Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sierra Nevada Wildflowers: Best of the Rest

Epilobium angustifolium (Fireweed)
I could wax eloquently for two more posts about the wildflowers of my recent trip to the Molukumne wilderness in the Sierra Nevada. But I see a few other posts on the horizon, so I've decided to show of the best of the other flowers we saw. Above Epilobium angustifolium, bright pink and almost 5 feet tall (and yes, a relative of California fuchsia, Epilobium canum).

While fireweed was rare, this flower was everywhere, except for very dry and very hot locations.

We saw carpets of flowers that made you think of Heidi and burst into song (click the picture below to get the carpet idea).

"Must be an aster," I thought, thinking of the time of year. But now I'm no longer sure. The leaves were mostly at the base, which points to a daisy. Furthermore, we did see a plant that strongly resembles the plant formerly known as Aster occidentalis (western mountain aster) in dryer regions. Those flowers were purple and shaped differently.

My plant identification skills were similarly challenged with Monardella. We saw two different kinds. One purple, and more frequent in the granite areas.

Here's a close-up. Is this Monardella oderatissima (mountain pennyroyal)? It's certainly fragrant.

But in the darker, more vulcanic soil, we saw a very similar plant with white flowers. Is it the same plant? A slight variation? A different species?

Clearly I need to learn more about plant identification - and I need to carry Jepson's with me. Calflora does not even list Monardella odoratissima - though many other sites do - so this, too, shall forever remain a mystery.

A few plants were fairly rare, but I'm pretty sure of the identification. Here's Penstemon davidsonii (Alpine penstemon) a diminutive but beautiful perennial that was thriving in dry sunny spots.

And I think this is Penstemon newberryi (mountain pride) which I admired in cracks in the rock and other sharp drainage spots.

I initially had identification problems with this plant, which I thought might be a clarkia. 

But the arrangement of multiple flowers on one stem made it pretty clear this had to be Sidalcea glaucens (checkerbloom).

I almost missed this plant, which we found in the moist meadows.

I was delighted to discover later that we'd seem Mertensia ciliata (mountain bluebells).

I also agonized over a lily-like plant with smallish orange flowers that we saw only in two spots on one hike. Is it really a lily or a fritilaria?

I think I'll go with Lilium parvum (alpine lily) because of the upright flowers, though clear identification is not possible.

So many questions still to answer, so many reasons to go back! My photos, all taken with a small point and shoot camera while not trying to slow down my fellow hikers, don't always help. And really, you need the smells and the sounds, you need the exhilarating walking in the fresh mountain air for the full enjoyment and appreciation of the plants and critters that live there. When can I go back?

Spirea densiflora (mountain spirea)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Bronze Rule: Maintain defensible zones against wildfires

I've been thinking (and blogging) about the golden and silver rules for living at the wildland-urban interface. This post is about my bronze rule, which applies in areas subject to wildfires.

You need to think about fire safety if you live in an area subject to wildfires. But don’t panic and just clear out all the vegetation. Some vegetation will actually absorb and slow a fire down. See this fascinating page on Las Pilitas Nursery's web site for more on this important topic.

Also, if you live in a chaparral habitat, you’ll find a lot of really good information from The Chaparral Institute – including many pages on the topic of fire. Like - don’t remove all your chaparral natives thinking they are just tinder waiting to explode. Some non-natives used to replace natives are actually more flammable what they replaced. 

So, here are the “traditional” fire safety or defensible zones, and how I also apply these zones when thinking about restoration gardening.  I have to make a compromise between what's ideal for fire safety, and what I can manage. I am working towards an ideal state where we can defend against a smallish fire - with the help of our stalwart fire department. But - major fire with high wind? -- I'm outta here! anyway here goes:

A thirty foot radius around your home is your primary defensible zone. Irrigate it weekly or twice a month for 15 minutes or so. As far as gardening in this zone, plant any fire-safe local natives - or other pretties or food plants that are not invasive. Penstemons are Roses are nice. Dahlias are nice. Tomatoes are yummy. See – I’m not telling you to plant only local natives! This is your personal zone. But calla lilies and sweet peas — no, not where I live anyway: they escape. We all have garden favorites. Plant things that stay green with a bit of irrigation. Succulents are nice, and fire-resistant. I garden for wildlife. I use pretty local natives and other plants that are relished by butterflies, hummingbirds, and the rest of the pollinators. Also, it’s a good idea to use hardscape in this area, like rocks and gravel, and keep the area tidy - no piles of clippings you meant to move last week. I'm way behind on the irrigation front. I need to rethink that in a major way. I've just been hand watering maybe once a month.

Here's some thinning I've been doing recently, at the top of our south-facing chaparral habitat slope.

I removed this 'Dark Star' ceanothus - it was lovely, but I planted it too close to our front door and it's now about 5 feet high. Also I want to propagate our local ceanothus species and don't want them hybridizing.

Here it is gone. I also removed a lot of coyote brush and chaise from the edge of the path, opening things up. I have to do more thinning in this area. I'm enjoying revealing the manzanita - and imagining what I might plant here, thinking about perennials and annuals.

Look what I found when I cleared away some dense chaparral regrowth... a woodrat nest. Nice, but too close to the house. I'm giving them the nudge. In a few days, I'll have to knock it down. 

My new Black & Decker LPP120 20-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Pole Saw - a mini chain saw on a stick.  I have found it really useful so far. I got it to prune trees. Or in this case - remove shrubs. It's a bit heavy for me to hold up for long. But I'm still getting the hang of it and am happy to have this adjunct to my trusty Japanese pruning saw, for bigger jobs.

This area is next to our driveway - it's next on the list - breaks two rules: too shrubby too close to the house, and it's a nursery ceanothus that I'm afraid will hybridize with our local species. I'm going to try and grow Ceanothus papillosus, wart leaf ceanothus, farther from the house, instead of this (I think Julia Phelps?) cultivar.

A hundred foot radius is the reduced fuel zone. Thin and space out your local natives so fire can’t easily jump from one to the other (vertically as well as horizontally – no “fire ladders” into your trees). Make a few nice wide paths if you have space. Reduce the most flammable shrubs more than the least flammable. Reduce chamise more than coyote brush, as an example from a chaparral habitat. You can leave their roots, for erosion control. It means I have to prune again in a couple years, but for now I'm OK with that. Prune out dead wood and remove it (burn in winter; chip or take to the dump in summer). Focus here is on local native - but if you want a nice accent here and there from your favorite (and well-behaved) garden plants – why not? It’s your garden. It’s good to irrigate here also, just a little, but regularly, to keep plants a bit juicy. But that is not always practicable. That's a lot of irrigation.

The south slope below our home was thinned three years ago. This year I'm going to have another go at it.

Beyond 100 feet  - Las Pilitas says to continue thinning in this area. For me – I can’t manage the work load - and I'm not sure I want to. I just leave it alone as natural habitat, and enjoy thinking about nature doing its natural thing.

Across the road (still our property) I trim back from the road edge, and leave the rest undisturbed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Water-loving Sierra Natives

We've seen in my first post about High Sierra natives that many of these beautiful plants cope with dry conditions and exposed areas. And yet, while summers can be dry, the High Sierra is also the water reservoir for San Francisco (Hetch Hetchy) and Los Angeles.

Winter storms bring snow to the High Sierra, and in spring the snow melt fills the many rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

In summer, thunderstorms form, and sometimes the heat in the central valley results in cloud formation and rain - as we experienced on our fourth day of hiking (this was a rather cold and wet lunch).

As summer ripens, the smaller rivers dry out and become rivers of flowers, a magical sight.

Above, a DYC (damned yellow composite). I think it might be an Arnica, here a close-up.

Sometimes, willows are in the streambed, which is edged with perennials such as Arnica, Lupine, and Spenosciadium capitellatum (ranger's button).

Ranger's button and lupine
Ranger's button was quite common in some of the areas, even in slightly dryer areas, probably eastern and northern exposure.

Ranger's button (?)
I'm actually not completely sure whether some of these plants aren't Angelica breweri (Brewer's angelica), but one of the gentlemen in our group was quite insistent it was ranger's button, and it certainly could have been.

Ranger's button
I found it quite fascinating that the water-loving plants were often very tiny, and often very tall (and not so often medium-sized). Here is a tiny monkey flower (Mimulus) - not completely sure which Mimulus this is, but the flowers were not even 1/4 inch. 

Tiny Mimulu
And here is the tiny but stunningly bright pink Epilobium obcordatum (rock fringe).

Epilobium obcordatum
I was struck by the bright colors of many of the plants in the High Sierra - with the short time to attract pollinators and set seed, none seemed to bother with pastels (yes they really were that pink).

Epilobium obcordatum

Before the post gets too long, two of the tall flowers we saw near the small streams and lakes. First a lupine, most likely Lupinus polyphyllus (large-leaved lupine).

Lupinus polyphyllus (large-leaved lupine)

And here the most stunning of larkspurs (most likely Delphinium glaucum (giant mountain larkspur), which was easily 5 1/2 feet tall.

Delphinium glaucum (giant mountain larkspur)
I hope you're enjoying the tour of the Sierra flowers - I promised my fellow hikers to post the plants and have at least one more post. In early August, we'll get back to the garden and investigate some mysteries - How many of the plants died in this dry, hot summer? Did pinching the Epilobium keep it short? And how is the Delta sunflower doing?

Until then, enjoy our guests from the higher elevations....

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sierra Nevada Natives on Dry Slopes

Colochortis leichtlinii (Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily)

I just returned from a very wonderful hiking vacation in the Mokelumne wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. Mr. Mouse and I decided we needed some time away from computers and phone and signed up for a trip with the Sierra Club. We picked a lodge-based trip to combine the comforts of a bed, a hot shower, and fresh food with the opportunity to spend a lot of time outside and meet some fellow hikers and nature lovers. (We had such a good time that we're already plotting where to go next, but work does get in the way).

Even though this has been a fairly dry winter, our oldest fellow-hiker, who had been on over 50 Sierra Club trips, said that he'd rarely seen such a spectacular display of wildflowers. So, in the next few posts, I'll be sharing some of the photos I brought home (click any photo to enlarge it).

The Mariposa Lily above was abundant in  dry areas, often combined with lupine. I believe this might be  Lupinus obtusilobus (silverleaf lupine), but with over 70 species of lupine in California, I can't be sure. 

Lupinus obtusilobus (silverleaf lupine) (?)
On each hike, I carried my small camera and my trusted Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada (written and illustrated by John Muir Laws). Because I was hiking with a group, it did not make sense to bring my larger camera, but I enjoyed looking up plants I had seen during our breaks.

Above, the landscape we hiked in. Geologically, the Mokelumne wilderness is very interesting, with a combination of Sierra granite and more recent volcanic rock, as well as volcanic rock with older rock embedded in it (this looks as if someone had brought concrete to mix up some aggregate). Below, an "aggregate" rock with fairly large rocks embedded in the volcanic rock, we also saw others with 1-2 inch pebbles.

A great read about the geology of the area is Assembling California by John McPhee. I had the book along on the trip and it helped me understand better what I was seeing - though I still have a lot to learn. Regardless, back to the flowers.

In the driest areas we saw a thistles like this. The guide book says the prostrate thistle, only a few inches high, is Cirsium scariosum, and while a few of the plants we saw were maybe a foot high, the leaf pattern matches that of Cirsium scariosum so I'm going to assume that's what we saw.

Cirsium Scariosum (elk thistle) ?
While the thistle was something special primarily for the native plant lover, the succulents and buckwheats caught everyone's eye.

River of succulents and buckwheats

Here's a close-up of the succulent, which I believe is Dudleya cymosa (Liveforever).

And here a photo of Sedum obtusatum (Sierra stonecrop) on our one rainy day. A very different photo, but it's easy to identify the Sedum because of the rosettes of thick succulent leaves.

Sedum obtusatum (Sierra stonecrop)
Here a different view, mixed with a low-growing plant - maybe a shrub? - that I never did manage to identify. 

And finally a close-up of the lovely buckwheat we saw everywhere. I believe this to be Eriogonum incanum (hoary buckwheat) because of the clumped flower clusters. We also saw Eriogonum ursinum (bear buckwheat) and Eriogonum nudum (naked buckwheat).

Eriogonum incanum (hoary buckwheat)

This concludes today's tour. Soon, I'll show you some of the flowers we saw along the little streams and the lakes.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Silver rule: Don't plant nursery natives that cross with my wild natives

My "golden rule" is pretty much a no-brainer. But my silver rule can seem paradoxical - why not plant California natives in California!?  This rule doesn’t apply to gardeners such as Ms Town Mouse, who live in the middle of the suburbs. Only to those of us gardening in the WUI - the wild land-urban interface — and even for us, it’s perhaps controversial.

Not everyone agrees with this silver rule, but I want to keep my local wild plants as they are. Local = unique. Unique = irreplaceable.

I'm not always clear about what will and won’t cross. Monkeyflowers, iris, ceanothus, manzanita, dudleya – anything that you can buy nice cultivars and selections of – they’ll probably cross with indigenous natives.
Propagated local wild bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus)
Before I became concerned, I enjoyed the garden cultivars, and they are definitely showy, with bigger and more abundant blooms, and different colors.

Cultivar Mimulus aurantiacus 'Trish', along with seaside daisy, Erigeron glaucus
After I started my local natives propagation efforts, I (sadly) removed all the cultivars. But I missed one 'Trish' down by the driveway.

Local wild bush monkeyflower plants- with a brick-red 'Trish' cross nestled among them.
Others enjoy horticultural projects of developing pretty garden flowers. That's not my project. If you live in a wilderness area, consider your own position on this.

Some people, for example, think we should plant more Southern California natives in the wild lands farther north, to prepare for global warming. Or introduce natives of the same species as the local indigenous ones, but from other areas, again, to introduce more genes into the pool, and make them more adaptable to changing climate conditions.

There's middle positions too - some people don't care about monkeyflower crosses, but do care about dudleya crosses, for example - I'm not entirely sure of the reasoning.

I’m trying to follow up on these questions about introducing nursery natives in a wilderness area, and will get back to you. For my purposes, I'll be identifying and (sadly) removing my pretty garden cultivars that can - from my viewpoint - taint the local populations.

Note: whenever I write in this vein, I become uncomfortable with the "eugenic" tone of the writing. Be assured - I'm only talking about plants here - not people!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Golden Rule: Don't plant anything invasive. (And remove weeds!)

Whether native to other areas of your state, or native to another country, invasive plants do not belong on your property. Don't plant invasive plants, like French or Scotch broom, or vinca, or English ivy. If they are present - remove them. Remove noxious weeds like bull thistle, hemlock, and so on. Here's some useful links on this:
  • In California you can check here to learn what plants are invasive: California Invasive Plant Council.
  • And you can check this page of the California Native Plant Society to learn more about invasive weeds, and find useful links to other sites: Invasive weeds.
I'll put my Silver and Bronze rules in future posts! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

July Bloom Day Blooms - Country Mouse

I'm surprised how much is still blooming here on my ridge top property on the Central Coast of California. Some flowers are starting to go to seed, but that's really quite alright with me. I'm looking forward to a bonanza of our local wild Clarkia seeds this year - I'll be sharing them with the neighborhood, I hope.

Local native - Clarkia rubicunda - first seed pods!

And wonderful flowers
 Where I irrigate - like near the wetland area - the foliage is sparse but green. Elsewhere it's practically nonexistent or tawny. But still covered in blooms. An adaptable plant for the garden. Better in sun but also looks good in partial shade, too.

A sage of some sort. Sorry, I forget - a non-native garden pretty.

Monardella villosa, much beloved by butterflies and bees.
Anyone know what this butterfly is?

Spice bush, Calycanthus occidentalis, is covered in blooms. California native, garden plant I enjoy. I like its large leaves.
Another non-native I don't know the name of. Little succulent sweetie.

Salvia clevelandii "Winifred Gillman" Garden California native - I love this shrub's scent Needs sun and good drainage.

Dudleya caespitosa, passing its prime. Garden native, also locally native around here. These have been flowering like mad, but the stalks are so long they have been dragging. Maybe I watered too much?

Ha! and the one lone remnant of - arch. What are heck these called?  Remind me of a posy of bluebells.

Heart-leaf penstemon, Penstemon keckiella. Garden native. Great color and arching form - good for drama in the back of a big bed. These have been hosting some kinda caterpillars - Hundreds of tiny ones, in black cobwebby stuff. Not pretty. They kind of twitch. I think they're estivating checkerspot caterpillars? Hope they're something worthwhile tolerating!  
Toyon blooms, in abundance, just lovely! Hereromeles arbutifolia. Local wild native.

Pretty white mock orange, Philadelphus lewisii. Garden native, survivor of much deer nibbling in the past.

Still the soap plant blooms and blooms. Local wild native. Chlorogalum pomeridianum. 

Maybe last of our seaside daisies, Erigeron glaucus, native along our coast.

The local buckwheat is really starting to pop - Erigionum nudum, naked buckwheat. Local wild native, grown from seed.

Eriogonum giganteum - southern native. Sprouted 100 feet from parent -Not a good sign in a garden plant. I won't let these go to seed I guess.

Local wild monkey flower, Mimulus aurantiacus - going to seed!

Matilija poppy,  Romneya coulteri, anogher southern California native, spectacular in the garden, very tall. Going to seed but does not reseed. Here it is closing for the night.

So that's some of what's blooming here on the ridge. Please check out my co-blogger's super-lovely native blooms and other garden blogger's bloom day delights, and pop over to May Dream Gardens to check out oodles of other gardens all over the world. Thank you Carol!