Stachys bullata

Stachys bullata

Hedge Nettle

The plant for the cover of this OBISPOENSIS is found in many habitats from dry to moist and from wood edge to open fields. It is found primarily in the coastal area west of the Santa Lucia mountain divide.

It’s common or California hedge-nettle (Stachys bullata). This species is certainly not rare but it is not overly abundant either. It’s widespread but snooty where it grows. The flower books and floras state that it is found in our shrub lands (coastal scrub, dune scrub & chaparral) as well as oak forests. This is true, but if one wants to find it look in these communities where the soils tend to be moist.

I tend to think of it occupying the drier edge of the riparian habitat. As surface streams dry hedge nettles will move into the stream bed itself. The species can be found in relatively dry areas such as the Elfin Forest and Sargeant Cypress Forest found on West Cuesta Ridge. Both areas have lots of fog and contain plant species that are able to condense fog onto their leaves and stems. Leaves and stems, however are poor absorbers of liquid water, so the water drips off onto the soil surface where it sinks to where the plant’s roots absorb it. Fog drip is a significant source of water.

I remember reading a Cal Poly Biology Department senior project done for Dr. Robert Rodin many years ago. They found that rain gauges placed under the trees recorded over 20 inches more water than ones placed in the open.

The “hedge” part of the common name, I assume, comes from the habit of these plants to grow in fence rows and along roadsides, especially the old world species. The “nettle” part of the common name comes from its resemblance to the stinging nettle (Urtica). The surface of leaves and stems are coated by short stiff hairs. These hairs merely impart a sandpapery feel, but do not cause the rash and itching or pain of the true stinging nettle. I find it a rather pleasant feel and you have to touch them to get the pleasant citrusy odor that arises from the bruised leaves.

Stachys is fairly large (ca. 300 sp. worldwide, 8 CA & 5 SLO Co.) genus of mints (Lamiaceae or Labiatae). It contains a number of plants used as food or medicine, particularly in the Old World. The medicinal plants generally go by the common name of betony while the ones producing edible tubers go by the various names. These include chorogi, Chinese or Japanese artichoke, knotroot. I found no reference to any of our California Stachys species, including S. bullata, possessing either edible or medicinal properties. The closest I came was one suggestion that leaves might to be tried as a poultice. That is, bruise a few leaves in warm water and apply the mixture to minor wounds and rashes. This is how the various betony species are used around the world and is the explanation for another common name for the species in this genus, woundwort.

References to hedge nettles are noticeably absent from my California native gardening books. The current Jepson Manual recommends that they be planted in areas where they get occasional water (3-4 times during dry season). It indicates that native hedge nettles are very hardy and might work in an area that needs stabilization. However, they caution that being hardy, they can become invasive.

by Dirk Walters, illustrations by Bonnie Walters | Dirk and Bonnie Walters are long-time CNPS-SLO members, contributors, and board/committee participants. In addition to his work at Cal Poly, Dirk is the current CNPS-SLO Historian.

Annual Native Plant Sale

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

9am-2pm

Please join us at

Pacific Beach High School

11950 Los Osos Valley, Road San Luis Obispo

(At the Target intersection) (more…)

Conservation October, 2011

Our chapter is developing strong ties with the Friends of the Carrizo Plain in developing resources such as a wildflower guide, and providing road and trail logs of vegetation and geology. If you love the Carrizo and want to work with CNPS and FOCP projects contact me or Dr. Dirk Walters. (more…)

Cal Poly Tree Walk

Sunday, November 13, 9:45 am, Cal Poly Tree Walk.

This is a 2 hour stroll around the center campus pointing out beautiful landscape trees from all around the world.

Meet in front of the Kennedy Library located at N. Perimeter Rd. and University Drive. Parking is free on Sunday in student and staff lots. Heavy rain cancels.

Call leader Al Normandin at 534-0462 should you need additional info.

If you have a copy, please bring Matt Ritter’s new book, A Californian’s Guide to the Trees among Us, Heyday Books, April 2011.

A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us

A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us

 

Hike to Bell Mountain via the Rinconada Trail

Saturday, November 5th, 9:00 am, Rinconada Trail.

Join us on a hike to Bell Mountain via the Rinconada trail in Los Padres National Forest, passing through oak and gray pine woodland, a diverse chaparral habitat, and serpentine endemics, arriving at Bell Mountain (ridge-top) with 360o views from Paso Robles to Northern Santa Barbara County. (more…)

Avena fatua & A. barbata

Avena fatua & A. barbata

Wild and Domesticated Oats

One or the other or both wild species, common (Avena fatua) or slender (A. barbata) wild oats are extremely widespread all along the Pacific Coast. They can be found in vacant lots, roadsides, pastures, and yes, even in our beautifully kept native plant gardens. This doesn’t mean that we’re bad gardeners, just that this genus produces very effective weeds.

Identifying Wild Oats

Wild oats are members of the grass family (Poaceae or Gramineae). Oats have some of the largest flowers in this family of otherwise tiny to minute flowers.

Parts of Oats (Avena spp.)

Parts of Oats (Avena spp.)

Their parts are almost large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Individual grass flowers are aggregated into tiny clusters (spikelets). The spikelets are the readily visible units hanging down in the photograph and drawing.

Each oat spikelet consists of two large scales (bracts or more specifically glumes) surrounding two to three small flowers called florets. Each floret contains the 3 male organs (stamens) and a single pistil consisting of a basal ovary and two feathery stigmas. The stamens and pistils can’t be seen in the drawings or photo as they are totally hidden between to additional bracts.

The outer (and the only one visible) is the canoe-shaped lemma and a totally surrounded, thin palea. There are no recognizable sepals or petals. In the wild oat species, a stout bristle arises from the back of the lemma. This bristle is known as an awn. After the pistil is pollinated, its single seed matures and fuses to the inner ovary wall to become the unique fruit produced only by the grasses (caryopsis or grain).

The seed coat and ovary walls, when removed from the grain, are the bran we can buy at grocery and health food stores. In oats, the outside of the developing grain adheres to the inside of lemma and palea. This means that seed dispersal in oats (as well as most other grasses) is actually floret dispersal. The awn plays a vital role in this dispersal. The long, stout awns are bent in the middle; they bend or straighten depending on moisture availability. When it is moist, the awns absorb water and straighten at the bend. This causes the floret body (including enclosed seed) to be pushed forward. When it is dry, the awn flexes at the bend. Why doesn’t it pull the floret back? Notice the short, backward oriented “hairs” at the base of the floret. As the floret dries, these flip out and prevent it from being pulled backwards. Thus the floret is consistently pushed forward until it buries itself under a clod or it falls into a crack in the soil. Either way, the process both disperses and plants the oat seed.

Local Oats

There are three species of oats listed in Hoover’s SLO County flora. Two of the species possess a moderate to stout awn. These are the slender oat (Avena barbata) and the common oat (A. fatua). The third species in found occasionally along road sides and in fields where it had been grown. It is the domesticated oat (A. sativa). Domesticated oats produce larger grains and either totally lack an awn or if awns are present, they are weak. The lack of an awn would make the domesticated oats much better for animal feed.

Origins

The origin of oats is somewhat controversial. It is for sure, Old World and domestication most likely took place somewhere in the area surrounding the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It is rarely mentioned in literature of the early cultures of this area and then only as animal feed. It probably didn’t stack up well against the dominate grains of the area, wheat and barley. It seems to have had better acceptance further north and east in Central Eastern Europe and adjacent Western Asia. Here it became quite important, but not much as a human food but the mainstay of horse diet. It is from this area that the first mounted soldiers arose and horses allowed them readily to conquer the surrounding “horseless” peoples.

The conquering of horseless cultures by horse-mounted armies was repeated whenever it occurred. It even was a factor in Spain’s defeat of the Aztecs and Incas. Interestingly, the re-introduction of the feral horses into North America apparently caused the then agricultural Great Plains Native Americans to become mobile buffalo hunters. Why all this discussion of the horse? Because it was probably the need to bring grain on ships to feed the horses that introduced oats into California and beyond.

Uses of Oats by the Chumash

According to Jan Timbrook, the Chumash used the grains of wild oats and chia (Salvia colunbariae) seeds in a concoction. Wild oats (along with any native grasses growing with them) were beaten or striped into baskets. The chaff was beaten off with a mallet against rocks. The flour was separated from the chaff by winnowing. The flour was mixed with water and chia was added. It provided both energy and protein.

Controlling with Herbicides

There’s one more human-wild oat interaction worth mentioning. The July 2, 2011 Science News reports that herbicide resistant wild oats infects at least 4.9 MILLION hectares. This is over 1 million hectares more area than the second place plant water hemp.

First off, wild oats are not particularly “naturally” resistant to herbicides. Second, the article discusses herbicide resistance that is transferred to wild (weedy) plants from genetically modified crops. The way emphasized in the article, is via transfer of the herbicide resistant genes from genetically engineered crops to the weed via ordinary transfer of pollen. The crops are engineered to have a high tolerance for a specific herbicide. Then the farmer is assured that he may use large amounts of the herbicide to kill weeds without affecting the crop.

Unfortunately, many plant species can transfer pollen BETWEEN DIFFERENT species. Once the gene for herbicide resistance is in the weed, then it will spread rapidly via ordinary natural selection processes. When herbicides are applied wholesale as they are in modern monoculture agriculture, a few individuals that received the genetically modified gene are more likely to survive and produce seedlings that also carry the gene and are therefore resistant also. These seedling grow up and produce more and more resistant plants at an ever increasing rate. If you remember much about evolution, you can see that farmers are both supplying the source of the gene as well as applying a strong selection pressure for the spread of the resistance gene. The last is the same process, by the way, that creates antibiotic resistant microbes when we over use antibiotics. Only microbes often do it in a shorter time due to their faster reproductive rate.

The article talks primarily about a class of herbicides known as glyphosates which is found in a wide variety of herbicides including Roundup. It is this component that crop breeders have been adding to the genome of crops. The article talks primarily about resistance in and around crop fields, especially around grain fields. I suspect Roundup and Fusilade work in your garden because resistance is not universal. It just hasn’t reached isolated areas like your garden. Let’s hope it never does! But I hope it does raise a red flag about over use of any chemical pesticide. There is no genetic resistance to mechanical pulling of weeds!

by Dirk Walters, illustrations by Bonnie Walters | Dirk and Bonnie Walters are long-time CNPS-SLO members, contributors, and board/committee participants. In addition to his work at Cal Poly, Dirk is the current CNPS-SLO Historian.

Book Talk – October, 2011

Hello everyone!

Isn’t it great to come back after a summer of rest, exotic locations, family adventures or whatever else you were doing? I’m looking forward to our meetings.

I’ve picked up some new books and other materials for our book table, so be sure and give yourself time to browse at the October meeting. Also, we will be hosting a booth at the Nipomo Native Garden sale on Sunday, October 2, so come on out and join us. They have a great area to enjoy, and lots of plants for sale.

-Heather Johnson

 

 

President’s Message

After the summer break, the SLO Chapter is starting up again with our traditional October Meeting, a dessert potluck and member/guest-contributed slide show.

We had a very productive Board meeting in which plans for additional chapter activities were proposed. (more…)

Want to be our New Plant Sale Co-chairperson?

I would like to take this time to thank Karen Frank for all her help as my plant sale co-chairperson.

Over the years, and I mean years, Karen has put in many hours at the sale and has always been there to help. She and I went to CalPoly together and I am glad that we were able to continue our friendship as members of CNPS. Due to a change in her work, Karen can no longer help and I am looking for a member who would like to take her place assisting me.

The job is pretty simple – mainly just show up the day of the sale and help me get everything organized.

If you think you would like to be plant sale co-chairperson, please give me a call on my cell phone 805-674-2034. I promise that you will have fun and meet many interesting people. It’s also a good feeling knowing that you helped out our chapter in this very special way. Thank you.

–John

Urgently Seeking Chapter Secretary

CNPS-SLO is looking for a board member/volunteer to keep us organized and on track. We need to fill this very important position starting in January2012.

The chapter Secretary must be able to:

  • Attend eight boardmeetings per year (October through June except January)
  • Take minutes at those board meetings
  • Distribute draft minutes by email to the members of the board well in advance of the next board meeting
  • Make corrections and additions as needed
  • Keep copies of the final minutes approved by the board

If you would like to participate in your local California Native Plant Society chapter and believe you can be of service, please call Susi Bernstein (805) 349-7180.

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