Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Holly - RIP

Holly: March 30, 2005 - June  24, 2014

Today I am very sad for losing her, hopefully in the future I will be able to smile again for the good times we had together.

Monday, May 26, 2014

California Sunflower

California Sunflower by Cliff Hutson
Coast Sunflower by Cliff Hutson
Encelia californica: California Sunflower, also known as Coastal Sunflower and California Encelia.  I have seen it referred to as Brittlebush, but that would be Encelia farinosa to me.

California Sunflower grows in the Coastal Sage Scrub habitat of Southern California.

Coastal sage scrub species have adapted to an ecosystem that rarely freezes in the winter and only occasionally experience temperatures over 90-degrees F during the dry California summer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Coast Cholla

Coast Cholla (Cylindropuntia prolifera) is another one of those species which has undergone a name change since I first encountered it. Frankly, it never made sense to me that chollas were included with the beavertail and prickly-pear cactus in the genus Opuntia, as they did not seem to resemble each other in any discernible to the average onlooker. But, science has caught up with the layperson, as it were, and chollas now have their own genus. The name Cylindropuntia comes from the Greek kylindros, "a cylinder" plus the name of the old genus Opuntia. The species name prolifera is a nod to the plant's proliferation by means of off-shoots.

Cylindropuntia prolifera is native to Southern California where it grows in coastal sage scrub, chaparral, beach, and bluff habitat. It crops up from Santa Barbara County south. Close to home, this cactus may be found along the coast of the Santa Monica Mountains, but it is kind of rare. It seems to be more abundant on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It then comes into its own in San Diego County and Baja California.

Like most members of the family Cactaceae (Cactus) it has spines. Spines are highly modified leaves. This cholla has two types. The larger spines are quite noticeable and merit some caution. But, around the base of the clusters of those spines are little tiny spines which are called glochids. Glochids have a barbed tip and may be even more treacherous than the actual spines. They can easily burrow into flesh and are very difficult to remove. 

Coast Cholla

Aside from the potential for great bodily harm, the plant is very attractive. The grey to green cylindrical joints make for stems that are four to six feet in height and may be thought of as treelike. Reddish purple flowers, with rounded blossoms about an inch in diameter, will normally bloom from April through June.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Coastal Agave

One of my favorite books from my younger days has a poem with the line, “All that is gold does not glitter”. I would turn that around for Coastal, or Shaw’s, Agave and say, all that is drab is not as dull as it seems. Sometimes one just has to wander around until they see things in the proper light.

Coastal agave, i.e., Agave shawii is a succulent with closely spaced, overlapping sword-shaped leaves that measure up to 8 inches wide and about 18 inches long. They diverge from the center of the plant in a spiral making for a rounded shape. The deep green leaves are edged with spines.

These spines nominally appear as brown or gray and don't offer much in the way of a visual display. However, in early morning or late afternoon, when the the sunlight comes in from behind the plant, they light up and glow red and/or orange, rivaling any neon sign on the Las Vegas Strip. 
Coastal Agave
Shaw's Agave by Cliff Hutson
The leaves are also notable for bearing the imprint of the spines of the leaves that were in front and back of them when they were clasped together. I find this to be a charming visual element to the plant.

The flowering plant is also attractive. It may take 20 to 40 years before it flowers. But, then yellow blooms, looking much like  a hand of very small bananas, burst out on the top of an 8 to 12 foot stalk resembling an asparagus spear. The flowers attract hummingbirds, bats and bees. When a single plant flowers it dies, but its “pups” or clones will live on.

Bats are a key pollinator of this agave and probably the primary reason for the tallness of the flowering stalk. Bats, save for the few species of vampire bats, can not launch into flight by flapping their wings. they, instead, take off by dropping from a height be it the roof of a cave, bridge, or tall plant with sturdy flowers.

Coastal Agave is found in Baja California. Also native to California, it occurs naturally only in San Diego County, near Border Field State Park. Most of the plants that were there were bulldozed into oblivion by your government while building the boundary wall between the USA and Mexico. However, a few seem to have survived. Other populations exist elsewhere in Southern California, but they were probably planted out in an effort to preserve the plant. I, for one, certainly hope it stays with us.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A First!

The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden chose my Tidy Tips photo for the cover of their magazine.

Exploring the Arborretum
Wildflowering LA

It illustrates the article "Wildflowering LA". I have to say I think that is pretty cool. 

The kicker is that there is also an article on Julius Shulman. This is an added plus for me. He was a photographer whose work I have admired for decades. Little could I have dreamed when I was in my teens that something I shot would ever appear in such close proximity to his photographs. (Not that I am in his league.)

Even so, here is my latest attempt at architectural photography:

A back room at Walter's Restaurant in Claremont.
A Bar at Walter's

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fairy Duster

As a naturalist, I like to have a theme in mind when I lead an interpretive walk. I see this as a means of engaging the audience’s interest, as opposed to just wandering around identifying plants until their eyes start to glaze over. One of the themes I use is “does the common name of this plant make sense”.  A favorite plant for this discussion is the Fairy Duster, Calliandra eriophylla. It takes little imagination to see that the fluffy pink blossoms do resemble feather dusters scaled down to fairy size, assuming we are thinking of Tinker Bell instead of Titania.

The flowers appear between late winter and late spring. They have dense clusters of pale to deep pink stamens and are about two inches wide. I think that they are quite attractive; and, in fact, Calliandra is derived from the Greek kallos, "beautiful," and andra, "stamen”. The leaves are also interesting being twice pinnately compound with each division bearing five to ten pairs of leaflets.

The plant, also known as False Mesquite, is a densely branched shrub, about two feet tall and twice as wide, native to western North America. A member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae), it belongs to a group of primarily tropical plants that include Acacias and Mimosas. However, Fairy Duster grows in sandy washes and on slopes in the arid desert and grasslands of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; and Mexico.

But, to say it occurs in California is a bit misleading as it is found only in the Creosote Brush Scrub community and then seemingly limited to Imperial and San Diego Counties. Due to this geographic circumscription , it is included in the California Native Plant Society Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 2.3 (rare, threatened, or endangered in California; common elsewhere). In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to point out that one specimen was collected by Dr. Robert F. Thorne (of RSABG) on April 12, 1964, in Riverside County and that there is also a questionable 1881 accession from Kern County. I, myself, first encountered Fairy Duster while hiking in Riverside County. It was on land that was starting to be developed somewhere outside of Palm Springs, so it may not have been a natural occurrence.

Wherever we find it, I think it offers people an opportunity to ask people to look more carefully at nature and by observing this one flower they might go to focus on other aspects of nature rather than passively walk though it.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Peritoma arborea

There is a video which posits that taxonomists, having no new plants to name, have begun to rename all of the plants with which we are familiar.  That obviously overstates the matter. But, as a non-botanist observer of the plant kingdom, I understand what they are saying. Bladderpod plant is a case in point. 

When I first came upon the plant, in the late 1970s, it had the scientific name of Isomeris arborea (Nutt.). Then about December 1989 the name was changed to Cleome isomeris (Greene). Next, in July 2010, it became Peritoma arborea (Nutt.). Furthermore, it was moved from the Capparaceae (which includes capers) to a family named Cleomaceae (spiderflowers). Lastly, it has been divided into three varieties based on the shape of the fruit, with var. angustata having fusiform fruits, var. arborea having obovoid fruits, and var. globosa having spherical fruits. 

It is endemic to California occurring in varied habitats: Coastal Sage Scrub, Creosote Bush Scrub, and Joshua Tree Woodland. Which is to say, it ranges from the deserts to the Channel Islands. The plant is a branched shrub that can up to six feet in height. It has thin, evergreen leaves about half an inch to an inch long. Bladderpod will flower in any month of the year. This is not very common in California natives. The flowers, appearing as abundant inflorescences at the ends of the stem branches, are yellow with long stamens. The inflated bladder-like fruits give the plant its common name. Some say that the epithet “Isomeris” was a nod to the equal halves of these pods.

Bladderpod is generally described as ill-smelling. However, in my experience, rubbing a pod produces a scent much like that of bell pepper which I think is not bad at all.