack a nearby male pollinator, berries can be scarce. Some plants in nurseries are actually two plants together in the same pot, one male and one female, to ensure adequate pollination and berry production. Deciduous hollies are unfortunately rare.

Berries Are For The Birds

51125It is probably no coincidence that certain berries and small fruits are so colorful through winter while colorful flowers are relatively scarce. Like flowers, they want to get others to do something for them. Flowers use color, aroma, flavor and sometimes even texture to attract and reward pollinators. Colorful berries and fruits do the same to attract birds and animals who disperse their seeds.

There are not many colorful flowers blooming in winter to distract anyone from colorful berries and fruit. Those who want them are pretty intent on finding them anyway. There is not much else for overwintering birds to eat. Squirrels probably have plenty of acorns and nuts stored, but might enjoy a few berries too. No matter how abundant they are, there is serious competition for berries.

Most types of berries and small fruits that are so colorful through winter contain tiny seeds that get eaten along with the fruit. In this manner, the seeds get taken away from their origin as easily as birds fly away. They then get dispersed as birds do what birds do (that can be so annoying on a freshly washed car). Digestion only scarifies these seeds, which might not germinate otherwise.

This all might be much more information than necessary for home gardening. All we really need to know is that there are several plants that can produce colorful berries through winter while other color is limited. Although, it might be useful to be aware that these colorful berries are likely to eventually be depleted by the birds and any other wildlife that they are intended to be appealing to.

Then again, winter berries are popularly grown specifically to attract birds and wildlife to the garden. Either way, if berries are grown for their color or to attract birds, they have the potential to be messy. Those that do not get eaten eventually fall onto whatever is below them. Those that do get eaten fall (in ‘another form’) all over the neighborhood, and of course, onto freshly washed cars.

Coincidentally, most plants that produce colorful winter berries are related. They are of the ‘rose’ family, ‘Rosaceae’, and produce similar ‘pomme’ fruits that look like minute apples. Firethorn (pyracantha) is the most colorful and prolific. The various cotoneasters, including some low growing ground-covers, are similar, but not so prolific. Toyon is a colorful native that works nicely in unrefined landscapes. English hawthorn is a small deciduous tree.