Fine China

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Before: There was not much hope for the Chinese maple underneath this mess.

It will be just fine. The Chinese maple that I mentioned earlier this morning sustained surprisingly minimal damage when part of a bay tree fell onto it. The situation initially seemed hopeless prior to the removal the heavy debris that was pressing the diminutive Chinese maple downward. Yet, the little tree somehow regained its composure, and is expected to recover.

The little Chinese maple was always rather sparse in the shade of the surrounding forest. Also, it exhibited an asymmetrically sculptural form. That is likely normal for the species within its natural environment, where it lives as an understory tree (within the shade or partial shade of larger forest trees). The distinctive form and open canopy were part of its allure.

As the debris was removed, most of the stems of the Chinese maple sprang back into their original positions. Only two major limbs were fractured and needed to be pruned away. Some of the minor twiggy growth was groomed in the process. The main trunk was somewhat destabilized, but not too detrimentally so.

It probably should be no surprise that the little tree was so resilient to the altercation. It is, after all, an understory tree. Within its natural environment, it likely contends with the same sort of abuse. Chinese forests are likely just as messy as forests here are. Gravity pulls all that mess in the same direction.

The little Chines maple may not look like much now that it has been groomed and pruned to be even more sparse than it originally was, but it should be fine. By this time next year, foliar density should be comparable to what it was prior to the incident. The form will remain sculptural, as it grows away from the shade of the forest, and out over the stream below.

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After: After a bit of grooming, this little Chinese maple is not so badly disfigured.

Timber!

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This is a bit more than just slightly inconvenient. The trail continues forward from here, with another trail up the stairs to the right.

It is that time of year. Warming weather accelerates vascular activity, which makes foliage heavier. If evapotranspiration is inhibited by humidity and a lack of wind, the foliage can get too heavy to be supported by the trees that produce it. All that increasing weight can bring down big limbs or entire trees at the most unexpected times. The process is spontaneous limb failure.

By ‘unexpected’, I mean that it happens when there is no wind. It is startling because broken limbs and fallen trees are typically associated with wind rather than a lack of it. Gentle wind actually accelerates evapotranspiration, which relives affected vegetation of some of its weight and susceptibility to spontaneous limb failure. Aridity helps too, by absorbing more moisture.

Of course, even a gentle breeze at the wrong time can have disastrous results for vegetation that is already about to succumb to spontaneous limb failure. I suspect that is what happened here, since the air was not completely still at the time. It was just a bit warmer than it had been, and slightly more humid than typical. It is too late and pointless to analyze the situation now.

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This is the top of the stairs that are to the right in the picture above.

At about noon on Thursday, someone who works nearby alerted me to the sound a a big tree falling. I was in the same neighborhood, but was driving by with the radio on. The tree is precisely where I was told it would be. No one was nearby when it fell. Damage was originally minimal, with a portion of trail displaced by roots, and a rail on a bridge crushed by the trunk.

By ‘originally’, I mean that this was not the extent of the damage. After barricading the trails and road leading to the site, and leaving, we heard another loud crash from the same location as a bay tree that had been leaning against the already fallen fir tree collapsed in pieces on top of the whole mess. Fortunately, the damage to the bridge, although worse, is not too terribly bad.

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There is more timber here than lumber. The short section of main trunk is severely fractures. The double trunks beyond are not as big as they look.

Out Of Step

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Watch your step . . . while there is one to watch!

This is . . . odd. It is like something of the Winchester House. It seems that these steps in the picture above should go down to a lower deck, but there is no indication that there had ever been such a deck down there. The steps are well maintained and swept mostly clean of forest debris, so whatever happened to whatever should be down there must have happened recently.

Actually, these steps are for what is above rather than what is not below. The picture below shows that there is a deck associated with these steps, but that it is a considerable distance away, and that the only way to get there is by the cable that extends to it from the upper right corner of the picture, over Zayante Creek. The deck is rather sloped to facilitate arrival.

The cable that extends in the same direction from the middle of the top of the picture is somehow associated with the collective infrastructure, but I do not know how or why. Heck, I do not know how or why anyone would put such a deck so far away while there is plenty of space right here for a luxuriously spacious deck! Apparently, this whole setup is part of a short ‘zip line’ tour.

I don’t get it. It must be fun. It looks terrifying to me. I think that if I were to try something like this, I would rather be terrified someplace with more appropriate scenery, like between the skyscrapers of downtown San Jose! Now that would be RAD . . . and terrifying! In this particular location, I would not want to speed past all this interesting flora without slowing down or stopping to appreciate it.

The lower right quadrant of the lower picture shows young alders. Above and beyond, to the upper right, there are young redwoods with some Douglas firs mixed in. Just to the left of them, at the upper center, is an exemplary bigleaf maple. Most of the vegetation to the left is bay laurels, with some tanoaks, and perhaps madrones mixed in. The undergrowth the lower left is filberts.

I am certainly in no hurry to try this ‘zip line’ tour, and if I do, I seriously doubt that I will be noticing the surrounding flora; not just because of the speed, but because of the terror!

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Oh, . . . so that is where these steps lead to!

Coastal Redwood

91106Of all the Official State Trees, the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, of California is the grandest. Seriously, it is the tallest tree in the World, so it really ‘is’ the grandest! The tallest is 380 feet tall! Although the related giant redwood of the Sierra Nevada develops bigger trunks, the bulkiest coastal redwoods are thirty feet wide at the base! The oldest are more than 2,000 years old!

All that sensationalism is not so practical for home gardens though. A thirty foot wide trunk on a sixty foot wide city lot would likely be a serious obstacle to gardening for whoever lives there 2,000 years from now. Although, those below the thirty-fifth floors of adjacent buildings might appreciate the foliage. Redwoods are exquisite evergreens in the right situations, but need plenty of space.

Cultivars are more compact than wild trees are, with more strictly conical form. ‘Soquel’ is the most popular. Redwoods are incredibly stable, but as they age, can eventually drop limbs from great height. Trunks are nearly vertical. Limbs are nearly horizontal, and sag with age. Leaves are less than an inch long, but messy as their flat browned tufts shed in abundance through late summer.

Electrical Outage

P91012KWarnings were broadcast in local news for a few days prior. Because of the extreme potential for catastrophic forest fires, electrical service was to be disabled to our region, and large areas of California. Weather was predicted to be warm, windy and dry (with minimal humidity). Such conditions are exactly what cause fires to spread so explosively through the overgrown forests.

The potential for sparks from electrical cables, especially as debris gets blown onto to them, was why the electricity needed to be disabled. Supposedly, it is more likely for fires to be started by sparks from utility cables than by sparks from the many generators and barbecues that compensate for a lack of electricity. These considerations are taken very seriously in this region.

There are many reasons why the local forests are more combustible than they would naturally be. The less combustible redwood forests were clear cut harvested about a century ago, which stimulated a proliferation of more combustible vegetation. Containment of fires since then has allowed an accumulation of combustible vegetation, but inhibited growth of fresher vegetation.

Regardless, many of us had our doubts about the necessity of the outages, which were actually delayed as the forecast weather was slow to develop. Tuesday happened to be one of the most humid days of summer, and might have been the most humid. It was not particularly warm, and was actually relatively cool. Wind was strangely lacking. The weather was really quite bland.

When this picture was taken early Wednesday morning, the street lamp was still on. Dew condensed on the parked car below as the weather cooled overnight. There was no breeze to dry it. The planned outage was delayed for a while, but eventually happened at about 10:30 that night, and stayed out for most of Thursday. It got a bit warmer and drier, but not like predicted.

Most of us accepted it as part of living in such a forested region. A few were annoyed by the associated inconveniences, particularly since it all seemed to be unnecessary. However, what few of us at lower elevations and in town were aware of was that there really were somewhat powerful winds at higher elevations near the summit, and that humidity had dropped significantly.

After electrical service was restored, we could see news coverage of the Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, fire is a part of nature here. The forests and ecosystems are designed for it. This was the first planned electrical outage here, but will not likely be the last. Those who appreciate living here, and know how the ecosystem works, will be willing to adapt.

Pantry

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:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

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:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

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. https://tonytomeo.com/2018/12/02/the-humongous-fungus-among-us/ . 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+++