Thursday, July 11, 2019

Goumi Berries!

Elaeagnus multiflora grown at LittleGrove Farm! 


It is Goumi Season! This seems to run right around the end of June and be over by the middle of July for us in the Santa Cruz Mountains. These normally are exceptionally abundant on the bushes, however, that is before my son had a "snack".

This is hard to find in any markets, so we grow them ourselves. The berries are soft, sweet and with a nice flavor when ripe, yet pucker-y if you get them before they are soft and fully ripe. There is a single seed in the center. The seeds are soft enough to eat and have the same basic flavor as the rest of the berry.

My son says "They are tasty when they are ripe and sour when they are not ripe".

Monday, July 8, 2019

Ahuna Mons on Ceres in scale model made by Botta's Pocket Gophers

Now you don't need to go to Ceres to see Ahuna Mons... or at least a scale model.


This is a mound of dry, unconsolidated soil pushed out and up through a circular hole entrance. The artist is a Botta's Pocket Gopher living in the Blue Oak Savannah of the central Sierra Nevada foothills.

What I find interesting about it is that structures at radically different scales on disparate worlds can be made by similar processes, even in a back yard.

While there are better analogs at closer scales (Inyo Domes for example) this is essentially the same process, admittedly at a lower temperature.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Math Photo Challenge, Week 1 - Flowers and leaves of the genus Paris #mathphoto19 #five

After a morning of foggy forest math games, the Math Photo Challenge came to mind immediately when I found this jewel in the office garden:


Unknown Paris sp.

Can you believe those spindly yellow bits are flower petals?! The Wikipedia entry on Paris polyphylla does a nice job of talking about this type of plant anatomy.

As I showed Rob my attempts at taking a photo, he told me there was a surprise hiding in that garden. Another Paris, this time with light pipes on the leaves that make it shimmer and reflect light like my beloved Southern African Nerine flowers. 

Zoom the photo below to see glints of blue. Best picture I could take, folks



The Heronswood Nursery was a purveyor of rare and exotic plants grown from wild seed. In the early 2000s, Rob received this unknown Paris sp. and the Paris luquanensis shown above.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Math Photo Challenge: Week 1 of Ag, Botanical, Geological participation

We love math and we love the natural world. What better way to celebrate both than through participation in this year's Math Photo Challenge?

#MathPhoto19 #five

This is our entry for Week 1: Five. It's a Desert Five Spot (Jepson), photographed near our land in Joshua Tree National Park.


I simply admire them for their beauty, delicacy, improbable environment, vigor, and design.

My son wants to know, "Why does it have curved lines on [the petals]?"

Asked this question, my husband tells us these striations are nectar guides for pollinators.  I immediately want to return with a black (ultraviolet) light. Assuming they remain open at night...

Alas, these beauties were photographed on 20190325.

Looking forward to posting more in this challenge! (challenge website)


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Opinionated Shrubs - Beware!

Yesterday my son and I were hiking in 3 or 4 year post-burn Chapparal just south-west of the intersection of the Garlock and San Andreas Faults.



We had rehearsed what to do if we encountered a rattlesnake: stop then back away.

Then we found one and got to put that into practice.

It is electrifying to have an ordinary bush begin buzzing loudly - there are no giant Cicadas here - leading to poorly considered actions. That is why we practiced and rehearsed snake encounter procedures BEFORE actually encountering one.

In this case, it paid off! We came within a few feet before it made its presence known, at which point we moved away briskly as planned. End result: snake is unharmed, we are unharmed.

Rattlesnakes are often just under the drip line of bushes. This allows them to bask and avoid predation by hawks. The downside of this is you can get quite close before the snake is aware of you or you are aware of the snake. Practicing calm and stop-back away helps in moments like this.

I have not identified the species yet. This video was taken from outside of strike range (the snake never tried to strike), through the Adenostoma fasciculatum bush that had concealed the snake.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Masked Bandit - Merriam's Chipmunk

They are cute. They are fluffy. These nefarious critters dig up and eat my seedlings! OK, so no one is perfect...


I bought a wildlife camera to identify the creature that was helping his or her self to my seedlings. Turns out it is a Merriam's Chipmunk, Tamias merriami. Now that I know the identity of the masked seedling bandit, I still need to figure out how to convince the critter to gnaw on other esculents.

Just as I was ruminating on what to do (I am going to try replaying a chipmunk warning call to him), I find that he has a sidekick!


This larger creature is a Western Grey Squirrel, Sciurus griseus. I don't have any photos of this one up to mischief (I have the Chipmunk actually eating the plants), though it is an arboreal species (lives in trees). There must be some reason it is not just on the ground, but more, sitting on my planting troughs. I am suspicious.

My son would be happy to have either as a pet, he wants me to catch them (nope!) instead of just encourage them to feast somewhere else. At least I intend to attempt discouraging their noshing... if my massive success with the deer is any indication, I should be adjusting to nibbled seedlings...

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

California's Plants that Eat Animals

California has wild carnivorous plants! We have representatives of five of six common styles of carnivorous plants right here in the state. These are:

  • Pit Traps - the California Snake Lily, Darlingtonia
  • Glue Traps - the Butterworts
  • Tentacle-y Grab Traps - the Sundews
  • Suck-things-in Traps - the Bladderworts
  • Snare Traps - the Oyster Mushrooms
The only major commonly accepted group missing is the Snap Trap group, which only contains a single species in the entire world, the Venus Fly Trap of the Eastern U.S.A.

While growing these is generally not a simple affair (not great choices for the beginner), they can be cultivated. If you are going to grow these, always start with a reputable nursery - locally I can recommend Predatory Plants along highway 92 on the way to Half Moon Bay (we have no ties to them, we just find them reputable and friendly).

Last August we went to the mountains of far Northern California - the Siskiyous. This is a great place to see some carnivores in the wild, including our biggest, the four-foot-tall Snake Lilies, Darlingtonia californica:


Our son says "I'm looking at Snake Lilies and they look like long snake-like lilies and the lilies are long like a snake. Snakes are long like these stems. They eat bugs and flies. Thank you, that is my blog post".

These are challenging to grow, as they grow with their roots in cold underground streams (scree slope seepage). We bought one from the nursery in Half Moon Bay, and it is doing well courtesy of some engineering, at least so far. The heat of Summer will be challenging.

These plants have tall, hollow leaves with slightly open "lids". Water laced with digestive enzymes fills the upright hollow stems, with a fragrance of water and rotting things (yummy for some bugs at least). The inside of the trap is lined with down-pointing fine hairs. When bugs try to climb out, even if they make it up the stem, the lid has false "windows" that the bugs make towards, only to find their way blocked. This is a lot like the way a yellowjacket trap works, except when the bugs become exhausted they fall not to the ground, but into the pitcher's digestive liquid.

Another type of carnivore deploys "Fly Paper", in this case the entire leaf coated with sticky stuff. These are the Butterworts. Below is Pinguicula macroceras from Del Norte county:



Bugs get caught on the sticky leaves and are digested in place - the plant senses the bug and exudes digestive enzymes that dissolve the parts of the insect containing useful nutrients, leaving behind the empty shells of indigestible chitin. The lower photo shows a large number of small flies caught on the leaves, in various states of digestion.

Why eat bugs at all? Bugs, and animals in general, are full of several nutrients that plants need. These plants are scavenging typically nitrogen or phosphorus from the insects, either or both of which can be in very short supply in certain environments, such as mineral spring seeps.