Building a Pollinator Garden

It’s late February 2021 and we are running an online plant sale with our pick up date in SLO on March 20. CNPSSLO contributor Jen Lopez put together the following notes on creating a pollinator garden with the plant selections we are currently offering. 

These plants are appropriate for gardens throughout SLO County and most of California. All are drought resistant, tolerate some summer water, and will look beautiful when planted together.

Start with a slightly staggered row of shrubs along the back – possibly planted as a hedgerow with close spacing so that they intermingle as they grow

  • Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ (if you don’t have a deer problem) or Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ (if you’re in North County with deer) or Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ (if you’re in South County or along the coast and have deer)
  • Frangula californica syn Rhamnus californica – Although the blooms are almost unnoticeable to us, they’re essential to some of our smallest native insects. Very garden-tolerant, slow-growing shrub, with a neat and attractive appearance year round.
  • Prunus ilicifolia ssp. lyonii – Beautiful shrub with tremendous wildlife value.
  • Heteromeles arbutifolia –  Toyon is one of the most valuable wildlife shrubs, the others being willow, coffeeberry, and elder. Although sizable, you’ll never regret finding space for toyon in your garden.
  • If you have more space and clay soil or a high water table, add native elder and willow.

Next, add subshrubs in front and in between

  • Salvia leucophylla ‘Point Sal – will grow taller in partial shade, but stays low in full sun. Surprisingly tolerant of summer water and clay soils, but will rot in standing water.
  • Eriogonum fasciculatum ‘Warriner Lytle’ – buckwheats are some of the most valuable natives for our pollinators and are almost always buzzing with activity when in bloom. This variety grows2-3 times as wide as tall but its size is easily controlled by late-winter pruning.
  • Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’
  • Baccharis pillularis ‘Pigeon Point’

Complete your pollinator banquet with native perennials and deer grass

  • Epilobium canum – bumblebees cut hole in the base of the flowers in order to reach the nectar! These will spread gently but won’t wipe out surrounding plants.
  • Asclepias fascicularis – plant a minimum of three of these as they are essential food for Monarch caterpillars. More is better! If they begin to look weedy they can be cut back to stimulate new growth -but please leave trimmings at the base of the plants in case there are butterfly eggs present.
  • Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’
  • Sisyrinchium bellum ‘Rocky Point’
  • Muhlenbergia rigens
  • Solidago spp.

COVID-19 Announcement

A Message from the President

Out of concern for the health and safety of our members and dedicated volunteers, the Board of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of CNPS has had to make some heart-wrenching decisions. As you know, in response to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, state and local agencies have ordered all individuals to stay home except as needed to maintain essential needs. We do not know exactly how long this will last. Of course, this makes it difficult for us to count stamens and pistils together and share in person the “epic” flower displays we’ve come to know and love. We will, however, come through this. We encourage you to visit native habitats within walking distance of your home (while maintaining physical distancing, of course.)

In the meantime, though, we have decided the following:

  • All field trips, including the Santa Rita Road bike ride scheduled for April 19, are cancelled;
  • May 7 General Membership meeting is cancelled;
  • May 16 Plant Identification Workshop has been cancelled; we hope to reschedule it in spring, 2021; and
  • June 4 General Membership meeting is cancelled; we hope to bring you an alternative format with possible virtual reports from our McLeod scholars.

We are still working out the details of our coordination with UC Berkeley on the 2020 Sudden Oak Death Blitz scheduled for May 15-18 to ensure it can be conducted consistent with social distancing guidelines. We will keep you informed as details emerge.

As we move into the summer months, we will revisit our meeting schedule; perhaps we will be able to hold an August general membership meeting as we did last year, but at this time we just don’t know. This will be a “wait and see” event.

To those who worked so hard on setting up these activities: especially Mindy Trask, Kristen Nelson, Melinda Elster, Gage Willey, Judi Young, Cindy Roessler, our speakers who had to change their plans, Bill Waycott, and so many others – I can’t name them all -we thank you for all your time and effort.

We are learning new things! The Board met last week via Zoom videoconference, and we have plans to use this venue again in three weeks or so to see how things have progressed. We also plan to use this tool for the Board meeting currently scheduled for May 12. Who knows, perhaps this can become a tool for our general meetings also.

We want to stay in touch with you, and we want to hear from you. Our newsletter will continue to be produced electronically, and we hope to reformat it and produce it more frequently, with exciting tidbits for the stay-at-home nature of our lives these days. There will no longer be a mailed hard copy. Our newsletter editor, David Chipping, dchippin@calpoly.edu, is open to receiving contributed content from members, as well as ideas about desired content. If you have a special story, article, or photo, or just want to say hello, please drop us a line or check in on our Facebook page. Stay safe, and I hope we all stay healthy.

Melissa Mooney

President, SLO Chapter CNPS

Invasive Species Report: Purple Ragwort (Senecio elegans)

Invasive Species Report: Purple Ragwort (Senecio elegans)

An attractive member of the Asteraceae (Sunflower) family Senecio elegans is an erect annual herb, up to 1 ft. tall and to 1.5 ft. wide. It is native to Southern Africa and is distributed along coastal California. In northern San Luis Obispo County there are groups at San Simeon Point and at the other end of the county in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. Local CNPS members have located them in the Dunes as follows–1984: Hidden Willow Valley by Malcolm McLeod and Austin Griffiths; 1986: Kathleen Jones; 1990: south of Oso Flaco Lake by Lynne Dee Althouse and David Keil. Germinating following rainfall, leaves have blades which are deeply cut (pinnately lobed), into several toothed lobes and are sticky to the touch. The spectacular fuchsia colored, daisy-like inflorescence bears flower heads lined with black-tipped phyllaries (leaf-like plant part located just below a flower). They contain many (100+) deep yellowish disc florets at the center. Each has 13+ fuchsia colored ray florets. The flower heads turn into fluffy white seeds, ready for the wind to disperse the seeds. Senecio elegans is an escaped invasive weed where it spreads rapidly, displacing indigenous vegetation such as Dunedelion (Malacothrix incana). Control is achieved by pulling it before flowering. I’ve been able to easily pull many hundreds in the Dunes south of Oso Flaco.

Mark Skinner: Invasive Species Chair

Photo: Mark Skinner

The Morro Manzanita Chaparral Natural Community

The Morro Manzanita Chaparral Natural Community

by Melissa Mooney

In our November 2019 newsletter we discussed the Los Osos Habitat Conservation Plan, a plan prepared by the County of San Luis Obispo to address the impacts of development in Los Osos. In that plan there is a great deal of discussion of the Morro manzanita, Arctostaphylos morroensis, a plant that is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as Threatened under the authority of the federal Endangered Species Act. It is also a list 1B species, indicating rarity in California and elsewhere. What may not be as well known is that Morro manzanita is also the dominant vascular plant species of a rare natural community known as Morro manzanita chaparral, the Arctostaphylos morroensis Shrubland Alliance, as defined by the Manual of California Vegetation (Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf and Evens, 2009). This is an example of a natural community that is dominated by a listed species. Not all sensitive natural communities are.

Morro manzanita chaparral has a global ranking of G1 and a State ranking of S1, which is the highest (and rarest) ranking a natural community can have. Remember the Giant coreopsis scrub that we reviewed in our last newsletter? That community was G3, S3, also sensitive, but not as sensitive as the Morro manzanita chaparral, at least according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) VegCAMP program. The Program and the CNPS Vegetation Program review the rankings, which are based on the NatureServe’s Heritage Methodology.

Morro manzanita chaparral occurs in three primary areas in the Los Osos/Montana de Oro area. It occurs north of town in the Elfin forest and northeast of the Middle School; south of town on the north-facing slopes above Highland and Rodman Drive; and in two large stands in Montana de Oro State Park. The Plant Communities committee of the SLO Chapter has sampled each of these areas using the Rapid Assessment techniques of the VegCAMP program, and we have found that in the 4 stands sampled, the cover of Morro manzanita varies from 23 to 85 percent, with the average being 53 percent. Other species occurring in these stands include chamise, wedge-leaved Ceanothus (Ceanothus cuneatus), and coast live oak. There are many other species, such as monkeyflower, black sage, and phlox-leaved bedstraw (Galium andrewsii), but they occur at very low cover values. The stands are almost impenetrable due to the low shrubby branches of the manzanita, and if it weren’t for already created trails in some of these areas, it would be difficult to walk through them. Two stands we sampled are located on north slopes; one on a south slope, and another on a fairly flat surface. On the Geologic Map of the San Luis Obispo-San Simeon Region (1979), all are shown to be on dune sands, but there are outcroppings of soft shales in the Cabrillo Heights area.

Many interesting mushrooms, bryophytes, and lichens occur in this community.

Pixie cup image

Pixie cup

Coral fungus

Coral fungus

Manzanita flowers

Manzanita flowers

One of my favorite lichens is the pixie-cup lichen (Cladonia sp., see photo), which can be found on the moist soils alongside the trails beneath and sometimes on the lower bark of the Morro manzanitas. There are several species in the area. One very rare species, Cladonia firma, occurs primarily in the coastal sage community just north of the Morro manzanita chaparral in the Morro Dunes Ecological Preserve, but it also filters into the chaparral in some areas where the two communities intermix as a mosaic. A unique mushroom I found two years ago in the stand south of Highland Drive is the coral mushroom (Ramaria sp., see photo). I almost felt as if I was underwater when I saw it! It was growing under the manzanita in colonies with other mushrooms.

Also occurring within this community is the Indian Knob mountainbalm (Eriodictyon altissimum), a species that is listed by the USFWS and the CDFW as Endangered. It is also a 1B species. This species occurs in only a few other areas in San Luis Obispo County, at Indian Knob near San Luis Obispo, and in Hazard Canyon at Montana de Oro. It appears to establish clones from rhizomes, and, like the Morro manzanita chaparral, is fire-dependent.

Morro manzanita chaparral is a very rare natural community that is seriously threatened. It’s location near Los Osos provides a unique habitat for contemplation, exercise, and enjoying nature. However, in some areas, it is being loved too much. Individual plants are being trimmed haphazardly by unofficial trail makers. Erosion of the very sandy soils is sometimes severe, creating extensive scars, exacerbated by foot and horse traffic. The issue of fire clearance to keep the public safe needs to be studied and addressed if it proves to be detrimental. And, although some populations are preserved, as always, we need to be ever vigilant of development being proposed within the area.

Photo Credits: Inside the Manzanita Canopy: David Chipping, Coral Fungus: Melissa Mooney, Morro Manzanita Flowers: David Chipping, Cladonia sp. Melissa Mooney

 

Two components of the Morro Manzanita Chaparral Natural Community. Left: Galium andrewsii; Right: Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis Photos: David Chipping

Meet our Social Media Intern, Kieran

Kieran Althaus joined our team last fall doing Social Media work along side Judi Young for the chapter. He is soon going to start his Masters Degree at Cal Poly in Biology with Dr. Matt Ritter and Dr. Jenn Yost. In the mean time he is staying occupied with the Plant Science Club at Cal Poly, as well as working on a variety of Botany projects.

Poetry Initiative for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

This is a Call for Ecological Poetry/Prose/Art and Discourse throughout SLO County to unite with the cause initiated 50 years ago. Gathering stories to be Stewards of the Earth, this perspective can help direct hope for Earth, Forever.

If you have a venue or poem and would like an Earth Day Poem reach out to muebersax61@gmail.com Mary Uebersax, EarthTones Gifts, Gallery & Center for Healing 805-238-4413

Garden Maintenance

My garden is small compared to the ones I manage in my horticulture business, but it’s still a hideaway for the birds, bees and native plants. It’s calming and is a source of tranquility for myself and my family. During difficult times, and I’m sure you have experienced them and know what I mean, the backyard can be a peaceful and serene place. Sometimes however, the garden can also create stress.

Gophers, spider mites and water bills, to name a few, can detract us from our beautiful garden. But keeping this in mind, we must remember we share this space with the critters and the insects. These are all part of the fabric of nature. Just like fertilizer and compost, gas and electricity bills, we have to budget for this special place. It doesn’t matter if it is a drought resistant native garden or even a cactus garden. There will be maintenance involved. Weeding can take us away from family and friends, however, I have found over the years, for me, the yard has been a great investment.

When I think about the hours of enjoyment I have experienced watching the birds, bees and plants in my garden grow, these times have been some of the best I ever had. So looking forward to the future and what it might hold, I’m hoping you will find that the investment of time, energy and money in your garden, is one that is well spent. Until next time, collect rain water and happy gardening.

John Nowak

A Few Rare Dune Natural Plant Communities

A Few Rare Dune Natural Plant Communities

Everyone’s been to the beach, yes. But how much have we looked around to see what vegetation patterns are there to greet us? San Luis Obispo County dunes, and the Oceano dunes surrounding Oso Flaco Lake in particular, are awesome places that are full of rare plants and at least three rare natural communities, as defined by the Manual of California Vegetation (Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf and Evens, 2009). Let’s explore them. And remember, we give these communities names only to make it easier for ourselves to talk about them. We draw lines around them as we see them repeating in nature, but plants don’t always adhere to our neat little coloring books and boxes. There is really a continuum in vegetation; we separate areas mostly for our own convenience.

Closest to the beach, but not actually on the beach, are what are called dune mats, the Abronia latifolia-Ambrosia chamissonis Herbaceous Alliance and its associations. Some of you may know this as central or southern foredunes (Holland’s Preliminary Descriptions of Terrestrial Natural Communities of California, 1986), others as pioneer dune communities (Holland and Keil’s California Vegetation, 1995). In this community, sand verbena and beach bur-sage are characteristically present. It has a global ranking of G3 and a State ranking of S3, meaning it has less than 21-100 viable occurrences, or occupies a certain rather small area. Dune mats are characteristically found on small hummocks in between sandy areas within about a quarter mile of the surf zone. You might also see sea rocket and the invasive European beachgrass here. Rare plants found here include the surf thistle (Cirsium rhothophilum) and beach spectaclepod (Dithyrea maritima).

Remember that dune communities exist in an unstable environment, with frequent winds, salt spray, and shifting sands. As mentioned above, the communities also shift and sometimes blend into each other. And in extremely protected areas in between the hummocks we often find dune swales containing wetland vegetation. We’ll save those wetland types for another time, but let’s move on to another upland dune community.

Inland from the foredune community and on slightly more stable soils, we find silver dune lupine-mock heather scrub, the Lupinus chamissonis-Ericameria  ericoides Shrubland Alliance and its associations. Again, this community has other names such as central dune scrub (Holland 1986, referenced above), and dune scrub communities (Holland and Keil, 1995). Hoover’s Vascular Plants of San Luis Obispo County, 1970 refers to these areas as coastal sand plains. In this community, either silver dune lupine or mock heather is “conspicuous.” This community also has a ranking of G3 S3. This community can extend far inland, to almost 3 miles (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016). Here you might also see sea cliff buckwheat, California poppy, and occasionally, giant coreopsis (now Leptosyne gigantea), which blends into the next community. If you’re lucky you might find the den of a burrowing owl here, or even see an owl. Rare plant species found here include Blochman’s leafy daisy (Erigeron blochmaniae), dune larkspur (Delphinium parryi ssp. blochmaniae), and Kellogg’s horkelia (Horkelia cuneata ssp.sericea).

Giant Coreopsis

South of Oso Flaco Lake is a very rare natural community that many of us have visited and know its location well as Coreopsis Hill. Did you know that the community is called Giant coreopsis scrub? Its official name is Coreopsis gigantea Shrubland Alliance, but as we all know, the major dominant plant species, giant coreopsis, has had its name changed to Leptosyne gigantea. (But note that Leptosyne gigantea is not considered a rare plant.) In our area, this community inhabits the stabilized backdunes, but further south it occurs on bluffs immediately along the edge of the coastline. This community is ranked G3 S3 and is also considered sensitive. According to the Manual of California Vegetation, wherever the giant coreopsis occurs at greater than 30 percent relative cover, we can call the community giant coreopsis scrub. It typically co-occurs with Ericameria ericoides, Artemisia californica, and other dune-lupine-mock heather scrub species. Coreopsis Hill is its northernmost natural occurrence. This is the community shown on our front cover this month. These are only three of our rare natural communities that inhabit dunes along our coastline. Again, it is important to point out that there are variations and subdivisions within these types; these are called Associations. Some associations have been identified and classified; others have not. This means there is more work for our Plant Communities committee to do!

-Melissa Mooney

 

Invasive Species Report: Poison-hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Poison-hemlock Conium maculatum

Poison-hemlock Conium maculatum

A member of the Apiaceae (Carrot) family Poison-hemlock is a biennial native to the Europe and North Africa and is a common weed, widespread in California. Poison-hemlock may germinate throughout the year. First year plants are low-growing and may overwinter in mild climates and plants resemble carrot plants. Stems are erect, hollow, smooth and bright green with purple-reddish blotches. Leaves grow to two feet long and are tri-pinnately compound. In late spring, robust plants reach 5-8 feet tall and produce numerous umbel-shaped clusters of tiny, white, 5-petaled flowers. Poison-hemlock grows in moist areas such as pond sides, creek
banks and flood plains. It tends to grow in dense thickets and when the plants have dried out it is very difficult to walk through and the dead canes are toxic! It is notorious for displacing other vegetation. Plants reproduce only by seed and seeds may survive to about 3 years. Each flower produces two gray–brown seeds. There are hundreds of seeds on each plant. Poison hemlock is highly toxic due the toxin coniine. Seeds have the highest concentration of coniine. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Cattle are especially vulnerable. There are limitations to controlling this plant: do not cut, burn or graze. Pulling it is one of the best options and it’s especially important to pull out the root.

-Mark Skinner, Invasive Species Chair

What Does Low Rainfall mean for Your Garden?

Well, with our rainy season half ways over, the outlook is dire. Looking at the “up-to-date” records, we have received about half of normal rainfall, season to date. So what does this mean for those of you who have just put in those natives after the plant sale?

The bottom line is you will need to water your new plantings every other week deeply until the rains hopefully return. What does water ‘deeply’ mean? Depending on your soil type, deeply for sandy coastal soil means: fill the basin around your plant three times. If you live in Los Osos that means it could take up to 10 minutes for the soil to accept the first basin full of water. With clay soil, like in San Luis Obispo or Atascadero, one basin filling should be enough. Remember it’s always best to water early in the day.

Now we need to discuss your more matures trees and shrubs? Many of us already have old oaks, manzanitas, ceanothus and many other natives. Should I water them? If we don’t receive at least 2 inches of rain by the end of February, the answer is “yes”. I know you have always heard, “don’t water your oaks or natives.” This is somewhat true, but to clarify: Don’t water during the summer months of June, July, August and September. Watering mature oaks during these months can cause ‘root rot’ aka oak root fungus. However, during the winter months of December, January, February and March, our native plants, especially oaks, need rainfall to sustain themselves through the long summer months.

So in conclusion, due to the unusual deficit in rainfall that we are now experiencing, you may need to apply supplemental water to your garden. Keep an eye to the sky and if the rain doesn’t return (and you can afford it), you will need to help your garden out. Set out irrigation for established shrubs and trees as well as hand water your new plantings, every two weeks until the rains, hopefully return. Until next time, collect rain water and happy gardening. John Nowak

Garden weeds

The New Year always comes with the promise of happy times and lots of good luck. Well, for the garden, good luck means rain. And that great stuff helps our native plants grow. Unfortunately, rain also brings unwanted company to the garden in the form of weeds. A very smart person once told me, “John, a weed can be any plant growing in the wrong place”….. for example, California poppies.

I had a client whose yard was overtaken by California poppies. She said she had been told it was against the law to remove the poppies. I assured her that the ‘poppy police’ would not fine us and so we waited for the plants to set seed. I then removed the plants and collected lots of seeds, giving the seeds away. Needless to say the next Winter her yard was full of poppies again and is still to this day!

January is by far the best time for weed control in the garden. Nights are cool and the seedling weeds are small and easy to hoe under. Here are a couple of tips for weeding: First, wait two or three days after a rain event to weed, as wet soil is hard to hoe or hand pull weeds from. The soil will fall off pulled weeds easier when the soil is drier; Second, go after the largest weeds first, as these are usually the grasses which set seeds first. Compost weeds that are green and can really get your compost going. Third, do not use Round-Up unless it is absolutely necessary, and if so, follow the instructions closely. Lastly, when weeding, use a knee pad as kneeling is safer for your back then a bent over position that is hard on the lower back and will cause you harm. Start out slow and don’t over do it the first day. Finally, mulch after weeding, if you mulch too early it will cause you headaches when you try to hoe or hand pull weeds.

Well that’s a lot to comprehend. This weeding stuff requires a sharp mind and a weeding tool, as well. Until next time, happy gardening. If you have any questions about sowing your wildflower garden, please contact me at: gritlys@gmail.com.

John Nowak

Try Eating The Weeds

Ethnobotany Notes

Great, now you have planted your native plants, and maybe some vegetables. There are also some wonderful edibles that will come up as soon as it rains which you did not intentionally plant. Planting natives in your garden which you can use is ideal, but then there are also the weeds, which can also be very tasty and nutritious. There are many online and print resources available about eating non- native weeds. There are on-line forums and YouTube videos on how to prepare them.

Dirk Walters wrote about New Zealand spinach as a cooked vegetable used by early explorers. I have occasionally given it to my chickens as an addition to their boring store bought feed. Now I know that I should probably be cooking it first because of the oxalates. (They are happy to eat most weeds that I throw their way.) It can also be grown easily in our area as a planted vegetable. Every spring, my Mom would ask that I let her pick the Dandelion greens before I mowed the lawn at my house up north in the mountains. I also remember drinking Dandelion wine while visiting friends up in Alaska. Dandelions thrive in cold climates, but will also grow here in  places that are watered. Dandelion greens are a great addition to any vegetable stir-fry. The flowers are wonderful in salads and both are packed full of vitamins and minerals.

Stellaria media © 2006 Dr. Amadej Trnkocz (CC
BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Stellaria media © 2006 Dr. Amadej Trnkocz (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Purslane is another great vegetable, which can be sautéed alone or with others. I’ve always pulled it out of my gardens, and was surprised to see it being sold at a farmers market one day. Fennel flower buds are very pungent and can be added to many dishes, or just nibble on it for a quick breath freshener. Wild young mustard greens and flowers are also a nice cruciferous addition to savory vegetable dishes, used in place of kale. Chickweed (Stellaria) is great cooked or fresh in a salad and seems to be becoming more widespread. Eating the weeds is a great way to reduce those plants, which you do not want in your garden, without overforaging in wild areas. Always be sure however that your chosen weeds have not been sprayed with an herbicide previously.

Cathy Chambers

Using the Consortium of California Herbaria website

Using the Consortium of California Herbaria website

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.

David Chipping

Invasive Species Report: Bull thistle Cirsium vulgare

Invasive Species Report: Bull thistle Cirsium vulgare

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

Spread the Joy of Native Plants

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.

Linda Poppenheimer

Your spring wildflower garden

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: gritlys@gmail.com.

John Nowak

Tetragonia tetragonoides (New Zealand Spinach)

Tetragonia tetragonoides (New Zealand Spinach)

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.

Dirk Walters

Tetragonia in flower: close-up photo by David Chipping

Tetragonia in flower: close-up photo by David
Chipping

Bluff Trail, Montaña de Oro

Bluff Trail, Montaña de Oro S.P., site of a New
Zealand spinach removal project to encourage the return of native plants. Photo by David Chipping


 

Wildland Fire Buffers

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.

Ethnobotany Notes: Catalina Cherry

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.

cherryOne 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.

Cathy Chambers