Field Of . . . ?

P91228KThis . . . was a ball field. It might eventually be one again. The old backstop at the upper left corner of the picture is almost completely obscured under a thicket of blackberry brambles and a fallen boxelder. It would need to be replaced. So would the decommissioned irrigation system, all the bases, the basepath, the turf . . . and everything else that goes into a functional ball field.

The turf had naturalized and overwhelmed the basepath long before last year. I collected wild mustard, radish and turnip greens from around the perimeter last spring and summer. By the time they were finishing, the blackberries were ready. I got stinging nettle from the bank of Zayante Creek in the background of this picture. Dock is already regenerating off to the far right.

There are naturalized wildflowers here too. I got pictures of perennial pea, purpletop vervain, Saint John’s wort, four o’clock, calla, narcissus, teasel, common thistle and California poppy, all within the perimeter of this ball field. Native trees include Douglas fir, California bay, California buckeye, bigleaf maple, white alder, cottonwood, coast live oak, canyon live oak and redwood.

The ball field looks like the moon now only because a construction company used it as a parking lot for trucks and machinery. We dumped excess soil removed from landscapes on the infield, where it was evenly dispersed by the machinery before it left. A low mound of road debris remains just past the foul line in the background. Firewood gets stocked out of view to the far left.

Restoring this meadow to a ball field would be like starting from scratch. The only salvageable asset is the flat space. Even though turf would be the most substantial feature of a finished ball field, a restoration project will involve more engineering and construction than horticulture.


91204Not to be confused with the Canadian rock band from the 1970s, this rush, Juncus patens, is native to riparian areas between western Washington and San Diego County. It is also known as the common rush because it is, obviously, the most common species of the genus on the West Coast. It is only occasionally planted intentionally, but more often sneaks into well irrigated landscapes.

Those planted intentionally are mostly cultivars with slightly bluish or grayish foliage, such as ‘Elk Blue’, ‘Occidental Blue’ and ‘Carmen’s Grey’. Those in the wild, or that sneak into landscapes from the wild, are dark green like avocado skin. The upright foliage is really very slender stems that look more like leaves than the vestigial leaves do. It forms dense clumps about one to three feet tall.

Although it is a riparian plant that survives soil saturation and inadequate drainage through winter, rush can survive as soil drains and dries somewhat through summer. It prefers somewhat regular watering in landscapes and home gardens. If cut back to the ground at the end of winter, and perhaps divided, fresh new growth regenerates through spring. Growth is sparse and floppy in shade.

California Sycamore

41119Out in rural chaparral regions, where water is scarce, the big and bold California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, somehow seems to find the spots where groundwater is not too far below the surface of the soil. It is technically a riparian tree, that is just as comfortable competing with cottonwoods and willows along forested rivers and floodplains. It eventually get too big and messy for refined urban gardens, but is somewhat popular nonetheless.

The bulky trunks and limbs are just too striking to ignore, especially as trees defoliate to expose the mottled beige and gray bark. Trunks are typically leaning and irregularly sculptural. Many trees have multiple trunks. The biggest trees are a hundred feet tall. The big palmately lobed leaves can be eight inches wide, but unfortunately do not color well in autumn. The foliar tomentum (fuzz) can be irritating to the skin when leaves need to be raked. Athracnose causes much of the early spring foliage to fall, and sometimes distorts and discolors later summer foliage.

Rose Hips

P91117Chopped dried rose hips can be purchased from a supermarket in town that stocks an impressive variety of useful bulk herbs. They are used as a dietary supplement and remedy for several minor ailments. Although most of the copious vitamin C they contain while fresh is ruined by drying and storage, they are still popularly used as a remedy or preventative for colds and flu.

It would be reasonable to assume that the rose hips that are available in markets would be from a species that has been cultivated and developed for a few centuries. After all, rose hips have been used as an herbal supplement for a very long time. Surprisingly, those that are available in the local market here are from the common and native California wild rose, Rosa californica.

That means that those that grow wild on the outskirts of the landscapes here produce the same rose hips that can be purchased in markets. There are only a few others species of wild rose that grow wild in California, and even fewer that are endemic locally. Those in the picture were actually planted into a landscape composed of natives, but are thought to be Rosa californica.

I normally leave these rose hips for the birds; but because the birds take all my cotoneaster berries, I am not too worried bout them getting enough to eat. I left the rose hips that are pretty where they can be seen, but took quite a few that were out of view on the backside of a riparian thicket of rose bramble. I do not yet know what to do with them, but will figure that out later.

Once dried, these rose hips will be easily pulverized into coarse and seedy ‘grounds’ that can be added to blends of herbal tea.P91117+


P91109KCalifornia flora is remarkable. It all does what it must to live comfortably in every ecosystem, climate and geographical region here.

California horsechestnut or California buckeye, Aesculus californica, is one of the more unusual native species. It is so in tune with the climate that it makes other deciduous trees seem to be inexperienced. Of course, to those who are unfamiliar with it, it just looks dead right now.

In chaparral climates of California, some deciduous trees start to defoliate early, before the weather starts to get cool in autumn. California sycamores, for example, can start to defoliate late in summer if the weather gets too warm and dry for them to want to hold their foliage any later. Such defoliation is more the result of minimal humidity than the result of chill.

California horsechestnut takes this technique one step further, by shedding spring foliage even earlier in summer, then refoliating once the rain starts in autumn, and then defoliating again as the late autumn foliage succumbs to frost through winter. It is ‘twice-deciduous’. It is a weird process that should not work, but obviously does.

It seems like a tree that is defoliated most of the time would exhaust its resources and wear itself out. However, California horsechestnut somehow stores enough resources to produce weirdly big seeds. These in the picture above are the same that were featured in ‘Six on Saturday‘ last week, while they were still in their husks.

Squirrels might chew on a few of these seeds, but do not bother storing them. They are mostly ignored by wildlife, perhaps because of their objectionable flavor. So, without squirrels to bury them, they fall to the forest floor near the trees that produce them, where they are too bulky to sift through the detritus to reach the soil below.

It makes one wonder why they put so much of their limited resources into seeds that are too big to reach the soil, but unappealing to wildlife that might otherwise disperse and bury them.

They know what they are doing.

Once the rain starts, and the seed sense that the weather is damp, they germinate on the surface of the detritus on the forest floor, and extend their tap roots through the detritus to the soil below. The seeds are too bulky to reach the soil directly, but contain all that their primary tap roots need to survive without desiccation until they reach the damp soil.


Mediterranean Climate Is Something Special

90925thumbThe climate here is pretty cool, at least in winter. Right now, it is pleasantly warm. It does not often get uncomfortably cold or hot, and when it does, it does not stay like that for too long. In between the warmest days of summer, the nights typically cool off nicely. In between the coolest nights of winter, the days typically warm up nicely. Humidity is normally minimal. Rain is adequate in season.

We have here what is known as a ‘Mediterranean’ climate. Obviously, it is similar to many climates of the Mediterranean Basin. Beyond the Mediterranean region, there are not many other places in the World that enjoy such reliably temperate weather. Most of such places are in southern and southwestern Australia, the Western Cape of South Africa, central Chile, and evidently, right here.

This particular region of Mediterranean climate is quite large, and extends into northern Baja California. Native plants know how to live here, and many of those that are adaptable to landscapes and home gardens can survive quite nicely with little or no irrigation. Some exotic (non-native) plants want climates with more warmth in summer, more chill in winter, or more rain through the year.

The best, as well as the worst, exotic plant species for local landscapes are those that are native to other Mediterranean climates.

The worst are those that are so happy in the local climate that they naturalize and become invasive to native ecosystems. Without pathogens or competing species that inhibited their proliferation within their respective native ranges, many naturalized species are detrimentally aggressive in ecosystems that they invade. Pampas grass, broom and Acacia dealbata are familiar examples.

The best exotics are not so threatening. Australian fuchsia, kangaroo paw, coprosma, westringia, bottle brush, grevillea, dracaena palm and eucalyptus originated from Australia. Lemon verbena, mayten and some salvias are from Chile. African iris, lily-of-the-Nile, bird-of-Paradise and all of the aloes came from South Africa. Olive, oleander, cistus, and all the lavenders are Mediterranean.

Forage To Find Unexpected Fruit

Felton League, the Facebook group of the homeless and their friends in Felton, California, briefly mentions the source of some interesting, but typically overlooked fruits that can be found in the wild or unrefined landscapes. Blackberries, American plums and elderberries collected from rural roadsides have produced award winning jellies for the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival.
Unlike the fruit that so many of us put so much effort into growing in our home gardens, these fruits and others are productive without any help. They are commonly overlooked only because they are so easy to ignore. In some ways, they are inferior to ‘garden variety’ fruit; but they also have certain advantages. Free fruit that takes no more effort than harvesting is obviously a good thing.
The most common wild blackberries are actually Himalayan blackberries that have naturalized. Unfortunately, they do not compare well to garden variety blackberries. They are not as abundant, and are difficult to pick from the wickedly thorny and rampant canes. Blue elderberries really are native, and are just as good or maybe better than black elderberries from eastern North America.
Figs, olives, grapes, rhubarb, prickly pears, apples and various citrus can sometimes be found in abandoned or neglected landscapes. Walnut, almond and wild plum trees sometimes grow from self-sown seed. Purple leaf plum is not always as fruitless as it is purported to be. Then there are all the other ornamental plants that happen to produce fruit that is useful to those willing to try it.
For example, Australian brush cherry, English hawthorn, Indian hawthorn (‘Majestic Beauty’), strawberry tree and even common freeway iceplant all produce fruit that can be cooked into luscious jelly. Of course, no fruit, particularly unfamiliar fruit, should be eaten or experimented with until it is confirmed to be safe for consumption. Many fruits really are toxic! Also, fruit should not be harvested from where it might be illegal to do so, such as private property or parks.

NOTE: This is an old article. Felton League is no longer a group on Facebook, but is now a blog here on WordPress.B90803K

Six on Saturday: Bad Neighborhood


My six pictures for today are not from any of the landscapes. Nor are they from my garden. They are not from the forests or parks or other people’s gardens either. That is nothing new. I sometimes get my pictures from some rather randoms situations. These six are a bit more random than just average random though. They happen to be from around the big compost piles, where we dump some of our green waste and horse ‘fertilizer’.

This is the same compost pile where where the ‘Good Weeds‘ grow. Yup, good weeds from the bad neighborhood.

The first #1 is exotic. The second #2 and the third #3 are assumed to be native, but might possibly be exotic. The others are quite native.

1. Mullein – is a naturalized exotic species. It does not seem like the sort that would naturalize. To the contrary, is seems to be quite docile here. It is sometimes left in gardens where it self sows, just because it is appealing.P90727

2. Unidentified – but believed to be native, these tiny silvery white flowers are not as pretty as they are up close in this picture. I just happen to like them. I think I studied it in school, but just I can not remember what it is.P90727+

3. Bull Thistle – is not so easy to distinguish from other similar species. I do not even know if this is the native bull thistle. The prickly scales are not as straight as they should be. It is the only one that we now as such here.P90727++

4. Yerba Santa – seemed to be more purplish when I took this picture. The foliage looks grungy to me, as if sticky with honeydew and a bit of sooty mold. That is natural for it, and may explain why it is an unpopular native.P90727+++

5. Sticky Monkey Flower – has a funny name. It is native, but the sticky monkey that it is named after is not. It gets a bit shabby if allowed to grow wild in home gardens, but can be improved by aggressive winter pruning.P90727++++

6. Evening primrose – is not the same as the common yellow evening primrose that is familiar elsewhere in America, although I really do not know what makes it so special. Another species has smaller pastel pink flowers.P90727+++++

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

Matilija Poppy

90703If California poppy had not been designated as the California state flower, Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri, might have been. It was nominated, but was less popular at the time, partly because it was familiar only to those near its native range in Southern California. Some of us know it as ‘fried egg flower’, because the big and floppy white flowers with yellow centers look like fried eggs.

Matilija poppy is a big and bold perennial, with flowers that are bigger than any other native species. They can get more than six inches wide! These flowers stand on top of lanky stems that might get taller than six feet. The somewhat sparse and light grayish foliage has a uniquely bristly but also slightly rubbery texture. Individual leaves might be longer than six inches, with elongated lobes.

As a native of dry chaparral regions, Matilija poppy is very resilient, and does not need watering once established. However, to survive long and dry summers, it starts to die back early, so should get cut to the ground later in summer or early in autumn before it becomes too unappealing. It then stays dormant through winter before regenerating in spring. Rhizomes can spread aggressively.


P90602Not just any nuts, but precisely the sort that I recently discussed with a colleague, as I explained how they do not grow here. The nuts that is. The big thicket forming shrubs that are supposed to produce them not only grow here, but are a relatively common native. I just rarely see even a single nut on them. I sort of wondered how they mange to procreate with such rare seeds that invariably get taken by unconcerned rodents or birds.
They are the beaked hazelnut, Corylus cornuta. You can see why they are known as such. The elongated nut husks look like Big Bird. The very rare nuts within are quite small with good rich flavor, like hazelnut concentrate, and develop only on the biggest and most distressed old hazelnut shrubs.
However, the young and healthy hazelnut shrub that produced the nut in this picture actually produced quite a few. They were just not close enough to each other for me to get more than one in a picture. A few other young and healthy hazelnut shrubs are doing the same at the same time. There are more hazelnuts now than I have seen collectively in many years. I can not explain why.
Some species of oak tend to produce an overwhelming abundance of acorns every several years or so, only to limit acorn production for the several years in between such abundance. All trees of the same species within a region somehow know to do this collectively at the same time. They do not do it often, but when they do, they do it together.
The oaks who do this supposedly produce just enough acorn to sustain a healthy squirrel population without promoting overpopulation. When they occasionally produce an excess of acorns, the squirrels instinctively bury many more acorns than they normally would, just because the acorns happen to be available. Since the squirrels can not consume all that they bury, many more stay buried to germinate and grow into trees later.