After several years of dryness, we are finally blessed with a cold and wet winter. With all this rain it’s important to go over a checklist for the Spring profusion of plant growth. Seeing flowers already showing on Salvia, Ceanothus, Manzanitas, and Mahonias, at this time, it’s important NOT to prune your native shrubs. Pruning now would only remove the new flower buds and destroy an important source of nectar for the bees, birds, insects and animals.
Second on the list is do not use pesticides unless you have a severe insect infestation. Spraying would produce a situation thatwould put bees and other good insects at risk. Now is the time to release beneficial insects into the garden. Most nurseries start to receive these insects, such as ladybugs, at this time of year.
Third, stake trees and remove broken branches. The heavy winds are great for removing dead branches from oaks and pine trees but they can also damage young trees and shrubs. While staking, take time to inspect the root zone to make sure not to drive a stake into a main root, this would only defeat the purpose of the staking.
Next, remove the largest weeds growing closet to the trunks of tree and shrubs. Don’t use Round-Up™. Large weeds can be pulled and composted. For smaller weeds, spray with straight vinegar. This will burn the small weeds and will not affect the soil. There are also several new organic based weed sprays mostly made from peppermint oil.
Last, do not rototill close to tree and shrub trunks. This weed control method works great but can cause serious damage to surface roots. Lastly, get your favorite chair and beverage ready so you can relax and enjoy your beautiful garden and the flowers to come!
Until next month, Happy Gardening; John Nowak, Plant Sale co-Chairperson.
A few years ago, I became interested in lichens and bryophytes during the winter months when there were few flowers to look for. I took a class on lichen ID up at U.C. Berkeley’s Jepson herbarium, and then another at the Santa Barbara botanic garden. I highly recommend these classes for anyone wanting to learn more about lichens. Most lichens have algae as a photosynthesizing component, others use a cyanobacteria in addition to its fungal component. CNPS has helped protect rare lichens as ranked plants, so I’m including them this month in Ethnobotany Notes.
People around the world use lichens for food, medicine, dying wool, and a variety of other uses. I have read that Native American people in the Pacific Northwest had traditionally eaten a type of Bryoria lichen, which was boiled or pit roasted in a special way to reduce the toxicity from the secondary compounds. I’ve also heard of friends who made an antibiotic salve from our local Usnea. Usnic acid has long been a part of commercial herbal deodorants and skin creams. There are reports that it was used for baby diapers as well. It is estimated that 50% of all lichen species have antibiotic properties.
Some lichens were used for poison, especially those high in vulpinic acid which tends to make a very yellow lichen. Lichens were also used in ancient Egypt as part of the embalming process. Lichens are a common source of natural dyes. Indigenous people in North America made a yellow dye from the Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina of the Sierras by boiling it in water. Some dyes can be extracted with boiling water, but others require ammonia fermentation, which is steeping the lichen in ammonia (traditionally urine) for at least two to three weeks. In the Scottish highlands, various lichens yielded red, orange, brown, and yellow dyes. In Europe, a purple was extracted from Roccella and Ochrolechia. Litmus, the pH indicator is extracted from the Roccella lichen.
Ethnolichenology has quite a Wikipedia page. I was surprised. It is well worth looking up, if only for the 19th century Japanese painting of Umbilicaria lichen gathering. If this has whetted your appetite for lichens, you can find lichen walks and workshop information at the California Lichen Society (CALS) website: californialichens.org. Sylvia Sharnoff has also written about lichens and people.
by Cathy Chambers
Photo: Red Usnea rubicunda at Los Osos Oaks Reserve; photo David Chipping
The native plant on the cover of this Obispoensis is a beautiful rendition of a species of the genus Calochortus. The painting is another of Heather Johnson’s. If you’re seeing it on the mailed version it will be in shades of gray. You can see the painting in the original spectacular color if you go to the Chapter website (cnpsslo.org). Heather identified the painting only as ‘mariposa’ and I’m not going to try to identify it to species. It often requires characters that are not present in the art work such as whether the fruit is pointed up or down. Besides, it’s the genus that’s discussed below.
Calochortus is a large genus (70 species) spread over the western third of the United States. The genus’ range extends north into Western Canada and south into Central America. That said, California has nearly half (27) of the species. Many of the California species are endemic, such as our own Chapter flower, the Obispo star tulip (Calochortus obispoensis). If you note that the species name (obispoensis) is the same as the name of our newsletter, it’s not a coincidence. Alice Meyer (our very first Hoover Award Winner) thought the species name of our endemic star tulip (found on local serpentine, i.e. Cuesta Ridge) was indicative of our Chapter area.
Calochortus is a genus in the lily family (Liliaceae). This large family of monocots is generally easy to recognize by its large showy flowers that often consists of three large showy petals and three usually colored sepals that often can be as large and as showy as the petals. Think lilies and/or tulips. However, that is not the case in this genus as their sepals are small. Like a lot of monocots Calochortus has 6 stamens and a single pistil that matures into a capsule. The genus takes these basic elements and produces at least three very distinctive flower shapes, which, in our area match the three common names most associated with this genus.
A 1998 evolutionary study (T.B. Patterson) of the genus determined that there were 4 evolutionary lines within the genus. Two of these lines correspond closely to two of the common names. These are mariposa lilies and fairy lanterns. In the fairy lanterns orglobe lilies, the flowers are nodding and the broad petals come together at their tips to form a hollow globe-like structure. Petal colors are usually subdued and lacking in conspicuous spotting. Fairy lanterns tend to be found in oak woodlands or closed woodlands.
In contrast, the mariposa lilies produce upright flowers with the petal tips spread apart so as to form a cup. The individual petals are usually ornamented with conspicuous markings. The markings make obvious a large, colored (nectary?) gland that usually occupies the base of each petal. This flower form is very widespread and I’ve seen it in the Sierras and the Great Basin. Flowers are usually arranged as seen in Heather’s painting. Obviously, Heather’s painting is of a species that would belong to this group.
Star-tulips make up the third flower form. This group usually produces less showy flowers with petals that are triangular in shape and of darker colors. In addition, the petal color is often difficult to see due it being hidden by the tufts of trichomes (hairs) that cover the upper surface. The petals are flat and all in the same plain. The flowers are usually orientated vertically so the petals resemble a 3-pointed star. Our Obispo star-tulip belongs to this group. Star tulips are often found in Chaparral or mountain woodlands. For the record, there is some confusion in my mind in the application of the common names –star-tulip and the cat’s ear mariposas.
The last evolutionary line is titled the cats ear mariposas. I’m not familiar with this name and when I tried to google it I got lots of remedies for curing problems with real cats ears. However, the species I know that were said to belong to this group had the mariposa lily flower configuration. The web noted that cat’s ear mariposas are associated with wet lands.
According to the web many of the Calochortus species were used by Native Americans for food (especially their bulbs), medicine and ceremony. One source noted that the bulbs were eaten by the Mormon settlers between 1853 and 1858 when famine threatened the new immigrants to the Great Salt Lake Valley, due to crop failures. I suspect many of the species in this genus would make excellent additions to any native plant garden, especially one that lies dormant and un-watered throughout the summer drought. The problem would be getting material to plant as few nurseries keep them in stock.
Technically, the Monterey pine tree threw the seed at my spouse who was standing on the deck outside of
our house enjoying some sun. After the loud crack of a pinecone bursting open, one papery-winged seed
wafted down onto the deck. Even though we live in the Monterey pine forest of Cambria, I had never seen
a Pinus radiata seed.
I planted the seed in a pot and placed it with the other pots containing native plant seeds I obtained at the
fall seed exchange. In preparation for collecting seeds later in the year, I have been checking out the CNPS-SLO website.
Some of the things you will find on the Resources page are:
An explanation of why native plants are important with links to more information.
Beautiful illustrations and photos accompanied by detailed information about specific featured plants.
Seed Collection and Saving for the Casual Gardener, by Marti Rutherford gives tips for collecting,
cleaning, and saving seeds.
On the state CNPS website, I found a post entitled California Native Plant Propagation by Matt Teel that
includes seed collecting how-to tips and photos. If you do not already have a copy of Seed Propagation of
Native California Plants by Dara Emery, check out June’s book sales table at the next meeting.
by Linda Poppenheimer
Pinus radiata Radiata_Pine large
A Monterey pine seed with the wing that enables the seed to flutter downward slowly like a descending helicopter, enabling a further dispersal than would be allowed from just dropping a seed out of the cone. Photo by Phil Bendle
Last spring, the story of a Dudleya smuggler in Mendocino County hit the news when an observant person noticed something odd while waiting in line at the local post office. (Here’s a linkto one of the news outlets covering that story.)
Now we have our own case of Dudleya smugglers caught stealing the native succulents from the cliffs in Big Sur. Read about that story here.
In both these instances, a concerned observer noticed odd behavior and acted on it. Customs was called to check the shipments from the Post Office, and the woman observing the poachers in Big Sur took photos of the smugglers and their license plate. If you see something, say something.
John Chesnut has created a beautiful article on propagating Dudleya – you can read ithere. And if you are out and about and see someone stuffing plants in to a bag or prying Dudleya’s off a cliff, contact local law enforcement or CDFW. Our local office doesn’t have a phone number, but you can send an email to AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov.
Belmont Field Office and Laboratory
350 Harbor Blvd., Belmont, CA 94002
No general line
No general fax
Eureka Office and Laboratory
619 2nd St., Eureka, CA 95501
Fort Bragg Field Office and Laboratory
32330 N. Harbor Dr., Fort Bragg, CA 95437
Los Alamitos Field Office and Laboratory
4665 Lampson Ave., Suite C, Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Monterey Field Office and Laboratory
20 Lower Ragsdale Dr., Suite 100, Monterey, CA 93940
Sacramento Field Office
1812 Ninth St., Sacramento, CA 95814
No general line
San Diego Field Office and Laboratory
3883 Ruffin Rd., San Diego, CA 92123
No general fax
San Luis Obispo Field Office and Laboratory
3196 South Higuera St., Suite A, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
February is pruning month and with all the rain its time to get out the pruning tools. A dull, unsharpened tool can be dangerous to use so it is wise to sharpen them before use. Some general rules about sharpening tools.
First, always wear gloves when sharpening tools. Most of us remember the old sharpening stone used to sharpen steel tools and implements through grinding and honing. My father had a hand driven sharpener and I love to sharpen tools so as to watch all the sparks fly. This type of sharpener has now been replaced with electric motors, but the idea is the same. Electric sharpeners are only to be used for sharpening lawn mower blades, shovels, hoes, and hand held hedge clippers. Again wear gloves and eye protection when sharpening tools. Never use electric sharpeners to sharpen hand pruners – it’s not safe.
So, how does one safely sharpen hand pruners? There are a few new hand-held sharpeners on the market now. One is a small hand held sharpener that has two sharpening blades and has a hand guard. This is a very safe type of sharpener and is available at most garden centers. The second small sharpener is the old 8-inch long sharpening or whetstone. This type of stone requires some motor oil to allow blade-to-stone contact. This is the best way to sharpen hand pruners and branch loppers.
There are many YouTube videos on how to use a sharpening stone or whetstone and I would suggest investigating them to hone your sharpening skills. If anyone needs some extra advice on pruning techniques or what to prune, please contact me at email@example.com.
Until next month, Happy Gardening! John Nowak, Plant Sale co-Chairperson
As we have just experienced an intense and prolonged drought, a team of scientists has just published in Nature Climate Change Letters an analysis of impacts in the Carrizo Plain. They quantified the responses of 423 species of plants, arthropods, birds, reptiles and mammals to California’s drought of 2012–2015—the driest period in the past 1,200 years for this global biodiversity hotspot.
The article by Prugh and others was published in Nature Climate Change Letters “Ecological winners and losers of extreme drought in California” August 20th, 2018 The report states that plants were most responsive to one-year water deficits, whereas vertebrates responded to longer-term deficits, and extended drought had the greatest impact on carnivorous animals. Perhaps surprisingly, locally rare species were more likely to increase in numbers and abundant species were more likely to decline in response to drought, and this effect was remarkably consistent across taxa and drought durations.
Of the mammals, California ground squirrel, San Joaquin kit fox and Giant kangaroo rat fared badly, while Southern grasshopper mouse and Short-nosed kangaroo rat were successful. For birds, barn owls and western meadowlarks declined, while killdeer and roadrunner populations remained stable. The rare Blunt-nosed leopard lizard suffered, but the coast horned lizard and side-blotched lizard were little affected. Spiders and scorpions declined, but certain beetles did well.
As was obvious to most people, nearly all plants were impacted, but certain hardy species such as Calandrinia were successful in the absence of competition. The study concludes that while extreme droughts can produce substantial short-term declines in the abundance and diversity of species, these disturbances may play a vital role in the long-term maintenance of biodiversity by inducing periodic die-offs of dominant species and subsequent opportunities for rare, yet fast-growing, species.
This study is especially useful as climate change projections indicate that extreme, extended droughts will become more common, as well as the maximum summer temperature, and the duration, intensity and timing of the rainy season.
As far as SLO Chapter is concerned, I am hoping we can work with Cal Poly, BLM, and the Friends of the Carrizo Plain to institute a long term monitoring program in which we can collect photographic and quantitative data on the conditions at different parts of the greater Carrizo Plain. There are already ongoing experiments in which exclosures are used to exclude larger animals and, in an inner fence, rodents from the grasslands, but I don’t know of any broad vegetation assessments apart from the CNPS-generated vegetation map which was a snapshot of conditions, and is governed by the dominant plants rather that the complete population.
I would propose that this spring, we get together a group to select a series of areas that will be linked to GPS coordinates, and that the sites would be revisited and photographed (and possibly inventoried) a couple of times per year, and over many years. I am intending to meet with faculty at Cal Poly to see if they would see a way to direct a series of student projects in a similar effort.
There is a passage in John Muir’s First Summer in the Sierra that has always stuck with me:
In the great Central Valley of California there are only two seasons — spring and summer. The spring begins with the first rainstorm, which usually falls in November. In a few months the wonderful flowery vegetation is in full bloom, and by the end of May it is dead and dry and crisp, as if every plant had been roasted in an oven.
That pretty much describes the seasons in a lot of places in SLO County as well, although I’ve always thought February marked the advent of spring in the California foothills. In a year like this one with what used to be called “normal” rainfall, you can count on a flush of early blooms – manzanitas, milkmaids, buttercups, fiesta flowers and more. It’s the cycle of renewal we count on each year, just like we count on your support to keep our programs going. We thank all of our new and renewing members this month.
Ammophila arenaria is in the Poaceae family. It is native to northern Europe and spread from plantings from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Andrea Pickart has written that European beachgrass is the most pervasive exotic plant species currently threatening coastal dunes on the west coast of the U.S. and is invasive in every major dune system from Santa Barbara County to the northernmost dunes of Washington and has widely displaced a native dune grass, the circumboreal American dune grass (Elymus mollis).
In San Luis Obispo County, Ammophila arenaria was planted for sand stabilization and has spread throughout the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes and Morro Bay. It was planted to aid construction of the La Grande Dance Pavilion in the early 1900s south of Arroyo Grande Creek. It is a perennial grass 1 to 4 ft tall, with long, rigid, tough, waxy blades with sharp tips. European beachgrass spreads from rhizomes. Ammophila rhizomes may survive in the ocean and can be redeposited onshore to create new populations. Populations may extend inland to over half a mile.
From its ability to trap and stack sand Ammophila may create tall, steep and durable foredunes that excludes other vegetation and eliminates habitat for dune arthropods, California Least Terns and Western Snowy Plovers. It is a threat to rare plant species such as Surf thistle (Cirsium rhothophilum) and Beach spectacle pod (Dithyrea maritima). Interest in controlling Ammophila began about 1980, but success was not encountered until the 1990’s. Implementation of control efforts on a large scale are underway throughout the west coast. Digging out Ammophila is labor and cost intensive and may harm archaeological sites. The most successful method involves spraying Imazapyr. This may be followed with a controlled burn to create space and conditions for native plant restoration.
Marlin Harms will give a presentation in the Mind Walk series (Central Coast Parks Association) at the Inn at Morro Bay on Feb. 4. His program will feature his photography as well as aspects of biology and ecology of the organisms that live there.
Meetings start at 10:15, but may be standing room only by starting time as there is limited seating.
The upcoming presentation is on plants that uptake nickel as a biological weapon to combat insect predation, and the insect that is beating the system reinforces the connectedness between plants and other features of the natural world. In the Carrizo Plain there are plants that only grow in salty soils, or gypsum rich soils, or iron-rich friable soils. Some are dependent on the fungal population, some on forced absence of other species generated by the soil chemistry which eliminates competition. The fungi, which have shown up in profusion this year have a completely different roster of species in the Cambria pines (great January field trip by the way), and in the Los Osos Oaks. Without the mushrooms, dead stuff will accumulate on the ground, and the fungi chew into the pine needles and old branches to release the nutrients for the next generation of plants. That is why CNPS, in a resolution made several decades ago, stated that it was ‘more than just plants’ in considering ecosytem integrity.
There is, of course, always a problem in these days of human activity in the natural environment. As Mark Skinner points out, we have introduced weeds that are great ‘generalists,’ have a rapid and early growth cycle, and abundant seed production. These can cover the substrate, denying the space needed for the fruiting of mushrooms, and eliminating space for natives. Sometimes the soils that are still ‘nasty’ as far as the aliens are concerned, will become the last stands for important parts of the California flora.
This is a repeat plant from 1997. At that time, the article was accompanied by a grainy black and white photograph. This time the article is accompanied by a beautiful painting by Los Osos resident and CNPS member, Heather Johnson, who has given permission for us to use it in the Obispoensis. Keep on reading!
The LA County Board of Supervisors will consider whether or not to approve the proposed Centennial development next Tuesday, December 11.
Although this project is located in LA County, we believe this is an issue that impacts all of California, both in terms of our biodiversity and the precedent it sets for sprawl at the Wildland Urban Interface. Tejon Ranch is one of the most biodiverse areas of California, containing 14% of California’s native flora and a third of our native oaks. What’s more, it’s situated in a high fire hazard severity zone, putting future residents in harm’s way. We are advocating for the conservation of this land in its entirety.
Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolium is a wonderful, hardy, native California evergreen shrub. It can be a good screen in the yard, growing up to 6 feet fairly quickly. It tolerates soils from serpentine to clay, to sand. It is not as flammable as other chaparral shrubs. It is a great forage plant for bees, butterflies, and other insects, as well as birds. You will find it to be a foraging hub in your yard when it is flowering, and then the fruit will feed birds. The red berries were eaten by many native Californians as well. They also contain some cyanide compounds and must be roasted, wilted, or boiled before eaten. The hard wood was used to make many tools including bows. I remember my Mom, an east coast transplant, making wreaths for the door at Christmas. The berries are ripe in red clusters in November and December making it perfect for making holiday decorations.
Photo by Stan Shebs and shared under Creative Commons 3.0 license
The brilliant red berries of the Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) usually herald the advent of holiday season. And they are certainly a gift to many hungry animals in winter. It was thus rather surprising to find two large old shrubs in full bloom at the Fiscalini Ranch just a couple weeks ago. Their blossoms provided a gift of a different kind to dozens of monarch butterflies seeking nectar and water after their long journey from up north. I love native plants, not only for themselves, but for their enormous importance for sustaining wildlife.
Your gifts of membership are what sustain the chapter and ensures our vital work in conservation, education, horticulture and plant science continues to grow and flourish.
If you want to have an even bigger impact, consider a gift membership to CNPS for someone special for the holidays. Your recipient will receive all the benefits of membership over the course of a year including Obispoensis, Flora, The Bulletin, and Fremontia newsletters, as well as opportunities to participate in field trips, informational programs and our annual CNPS banquet. It’s easy to do. You can fill out the form on the back of the newsletter and send a check or go to our web site and click on About > Join > Join / Renew. You will be directed to the statewide CNPS web site. You can then choose the appropriate gift level and click on the small box that says “I wish to give a gift of membership” above the Comments section. You’ll be guided through the rest of the necessary steps to establish the gift. Happy Holidays!
The extremely invasive Foeniculum vulgare is in the carrot (Apiaceae) family. It is native to Southern Europe and is problematic in coastal California and is also present throughout the western US all the way to Texas. I’ve encountered Fennel on Santa Catalina Island and Santa Cruz Island. Clusters of Fennel may be found in disturbed areas, mostly roadsides and fields. Fennel is an aromatic perennial with a thick deep taproot and which grows to 5 to 10 ft. tall forming dense stands producing thousands of seeds that birds and rodents consume. Seeds may survive several years. Feral pigs are attracted to it and love its roots! Fennel crowds out native plant species and can drastically alter the composition and structure of many plant communities, including grasslands, coastal scrub, riparian, and wetland communities.
The cultivated varieties of Fennel are seldom invasive. The leaves are finely dissected and the plants produce yellow flowers on compound umbels. Fennel is a difficult, labor intensive plant to control. Small infestations can be dug out. Large plants are hard to dig out. Preventing seed production by lopping stems is vital so cutting Fennel repeatedly is advised. Grazing with goats can knock the plants down. Burning doesn’t work because Fennel quickly recovers, but if linked with herbicide treatment may be an effective method.
In past issues of Obispoensis, I have noted some of my observations on the impact of invasive plants in our state – their negative effects and a bit on their historical introductions. My musings on the origins of such a domineering presence by these plants, led me to machinations on how alterations to our California landscape invariably trigger chronically weedy areas that don’t seem to ever go away. It is unfortunate that once the native landscape is significantly altered, invasives race in and dominate for, well, forever!
There are examples of this all around us, where invasives out compete their native counterparts by germinating earlier, by flowering earlier or flowering later, by flowering more abundantly, or by simply over growing them. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that every time a land parcel on the Central Coast is disturbed, its ability to return to its former, diverse self is seriously hindered, if not eliminated. Can someone show me a landscape that has successfully regenerated to its former self after significant disturbance?
An excellent example of how permanent the impact of disturbance can really be, is clearly illustrated along the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way, not far from my house, where it winds through vineyards south of the SLO County Airport. According to historical records, that rail line was completed in 1895. As one walks through the area today, it is choked with the usual cast of characters; two species of mustards (Brassica sp.), wild oats (Avena sp.), bristly ox tongue (Helminthotheca echiodes), prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola), Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), purple vetch (Vicia villosa), Canadian horseweed (Erigeron canadensis), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), curly dock (Rumex crispus), and a Class B noxious species, Russian knapweed (Rhaponticum repens); all of this along with an occasional coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).
So, for more than 120 years, this area has been left to the quirks of nature to restore itself to its former self. And in a century’s time, only an few coyote brush grow there, along with a gang of opportunists, better able to thrive than the natives they’ve replaced. Like the zebra and guagga mussels in the Great Lakes, and the Asian collared doves in North America, the introduced and now naturalized exotic plant species are here to stay, at least for the conceivable future.
As we approach land development going forward, we now know that if we disturb the land, the chance of realizing a full restoration event on that parcel is next to impossible. We also know restoration is an expensive proposition (plants, irrigation, and management), that more than likely will end in failure, as well. It is tough! Hence, the more competitive, more aggressive introduced species that abound in disturbed areas here, are now actually part of the “new normal” – they’re here to stay. The way I see it, it’s time we welcome these visitors as permanent residents in this environment, and therefore, integral participants in our California landscape.
Mixer and Browse Sales Table 7:00 pm, Program 7:30 pm
Program: Carrizo Ecological Reserves, George Butterworth
George grew up in the Central Valley. Among his first memories were cattails and red-wing blackbirds, and crops and orchards. He spent 30 years in Southern California, graduating from UCSB in history. He taught tennis for many years. He came to the Carrizo Plain in 1993 and started collecting plants and enjoying the nature. When California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife acquired south Chimineas in 2001, he worked on the botany there as a volunteer. This led to his getting on the payroll. He continues to botanize both the Chimineas and Carrizo.Plain, and was a major force in producing the digital Plants of Carrizo Plain book. A great number of the photo illustrations are by George.