Sunday, July 12, 2015

My very own discovery: Grassy Tarplant has two different seed distribution strategies!


Well, I may not be the first to notice this but... it's always deeply satisfying to make your own discoveries, don't you find?

"What the heck are these little burr things?" I wondered.
I was out in my garden gathering seeds of a nice-enough local wild native called grassy tarplant - or tarweed - or gumplant - choose your favorite common name. It's unequivocally called Madia gracilis in the botanical world.

This is a very branching, bushy form of Madia, less than three feet tall. It's otherwise not that remarkable or garden worthy.


Flowers are small, but instead of being clustered at the top of a huge rather ugly vertical stem (like M. sativa), they are sprinkled along long slender branches (not evident in the photo above, but rather pretty en masse).

I think it'll be perfect for my North Forty, where the farther away the plant, the less garden worthy it has to be (and the more locally native). Hence my seed collecting.

As I was gathering, I noticed some sticky burs on the back of my gardening gloves. See photo at top!

I was puzzled. I hadn't been near any of the usual culprits - chervil or bedstraw etc - and these were a different shape. Finally it twigged - when I saw an extra ring of seeds on all the seed heads I was collecting from!




Yup - those sticking-out bits were sticking to my gloves.

"The "burrs" are actually the phyllary bracts." This I learned - and much more - from botanist John Dittes. He and other knowledgeable people also helped me come up with this plant's ID - I wasn't sure what species of Madia it was - on FaceBook's California Native Plant Society group.

I felt so full of the pleasure of personally discovering something! We can't all be Darwin, but if we are out in nature noticing, we'll all have the chance to make personal discoveries that probably feel as great to us as the discovery of Natural Selection did to him. Well - maybe not quite.
At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing to a murder) immutable ... I think I have found out (here's presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends ...  (from Darwin's diaries
Many of us lesser mortals know that in daisy type flowers, each flower head is composed of multiple individual flowers - ray flowers are the "petals" and disk flowers are the clustered centers. But this is the first time I'd noticed that ray flowers can have their own seeds - and that those seeds can have a different distribution strategy from the disk seeds.

Of course, this is a well known thing to botanists, as anyone who looks up the Big Book - The Jepson Manual - conveniently available online - can see. Here's a link to the page for Madia gracilis. It quite casually mentions the ray fruit and the disk fruit.

However, Jepson doesn't mention the burr-like nature of the phyllary bracts. Or talk about the distribution strategies the plant employs in producing two different types of fruits.

What the strategy of the solid little disk seeds is - I can only guess at. Does anybody know? I don't think they would get pooped out like the seeds of a soft fruit. Do they just fall down and gradually the cluster of plants gets larger and larger? I'd love to know.

Madia elegans

Now for those of us who are left feeling thirsty for a bit of pretty - here are two shots of Madia elegans, showy madia, grown in my garden from local wild a couple of years ago...

Madia elegans, showy madia. Still sticky but at least you get nice flowers!

Madia elegans, showy madia. 
If you want to grow Madia elegans, I recommend you prune it back once or twice before it flowers - otherwise it shoots up to a leggy six feet tall, in garden soil anyway!  

Madia seeds are a favorite of the California quail and mourning doves who visit my garden.

Native Americans in California used Madia seeds to make pinole. Interesting details here.

Madia gracilis ID photos

And for those sticking with this post to the very end -- here are a few photos of Madia gracilis in case you want to ID any of these plants yourself...







Thursday, July 9, 2015

Stojanovich Family Park, Campbell CA: Natives and Local History

Well, so here's a little story.

Mr. Dusky Footed Wood Rat's "baby brother" (I'll call him Mr. Moose) lives far far away in Minnesota. But now and then his company sends him to Fremont, a town about 40 miles from us. On such occasions we generally find a place to meet and eat half way between.

The fine restaurant we chose using the Internet turned out to be a small, busy, fast food place (with delicious Greek food!) on a noisy main street. So after dinner we decided to escape the noise and stroll for a while in the surrounding suburban neighborhoods -- where we stumbled upon...

Stojanovich Family Park

What a lovely surprise!

The Stojanovich family  started farming on this land in 1913, and in 2007, one of their descendants sold this piece of land at a low price so that it could be made into a park. (Click to read.)

While the brothers caught up, I ran around taking photos of all the lovely native plants, and reading the interpretive signs (above, and shown at the bottom of this post).
Deer grass, Muhlenbergia rigens in the foreground

I was particularly taken with the natural rocks and flowing curves of the bioswale feature that runs through the park. I'd like to see it in a storm!

Bioswale. I love that there's a bald spot showing where children slide down and play in this naturalistic setting

In my memory I see pretty much only the native plantings. I don't remember much about the other amenities of the park, just that they reflect the theme of its orchard and fruit processing past. However if you are interested, you can see photos at the project page of the landscape architects for the project, Callander and Associates (link goes to their project page).

I've also read through the City of Campbell pages associated with the development of the park. It's OK, you don't have to go there. They're really not that interesting.

What struck me was that no mention at all was made about use of native plants. I wonder if it has anything to do with this...

Could the Open Space Authority funding have been contingent on use of native plants and retention of water on site etc?

There were other natives in the landscaping, but I was captivated by that swale. A bioswale as you probably know is designed to let rainwater stay on site, soaking into the ground to recharge, in this case, the aquifer that lies below the Santa Clara Valley. There are a couple or more drains in the bottom of the swale, covered with what we in Glasgow would call a stank. You know a metal barred thing to stop people falling in. I would expect the water to fall into a French drain or some such where the water can seep deep into the ground - but I don't know.


Another view of the bioswale. I really loved this feature, can you tell? Plus - check out the fine silk tassel bush in the foreground, Garrya elliptica.

Hm... Deer grass and California fescue maybe? at the edge of the bioswale. I wish I was better at grasses.

Lovely swooshy grasses in the bioswale. What species I don't know. Natives?

A quiet shady area with picnic bench and flowering currents (Ribes sp.)

Not all plantings were native. I'd like to visit in spring to see the fruit trees in blossom. I'm not sure what this ground cover planting is. It sort of looks like rosemary in this photo. I don't recall seeing typical native plants found in a public landscape such as manzanita or ceanothus, low growing forms of which are often used for a ground-cover.


And off we went into the evening - Dusky on the left of Moose. In this photo we're facing the play lawn area of the park and the entrance from the road. A bit of permeable hardscaping on the right.
Public play spaces -- one use of lawns up with which I gladly put.

The rest of this post shows the attractive signage which, if you are interested in local history, as I am, you might enjoy clicking on, to more easily read the text.








Monday, June 29, 2015

Joyful June in Country Mouse Garden - with Clarkia rubicunda!


Clarkia rubicunda - Ruby Chalice Clarkia (locally wild)

Please join me in a pictorial wander through my garden. As you will see Clarkia rubicunda is the plant of the month! I'll gather seed this year - should get about a pound - and will restrain them next year - hoping to sprinkle those lovely blossoms throughout the garden and not let them overwhelm the pool garden, where the deer and the rabbits can't roam! But - I'm not complaining!



Let's relax a while with the monkeyflower draped over the chair



The astonishing profusion of deer weed



butterflies everywhere!


On the coyote mint too...



Lovely lovely



What berries we're having this year on the manzanita!



Huh! One lone California fuchsia blossom! A bit early there, mate!




Did I mention Clarkia rubicunda?



The clarkia does look lovely with the sage



Winifred Gilman sage


Bees and buzzing in the goldenrod


Beds developing in the north garden. Rushes rocketing up wonderfully


Is that a morel?? Dried up one? I found it while weeding.


Oh the Matilija poppy!


Wonderful misty mornings in June!


Patio dining - with a bat tucked inside the shade umbrella! What a surprise!


Time to harvest seeds - Aquilegia formosa - Western colombine..


And Fernald's iris


Eriogonum rubicunda mixed in with clarkia


Poppies, sunflowers - and clarkia


Camissonia (yellow annual) popped up this year after long absence - under non-native sage.


Toyon blooming abundantly


Heartleaf penstemon doing its end-of-stem firework display - with Clarkia


And lest we forget -- more Clarkia rubicunda!!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Gardening for Wildlife can be Harsh


The shy little Bewick's Wren

Sitting on a cushion, four feet from a tangle of toyon and coyote bush, I hear an eruption of urgent chattering within the thicket, and a buzzing in another bush a few feet to its right. I recognize the sounds of the Bewick’s wren, one of my favorite small birds. Bzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzz bzz bzzz.

Continuously the noises endure. The birds are distressed. It’s distressing. My heart sits heavy like a lump of clay stuffed with stones. What can I do? I have no idea what I would be interfering with.

The Thich Nhat Hanh meditation I had begun is fluttering like rags at the edge of my mind.

Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I feel at ease. Breathing in, I smile. Breathing out, I release. Breathing in I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, I feel it is a wonderful moment. 

It is not a wonderful moment. A Western Scrub Jay takes off from the behind the bush. He or she flies in confident upward swoops to the top of a Monterey pine a couple hundred feet away.

Western Scrub Jay at our bird bath

My heart twists. I find I am holding my breath. There is a little noise from the wrens, then silence.

I note that the jay does not clean its beak on the branch of the pine, which may be a good sign. Good that is, if you are on the side of the wrens.

I feel like I’m sitting before Schrodinger’s nest. I want to believe that the little mother stuck to her nest and poked at that big bad jay till he gave up. But I can’t. And I can’t think of the jay’s nestlings either.

An empty nest, somewhere else in the garden.

Whatever actually happened in a sense doesn’t matter. Life eats life. It’s going on all around me, and within me too. I’m having Tennyson’s emotional crisis, without his particular disturbance of faith. Nature is indeed, among other things, red in tooth and claw.

We who garden for wildlife, and encourage others to do so, tend to emphasize easier things...

The hummingbirds, who are flashing their beautiful colors and twittering all around me

I still keep up my dad's practice of feeding hummingbirds

The sparrows and finches I’ve watched feasting on the bunch grass seeds

Butterflies nectaring on the coyote mint

House finches eating elderberries

Lizards catching flies --
Well, insects are harder (though not impossible) to empathize with.

Near the Bewick Wren’s nest (or where I anyway surmise there is a Bewick Wren's nest) I hear a little buzzing to the left now. Then, a little later, buzzing to the right. Do I hear a brief fluttering within the bush?

Who am I kidding. If that jay wasn’t successful this time, she’ll be back. I wonder how long birds feel distress? I wonder what child-free birds do with the rest of their summer? Do they breed again? Do they rest and grow plump?

I’m not sure what to do with this wrenching empathy. I feel the need to end this post on an uplift. I know it’s a kind of inappropriate tenderness that makes me close my eyes during certain parts of any David Attenborough documentary. He is as boyishly enthusiastic about hyenas taking down baby gazelles as he is about the amazing colonies of bats whose guano he sinks knee-deep into as he approaches their cave. I adore him, I do, with a love that goes back fifty years or more. I just can’t be him.

Thich Nhat Hanh would meditate to the source of his anger or upset and look for the loving or forgiving action to take. But here no wrong has been done. What action is needed? This is just what it is to be alive. We suffer. We rejoice. We feel. We eat.

Feast of food for humans, made from mostly native plants (and animals)
 at one of Alrie Middlebrook's Eating California lunches.