Participate in the new effort to use digital images to investigate phenological change in a biodiversity hotspot – California.
How many of you have photographed a manzanita in the field, or brought back a leaf, and then had trouble identifying it using a key? There are many manzanitas in the County, and a lot share common features. You ask yourself if what you have matches what is described in the key. One helpful tool is to use something like the CalFlora web site to see what other people thought as a match to the species name, but those photos may not flag key diagnostic features from the key. Don’t you wish you had a bunch of correctly identified specimens lying in front of you for comparison? Well… you can…. At the CCH2 web site you can enter and examine specimens from dozens of herbaria.
On the opening page, select ‘image search’ and then type in the latin binomial into the search page. You can also search by common name, family, or taxonomic group. Click Load Images to see thumbnails of all herbaria sheets matching your search criteria. Select a thumbnail, and another page will open with data on the sample. Open Large Image will open a high resolution picture of the specimen. Once loaded, your cursor will turn into the ‘+’ which allows extreme close up.
This is sufficiently detailed to enable you to see glands on stem hairs, and details of leaf surfaces, and you will have a lot of samples for most species. Those of you who attended the workshop before the last meeting were learning how to enter data from herbarium sheets, and this site is where a lot of the data will reside.
A member of the Asteraceae family, bull thistle is an annual herb native to Europe and is widespread in California and listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. It is found in every state in the U.S. and on every continent except Antarctica. It is a problem in some natural areas such as Yosemite National Park, California. It might have been introduced to eastern North America during colonial times, and to western North America in the late 1800s. Bull thistle is the most common and widespread of pasture and rangeland thistles in western North America. It is also found in disturbed areas such as forest clearcuts, and along roads, riparian areas, and fences. Plants can form dense thickets, displacing other vegetation. The spiny nature of the plant renders it unpalatable to wildlife. Bull thistle is usually a biennial, but can be monocarpic (flowers and seeds one time) and die. It forms a deep taproot and prefers
fertile, well drained soils and grows to 3 to 4 ft. tall. In the juvenile phase, individual bull thistle plants form a single rosette to 3 ft. in diameter. Stems have spiny wings with many spreading branches, and sometimes a single stem. Leaves are 3 to 12 inches long, deeply lobed with coarse prickly hairs on top and woolly underneath. Lobes are tipped with stout spines. Bull thistle flower heads are pink-magenta, to 2 inches in diameter, to 2 inches long, usually solitary, or clustered at the ends of shoots and branches. Large spiny bracts (modified or specialized leaves) surround the seed heads. Bull thistle fruits are achenes (a simple dry fruit), 1/16th-inch long, with a long, hairy plume that is easily detached. Plants can produce up to 300 seeds per flowerhead, with 1 to 400 flower heads per plant. The seed bank is very short lived on the surface but may last 3 years if buried. The key to successful management of bull thistle is to prevent seed production. Seedling and rosette growth stages are the most logical to target for control efforts.
Mark Skinner: Invasive Species Chair
Cirsium vulgare: photo by David Chipping
Introduce your friends and family members to native plants this holiday season with a gift from our chapter sales table at the December 5 meeting. When you buy items from the sales table at our meetings and events, you are supporting our chapter and getting a good deal because the chapter pays the sales tax. Plus you can walk out with your purchase in hand. We have a wide variety of books including field guides, how-to books, and books specific to San Luis Obispo County. Friends who do not know they are native plant enthusiasts yet may enjoy the gift of a well-made attractive t-shirt.
New this year, Marti Rutherford will be bringing seed packets that we will be selling for $1.00/packet (the seeds inside are
priceless). Native plant seeds are a great gift for kids and gardening fans that might enjoy growing plants themselves. Marti’s wildflower mix includes tidy tips (Layia platyglossa), clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata and purpurea), lupine (Lupinus succulentus), and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).
We accept cash, checks, and credit cards. Dave Krause has been teaching me how to process credit card payments via PayPal on my iPad so I thank you in advance for your patience as I learn.
The Garden Corner
It’s time to start thinking about planting your wildflower garden with the winter rains coming soon. As in years past, we are beginning our rainy season late with a dry fall so far. This doesn’t mean we will have a dry winter, but this dry pattern is important when it comes to sowing our wildflower garden.
The best gardens start with the onset of rain. But if we put out our seeds too soon, the birds will eat them and the sun will bake the rest. So keeping this in mind, we can still prepare the site to be planted by raking the area smooth. Soil amendment is not necessary. Go through the seeds you have acquired, which, of course, you bought at the plant sale. Get everything ready so that when the storms start to line up you are ready to sow your seeds. Two days in advance of a rain event, complete the following steps: First, rake the top one inch of soil to loosen it; Second, using a light hand, spread seeds over the area that is to be your wildflower garden; Third, using your rake, go over the area once again to ensure there is soil-to-seed contact. Finally, and the best part, ‘do the stomp’ by walking all over the area to compress the soil. Then wait for the rains to come.
It’s important to provide extra water, if necessary, at least every two weeks. Otherwise if the rains come, sit back and watch your wildflowers grow! Until next time, happy gardening! If you have any questions about sowing your wildflower garden, please contact me at: email@example.com.
Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of OBISPOENSIS has never been used in any local newsletter. Bonnie drew it for Dr. David Keil and my plant taxonomy text back in the early 1970’s. Why has it not been used? Well, first a look at Bonnie’s drawing will indicate that the species produces inconspicuous flowers. It lacks petals, and the flowers are semi-hidden in the axils of its somewhat succulent leaves, and the species is not native to California. Its common names include New Zealand, or dune, spinach, Tetragonia tetragonoides. For you old timers like me, back in the 1970’s its most common published scientific name was Tetragonia expansa.
New Zealand spinach is considered by many to be an invasive weed. I assume we must go along with that, but my experience with it around here is that it’s not particularly good at it. It prefers slightly salty (halophilic) soils. It also seems to require a bit of disturbance. So, look for it at the upper, less salty edge of salt marsh and/or on coastal benches, especially in disturbed sites where few other species can grow. A few individual plants have been found along the edge of Los Osos Creek, west of Bay View bridge. It is especially common along the trails south of Spooner’s Cove in Montaña de Oro State Park, where it became sufficiently dense to warrant a targeted removal project. It can also be encountered as a weed all along the coast.
New Zealand spinach belongs to a family of flowering plants, Aizoaceae, that is primarily native to the Southern Hemisphere. New Zealand spinach is, in fact native to Southern Africa but has spread to New Zealand and is apparently a serious weed throughout southern Australia. Obviously, it has also been introduced into North America and Eurasia. The genus, Tetragonia, has around a dozen species and its generic name is derived from the four (tetra-) wings that are produced on the green fruit. These wings dry up and essentially disappear in the mature fruit. The inconspicuous flower displays a pale yellow color, but the flowers have no petals, only sepals as it only produces a single whorl of perianth (collective term for sepals and petals). If a perianth has only one whorl, botanists tend to regard them as sepals. These sepals, as well as the stamens are attached to the top of the ovary which makes the ovary inferior. The more famous and probably even more weedy members of the Aizoaceae are the ice plants
(Carpobrotus and Mesembryanthemum).
Wherever New Zealand spinach is found growing, its leaves have been used as a green vegetable. One web source indicated that the Magellan expedition around the world was especially happy to find a patch of it. They would pick the leaves, boil them and then dry (preserve) them for eating. It was particularly good in preventing scurvy! However, note that they boiled the leaves before eating them. The leaves contain enough oxalate chemicals to cause oxalate poisoning. Oxalate chemicals are usually destroyed by boiling.
The impact on plant communities due to mandated vegetation clearance at the Wildland-Urban Interface appears to be extremely variable, even along individual sites such as the pine forest in Cambria. In some areas we have been told that all small trees and shrubs were removed, and in others they were selectively preserved. CNPS urges members to photograph treatment areas, so that we can better estimate the long term ecological effects.
David Krause took these photos of untreated (left) and treated (right) areas in Cambria. Clearly the ‘fire ladder’ has been reduced, lessening the chance of crown fires, but wildlife habitat has been eliminated.
What should I plant in my yard this fall before the rains begin? People are often asking me this. I like to consider what Doug Tallamy told us at the CNPS state conservation conference a couple of years ago about planting trees and shrubs that are foraging hubs for insects and birds. He mentioned several genera that fed lots of caterpillars, which in turn feed lots of birds.
One of these was the genus Prunus. You may recognize this as a fruit tree genus including cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches. It attracts butterflies, bees, and pollinating flies. One of my favorites is the Prunus lyonii, or Catalina cherry. It has beautiful green foliage, is drought tolerant, and according to Las Pilitas nursery, it tolerates clay soils well. It is closely related to the native shrub called Islay (Prunus ilicifolia). Islay was harvested for the kernels inside of the pit. Jan Timbrook notes in Chumash Ethnobotany that one hat of islay was worth two hats of acorns.
The kernel of the cherry needs to be removed from the pit (you may eat the thin skin of fruit in the process if it is ripe first). Then you must boil the kernels and rinse the water several times, then smash the kernels and then leach like acorns to remove the cyanide that naturally occurs in the kernels. Since the native Islay was not available at the time, I decided to try this with the Catalina cherry growing in my Mom’s yard. (Catalina cherry is used in the horticultural trade and can be bought and planted easily). I gathered the pits that had accumulated on the ground, cracked them open, boiled and leached the kernels, then made little balls out of them. They kind of tasted like cooked beans, bland but nutritious. My curiosity was satisfied. I’m not crazy about the kernels as food, but I love the shrub with its gorgeous bright green foliage. The pictures below are from Morro Bay State park where it was planted between the campsites.
As I am writing this, I am thinking about the fact that we have our annual native plant sale coming up on November 2. I have been planting the plants that I have written about over the last year in my own garden, and I hope that you find some that will be perfect for yours as well. I’ll see you there on November 2.
The Garden Corner
Spider mites, aphids, thrips, oh my! Sadly, along with fall colors comes an invasion of these pesky insects. And trust me, when it comes to bugs, things can go south real fast! Fall’s warm weather, often times referred to as “The Indian Summer”, creates the perfect condition for these destructive creatures to explode overnight. Before you know it, there could be a full fledged war happening in your backyard. Luckily I have some tricks up my sleeve to keep these bugs at bay.
Now there’s a few things to keep in mind when it comes to repelling insects. This first thing to remember is that you’ll never be able to kill every single bug. Not to worry though, plants are able to tolerate a few insects here and there. Secondly, it’s highly important to be mindful of bees. The rule is: When flowers are present, there’s likely to be bees present. That’s why fall is an optimal time to spray for pests, as most plants are in a somewhat dormant state waiting for the winter rain.
When the bugs attack, the first thing I’d recommend is Neem oil. This organic pest repellent is made from the seeds of the Neem tree, and available at most nursery centers. Neem oil works by covering the insects’ breathing holes, and is also effective against leaf fungi on manzanita and toyon. Next on the list are soap sprays. I would suggest a simple soap spray made of potassium salts, which like Neem oil, smothers the bugs’ breathing holes. Lastly is Bacillus thuringiensis. This spray works exclusively on caterpillar insects like the ones that eat oak trees, and should only be applied in the evenings as it breaks down in the sunlight.
I hope this gave you a bit of insight on how to prepare for Fall’s creepy crawlers. Until next time, happy gardening! If you have any questions, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artwork: The plant on the cover of this issue of the Obispoensis is the elegant clarkia or mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata). It’s another drawing by Mardi Niles, using Prismacolor Verithin color pencils. When I first saw Mardi’s work, they were a fantastic study of the development of an inflorescence and the opening of flowers. I remember them as pencil sketches. Later, I saw them as beautiful finished watercolors. Unfortunately, our mailed chapter newsletter often has a grey-scale print on the cover.
Now let’s talk about elegant clarkia. It gets that name because its flowers are beautiful (and elegant) and the plant stands tall (up to 3 feet or more) which adds to its elegance. As can be seen, the 4 petals have an unusual shape. They have a long, narrow base and a broad triangular tip. Botanists call this shape ‘spatulate’. The sepals are fused into a disk that’s attached below the attachment of the 8 stamens. Note that only four of the stamens look like normal, functioning stamens with large anthers and the other four have tiny anthers. I don’t know if they have any function or not. Note the single flower bud shown in the picture. It is deflexed or has its tip pointing downward. This is an important character used to separate groups of species in the genus, Clarkia.
Elegant clarkia is endemic to California where it ranges throughout the foothills of the Coast and Sierra Nevada ranges. It seems to be rare or absent away from hills. The distribution map for the species in California resembles a big ‘O’ with the Central Valley inside the ‘O’. I find that the easiest place to find elegant clarkia growing is on roadsides, especially roadsides passing through hilly country. It is especially noticeable growing with thistle sage at Shell Creek.
Dr. Keil’s SLO County Flora (in preparation) will be recognizing a close relative of the Clarkia ungiculata, C. tembloriensis. C. tembloriensis, as its name implies was probably described from plants growing in Temblor Range. Dr. Robert F. Hoover, in the original San Luis Obispo County Flora, has a relatively long discussion of the two species that ends in his concluding that the two species intergrade so much in eastern San Luis Obispo County that it would not be productive to try and separate them. Well, we’ll have to wait to read what Dr. Keil has to say about them when his new County Flora is available.
Elegant clarkia makes a wonderful addition to a native plant garden; especially in a flower bed set aside for annuals. I first became acquainted with the plant in Ralph Baker’s Shell Beach front yard Ralph was the acting Chapter President when I joined the Chapter back in 1970. It was Ralph’s clarkias that inspired me to see if it would grow for me despite my very brown thumb. Since it is said to grow readily from seed, I obtained my first seed at a Chapter Plant Sale many years ago. Today, it now grows luxuriantly in my front yard in San Luis Obispo adobe clay despite most of my horticultural sources recommending well drained soils. Seed from my adobe grown plants were at the SEED EXCHANGE set up before our October Meeting and will also be available at the upcoming PLANT SALE the first Saturday in November.