Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rainy day in the greenhouse -- harvesting Clarkia rubicunda seeds

Today's post is rather drab, having to do with dead plants and seeds. It does have a video in it though.

So let me pull in a bit of color and remind you how glorious are the blossoms of Clarkia rubicunda, a lovely annual native California beauty!

Clarkia rubicunda, ruby chalice clarkia.
Locally native in Santa Cruz County (and elsewhere).

Clarkia rubicunda, ruby chalice clarkia.
Masses of it!!

Oh the rain is wonderful! And what better way to spend a rainy day than grubbing about in the greenhouse, while torrents of rain cascade down the roof and you are cosy and dry inside, cleaning seeds and listening to a very BBC podcast on The Gin Craze in 18th century England.

Here's a short and very unprofessional video I took of me stomping on dried Clarkia rubicunda plants to spring open the long seed capsules and release seeds, and then sieving the chaff out of them.

And here are some redundant photos in case video doesn't work for you or you want to linger on each step.

I harvested plants when dried out. Kept them dry (for a rainy day!)
Stomped in small batches, in a big bucket

Stomping springs open the long seed capsules and releases...

Billions and Billions ...

And billions and billions of seeds!
Well, a heck of a lot anyway.
This is how they look after a few siftings to get rid of most of the chaffy stuff.
It's very soothing to sift seeds.
Then it gets INCREASINGLY frustrating cos you'll never EVER
get rid of all the chaff.
Not unless you do other things which I don't.
Like use blowers and suchlike apparatus.
Sometimes I winnow though.
But not in the rain :-D

See what I mean about this post getting colorless? -- Here's another hint of how lovely ruby chalice clarkia is in June and July - and beyond!

I can't wait to seed bomb our road!!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Matilija poppy propagation - and happy coincidences

First - photos!

Fried egg plant, AKA matilija poppy, AKA Romneya coulteri

Surprised there were no bees in this photo - they swarm on these flowers.

Here you can see immature seed pods.

Matilija poppy is a perennial growing to six or more feet tall!
I chop mine down every year, but you don't have to.
They can spread where happy, by roots.
Mine are merely cheerful, I guess!

This morning on our local CNPS chapter's page on FaceBook I was happy to see that one of our group members had posted a link to this month's newsletter from Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden.

The Regional Parks Botanic Garden is a California native garden within Tilden Regional Park -- and you must go see it if you are in striking distance of Berkeley!

The main article is about the strange and wonderful strategies plants have evolved to prevent germination of their seeds until the time is right. Do read the article - it's by Susan Ashley, and it's great!

One thing I didn't know is that when some plants - such as matilija poppy - drop their seeds - the seeds still have to ripen and mature. Kinda like little kangaroo babies in Mother Nature's pouch.

Another is that fire-followers don't necessarily require heat to break seed dormancy. Some only require the chemicals in smoke. Such is also the case with matilija poppy.

And funny thing is -- well it was funny to me -- that just yesterday I was handling seeds of said matilija poppy. Here's my FaceBook group comment: ...

You won't believe this but just yesterday I was weeding near some Romneya coulteri and my grandkids were "helping." We were having a grand time, though not many weeds were biting the dust. Then my 5 year old granddaughter found a seedhead of the Matilija poppy - she looked at the bizarre object for a while - then tossed it away as too creepy!  
Delighted, I picked it back up and told her what it was and we emptied seeds out into her little hand. I told her about the seeds needing fire to germinate - we put six seeds (all the ones that survived being in a jiggly 5 year old's hand!) in a pot and put some oak wood ash on top -- we'd had a fire on Thanksgiving in one of those metal fire containing things -- and put it in the greenhouse!  
Now I've learned from that article that germination requires cold dormancy and that the seeds are immature when shed. Also they need the smoke chemical but not the heat. So I'll move it to an outdoor location and see what happens come spring. We're all excited at our little experiment - and I'm so happy to have read more in this article - thanks!!

The experiment! I moved the pot out of the greenhouse after reading that the seeds
require cold as well as smoke chemicals to break dormancy.

I went down this morning to the brush pile to find pods from old growth I'd cut back. They are a bit musty to be sure. The article I linked to at the top has some more splendid photos. But these are mine anyway!

I love how they decay to these bird-cage like basket skeletons!

And how the bit at the top, which you can see when the flower is still present, remains.

And btw if you are a native plant lover living in Santa Cruz County California or are just interested in its native flora - you are welcome to join our chapter's fb group. It's a small group as yet, but the more the merrier. We are just one of a few FB groups devoted to nature in Santa Cruz County - they are all great - and a good place to ask for IDs on things mysterious and natural.

I bet your county or region has such local groups too, a natural history or fungus or native plant or bird or -- etc. etc. -- group you will enjoy, if you use FaceBook. Good to know it isn't all fake news and cute babies!

Speaking of which... I wasn't taking pictures as we were weeding yesterday - so here are some gratuitous photos of my happy, messy, nature-loving grandkids from earlier this year.

Kids in nature - my granddaughter finds a banana slug in the garden.

Not sure what has captured my grandson's eye here. He loves all kinds of bugs.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The joy of small projects

Note: Blogger tells me you can now access this blog using the secure URL: Now on to the post...

This could be the start of something -- small.

Of the three acres we live on, which straddle a ridge near the coast in Central California, about an acre and a half was disturbed before we got here.

It is my goal to remove the weeds that have opportunistically colonized that disturbed land, encourage any local natives that have survived, and add more (propagated from seed gathered within about a mile or so). And also plant some other eye-pleasing, non-invasive, non-hybridizing garden plants that are beneficial to human and beast.

My vision is of a self-sustaining, low-maintenance and beautiful wild garden through which I will wander like the poet Mary Oliver, notebook in hand, now and then resting in one of the artfully placed and comfortable seating niches, which of course are replete with sculptures, twisted driftwood, and thrift-store wonders that all look amazing together. There I'll write masterpieces and relax, surrounded by the sounds of wildlife enjoying their ecosystem services, punctuated perhaps by the occasional tinkling of teacups and enlightened laughter as my friends join me to admire everything I've done.

My current reality is, of course, quite a bit different.

Oxalis pes-caprae - aka Bermuda buttercup or sour grass -
making its annual resurgence.
Along with legions of other ecosystem-disrupting weeds.
-- Is there less this year? Am I making any headway? --
You know I had to look for a while to find a big cluster for this photo.

The alien grasses in the huge swathe of north-facing land I haven't yet "gotten to".
 Lush and green. And pretty, it must be said.
Look. There's even a seating area!
And a focal point! (Plastic bag full of weed seeds.)
But there is lots of potential here, you have to admit!

I'm in total overwhelm as I contemplate all the work I have yet to do before my miraculous mirage can manifest in all its magnificence. Which of course, it never can.

But I have found a remedy! Or at least a palliative: while in such a state of suffering, completing a small project brings cheer to the soul. The project I have undertaken is to plant a tiny pie-slice of slope between our road and our driveway, as shown in the photo below. Doesn't it look lovely and rainy? Ahhhh!

I've planted the groin between the road on the left and the driveway on the right.
It's an area that doesn't get much sun, but still more than you might think.
In summer it does get mid-morning - midday sun.

I've wanted to do this for a long time but have been held back for two reasons. One, there is no soil there. It's mostly gravel and clay. And two, this area lies far from a water source. I did try irrigating and planting it many years ago, with less than satisfactory results. Rodents chewed through the tubing, and -- like I said. No soil.

Then suddenly I had a flash of brilliant insight (AKA a "duh" moment): just add soil! Build a little wall along the road and fill in behind it with planting mix along with some native soil from an area where there is plenty (to bring in some microbes and fungus etc).

Here are two sets of three photos showing before, during, and after completion of the project.

Well I say completion but I'm sure I'll be twiddling with it some more.

Set 1:

BTW some time ago I  put some rocks at the pointy end just because vehicles, dogs etc, kept running over it.

Actually I had to stop for a few days because I tweaked a muscle or two in my neck/shoulder from moving the stones.

Like the teapot? It represents all those little artistic touches I see others do so -- artistically.
Hm... I've got those Dudleya-planted garden boots...
They could potentially be placed just so.
If only I knew what "so" looked like.

Set 2

Notice the bank on the other side of the driveway? I also planted some Dudleya lanceolata there too.
Thus does one small project spawn others!

(FYI here are some of the lance-leaf dudleya planted on that near-vertical bank
on the other side of the driveway.)

Like my garden gnome?
(Yes, he is looking at his smart phone.)

Astute viewers will notice some interesting wild locals growing to the left...
...of which more later in this post.

I planted whatever came to hand in my shade house.  Now that there are things are planted there, I'm motivated to take care of irrigation, one way or another. Here's the plant list - a typical cohort of local natives I can grow:

  • Woodland brome -- Bromus laevipes
  • Rush -- Juncus patens (or similar species)
  • Fernald's iris -- Iris fernaldii
  • Sedge -- Carex sp.
  • Alum root -- Heuchera micrantha
  • Lance-leaf dudleya -- Dudleya lanceolata
  • California fuchsia -- Epilobium canum
  • Dog violet -- Viola adunca

Of these I have not before planted woodland brome or dog violet. The brome seeds I gathered locally and grew in the greenhouse.

I like woodland brome. Its inflorescence has a pretty drooping curve to it. I'm going to plant it a lot! It  is prettier than the other common brome, California brome grass - Bromus carinatus, which I like OK, but it's just not that "garden-pretty."

One clump of dog viola has been growing in the pool garden since before we got here. Dog viola is a native that's common in the west, and it could have just grown there. Or it could be a look-alike species someone planted. I grew some more from its seed anyway. Many violet species are native to Santa Cruz county. I've tried with two that grow within a mile of here - two-eyed violet, Viola ocellata and redwood violet, Viola sempervirens. No luck so far. Always something still to be achieved when you're a gardener!

Here are a few closer-up photos of the planted species. I hope in six months or a year from now I'll be able to show you how these babies have grown up.

Woodland brome, rushes, and in the foreground, California wild fuchsia.
With also an opportunistic, and likely doomed, toyon that just appeared there.

Rushes behind, young Fernald's iris in front.

Alum root (like a coral bells) and unknown species of sedge (Carex).
I'll probably plant more sedges as they mature in the greenhouse.

Lance-leaf Dudleya. Some are as big as dinner plates!
This is my first year growiong these lovelies.
I'm looking forward to seeing how they do in the longer term.

Just to the left of the planted section, three young shrubs/trees have sprouted: a toyon (see photo above featuring the California wild fuchsia), a madrone, and a wart-leaf ceanothus. I'm not sure if any of them will survive. Some small oaks are growing nearby too, likely coast live oak, or a hybrid of coast live oak and some kind of scrub oak perhaps. On this steep slope, I'm not sure if any of them are viable where their seeds have sprouted.

Oh madrone! You won't be able to grow big here!
Can I bonsai this madrone in place? I fear not.

Sweet little wart-leaf ceanothus! Will there be room for you?
Can I prune you to be small?
There is a large leggy one close by to the left of this planting. 

Oh and there is this lavender bush lupine.
It's an offspring of one I planted there some years ago.

I love how the plantings integrate with natives already there, and how the weeding makes room for the local natives to grow. Encouraging signs to fortify me for the months of weeding I've got ahead of me!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Planting a wheelbarrow (and a pair of boots) with local natives.

The replanted old wheelbarrow.

I'll write another time about the many sprawling larger projects in progress and pending about the place, but today I want to share something small, complete, and very satisfying: replanting the old wheelbarrow with some local natives plants I've been propagating.

Earlier this year I managed to grow paintbrush, Castilleja affinis in the mix. I apparently didn't take many pictures of the spring-summer planting, but here you can see the tail end of the Clarkia rubicunda, from June of this year...

How the wheelbarrow looked in June. 
(BTW the Clarkia rubicunda was blooming into mid October on shadier and moister parts of the property!)

Not looking so good now!

Cleaned out of all but two dudleya and a sturdy sedge.

I decided to take a risk and put plants that like partial shade into the wheelbarrow for a fall planting. I can always wheel it to a more shaded spot if need be in spring.

Heuchera micrantha on left, Iris fernaldii at 11 o'clock, sedges yet to be identified, and Dudleya lanceolata, all locally native and grown from local wild seed (or descendants' seed). See below for complete plant list and notes.

Here you can see some sedges and heuchera more close up.

The layout, plus addition of a broken duck flowerpot. I don't claim to artistic merit in the layouts but I'm trying my best. 

The complete plant list is as follows:

Dudleya lanceolata, lanceleaf dudleya, which is native to southern and central California. I find it likes afternoon shade, but maybe that's because I've only been growing it one season. I'll write a separate post about fun I'm having planting these in nooks and crannies and slopes everywhere -- I've only got about a hundred of the lovelies. Their flowers are not very showy, sort of yellow, on the usual dudleya stalks. I'm currently in love with these plants, just for their amazing roseate form.

Epilobium canum, California fuchsia - hard to see in the photos as they are single-stalked youngsters. I just stuck them in because I have them - they won't bloom till late summer next year. I find these do tolerably well in full sun, but they seem to perk up if planted where there's a little respite from the sun and a bit of supplemental water. They grow locally in dry conditions on north-west slopes.

Frangula californica, coffee berry. Okay I know these grow to about eight feet, but I wanted something with a little bit of height and I happened to have a nice one around! I can plant it in the ground later on. Fran Adams always used to say we should think of potted plants as long lasting flower arrangements.

Heuchera micrantha, alum root. Another of my favorites - like a coral bells in appearance. I've been planting masses of these also, on north-facing slopes. And dousing them with deer spray. Deer aren't passionately fond of them but if they are along the deer path, they'll munch them down.

Iris fernaldii, Fernald's iris, slender creamy yellow iris, found mostly only in central california near the coast it seems. Likes high shade. I'm planting it around the place too, and I have a big clump to split up this year, the first one since I started growing them.

Who the heck was Fernald anyway. I'll have to look that up.

OK, according to SPCNI, Iris fernaldii was named "By Robert C. Foster, after Merritt Lyndon Fernald, a respected Harvard University professor of botany." And who was Robert C. Foster? Seems to have been an iris guy. He also named Iris thompsonii and Iris munzii. But here the trail of botanists ends, for this post!

A Juncus probably Juncus patens, not sure. I stuck one plant in a corner - a token design feature to give Height and Vertical Form.

Some sort of Carex, unidentified as yet. I hope next year I can get some IDs of the three or four nice local sedges I'm growing around the place to provide welcome greenery. Some are more tolerant of dry conditions than others, some are tall, some are short. I'm trying to observe them and sort them out, but not with any rigor.

So we'll see how this little assemblage fares over time.

And while I was in the mood I planted my old garden boots, too, just for fun!

Boots with Dudleya in? What a load of old cobblers! ;-)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Propagation Porn

Yes, every now and then I like to throw a little sex into our native plant blog. Plant sex that is. And not just any plant sex - WILD plant sex!! Yes -- that's what gets my plant juices flowing! Yours too? How did I guess! Read on....

(And don't miss the bottom (snicker) of this post for a Santa Cruz event Sept 12 2016.)

It's not just the coy flowers, here seen peeking through the poison oak, that pique our prurient interest.

Dudleya lanceolata blossoms peeking through poison oak.
There are many species in the Dudleya genus. All are known as liveforevers.

It's what follows...

Boudoir picture of Dudleya Lanceolata seed heads.
(lying languorously in my plastic collection bag)
Seeds themselves are tiny. I crumbled up the seedheads and removed the big bits of chaff. 

And what followed that -- GERMINATION! Especially outrageous germination rates like this!

I did nothing special - just sowed into a mix with some sand, sowed crumbled up seed heads, sprinkled a little sand on top to settle them in (not like a whole layer even) and - voila! Within a couple or three weeks there they were!

And what fabulous grow-out rates - look at these wonderful plants...

Dudleya lanceolata mostly in 2" pots! Note the long lanceolate leaves.
I hadn't noticed how tight-packed they had become - so I spread them out to give their leaves room to grow to the natural shape. (BTW the huge leaf overarching isn't a monster dudleya - it's some kind of huge aloe I planted long ago.)

Now - look at these Dudleya, from the same seed source. Quite a bit different!

Some of these miscellaneous ones are growing in odd shapes - maybe because of overcrowding.
This photo shows them after I spaced them out yesterday.

But wait - there's more (and another tray that's half full besides!) These will be potted up in the next couple of days.

I have planted some out in the garden already. The ones I planted in shade to semi-shaded areas are doing the best so far. (When it comes time to flower, I bet the ones in the shade don't do as well as the semi-shade ones - it'll be interesting to see).

Soon after planting. They are bigger now.

This one is one of the broader leaf sorts. It's in a wheelbarrow with a sedge and a paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) which has since bloomed.

Here's a photo of that assemblage I took today, showing the Castilleja in bloom!

They love container life! Look how different the left and right one look. Also how they are growing those deformed looking leaves. Both are a bit broader than the very lanceolate ones that are more common.

Here are the mature (parent) plants,  Dudleya lanceolata in the wild, just down the road from me

The local Dudleya lanceolata plants I gathered from were on a steep road-cut which gets quite a bit of shade.

Here you can see two leaf forms - upper plant broader than the D. lanceolata I mostly saw. It's a mystery!

Regarding the variation in leaf shape... Most are indisputably Dudleya lanceolata, but others have a broader blade. They could possibly be hybrids of D. palmeri or D cymosa, based on observing the broader-leaved species in this query to Calflora that shows all native Dudleya spp. growing in Santa Cruz County. Or, since Dudleya are famously happy to mate with other species in their genus -- they could be hybrids of some exotic Dudleya planted in a nearby garden, I don't know if I can ever be sure. Or they may be examples of other species, and not hybrids. I'll have to wait for some flowers to provide more information that may be diagnostic.

Regarding the plants that grew up weird (Well they say, "Keep Santa Cruz Weird!"),* some seem to grow naturally with their leaves crumpled or twisted or rumpled. But then too, as I worked yesterday I realized I had to space them out more because they were all growing into each other and possibly deforming each other's growth.

In fall, I'll plant out a whole ton more, and in the meanwhile, I'll be sharing these with my neighbors so our local Dudleya lanceolata can thrive locally!

Oh - local readers -- I nearly forgot!!

 On September 12 2016, at 7:30 pm, in the meeting hall of UCSC Arboretum -- Stephen McCabe will be addressing our local chapter with a slide show and talk entitled, "Conservation of Liveforevers: Threats and New Species. Stephen wrote the Jepson section on Dudleyas and is the Emeritus Director of Research at UCSC Arboretum. And he's a really nice chap. If you're around - do come for a good talk. Who knows, maybe I'll bring some dudleyas to give away!

See our CNPS chapter Events page before Sept 12 for more details (the link always takes you to the current event).

*I just love it when I get so many punctuation marks in a row!