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!

California Is A Big Place

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There are all kinds of natives.

California is a big place, with more environmental diversity than any other state and most other countries. It includes rainy and cool forests of Del Norte County, and dry and hot deserts of Imperial County. The snowy mountains of Placer County and the mild coastal plains of Los Angeles County are here too. There are hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and big fertile valleys.

Consequently, plants that are native to California are just as diverse. Many that are very well adapted to the environments that they naturally live in are not so well adapted to other environments that may be only a few miles away. They really do not want to go to some of the more divergent climates in other regions.

Coastal redwood that is so happy within its natural range on the foggy western slopes of the coast ranges to the north are not so happy on the drier eastern slopes of the same ranges. It probably would not survive for long in the Mojave Desert. California fan palm from the hot and arid region of Palm Springs languishes on the damp and cool western edge of San Francisco.

Most of the popular California native plants are popular because they do not need much water, if they need any at all. However, some are as unhappy with local climate conditions as exotic plants from other continents are. For example, few plants tolerate drought as well as Joshua tree does. Yet, Joshua tree is likely to grow fast and then rot because winters are too damp for them locally.

Of all the excellent plants that are native to California, the most excellent for local gardens are either the few plants that are native to the local region, or the many others that are native to similar regions. They do not need cold Sierra Nevada Winters, hot Death Valley summers, Mojave Desert aridity or San Francisco fog. They are right at home here.

Even natives need some help adapting to a new garden. Confining their roots to cans while they grow in nurseries is very unnatural for them. Once planted, they will need to be watered while their roots disperse enough to survive on rainfall, or with minimal watering.

Silk Tassel

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Pendulous blooms hang like delicate icicles.

With so many exotic species to enjoy in our gardens, it is easy to miss what might be growing wild just beyond. Silk tassel, Garrya elliptica, is endemic to coastal slopes within thirty miles of the ocean, between San Luis Obispo and Newport in Oregon. Yet, it seems to be more popular abroad than it is here at home. It is more adaptable to refined landscapes than most other natives are.

Silk tassel is more tolerant to supplemental irrigation than most other species from the same region are. It actually prefers to be irrigated at least occasionally through summer, particularly in drier and warmer climates. However, as a native, it is resilient to lapses of irrigation too. If necessary for form or confinement, awkward and obtrusive stems can be selectively pruned out after bloom.

Long and elegantly pendulous catkins of tiny pale grayish white flowers bloom late in winter or early in spring. After bloom, dried catkins linger prettily into summer. Garden varieties are male, with longer blooms. ‘James Roof’ can produce catkins nearly a foot long. Female plants in the wild bloom with shorter catkins. Glossy evergreen leaves are two to three inches long with wavy margins.

California Sycamore

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California sycamore is a stately native.

California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, is a riparian species that wants to be a chaparral species. It seems to passively mingle with valley oaks and coast live oaks in chaparral regions. Yet, it stays close to rivers, creeks, arroyos, or low spots where water drains from winter rain. California sycamore does not follow waterways far up into forests though, as if it dislikes the deeper shade.

In urban situations, California sycamore is best for large scale landscapes, such as parks or medians of broad boulevards. It is complaisant enough for smaller landscapes, and tends to disperse roots too deeply to damage pavement. However, it grows so fast and so very big. Mature trees get to a hundred feet tall. Massive trunks are picturesquely irregular, with mottled tan and gray bark.

All the deciduous foliage generated by such large trees is generous with shade for summer, but stingy with color for autumn. Defoliation starts early and continues late, so is messy for a long time. Foliar tomentum (fuzz) is irritating to the skin, and much worse if inhaled. Anthracnose often deprives trees of their first phase of foliage in early spring. Although harmless, it makes another mess.

Wild Strawberry?

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Wild strawberries are worth salvaging.

Under a bank of carpet roses that I am none too keen on, this grubby ground cover competes with more aggressive weeds. To me, it looks like common mock strawberry, Potentilla indica. I never gave it much though. It seemed to me that whoever had installed cheap and common carpet roses on that bank would have employed a comparably cheap and common ground cover.

The ground cover was more prolific in open spots that were too narrow for more of the roses, and from there, seemed to have migrated under the roses as a second layer of ground cover. It would not have been installed underneath intentionally. It did not occur to me that it may have grown from seed like so many other weeds there, or migrated in from the surrounding forest.

The white flowers did catch my attention though. I was not aware of a mock strawberry that bloomed with white flowers. I really was not concerned enough about it to investigate. This part of the landscape will be getting renovated soon anyway. The roses will be relocated to where they can not extend their thorny canes into an adjacent walkway. Agapanthus will replace them.

Now that I am seeing more of these odd strawberries, I am wondering if this low ground cover that I formerly had no regard for is actually the native wild strawberry, Fragaria californica. Not only should mock strawberry bloom with yellow flowers, but it should also produce more spherical berries. Now I will need to identify it before I either dispose of it, or merely relocate it.

I prefer to not salvage exotic species that exhibit potential to naturalize from landscaped areas into surrounding forests. If this ground cover is wild strawberry, it migrated from surrounding forests into a particular casually landscaped area.

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.

Rush

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+

Buckeye

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.