Monday, December 2, 2013

California Dodder

One of the sites I refer to when preparing to write about a plant I encounter in my rambles is maintained by the Consortium of California Herbaria  which provides information about California vascular plant specimens that are housed in participant herbaria. One can search on just about any plant and obtain a list of accessions from around the state.

California Dodder (Cuscuta californica), hits close to home as it has records dating from 1897 to 2009 for specimens found in and around Claremont. Two of these are housed in the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden herbarium. One was collected from the Bernard Field Station, just to the east. The other was found along Thompson Creek, where Holly and I often pass by the plant.

California Dodder

Cuscuta californica, also called Chaparral Dodder, is an annual parasitic herb or vine that is native to California. It is also found outside of California, but is confined to western North America. Dodder is readily identified by its threadlike, hairless, yellow, orange, or red shoots which twine around host plants eventually creating a tangled mat. One notable feature is that it does not usually have roots that reach the ground. Instead, knoblike organs along the shoot (haustoria) penetrate the host stem. Shoots either lack leaves or have very tiny red, yellow, or orange scalelike leaves pressed close to the stem. It tends to bloom from May through October. The white flowers are tiny, only about 3 to 6 millimeters wide. The fruits are even smaller.

Dodder once had its own family, but it is now consigned to CONVOLVULACEAE, the Morning Glory Family. The epithet Cuscuta seemingly comes from Cuscu'ta a name of Arabic derivation meaning "dodder”. The common name, Chaparral Dodder, tips us to one of its habitats. It is also found through out the state in many other plant communities such as forests and grasslands. And, of course, “the City of Trees and PhDs”.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Apache Plume

I write a column called "Plant of the Month" for Oaks Notes the newsletter for the volunteers at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. One of the pleasures I derive from writing these articles is that my research deepens my knowledge of the plants I pick for the column. Recently I was almost too ashamed to admit that I found out that what, for decades, I have taken to be the flower of Apache Plume is actually its fruit.

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa) belongs to ROSACEAE, the rose family. It is native to the arid habitats of the mountains of east San Bernardino County. It is also found in the desert woodlands and scrub of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and northern Mexico. It is the only member of its genus. Which is to say it is monotypic. 

The flower of the shrub is roselike, or to some a little like an apple blossom, with rounded white petals and a center filled with many thready stamens and pistils. The flowers are small, but not inconspicuous if one really looks at the bush when preparing to write about it.

However, the persistent fruits have distinctive feathery plumes that look a lot like pompoms. They are formed when the ovary of the flower remains after the petals fall away, leaving the styles, each 3 to 5 centimeters long. Each style is attached to a fruit, which is a small achene. The plant is covered with these clusters. They are greenish at first, turning pink or reddish tinged later on.

Apache Plume
Eventually the plumes turn white and when backlit are quite spectacular. The fruit finally disperses when wind catches the styles and blows them away.

Apache Plume

The plant grows three to eight feet tall, with straw-colored branches and spreads six to eight feet. The small leaves are green on top and rusty underneath. Apache Plume can look a little scruffy, but still be attractive in a drought tolerant garden.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summer Holly

Summer holly (Comarostaphylis diversifolia) is found in coastal chaparral from Santa Barbara County southerly into Baja California. There may be populations on the Channel Islands as well. Some sources cite that the geography makes for two subspecies: Comarostaphylis diversifolia ssp. diversifolia in coastal Southern California and Baja; and Comarostaphylis diversifolia ssp. planifolia on the Channel Islands and the Transverse Ranges north of Los Angeles. It is not very common, but not yet listed as rare.

Comarostaphylis diversifolia

A slow‐growing, evergreen shrub or tree to 20 ft. tall. Attractive features include shiny leaves, white flowers, red berries and shredded bark. While the flowers are urn-shaped similar to the more familiar manzanita, the red berries are warty or wrinkly rather than smooth. That feature also distinguishes it from toyon. Summer holly is a member of Ericaceae, commonly known as the heath or heather family, a family of flowering plants found most commonly in acid and infertile growing conditions.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Obscure Object of Desire

"So many nights I just dream of the ocean
God I wish I was sailin again"

Science has proven that heartaches are healed by the sea. A Hinckley Picnic Boat just might be the cure for what ails me. But, as most boat owners find out - you spend about twice as much on gas, upkeep, and storage as you planned; and only have about a third as much fun as you thought you would. Still one can dream. Gunkholing would be a ramble of a different sort.

Lyrics | Jimmy Buffett lyrics - Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes lyrics

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Laguna Lake

Laguna Lake is located in Fullerton, California. My daily commute, for many years, took right past the turnoff for it, but I never checked it out until the capture of a giant turtle made the news.

"Old Bob" was a 100 lb. Alligator Snapping Turtle. The prehistoric monster, before his 2004 capture, trolled the waters of the lake terrorizing ducks and snatching fish from the lines of baffled anglers.

He was not a native, The largest freshwater turtle, the alligator snapping turtle is found primarily in southeastern United States waters. He seemed huge to those of us from California, but he was actually on the smallish side for one of his ilk. Adult alligator snapping turtles generally range in carapace length from 15.9 to 31.8 inches and weigh from 50 to 180 pounds. Anyway, he put the lake on the map for many of us.

Once I truly discovered it, I tried the fishing. The DFG stocks this park lake from late Fall to early Spring with Rainbow Trout and Channel Catfish from late Spring to early Fall. There are also Largemouth Bass, Sunfish, and Carp. I never caught much. While I consider myself to be an avid fisherman, I am not a very good one.Others such as the guy at UrbanFlyVentures have much better success.

And, truth be told it has be a couple of years since I last visited. But, I recently ran across a photo and had some fun reworking it with a PhotoShop app on my iPod and wanted to share it. Ah vanity.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Oak Woodland

When I picture a oak woodland in my mind it is one with coast live oaks that stand closely together so that their canopies overlap. Low bushes cover the ground along with a layer of debris.

Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) is the most abundant species of oak along the California coast, ranging from Sonoma County into Baja California. Of course, in other parts of the state different oaks will predominate; but coast live oak is the one I grew up  and continue to see almost daily.

It is well adapted to to our Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and cool, hopefully rainy winters. Coast live oaks are evergreen, with a tough little leaf. 

The oak woodland is one of my favorite habitats. More than coincidently, I guess, in it are found some of my favorite animals as well: Acorn Woodpecker, Western Scrub Jay, and Western Gray Squirrel to recite just three. Plants in this habit could include California Bay and Toyon.

I have read that many early settlers wrote about the mystical beauty of these trees. I certainly get an inspirational feeling when ever I get the opportunity to spend some quiet moments of reflection in a such a grove.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hoary-leaved Ceanothus

hoary |ˈhôrē|
adjective ( hoarier , hoariest )
1 grayish-white : hoary cobwebs.
(of a person) having gray or white hair; aged : a hoary old fellow with a face of white stubble.
  • [ attrib. ] used in names of animals and plants covered with whitish fur or short hairs, e.g., hoary bat, hoary cress.

There are at least 52 species of ceanothus in the world. California is home to 43 species, sometimes known as California lilac, and 13 of these are native to the chaparral of Southern California. The dominant species in our local, lower-elevation, Santa Monica Mountains is Bigpod Ceanothus, Ceanothus megacarpus. However, at higher elevations it is replaced  Ceanothus crassifolius, Hoary-leaved Ceanothus. 

Plants in the genus Ceanothus are divided in to two groups - the subgenus Ceanothus and the subgenus Cerastes. The later is actually the larger group. But, I think that most of us, thanks to its showy displays, are more familiar with the former which is characterized by thin leaves that have three main veins, arrayed alternately on the stems. The leaves of Cerastes are leathery with a single main vein, and generally opposite in arrangement. 

A member of the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae) it is a large, evergreen shrub which may grow to twelve feet in height.  The leathery olive green leaves have white fuzzy undersides, which makes them hoary. The field guides I use describe the leaves as being “small”, which seemed a bit vague.  An internet gardening catalog stated they they are 1/4­ to 1/2" long. However, I took some measurements on a specimen at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and found them to be closer to 1-1 1/2”. Which reminds me of the old taunt - “Who are going to believe, the facts or your lying eyes?” The small (truly about a quarter of an inch), rounded flowers are white with the inflorescences borne on short stalks.

Hoary-leaved Ceanothus is distributed through the Outer South Coast Range, Transverse Range, Peninsular Range, and Northern Baja on dry ridges or slopes below 3700'. Which is to say locally we can find it in the Verdugo, San Gabriel, Santa Monica and San Bernardino Mountains.

There are plenty of chances to see it, let’s go look.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Laurel Sumac - Malosma laurina

One of my fondest memories as a teenager is running through the interior of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park right after a rain or on a cool foggy morning and smelling the fragrances of the plants of the the chaparral and scrub-covered hills. One of the main contributors to that aroma was Laurel Sumac, then classified as Rhus laurina, but now known as Malosma laurina.

This 10 to 20 foot tall shrub is the only species in the genus Malosma. It native only to Southern California and the Baja California Peninsula; and found in both the Chaparral and Coastal Sage Scrub communities from sea level up to 3300 feet in elevation. The shiny red-green leaves are four to ten inches long and have a somewhat taco shell fold. When flattened, they have the shape of laurel leaves which gives us the common name Laurel, with Sumac in recognition that it is in the Sumac Family—Anacardiaceae. (Just in passing, this family also includes cashews, mangos, and poison oak!)

Locally, Laurel Sumac occurs naturally in the hills fronting Thompson Creek in Claremont. This is fitting for its historic geographical and economic context for our region. Malosma is not tolerant of hard frost. Something is has in common with two important commercial crops in California. Anywhere it grows naturally turns out to be ideal for avocado and citrus as well. Growers became aware of this and began to use it as a “sentinel plant” when looking for land for their ranches.

While I am fond of the fragrance I would be hard pressed to describe it. I am not alone in this. The Jepson Manual says Malosma is Latin: “from odor which resembles that of an apple.” However, Nuttall's description says the aromatic odor is “something like that of the Bitter Almond." I suggest you check it out for yourself.