P90324Birds do some odd things. They seem to know what they are doing. The odd things that they do make sense. Nonetheless, some of what they do out there is just plain odd.
I mean, who was the first woodpecker who thought it might be a good idea to bang his head against a tree? What prompted the first sapsucker woodpecker to bore through bark of a healthy tree to lap up the sap from the cambium within? Why do other woodpeckers bore into rotting dead trees for grubs, and to make nests? The different types of woodpeckers seem to be related, but they are after different things. Did one just accidentally bore into the wrong sort of tree, and discover something more than what was expected?
Various species of woodpeckers are surprisingly omnivorous. Those who eat termites also eat other insects, nuts, acorns, berries and fruit. Sapsuckers also eat insects, berries, small nuts and such.
Many woodpeckers are social, and live in significant communities. Those who bore into dead tree tops to nest prefer to live where there are several dead trees tops to bore into, probably because too many nests in the same tree would compromise the structural integrity of the already decaying trunk. Besides, if they all lived in the same dead tree, they would all become homeless at the same time if the tree fell down.
Colonies of some species of woodpecker store nuts or acorns in rotting dead trees. They can store quite a bit in each tree because the holes bored to hold the individual nuts and acorns are not as big as the holes that they nest in, so do not compromise the integrity of the trees as much. Besides, it is easier to defend many acorns and nuts in a few trees than it is to defend them in many trees. Squirrels who want the same acorns and nuts are very sneaky!
The problem with putting all their eggs in the same basket, or all their acorns in a few trees, is that when one of such trees falls, it takes a significant portion of their stored nuts and acorns with it. Once on the ground, it is impossible for them to defend it from squirrels and rats.
This particular rotting ponderosa pine fell and needed to be removed from the roadway that it fell onto before woodpeckers could recover the acorns that they so dutifully stored in it. The precision with which the holes were carved to custom fit each acorn that they hold is impressive. The woodpeckers who did this really know how to manage their pantry.


Six on Saturday: Mudslide


With all the rain, it was no surprise. Mudslides are somewhat common here, and they sometimes close roads. In fact, we were sort of expecting a small mudslide almost in this particular spot right when we got the call about it. The only slight surprise was that it was right next to where we expected it to be. The cliff that we expected to make this sort of mess was still intact under the tarps put over it to deflect some of the rain.

Fortunately, it was a small mudslide that blocked only one lane. We were able to direct traffic through the other lane while the blocked lane was cleared of debris by a small bulldozer.

The top of the cliff slid to the bottom along with a stump of a Douglas fir that was cut down many years ago. The Douglas fir was cut down so that it would not destabilize the soil that it was rooted into as it moved in the wind. However, The soil was destabilized as the Douglas fir roots that held it together decayed. This is actually a common dilemma, since trees sometimes need to be cut down before they cause such problems, but the death and decay of the roots of such trees ultimately cause the same problems.

The sorts of trees that could be coppiced do not do so well in the dry soil on top of cliffs. Otherwise, we could plants willows, cottonwoods or something of the sort, and cut them down as they get too big, without killing the roots. They would be happy to regenerate and continue the process. The sorts of plants that prevent surface erosion do not do much to stabilize the soil. Otherwise, we could put something as simple as freeway iceplant (Carpobrotus chilensis) on top, and let it cascade downward over the unstable area.

1. It was nothing too serious, but just enough to block the inbound lane. Tarps over the cliff that we expected to make this sort of mess are visible above the retaining wall just beyond. My work pickup in the lower right corner of the picture blocked the inbound lane with its headlights and hazard flashers on. I directed incoming traffic around it into the clear outbound lane as it was available. The young man off in the distance moved his pickup out of the outbound lane, and also directed traffic accordingly. When necessary, he stopped traffic while incoming traffic used the outbound lane. We communicated by radio and hand signals.P90309

2. This is the stump of the Douglas fir that was cut down so that it would not dislodge the soil and cause a mudslide. A decayed stump of a smaller madrone tree is to the right. Their rotting roots and the English ivy were insufficient to stabilize the top of the cliff.P90309+

3. These significant mudstone boulders on the far side of the road could have done some serious damage to a car if one had gotten in their way.P90309++

4. That is where the Douglas fir stump came from, just to the left of the drainage pipe. It did not get very far. That is it at the lower left corner.P90309+++

5. We arrived about ten. By noon, there was not much evidence of what had happened. We left the cones because the road was slippery with mud.P90309++++

6. This is supposed to be a gardening blog, so here is an unidentified fern that witnessed the whole ordeal from a stable portion of the same cliff. There is slightly more flora to this story than two dead stumps and a bit of ivy.P90309+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Cabin Fever


Seriously! The flu!, or something like it. I was totally sick for days, with an awful fever. As if that were not bad enough, it happened while I was supposed to be relaxing and on vacation!

Neither was planned. Getting sick never is. The vacation was a total surprise too; a Christmas gift from one of the guys at work! It was totally rad, even if I was sick for it.

You see, we work at one of the most excellent places in the entire universe, where people come from all over for restorative retreats. That by itself is totally rad. What is radder is that we can rent unused rooms or cabins for out-of-town guests or for ourselves if we like. It is very affordable, and like vacationing at work. That may not seem like much fun for those who do not enjoy their work like we do, but like I said, this is one of the most excellent places to work in the entire universe.

So, my colleague got me nine nights in what is classified as an ‘economy’ cabin, but by my standards was very luxurious. I had stayed in a smaller newly remodeled cabin for two nights, and a hotel like room for a night, but had done nothing like this; nine nights in secluded luxury! If one must get sick, this is the way to do it!

Anyway, this is where my six pictures for this week came from.

1. This is the upward view from the front door. The black margin at the top of the picture is the edge of the eave. The trees to the left are canyon live oaks and a tan oak. The trees to the right are towering coastal redwoods.p90105

2. This is the same spot. Instead of looking straight up, this is looking outward from the front door. There is no refined landscaping here; only the native trees with the exotic English ivy that is cascading slightly over the old stone wall.p90105+

3. These towering coastal redwoods are outside a bedroom window.p90105++

4. These towering and somewhat darker coastal redwoods are outside the bathroom window.p90105+++

5. The artwork on the interior walls are mostly pictures of the local flora and wildlife. Most are rather artistic. Some are pictures of common but exotic flora that, although probably appealing to those who do not recognize them, are not the sort of subject matter that I would have selected. For example, one of the big framed photographs in the bedroom is a closeup of the summery foliage of London planetree, Platanus X acerifolia. Ick! I took this picture of three pictures that I found to be amusing. On the left, we have some interesting lichens and a bit of moss on what seems to be an apple tree. Okay. In the middle, we have foliage of California bay tree, Umbellularia californica. Odd, but again . . . okay. On the right, we have maces from the exotic sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. Now, I would say that is weird, but it really is a cool picture!p90105++++

6. Rhody was not supposed to be on the bed.p90105+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Windows Of Heaven

P81229KOr . . . a close encounter of the third kind. Let’s just go with the former rather than the latter.

I am no photographer. The pictures that I post are merely illustrations for articles from my gardening column, and other articles. This picture just happened to make itself available while I was getting the first of the six pictures of the earlier ‘Six on Saturday’ post. The location is nothing special. It is not really out in the forest like it seems to be. A lodge building of six suites is directly to the left. A big ‘housekeeping’ building is to the right. There is a road in the background above, as well as below, from where the picture was taken.

Even the flora in uninteresting. The most prominent straight trunk in the middle is that of a young Douglas fir. The slightly leaning trunk with upward reaching branches to the right is some sort of cypress. There are a few nice small coast live oaks to the left. Most of the other trees to the right are black locusts that I really should cut down. The small shoots in the foreground are watersprounts from black oak saplings that were already cut down. There are some California bay trees in there somewhere, probably off in the background to the very far left.

The deteriorated colony of oak root rot fungus, Armillaria mellea, that was described too graphically in the earlier post was located in the foreground of the lodge building to the left. . There was not much left of it then, so there would be even less now. . . fortunately.

Well, isn’t this way more information than necessary? I should have left this (too artistic for my ability) picture with just the title.

More Smoke

P81110KFire has always been a part of life in most of California. That is why almost all native flora benefits from it, and has developed an efficient system and schedule for not only living with it, but exploiting it.
Within a few years after a fire, the pioneer species are the first to regenerate. They are aggressive, but short lived. Some are annuals. Others are trees that grow fast and then die out as the slower growing but longer lived trees dominate. Some of the longer lived trees might have been there all along, since they have developed ways of surviving fire.
Big valley oaks and coast live oaks that live out in the open away from other forest trees can survive for centuries because the grasses around them burn off fast and relatively harmlessly. Giant redwoods and some pines survive by standing high above the more combustible fuel below. Coastal redwood survives for centuries by being less combustible than other species. Desert fan palms protect their single terminal buds inside their massive non combustible trunks, while their beards of old dead foliage burns hot enough to incinerate competing species. There are too many ingenious ways that plants survive fire and even use it to their advantage to write about; but the point is that they know what they are doing, and they know how to live with fire.
This system of ecology has been disrupted, but not just by people cutting down too many trees and starting too many fires. The problem now is that not enough trees are getting cut down, and fires are unable to burn that which relies on burning.
In this region, pioneer species and an unnatural mix of forest trees moved in where the redwoods were harvested. This makes what had been less combustible redwood forest more combustible than it naturally is. It will take centuries for the redwoods to reclaim their territory and crowd out more of the hardwood trees. Also, because the redwoods regenerate with many trunks from each individual trunk that was harvested, even the redwoods are more crowded and combustible than they would naturally be. While they are still relatively young, their foliar canopies are low and intermingled with the other more combustible trees. It is certainly not possible to cut down enough trees to repair the damage, but protecting too many of the wrong trees and outlawing selective harvest of second growth redwood only promotes combustibility of the local forests.
Other forests, whether formerly harvested or not, experience similar problems. Because they are not burning as frequently as they used to, they are not being regularly purged and restored, but are instead becoming more crowded and combustible than they would naturally be. Diseases and pathogens are proliferating in the geriatric vegetation, and vegetation that succumbs provide more fuel, which also enhances combustibility.
Although there are many (MANY) more fires that are started by human activity now than there ever was naturally, such fires can not burn the vast areas that naturally occurring fires had naturally burned. There are just too many of us living and working here. Forests that are deprived of fire continue to proliferate more combustible biomass. Again, there is no remedy to this. Fires must be controlled and confined as much as possible.
Paradise is gone now. It burned on Thursday. Our region more than two hundred miles to the south is gray with abundant smoke from the Camp Fire that continues to burn there. Two other major fires burn in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, more than three hundred miles to the south of here. Paradise Park just to the south of here was protected from the much smaller Rincon Fire that filled the Valley with harsh smoke for days after it was contained. Sadly, for this region, this is all part of nature.P81110K+

I do not remember on what days these pictures were taken. The first picture at the top was taken toward the sunrise, just prior to sunrise. The second picture above was taken later after noon, probably on the same day. The two pictures below were taken in the evening, perhaps on the day after. P81110K++P81110K+++

Six on Saturday: Dia De Los Muertos


Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, was yesterday, Friday, November 2. However, the dead are still dead. They don’t need a special day to be so. In fact, they do it every day of the year. Dia de los Muertos is just one day of celebration to honor them.

Dia de los Muertos is not for plants though. Dead plants just get cut down and disposed of. Some get composted. Dead trees get recycled into firewood. These are six pictures of five species of dead plants that I needed to contend with in the week before last.

1. Rhododendron. I really do not know what killed this group of rhododendrons. It is not uncommon for one to die. With all the rhododendrons in the landscape here, a few dead ones get removed annually. However, it is rather disconcerting that a few died all in the same area at the same time. All their dead stems were rather sculptural. They were removed just after this picture was taken. Of the five specie in these six pictures, this is the only species that is not native.P81103

2. Madrone. Bits and pieces of madrone commonly succumb to blight, sort of like fireblight in apple and pear trees. Sometimes, entire trees are killed like this one. It is fire wood now.P81103+

3. Ponderosa pine. The forest does not burn as frequently as it used to before people were here to extinguish forest fires. The lack of restorative fires interferes with regional ecology. Not only is the forest becoming congested with unburned fuel, but pathogens are proliferating in the aging flora and consequently accelerating the deterioration of the forest, which increases the combustibility. It is a natural process designed to correct an unnatural lack of restorative fires, but does not go well for those of us who live here. Ponderosa pines can live for a few centuries. However, in our compromised ecosystem, many succumb to pathogens while still relatively young. This one will need to be removed next year. Once dead, they deteriorate and start to drop limbs within the year.P81103++

4. Coast live oak. This is one of the most adaptable of tree specie in California. It lives right down to the beach, and into interior valleys, and up the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It does what it must to adapt to the various environments within its range. It often lives in groves of the same, where it is more likely to burn every few decades or so. In spacious valleys, it is often not so social, with individual trees living in relative isolation from their neighbors. Grass fires can burn harmlessly between such trees, allowing them to live for a few centuries. Wherever they are, they develop more trunks than they need. As they mature, subordinating trunks like this one, get shed naturally and harmlessly. It is not as bad as it looks. In the wild, it would rot and fall to the ground as the rest of the tree continues on as if nothing happened. In our landscape, it was cut and taken away.P81103+++

5. Coast live oak. This dead foliage is a bit more alarming because I do not know what caused it. It is probably superficial damage caused by a girdling beetle. I did not look for evidence. Sudden Oak Death Syndrome is a much more serious disease that is all too common here (and a very sensitive subject). Fortunately, this particular specimen is a small and unimportant tree that I would not mind cutting down if it were to succumb. I just do not like to be reminded of how rampant Sudden Oak Death Syndrome is here.P81103++++

6. Tan oak. This tree really did succumb to Sudden Oak Death Syndrome, Phytophthora ramorum, which is more commonly known here as SODS or SOD. A few adjacent tan oaks that succumbed last year are already very deteriorated and will soon be dropping limbs if not removed over winter. These particular trees are not very important to the surrounding forest. Their removal will actually improve the collective landscape, and give the surrounding redwoods more space to expand. The problem with SOD is that we never know which oaks it will kill next. It kills trees before we know they are infected. There is no remedy.P81103+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Brent is still an Idiot!


That is irrelevant here though. These are pictures of one of my ‘gardens’ in Brookdale, for comparison to pictures from the Jungalow. The pictures are no better than those of the Jungalow. ( ) There is nothing to show anyway. It is just a forested vacant lot on Melwin Avenue. I have no pictures of the lower vacant lot on Logan Avenue where I grow my fig trees, berries, quince tree, rhubarb and a few other odds and ends. There is no landscape there either. It is just a vacant lot where I grow a few odd plants that I do not want to plant in riskier situations, where they might be in the way of other development or gardening. The fig trees can not produce good fruit in such cool shade, but will likely make plenty of cuttings for new trees elsewhere. Perhaps someday, I will have better pictures of a home garden, or at least pictures from the farm, rather than pictures from here or gardens of clients. What the pictures show quite well is the differences between Brent’s Jungalow and my unlandscaped ‘garden’.


This is Melwin Avenue to the south and uphill. The ‘garden’ is out of view to the right.


This is Melwin Avenue to the north and downhill. The ‘garden’ is out of view to the left. One of the big redwoods in the middle in the distance is on the corner of Logan Avenue, which is the corner of the other ‘garden’ The fuzzy tan person to the lower left is Bill.


These tall coastal redwoods above are why the ‘garden’ is too dark to do much with.


This is looking west and uphill into the ‘garden’ the circle of redwoods is bigger than it looks. Some of the larger trunks are about five feet wide. There is enough timber in them to build a house.


The redwoods on the left are next door. The single redwood on the right is just inside the ‘garden’. Not much sunlight gets through.


These redwoods are across the street to the east. They too are bigger than they look here.

Besides showing how different my garden is from the Jungalow, these pictures should demonstrate why I do not show pictures of my own garden. There just is not much to show. My clients’ gardens are much more interesting.

Brent is still an idiot.