October and November are when our Chapter gets serious about growing native plants. We have a November meeting devoted to it as well as our annual plant sale. This got me to remembering some articles written and drawings drawn by Alice G. Meyer that are in the Historians files. The mechanical typewriter written and her hand drawn copies on are on 8½ x 14 paper. I don’t think they were published in our chapter newsletter as I don’t remember us ever using that format. I think Alice may have produced them back in the 1970s or 1980s for the Morro Coast Audubon Society. If so, I hope they will forgive us for reprinting them. They’re too good to lie forgotten in a file somewhere.
Alice, along with her husband, Henry (Bud), were our Chapters first members to be elected Fellows of the State CNPS. Alice was extremely interested in native plant gardening and had a fantastic native plant garden in her Los Osos back yard.
Alice and Bud Meyer: Fellows of CNPS
It was Alice who suggested in the Early 1970’s that our Chapter have a Native Plant Sale! She then went ahead and planned it. The first one was small and contained only plants grown by Chapter members as well as a few plants propagated by Cal Poly Students in a Native Plants Class several years before and that were scheduled to be thrown out. It was quite successful! The Chapter has had a plant sale the first Saturday in November ever since.
Alice ran the sale until 1990 when the current plant Sale Chair, John Nowak, took over. Note, we have had ONLY two plant sale chairs since the early 1970s. This points out one of the strengths in our Chapter. Our member often have a long term commitment to the tasks required for running a CNPS Chapter.
Enough history, let’s let Alice tell us about a fantastic native garden plant in her own words.
Dr. Dirk Walters
PLANT OF THE MONTH
by Alice G. Meyer
The Hearst mountain lilac grows on low hills near the coast, just north and south of Arroyo de la Cruz on the Hearst Ranch. It is not known to grow anywhere else, and, is a rare and endangered plant. It is a spreading prostrate shrub, known botanically as Ceanothus hearstiorum (See-an-OH-thus hearst-ee-OH rum). Horticulturally, it is an ideal ground cover, 4 to 8 inches tall, handsome all year , but especially when it flowers in March and April. The shrub is not widely available, but some growers do propagate it.
Hearst mountain lilac grows best on the coast, in full sun. Inland, it prefers filtered sunlight, and should have some supplemental water during the hot months. Once established, it will survive on the coast with normal rainfall, but will tolerate some summer water. In dry years it needs extra moisture to maintain it best appearance. An observant gardener will note stress and take necessary action. Inland supplemental water during the hot months is a must.
Wherever it is grown, good drainage is important, and there should be no basin around the shrub as water standing around the trunk will cause bacterial problems. When planting, it is better to plant it on a slight mound, so that water runs outward towards the drip line, but the soil should not be piled up around it higher than it was in the container.
The edges of the dark green leaves are curled downward between the veins, making them seem notched and giving the leaves a crinkled appearance.
The deep wedge-wood blue flowers are in tight, upward facing racemes ½ to 1½ inches long.
Each flower is no more than 1/8 inch across.
If you remove one flower and inspect it with a magnifying glass you will find that it has a stem (pedicel) of the same color as the flower, and the five pointed sepals fold inward to the center around the three-parted stigma.
The spaces between the petals are like five rays extending from the center to the edge of the flower.
Near the outer edge of each ‘ray’ a yellow stamen rises, and at the very edge another petal extends outward. This petal is thread-like at the base, and at its outer edge it widens out to a spoon-like shape with a bowl about 1/16 inch long.
Because the flowers are so small, a great many are crowded into each raceme. The groups are beautiful, but close inspection of an individual blossom reveals its complex structure.
Should you grow this shrub, it is advisable not to let too many layers of branches build up on top of the shrub, as it will tend to die out underneath. Keep the shrub very prostrate. Where the plant is native, it is browsed by deer and cattle, and this tendency is thus resolved.
Hairy Fleabane or Flax Leaved Horseweed
Family: Asteraceae, Place of Origin: South America
Hairy fleabane is aptly named: it is strigose (set with stiff bristles or hairs) throughout the plant – stems, leaves, flowers.
Hairy fleabane is an low annual, (about 8″ to 3′) and thrives in disturbed areas. I’ve seen it emerge in cracks in pavement and in areas formerly occupied by European beachgrass in the Dunes. Often, it is present with Erigeron canadensis (Horseweed), which is native to North America. Horseweed, along with another native composite, Heterotheca grandiflora (Telegraph weed) are the most unattractive weedy natives in California.
Hairy fleabane produces many urn or barrel shaped flowers, the fluffy seeds are sandy colored and distributed by the breeze. In the Dunes it is competing with other composites such as Dunedelions and Cudweeds and should be removed.
Image: By Gmihail at Serbian Wikipedia (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 rs (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/rs/deed.en)
or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
I volunteer at the botanic garden Tuesday mornings. The display of yellow Viola on the undeveloped portion of the hills was wonderful this year and it occurred to me that there would be lots of seeds. I would really like to have the propagation crew at the garden try to grow some of these as I think they would make a nice addition to our gardens. Granted they disappear in the heat of the summer but they could make a nice groundcover under some of our shrubs and need no water in the dry time. So I approached Eve. Eve is the person who started the garden as an extension of her senior project at Cal Poly. She was receptive to the idea. I asked if I could take a bit more for other uses. Again the answer was yes and extended to some of the other plants on the hills. So when I thought the seeds might be ready I ventured out.
These are hills that are brown in the summer. They are covered with oats and ripgut and some other not so nice plants. But there are patches of Viola and Sidalcea and Sisyrhincium. So I had a goal of collecting all three. Finding those patches was not always easy. The plants disappear into the dried grasses. But I could ﬁnd some. And in my wandering looking for patches I was excited to discover that not only are there the invasive sorts of grasses but there was lots of Stipa pulcra, some Melica californica, Melica imperfecta (or at least a different kind of Melica), Elymus triticoides (I think), Elymus condensatus, Hordeum bracyantherum and the most exciting ﬁnd, for me, was some Danthonia californica. I am not collecting seeds of those grasses because they are not represented in great numbers and I want all the seed that’s there to possibly increase populations. But I am collecting the seeds of the Viola, Sidalcea, and hopefully the Sisyrhincum.
However, patience is a requirement. Finding the patches of Viola was not nearly as challenging as ﬁnding the seeds ready to gather. I am honing my observational skills and getting up close and personal with the plants. I was looking for black, ripe seeds so black drew my attention. Often the black was a little beetle that I saw only on violets. Is this a good bug or a bad bug? I have no idea. But if it is providing food for the birds in my book it’s a good bug. Perhaps it’s one of those specialist bugs that only use one plant. Questions. Down on my knees I can see the developing seed capsules and I have observed that as they ripen they lift and point to the sky. Once ripe, the capsules pop open. Sometimes a few seeds remain in the opened capsule. Whether these are defective or not I don’t know but I have collected them. At least they are black. Picking a few capsules early results in green seeds. I have picked a few, unopened but upturned, which have resulted in the sound of popping seeds in the paper bags at home. I have gotten some black seeds out of these. My favorite ﬁnd is to see the open capsule, still green, and ﬁlled with black seeds. Treasure! But it has taken weeks of venturing up on the hill to get a few tablespoons of seeds. Some of these will ﬁnd their way to the seed exchange.
The Sidalcea is another story. I found that many of the ﬂowers did not develop into seeds, but in some areas there were more that developed than others. Does this reﬂect the presence of more pollinators in some areas than others? In some areas the stalks were half gone. Are they browse for deer? More observations lead to more questions. But I did collect a few seeds that seemed to be ripe. The capsules on these plants seemed to dry with the seeds remaining in the capsule. But as they dried they would separate a bit and I found that if I just brushed my ﬁngers across a capsule seeds would fall into my hand. I found capsules with just a few seeds remaining so assumed these were ripe. I don’t have many seeds of these but after sharing with the botanic garden a few will end up at the seed exchange. You should want these. I have a Sidalcea grown from seed that has been blooming for several months in my garden. I think it’s beautiful.
As for the Sisyrhincium, I don’t have seeds yet and am not sure that I will. Those patches, which were so obvious and seemed so huge when they were covered with their blue-purple blossoms, are very hard to ﬁnd when there is no ﬂower to beckon. Those that I have found are not yet ripe. The capsules are still green and I don’t know if I will have any luck ﬁnding ripe seeds. But I am going to try.
What about not having the right shoes? The shoes I wear at the botanic garden are really old worn out hiking shoes with that open mesh sort of fabric for breathability. They are really great grass seed collectors. Those seeds penetrate through the open mesh and through my smart wool socks and into my skin. Almost intolerable. Before I drive home I have to remove my shoes and get rid of those seeds. I am pleased to ﬁnd that they collect Stipa seeds too which means that there are plenty of Stipa seeds to be had. But I am very conscious of the fact that I don’t want to be transferring these seeds to the trails so they are no longer used for hiking.
Reminder: Seed exchange before the October meeting.
Image courtesy of jkirkhart35 | https://www.flickr.com/photos/jkirkhart35/
Some of the most notorious invasive plants such as Carpobrotus, slender leaved ice plant, and cape ivy come from South Africa. Another quite bad one is Veldt grass (Ehrharta calycina). This bunch grass has wide (1/4″) leaves, is glaucous (grey-green) until it matures and turns maroon. From the road it has red tops which turn blond. The seed stems can reach chest height. It is a perennial that produces an incredible amount of seeds and grows throughout the year near the coast, living off fog drip, but mainly follows the rainy winter. Veldt grass is awful because it crowds and overwhelms other plants.
To be rid of it, manually pulling mature plants, including the buried crown of the plant is necessary or resprouting will occur. But this also this often stimulates seed germination. Manual removal must be repeated as seedlings appear from the seedbank. Serious infestations can be sprayed with a grasss-speciﬁc herbicide such as Fusilade. Timing is critical, especially after the ﬁrst several inches of rain. Some applicators report that postemergence treatment to plants over 4 inches tall is much more effective compared to treating smaller plants. If your locale has had Veldt for a long time keep at it until the seed bank is exhausted. The task is very difﬁcult in drought and easy in wet years.
The prune-ability of Arctostaphylos has been well known in the nursery industry for many years. I’m going to discuss my experience with the species I’m most familiar with, Arctostaphylos morroensis.
The Morro bay manzanita grows in and around the Los Osos area. It has seeds that can survive many years in sandy soil. I have found them germinating in yards located around Montaña de Oro State park. In many cases these plants come up in areas where their large stature would not be appropriate. Rather than removing them, I have transplanted some, or have talked the owners into letting me shear them into a hedge shape. In most cases, I ﬁnd that the plants are doing very well. They seem to live for many years under this intense pruning. The plants have maintained a much smaller stature, which is what the home owners wanted. They have developed a much denser canopy and their leaves have a much lusher color.
The only downfall I have found is the new growth can be a magnet for aphids. The aphids invade the new growth before it matures causing a red appearance as the insects drain the chlorophyll out of the new shoots. This new growth can also become deformed causing a very ugly mess. However, don’t worry, you can prune off the infested new growth and then apply a soapy spray solution. It maybe necessary to redo this treatment three times tonrid the plant of all the aphids. There is also a reduction in leaf spot. Leaf spot can be a real problem on the
older, mature leaves. Since the leaves are being trimmed all the time, the leaf spot cannot take hold.
So now that you know a little bit more about Arctostaphylos morroensis and its abilities, I hope you will consider it as a hedge substitute. If you have any plant questions, please ﬁll free to e-mail me. Until then, Happy Gardening!
Desert evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) is in full bloom at Shell Creek as I write this. So it
seemed appropriate to resurrect a drawing Bonnie drew back in 1981. It is one of her earlier drawings since it shows a lot of shading. The flowers are white and the plant starts out as a small mound and then spreads-out across the surface of the ground. It can reach several feet across. Fruits are produced along the full length of the branches. However, if you go to Shell Creek in summer and fall you will probably find little trace of it. This is
because as the branches dry out, they turn upward forming what resembles a largish bird cage. Lastly, the dried plant breaks off and joins the other tumble weeds bouncing around and distributing its seeds.
The species has several common names, including birdcage evening primrose, bird cage plant, basket evening primrose, lion in a cage, and devil’s lantern, or as I’ve been simply calling it, desert evening primrose. As my preferred name implies, it’s found in the deserts, from eastern Washington through California, Nevada, Arizona
and into northern Mexico. The common names that refer to “cages” are references to its bird-cage shape the dried plant takes just before it tumbles away.
According to The Jepson Manual, it has five recognized subspecies. This would be expected by a plant occupying such a large range with so many variations in habitat. It prefers well drained soils so it is very common on desert sand dunes thus another common name is dune evening primrose. In our area it is found in the valleys of the interior Coast Ranges, especially in sandy or well drained soils. The area around Shell
Creek is the most northwestern extent of its range of which I’m aware. At Shell Creek it’s most numerous in the sandy alluvial fan east of Shell Creek.
Some of the people on the Malcolm G. McLeod Annual Shell Creek Field Trip might have noticed quite a few of the flowers were fading, desert evening primrose flowers open in the evening and close up in the morning. That is, their large, fragrant, white flowers are open mostly at night when it’s dark. The white flowers would make them visible in the twilight and darkness. The flowers are very odoriferous at least in the evening. The large, white, night-blooming, odoriferous traits indicate that the species is pollinated by moths, probably hawk moths.
Before 1969, the genus, Oenothera, was huge and included species given the common names evening primrose for the night blooming ones and sun cups for the day flowering ones. Sun cups and evening primroses share, with other members of its family, Onagraceae, four separate petals. In fact, the flowers of the Onagraceae, have a number of distinctive set of characteristics which makes them easy to recognize. They produce flowers that possess four sepals, four petals, eight stamens, attached to the top of a generally thin, often long tube constructed from the bases of the sepals, petals and stamens (hypanthium). The hypanthium arises from the top of the usually four-parted ovary. This means the ovary is said to be inferior or below all the flower parts. This can be summarized asCA4 is short for calyx which is the collective term for the 4 sepals; CO4 stand for the corolla, the collective term for the 4 petals. A8 is the abbreviation for androecium, which translates as the “male things” which are the 8 stamens). G4 stands for gynoecium (female thing) which represents the four-parted ovary, style and/or stigma. The circled four indicates that the 4 subunits (carpels) that make up the gynoecium are fused into a single pistil (visual unit of the gynoecium within a flower). The most conspicuous character that separated plants with the common names, sun cups and evening primroses, is the stigma. A look at Bonnie’s drawing will show it to have four hair-like stigma branches. Only true evening primroses (Oenothera) have this trait. The rest of the old, un-split genus Oenothera display a single wide hemispherical cap. At first, all these species were put into the single genus, Camissonia. Unfortunately this is no longer the case as the knob-stigma species are now scattered into several genera with differences of opinion as to how many. One last point, these are EVENING primroses not primroses. I bring this up because a number of web sites left off the evening in the name evening primroses when giving their lists of common names. I know that common names are not regulated, but to call them simply, primroses, I find totally confusing. True primroses are in the totally unrelated family, Primulaceae. The Primulaceae have flower parts in 5’s. That is, they have 5 sepals, 5 fused petals and 5 stamens placed in front of the petal lobes. The ovary is superior and has only a single cavity, not 4, inside. A common weedy member of the Primulaceae is scarlet pimpernel which is a weed in almost all of our gardens. At least it is in those of us who are not great gardeners.
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.
I’m pleased to start an Invasive Species Watch column to Obispoensis. I’ve been in the invasive species removal business since 1999 mainly working in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes and San Luis Obispo Creek. Those that know me many not think of me as a warrior however many people (thanks CCC’s!) and I have been battling bad guys such as Arundo, jubata grass, veldt grass, European beach grass, Russian wheat grass (some of the most insidious weeds are grasses!) cape ivy and ice plant for a long time. The satisfaction of this work arrives when a formerly infested area is re-taken by native plants. The best memory I have is from 2002 when a heavy veldt grass infestation was sprayed out at the then Tosco Buffer (now Phillips 66) which was followed by a lush wildflower display of goldfields, dune larkspur, owl’s clover, baby blue eyes, blue dicks, sky lupine, and fiddleneck. I’m still working on the same weeds and I’m seeing progress: Russian wheat grass and jubata grass have been nearly eradicated from the Dunes! In future pieces I’ll be describing specific invasive species and what’s being done to control them.
Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of Obispoensis is based on a picture sent to me by George Butterworth. The species, Cucurbita palmata, has many common names. The ones I found on the web include coyote melon, coyote gourd, desert gourd, palmate-leafed gourd, coyote ear, buffalo gourd, stinking melon, calabazilla, or chilicote.
Coyote melon is primarily a desert species that grows best where there are summer monsoons. Since we are a little north of the summer monsoon track coyote melon is relatively rare in our area. However, a few plants can be found in the eastern edge of our Chapter area (i.e., Carrizo Plain and the upper Cuyama Valley). It’s a species that prefers sandy, disturbed soils where vegetation is scarce such as desert washes and dry, rocky slopes.
The most common name around here, coyote melon, refers to its vegetative resemblance to the pumpkin, squash cucumber, melon, or gourd, family Cucurbitaceae. The Cucurbitaceae are non-woody (herbaceous) vines with tendrils and broad, palmate-veined leaves. Flowers in coyote melon are unisexual (staminate or pistilate). In coyote melon they are large and yellow and borne solitarily in the in the axils of leaves. Fruits in the family are extremely variable and are considered unique to the family. Often it is a kind of quite large berry botanists call a pepo. Pepos have fleshy, fibrous, or watery flesh inside and usually are enclosed by a clearly defined outer skin or rind. When totally mature, they often dry out to a hollow dry spheroid.
From the list of common names for the family, I suspect it would be easy to conclude that the family produces a fair number of edible and otherwise useful cultivated species. The main economic species produce edible, fleshy fruit today. But this has not always been true and is certainly NOT true of coyote melon and most other wild members of the family today. The flesh of coyote melon is extremely bitter and if one is tempted to try to eat it, it would act as an extreme emetic. That is, it would rapidly be expelled from both ends.
So what’s the link between inedible and/or poisonous wild cucurbits of today with the edible cucurbits listed above? It is best summed up by a quote from a November 20, 2015 paper by A’ndrea Elyse Messer titled “Loss of Mastodons Aided Domestication of Pumpkins, Squash.” I actually heard (or read) about the article around Thanksgiving and decided to look it up on the Web. The quote that caught my interest was: If Pleistocene megafauna – mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and others – had not become extinct, humans might not be eating pumpkin pie and squash for the holidays, according to an international team of anthropologists.
The article indicates that most wild cucurbits are bitter and that smaller organisms (and humans) tend to avoid trying to eat the fruit. It then notes that large mammals, such as the mastodon, have fewer bitter taste buds in their mouths so eating cucurbits shouldn’t have been a problem. The authors note that they could deduce that the mastodons were eating cucurbits because when and wherever they examined fossil mastodon dung it contained cucurbit seeds. Since the only way cucurbit seeds could get into dung is by being eaten, they concluded cucurbits were an important food source for them. Being huge animals, mastodons had to migrate over wide distances so they also concluded mastodons were major dispersers of cucurbit seeds. The researchers also found that the DNA they recovered from the seeds in the dung was more similar to wild cucurbits of today than to cultivated edible ones. Therefore it’s logical that the ancestors of the edible cucurbits were bitter.
What killed off the mastodons? A recent book titled, The Sixth Extinction, gives a possible clue. It turns out that large animals live in a very tight balance with their environment and the regular sustained loss of even a few key animals would lead to extinction in a relatively short time (a few thousand years). Early humans coexisted with the last of the mastodons. Early human hunters probably preferred to kill the biggest and healthiest animals as hunters still do today. This would mean they would have taken the breeding animals of a family or herd. When a parent is killed, often the rest of their family dies as well. So even with very modest losses of a few key animals a year, the book indicates it would lead to a slow extinction in a few thousand years.
Mastodons and the other large mammals died out over ten thousand years ago. So why do we have edible cucurbits today? The article indicates that early peoples didn’t use fresh cucurbit fruits for food, but waited until they were dry and hollow and used them for containers, noise makers (rattles) and/or fish floats. Although some species’ seeds (e.g., coyote melon) are edible when totally mature, at least some of their seeds would have ended up in their disturbed, highly nitrogenous trash heaps. So people took over from the mastodons as major seed dispersers. So cucurbits would have been become common around early human settlements. Since a bitter compound is often poisonous in large uncontrolled amounts, but medicinal in small, regulated amounts, it can be assumed that early peoples used fleshy immature fruits as medicine. It doesn’t seem to me to be a great stretch to assume enough genetic variability in early cucurbits so that some would have been less bitter. These would be selectively utilized by early people, probably the wives and mothers.
By the time the mastodons were gone, early peoples would have been planting various cucurbits around their settlements. Once there, they would have been selected to be less and less bitter until we have the edible squash and pumpkins we enjoy today. So next Thanksgiving, remember to thank the mastodons and other large extinct mammals for your pumpkin pie. One final thought, pumpkins and squash were domesticated in the new world and in all likely hood the jack-o-lantern pumpkin was one of the few major crops domesticated within the lower 48 states. Personally, I find coyote melon to be best (and safely) enjoyed as we find it, growing in nature.
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.