Blow Out

Wind is messy!

While strong Santa Anna Winds were blowing through Los Angeles four hundred miles to the south, and Storm Ciara was arriving in Scotland and Norway, we were getting some remarkably strong winds of our own. They were not nearly as strong as winds that were causing so much damage in Europe, and involved no flooding rain, but they were dangerously messy nonetheless.

We live and work among dense forests of coastal redwood, the tallest tree species in the World. Beyond the upper edge of the redwood forests are more forests of huge Ponderosa pine. Huge Douglas fir are mixed throughout. Their understory includes trees that would be considered to be massive anywhere else, such as coast live oak, tanoak, Shreve oak, bay laurel and madrone.

Such big trees drop big limb, and in abundance. Furthermore, limbs that fall from such great heights are significantly more dangerous than those that fall from smaller trees that are closer to the ground. They gather major inertia on the way down. They do not necessarily fall straight down either, but can get blown significant distances to where falling limbs may not be expected.

While the winds were blowing through, I could hear crashing of falling limbs and entire trees from the mostly deciduous riparian forest outside. I know that many of the big cottonwoods, box elders, willows, alders and sycamores are deteriorating, but did not expect so many to be blown down while bare. I suspected damage would be worse among the bigger and evergreen trees.

The pile to the left in the picture above is just the debris that was collected last Monday (while I was conveniently not here to help). It is more spread out but at least twice as voluminous as the pile on the right, which is pruning debris that took me several days prior to the wind to collect. The green cargo containers in the background demonstrate how big the piles of debris are.

More debris was collected on Tuesday (while I was still doing other work). The mess was not the worst of it. The roofs of a few buildings were impaled by falling limbs. Some of the damage is significant. Fortunately, the only big trees that fell did so into forested areas where there are no buildings, and electrical service was disrupted for less than a day. No injuries were reported.

Six on Saturday: Perks


It has been two year since I started my ‘part-time temporary’ job. I work here only three days weekly, and only if I can. That is what makes it ‘part-time’. After two years, I am not sure if it still qualifies as ‘temporary’. I do intend to eventually return to my normal work. However, this part-time temporary job will not be easy to leave. It is so excellent in so many ways! Besides, there are so many incredible perks!

1. Scenery is incredible. The redwoods in the background to the left are on the other side of a deep ravine where Bean Creek flows through. All the scenery here could not fit into one picture.P00208-1

2. Native flora in the forest is incredible. Most of what is in the landscapes is native flora too, or garden varieties of native flora. There is no transition between the forests and the landscapes.P00208-2

3. Redwoods are incredible. What is not obvious in the picture is that these grand wild redwoods with wild bay laurels to the right, are just beyond the landscaped perimeter of a vast lawn.P00208-3

4. Exotic flora is incredible too, but compatible with native flora. The simple landscapes are both horticulturally correct and environmentally sensible. Daffodil naturalize but are not invasive.P00208-4

5. Redwoods are incredible. Did I mention that yet? They really are grand. That is why they are the Official State Tree of California. They never get old, but they live for thousands of years.P00208-5

6. The crew that I work with is the most incredible perk. I should write an article about them. Oh, I already did. I have no picture of them. There are too many for Six on Saturday anyway.P81010

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



Six on Saturday: Two Too Many Redwoods


Redwoods are such admirable trees that no one wants to cut any of them down. On rare occasion, it becomes necessary to do so. Seedlings sometimes grow in situations where they can not stay. They might be too close to buildings or other infrastructure. Sometimes, they are merely in the process of crowding other important plants in the landscape. That was the problem with the young redwood pictured here, and another just like it.

1. There it is, an exemplary specimen barely left of center. The problem was that it would have crowded other trees if left to grow. The dogwood to the left is feral too, but will not get too big.P00104-1

2. This juvenile tree had been cut off at the ground, and regenerated. This meant that I expected it to be more firmly rooted than it would have been if it had not experienced such trauma.P00104-2

3. What a surprise! Roots on one side had already been severed by earlier excavation for a drainage pipe. As I cut a few more roots on other sides, this unfortunate young tree just fell over.P00104-3

4. There were enough roots remaining for this tree to survive if there had been someplace to put it where it could have been irrigated and guyed until it recovered and dispersed new roots.P00104-4

5. Guying would have been difficult though. The young and slender tree was just too tall and flimsy for any downward tension applied by guys. Sadly, this young redwood was not salvaged.P00104-5

6. This is really why I was here. Besides removing two feral redwoods, I dug two Japanese maples that had been stagnating in the landscape for years, and canned them to hopefully recover.P00104-6

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Six on Saturday: Pet Rock Amongst Redwoods


Macabee Gopher Trap was invented in Los Gatos. So was the Bean Pesticide Sprayer. Both were very useful in the vast orchards that formerly occupied the Santa Clara Valley. Another one of the more famous invention that originated in Los Gatos was not so practical. Actually, it was weirdly impractical. What was weirder was that it became such a craze in 1975 and early 1976.

It was the Pet Rock.

1. Pigeons don’t lay eggs in December. They certainly don’t lay such big eggs, or leave them without a few twigs to keep the from rolling away. Now that I think of it, pigeons don’t live here.P91207-1

2. Oh, it is just a rock, painted by someone named Madeline. Perhaps, it is a Pet Rock named Madeline. It seems to be of impeccable breeding. Form, color and temperament are exemplary.P91207-2

3. Perhaps it was painted by someone named Joy, or it is named Joy. Well, whatever or whoever it is, it seems to be very important. It was put back in the hanging basket of zonal geranium.P91207-3

4. That’s the hanging basket with the zonal geranium in it, right there, second from the left. It is not exactly a good place for a Pet Rock to nest. Notice the plaque over the rail right below it.P91207-4

5. The plaque identifies all three species of redwood in the landscape. The green, blue and brown dots next to the names correspond to a diagram showing where each is within the landscape.P91207-5

6. The defoliated dawn redwood is to the left. The small giant redwood is to the right. Those in between and in the background are the native coastal redwoods, which grow wild in the region.P91207-6

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Self Grafted Redwoods


Redwoods are some of the most stable trees in the World. That is partly why they can survive for thousands of years. In my entire career, I have seen very few fall, and only inspected two.

Of those two, one fell because it had co-dominant leaders (double trunks) that fell away from each other, which is more of a structural deficiency than instability. The other, which I suspect was demonically possessed, was a small tree less than thirty feet tall, that literally jumped up out of the ground and onto an Astro van more than ten feet away. A rare ‘updraft’ was blamed.

Almost all of the redwoods here regenerated from the stumps and roots of much older trees that were clear cut harvested a century or so ago. Most of those that grew back with structurally deficient co-dominant leaders are very effectively sheltered from wind by their collective groves. Roots systems are very extensive, very resilient, and too intermeshed to be compromised.

The trunks in the picture above are part of a group of several trunks that grew from roots of the same tree that has been gone for a very long time. All are genetically identical and very close together. They happen to be a focal point of a big patio at a conference center. Although the structural integrity of the limbs within their canopy is a concern, the stability of the trunks is not.

Regardless, I am impressed by their attempt to improve stability. The limb that extends horizontally across the middle of this picture from the trunk to the left grafted to the trunk to the right! It is not uncommon for crossing limbs and trunks to rub through their bark to expose the cambium, but how do they stay still long enough to graft together?!

Horridculture – Metasequoia glyptostroboides

P90626The easier name is ‘dawn redwood’. I just used the big and fancy Latin name because that is how landscape designers with something to prove say it. If the big name does not impress clients, an explanation of how rare it is, and that it is one of only a few deciduous conifers, will likely do the job. Even back when it was still a fad, I got the impression that was its main function; to impress clients.
It is not even a particularly practical tree. If it gets too big for its situation, it is difficult to contain without disfiguring the canopy. Because the priorities for most were conformity to a fad and to dazzle a client, not much thought went into their appropriateness to their respective landscapes. Consequently, many went into landscapes that were not big enough for them.
Although deciduous, dawn redwood does not even get good color in autumn. It just turns rusty brown, and quite frankly, looks dead.
It is true that there are only a few deciduous conifers. However, the dawn redwood stopped being rare shortly after it became a fad. I mean, how rare can it be if every landscape designer with something to prove gets to plant one?! Isn’t that what happened to the formerly rare yellow clivia after it became a fad?
The only one that I work with now happened to be planted before dawn redwood became a fad. I suppose that makes it okay. It is quite tall now, and has plenty of space to mature. However, I can not help but notice how silly it looks with all the other surrounding coastal redwoods. Although very different, it is similar enough to look like a coastal redwood with some serious problems, especially when it seems to die every autumn.

Redwoods Are So Tall . . .

P90428Redwoods are SO TALL!
How tall are they?
They are so tall that you can see for yourself if you look in this direction . . . from anywhere in North America or Central America.
They are so tall that if you need firewood, I can aim one in your direction as I cut it down.
They are so tall that while they drop foliar debris on the Ford and Chevrolet parked below, they also drop foliar debris on Mercury and Saturn in their respective orbits.
They are so tall that while other trees collect kites and Frisbees, they collect airplanes.
They are so tall that only a few of their seed survive. Most burn up in the atmosphere on their way down.
They are SO BIG too!
How big are they?
They are so big that some have tunnels cut through them so cards don’t run out of gasoline while driving around.
Okay enough of that for now.
Most of the biggest redwoods here were harvested, leaving only stumps to remind us of how big they were. The few trees that were big enough for harvest a century ago, but were not harvested when those around them were, probably exhibited some sort of defect that made their lumber undesirable.
The tree in this picture happens to be one of the few that is big enough now to suggest that it was likely big enough for harvest when those around it were harvested. The trunk is more that six feet wide. Yet, except for the severe lean, no obvious defects were observed. (The vertical edge of the doorway to the left was included in the picture for comparison with the lean of the tree.)
The tree started to lean only recently. If it had taken several years to develop this lean, the top several feet of the trunk would be curved upward, as it would have continued to grow vertically away from gravity while the trunk below it moved. If it moved suddenly but only once several years ago, there would be a kink near the top of the otherwise leaning trunk, from which, subsequent growth would be vertical.
This tree instead leans with a straight trunk from bottom to top, which means that it grew vertically, and then moved into this diagonal position too recently for new vertical growth to develop. Lateral branches are also diagonal, as they maintained their position perpendicular to the trunk. Although redwoods rarely destabilize, this one really seems as if it is about to fall.
Is this destabilization relative to some sort of deficiency that prevented the tree from getting harvested a century ago? I really should investigate.

Redwoods Are Family Oriented

P90223KCoastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, are remarkable stable trees. They rarely fall, which is how they get to be thousands of years old. They prefer to live in groups, where they mesh their roots together, and shelter each other from wind. Those that live outside of a group stay shorter than forest trees, and typically develop multiple trunks that function as a group.

However, they are also remarkably weak in regard to their structural integrity. Limbs are easily broken away from their vertical trunks by wind. Snow, which is rare within their natural range, causes significantly more damage than wind, which is probably why their natural range does not extend into snowy climates. Trees with co-dominant leaders (double trunks that divide from single trunks above grade) have potential to split at the union of the double trunks. Such unions are typically at such acute angles, that the trunks press against each other rather than fuse together through impenetrable compressed bark.

Leaning redwoods such as these that were shown earlier this morning, are potentially hazardous, not because they are likely to fall over, but because they might be likely to break. The trunks are designed to support weight vertically. The asymmetrical distribution of weight supported by these two trunks exerts inordinate lateral tension on the trunks. To make matters worse, the trunk to the left is divided into two co-dominant leaders, although the union does not appear to be at a typically acute angle. (The lower trunk is now behaving more as a big limb than as a secondary trunk.)

I would guess that these two trees are genetically identical trunks from the same root system. Such seemingly pliable trunk structure is uncommon, and it is very unlikely that two such similar trees would just coincidentally appear within such minimal proximity to each other. Redwoods often develop multiple trunks from the same root system, particularly as they regenerate after harvest.

The good news is that these two trunks have survived like this long enough to develop ‘reaction’ wood, which is just like it sounds; a bit of extra wood to compensate for compression on the inside of the bend. Also, they are sheltered from wind by the other redwood in the forest around them.

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:

Six on Saturday: Clearance


Clearance can get one into some interesting situations. Yes, with the necessary clearance, one can get into penitentiaries, protected military facilities, sensitive areas of the White House, or even Area 51.

The sort of clearance that I was concerned with this past week and the week prior was not so interesting. Now that roofs and gutters of the buildings at work are in the process of being cleaned before wintry weather, trees must also be pruned for clearance. As they grew through summer, some got detrimentally close to the roofs and gutters that are getting cleaned, as well as chimneys, windows, outdoor lighting and walkways. Such clearance is a concern throughout the year, but becomes more of a priority as we get ready for winter. No one wants to go back onto the roofs any more than necessary.

1. Before. The redwoods must be pruned for adequate clearance from the roof, chimney, lamppost, and even the umbrella on the patio that can not be opened without pushing a bit of foliage aside.P81013

2. After.P81013+

3. Soot on the tip of one of the redwood limbs demonstrates why clearance from chimneys is so important. Foliage that gets too close to chimneys can ignite and fall back onto the roof below, where it has the potential to ignite any foliar debris that might have accumulated behind the chimney since last year.P81013++

4. The belfry of the chapel next door really bothered me. Clearance was barely adequate. Although I am not worried about the shingles or painted surfaced getting damaged as wind starts to blow during winter, I think that the chapel would look better with more clearance from the encroaching redwood limbs. The problem was that I could not reach the limbs. Because this clearance was not a priority, the pruning here was postponed. A colleague who is not as plump as I am suggested that I get onto the roof through that gap between the top of the louvered sides of the belfry, and the underside of the roof above. Now, even if I could somehow get through that little gap, where would I go on the outside?! Let Quasimodo do it!P81013+++

5. The chapel was built among the redwoods, very literally. Expanding trunks are beginning to displace the foundation and utilities. I can not prune for the sort of clearance that is needed here. Because the chapel is such an important building, and the redwoods are such important trees, it would be feasible to move the chapel over onto a new foundation. The problem with that idea is that the redwood trunks are pressing up against the building on three sides! There is no place to move the building without cutting something out!P81013++++

6. Phytophthora ramorum, which is commonly known as Sudden Oak Death Syndrome, or SODS, continues to kill tanoaks, (Notho)lithocarpus densiflorus, and coast live oaks, Quercus agrifolia. These trees do not need to be pruned for clearance, but must be removed before they start to deteriorate and drop limbs onto adjacent buildings or whatever happens to be below.P81013+++++

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