Scottish Rock Garden Club Forum

General Subjects => Blogs and Diaries => Topic started by: Robert on November 14, 2021, 08:14:30 PM

Title: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on November 14, 2021, 08:14:30 PM
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Late autumn weather has settled into our region of California. There has been dense fog in the Central Valley with little or no clearing during the day. Above the inversion layer, skies have been clear with well above average temperatures.

Precipitation amounts during the first 2 weeks of November have been below average. In a slow process, I am gradually developing a climatic forecasting model that I can run on my laptop computer. It might seem an unrealistic endeavor, however I am enjoying every aspect. Based on statistical-type modeling, the current dry pattern appears that it will persist for the next month or more. Temperatures in November have been above average. This trend looks like it will continue for the next week. Beyond, for the next month temperatures could go in either direction. There are mixed and contrasting indications in both the statistical- and dynamic-type modeling.

Either way, it is obvious that both the daily and long-term climatic trends have a profound impact on plants, in our Sacramento garden, native ecosystems, and all managed and unmanaged ecosystems as a whole.

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I have started seeding out species that need some degree of winter chilling (vernalization) to germinate properly. With climate change, it is questionable if there are adequate chilling hours for some species during the winter in our Sacramento garden. Epigenetic changes can sometimes take place that alter a seed’s response to chilling hours, allowing germination with fewer chilling hours and allowing these characteristics to be passed on to the progeny without altering the gene sequences of the genetic line.

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Sometimes there is enough autumn chilling so we get pretty autumn foliage, as we once regularly did. Amazingly, this year, despite the heat and oppressive smoke, we are experiencing an incredibly gorgeous fall display, an event that we have missed for years. This is Acer Palmatum ‘Ornatum’

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There are a few flowers remaining on the Zinnia elegans. The rain in October and the foggy weather are quickly bringing an end to the remaining plants. We are enjoying the beauty of the late color turning brown; the shift in colors from bright and exuberant to withering, much as Monet is said to have done with his garden in Giverny.

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I allow many plants that might be considered weeds to grow in our garden:

Below center is Potentilla gracilis var. fastigiata. It is a native species that freely seeds around the garden. The species has a good degree of drought tolerance, has attractive foliage and bright yellow flowers. I let them seed around but need to control their numbers and locations.

Above the Potentilla is Verbascum nigrum. I might be getting into trouble with this one! The plant is a seedling volunteer from the Placerville property. I like the dark stems and yellow flowers. I hope I can control them. Various wild passerines enjoy the seeds. It is such a joy to watch the little birds perch and devour the seeds of this Verbascum, Zinnias, Cosmos, Oenothera, Perilla, and others.

Above the Verbascum and slightly to the right is Linaria purpuea. This is the standard purple form. For years only the pink Canon Went seeded around the garden. I am pleased to have the purple form. Linaria purpurea seeds around; however it has never been a problem in our garden.

Also in the photograph are seedlings of Digitalis purpurea. Although I planted these; however, to some extent, the species does seed around in our garden.

Many other species seed around our garden without any help on my part. I really enjoy our California native annual species that seed around in our garden.

Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on November 22, 2021, 09:00:14 PM
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The mild and dry weather continues in our portion of Northern California. November temperatures are running ~ 2.5 F (1.39 C) above average in the foothills and Sierra Nevada Mountains. At our Sacramento home temperatures are running ~ 0.5 F (0.28 C) above average.

Precipitation to date in November is 39% of the monthly average. Currently the prospect for more precipitation during the next 10 days appears unlikely. Because of the torrential rainfall in late October, our entire precipitation totals to date are still well above average. Unfortunately, the October storm was very warm and it left very little snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Now--more or less--all this snow has melted leaving us no snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The El Niño – Southern Oscillation teleconnection has a very strong influence on our California weather. The currently intensifying La Niña event is highly conducive to dry and cold weather in our part of California. With climate change, there has been a general trend toward rising geopotential heights in our region: During last winter’s strong La Niña event, the trend toward rising geopotential heights helped influence a shift where much of the cold weather remained north and east of our region; however the typical La Niña dry weather pattern persisted.

With the mild temperatures, common Borage, Borago officinalis, is still blooming in our garden.

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Moraea polystachya continues to bloom in the mild weather.

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The silvery gray foliage of Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida is appreciated during the late autumn-winter months. The nascent upright inflorescences are very sticky, thus the name viscida. With it so warm, a few inflorescences have already expanded and bloomed with their delightful urns, an important winter nectar source for hummingbirds and butterflies. It is cause for concern, what will these precious creatures have if the weather turns cold? It remains to be seen if indeed it will turn cold, or any significant precipitation will occur. The lack of water is dire; however, that has not halted development and degradation of habitat.

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With cool weather and rainfall, the summer dormant plants of Ranunculus occidentalis var. occidentalis quickly emerge from the ground and begin growth. Unlike Ranunculus occidentalis var. ultramontanus, variety occidentalis must be kept completely dry all summer. Hybrids between variety occidentalis and ultrmontanus are showing promise as useful garden plants in our garden, with tolerance to summer moisture and showy flowers.

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The seed of Ranunculus occidentalis var. occidentalis germinates quickly after the weather cools in the autumn and the rain begins.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on November 22, 2021, 09:03:11 PM
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While working in the garden yesterday, I found a plant container full of volunteer seedlings of Echscholzia lobbii and Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia. Generally, fire is necessary to enhance the germination of Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia. I knew there was the possibility to develop a seed line of this species that would germinate abundantly without fire. These seedlings are the results of seed I missed when gathering seed in the late spring of last year. I will sow the seed I gathered soon; hopefully there will be a high rate of germination without fire/smoke treatment.

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I have a lot of fun breeding many very common plant species. The two tubs each contain a different seed line of common Sweet Peas. I will cross the two lines with the goal of developing seed lines that germinate well in our relatively warm weather, have a wide flower color range, large flower trusses with many flowers, strong scent, and heat tolerance. Needless to say, all the goals will not be reached with one cross.

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I do much breeding work in tubs, especially with small plants. This maximizes use of our small space, pollination and genetic control. Otherwise, containers are a delightful splash of color that can be rotated throughout the garden.

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I make my own soil blocks. The first two tubs contain a line of common Viola that I am wishing to improve. Experimenting with common species works very well for me. Techniques I develop with common species frequently can be applied to other less common but desirable species: I like our local California native Viola species, such as Viola purpurea. The new techniques are useful in developing easier-to-cultivate forms of our local native Viola species.

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Soil blocks are great for starting seed and transplanting seedlings. Many difficult- to-transplant species, transplant easily when seeded out in soils blocks.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on November 28, 2021, 09:16:46 AM
You certainly do an impressive work with plants, Robert! Hope your climate doesn't get too dry for growing plants. Here we had a dry but not too dry summer but the fall (October-November) has been rather wet, well above normal. The temperature has been above average until yesterday when it suddenly dropped (as expected from the forecast) and we got an inch of snow. Cold weather is expected next week also.

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Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on November 28, 2021, 08:10:41 PM
Hello Trond,

Our current weather/climatic trends look grim. In the short term, the next 7 to 10 days look dry with above average temperatures. To date, temperatures in November at the Placerville property are running 2.47 F (1.37 C) above average. There is basically no snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

For the winter season the climatic pattern looks equally grim. A La Niña has developed in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. It appears that this will be a fairly strong event and persist through the winter months. This pattern is likely to produce dry winter/spring weather in our region. The current weak and inactive MJO pattern is not conducive to countering this dry trend; however this pattern shows hope of changing in the near future.

As to the future, the paleo-climatic data from our region strongly suggests California may return to a consistently dry climatic pattern where drought is the new normal. I have been experimenting with simple mathematical radiation/energy balance models for our region, comparing our current conditions with how they might have existed during the Medieval Warm Period. The first results suggest California could be rapidly progressing toward a climatic pattern where high temperatures and drought conditions exceed those that were experienced during the Medieval Warm Period. I do not consider my preliminary results conclusive; however they are not encouraging either.

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Despite the uncertainties of the future weather I continue to move forward with my gardening projects. In this photograph, the flats are filled with freshly seeded California native annuals and other very common winter/spring annuals (breeding projects). Shortly, I will have all the desired seed lots planted – this is a first in many, many years.

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I have a number of seed lots planted of our local California native Viola species. So far, there have been very positive results and incremental progress. This is a nice heat-tolerant form of Viola adunca ssp. adunca that resulted from last year’s sowing of seed gathered from a local low elevation population.

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Food security and sustainable farming practices form the core of our current gardening methodology. Here a nice stand of cereal rye, Secale cereal, is coming on nicely.

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In another part of the garden is a planting of Ethiopian Two-rowed Barley, Hordeum vulgare. Both cereal crops will likely produce well despite any dry conditions we might encounter this winter/spring. I am very pleased to be growing cereal grains again. Fresh homegrown cereals grains are incredibly delicious!

Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on November 29, 2021, 12:56:00 PM
The weather here has turned rather cold. After a summer and early fall with well above normal temperatures we are now in a cold spell. I can't remember the last time we had that cold weather for so many weeks at this time of the year. It is expected to last a couple weeks more. In the north they have gotten loads of snow, much more than normal. Seems a La Niña pattern leads to cold weather here, I have seen it before.

Interesting that you grow cereals. Can you grow all you need for a full year? I have tried corn (Zea mays) but it isn't very productive. Too few plants I suppose. I have also tried one plant of the following crops: sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas). They did grow well but only small tubers. The best so far is oca (Oxalis tuberosa), one plant gave a lot of small corms. I also have tried yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) but haven't harvested it yet.

Will be interesting to follow your work with garden worthy plants. I let the nature select the plants for me! I make no deliberate crosses though.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on November 29, 2021, 08:51:31 PM
Hello Trond,

Thank you for the interesting climatic report. I am always interested in this type of information. Jasmin finds these things fascinating too. We both enjoy great curiosity and desire to learn.

Here in our part of California climatic conditions are grim, or flat out scary! Jasmin thinks crazy scary. Yesterday’s (28 November) high temperature at 6,700 ft. (2,042 meters) was 60 F (15.6 C). This was a new record high temperature for this site. The old record was 55 F (12.8 C) set in 2017. For the month, average temperatures are running 3.87 F (2.15 C) above average. Year to date, the average temperature is 1.470 C above the baseline starting point. There is no snow, well a trace that amounts to 0.28% of average to date.

At the Placerville property 1,500 feet (457 meters), the situation is not much better. To date, the average temperature for this November is 2.67 F (1.48 C) above average. Year to date, the average temperature is running 1.434 C above average. There has been only one month with below average temperatures since the beginning of 2021. Over the last few years, the rate at which the average annual temperature has been increasing is accelerating dramatically. Considering my temperature data sets have over 40 years of daily-recorded temperature readings, the temperate rate change represents a very significant acceleration.

To day, 29 November – looks like it will be much warmer than yesterday. Many record daily high temperatures will likely be broken today.

In summary:

> Over the past 150 plus years, our average annual precipitation totals have been dropping dramatically. Drought seems to be the new normal.

> Our average annual temperature has increased ~ 1.50 C in the last 45 years. The rate of temperature increase is accelerating.

There is no sign that these trends are going to reverse themselves. These are the conditions under which we garden. 

Jasmin’s attitude is what she calls worried-practical: If we just worry, the weather is not going to change. So, we may as well feel thankful for each day, and do the best we can. We plan breeding projects, and garden knowing some things will live and some will die. It is not about preserving beloved plants at all costs, to see them slowly demise and die anyway. We give things a chance, but when the inevitable death throes appear, we no longer are tormented by grief and what-did-we-do-wrongs. Yes, we investigate and learn, but we move on much faster than in the past. There will always be factors we cannot discover, and we are more accepting of the unknowable.
 
Food security interests Jasmin a great deal. When she was young, the family experienced great poverty and hardship, to the extent she experienced hunger not just a great deal, but regularly. As a child, she would will herself to not be hungry, to not be a burden. She sees this formative thinking as a blessing and asset now, because there is the deep appreciation for food and food security that is on a level most people around do not perceive or feel gratitude for. So much is taken for granted when one has, has abundantly, with easy access. 

This way of seeing is not associated with America. Sadly, many do not think this reality is even in America, then or now. Some have outright said my wife never experienced hunger, and was a liar. When her mother lived, her mother would correct them and verify their truth. Yes, it wasn’t the extreme poverty and hunger of war-time and post-war Europe, especially if one was a prisoner-slave in the Nazi camps, nevermind if one was a Jew in the work camps [“Extermination through work” is how it was called]. Still, hunger was something she experienced that I never did.

I grew up with abundance, and waste of food because there was so much. My childhood reality is so far from my wife’s. Nonetheless, we share a garden vision.  We see the climate change, and the impact of COVID, and have decided to blend our garden experiments into a fusion of ornamental and vegetable breeding for resiliency. It pushes my knowledge in a way just experimenting with ornamentals does not. I find areas of crossover, where skills I develop in ornamentals or foods serve the other. Facing climate challenges, and the plant diseases that thrive in such variable conditions, is deeply rewarding.

Once upon a time, I could not imagine thriving on such a small plot; however, I am grateful I do not have the space now. It challenges me to focus, to prioritize, and to let go of projects: With limited space, one cannot keep everything, and it cannot sit around turning into a dump pile from inattention. I probably have more messes than desirable, and Jasmin is kind enough not to gnaw at me about these things.   
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on December 03, 2021, 04:27:08 PM
Robert,

Thank you for your report. It is interesting to read albeit somewhat depressing. But I am optimistic though and hope the worst scenarios don't come true.

I can't understand why some people should think Jasmin is lying about what she experienced as young. It is a sad truth that many families experienced poverty and hunger even in "rich" countries like US and Norway. Some do even today. I hope though for a better future for everybody although I am less optimistic regarding this issue than the climate. But the two are clearly connected.

We have had snow lying on the ground and snowy weather for several days now. Can't remember we have had anything similar in at least 20 years!
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 03, 2021, 08:21:32 PM
I have started my analysis of the November data from my remote weather monitoring sites located at various elevations from the foothills to the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in El Dorado County.

First, I wish to correct an oversight in a previous posting. We have actually experienced two months with below average temperatures at the Placerville property in 2021: March 2021 was 2.16 F (1.20 C) below average and October 2021 was 2.02 F (1.12 C) below average. Except for slightly above average temperatures in February 2021, all the other months experienced much above average temperature or record high average temperatures. To date, 2021 has been extremely warm.

I routinely log data at one 6,700 feet (2,042 meters) site in the Crystal Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. During the month of November 2021 this site experienced a new record average high temperature of 42.00 F (5.56 C). Six new daily high temperature records were broken, with one additional date that tied the record. Two new daily high low temperature records were broken, with one additional tie. No daily low temperature records were broken. Although there was some snow on the ground at the beginning of November, for much of the month there was no snow on the ground. Currently, there is no snow on the ground in the Crystal Range except traces on north facing slopes at the highest elevations.

I like to quantify my climatic reports from our region: Plants and plant communities respond to both the internal variability of climate, and the long-term climatic changes taking place. This is true for both managed (our gardens, agriculture) and unmanaged (wild places) locations. Now more than ever, there is a need to adjust our gardening practices and the plants we select to grow in our gardens to the volatile climatic circumstances. Altering gardening practices can help plants adjust to erratic weather patterns and extremes. Growing new species can help us better understand the range of tolerance a species might have to many environmental variables. Through observation, new selections of species can be made that are better adapted to our changing garden circumstances. This also applies to new hybrids, for those interested in this method of plant selection. There are many challenges, but also opportunities for those who enjoy gardening.

Today it is quite foggy, however the record-breaking heat continues above the inversion layer.

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Germination is taking place with many of the recently sown California native annual species.

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The tiny seeds of Erythranthe guttata and E. bicolor germinate well in the small soil blocks.

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Layia platyglossa is also quite to germinate.

Other species take more time to germinate. Some species may need more vernalization than they can currently receive during our Sacramento winters. 40 years ago cold frosty winters were normal. Not now. It is a difficult decision to make – do I refrigerate the seeds so they receive adequate stratification or do I keep them in place and select for plants that produce seed that requires less vernalization to germinate. With plenty of seed I could do both. With limited seed additional stratification is likely the best choice until I have a large inventory of seed to draw from. With our changing climate all sorts of new choices need to be made.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on December 04, 2021, 05:22:42 PM
This is the temperature deviasjon in Norway from the 1961-1990 average:

https://www.met.no/vaer-og-klima/klima-siste-150-ar/_/image/82d60ee8-e86f-4c90-b491-b72861602c95:9e4a7abec3d45a9957f89ca78dd9bb1786ab9d50/width-768/TAMA_G0_0.svg


And this is the precipitation deviation for the same period.

https://www.met.no/vaer-og-klima/klima-siste-150-ar/_/image/519c98ef-0220-408a-a39d-a9721b4fc5c9:f0b81e0bf3af8ba6bc7a18cdef4a114190652eb5/width-768/RRA_G0_0.svg

It is getting warmer and wetter.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 04, 2021, 07:30:26 PM
Hello Trond,

I found the graphics fascinating, so much so that I photographed the screen (i.e. saved them). Thank you for posting them.

The relationship between rising temperatures and increasing amounts of precipitation are not surprising considering the nearly exponential relationship between saturation vapor pressure and temperature (Clausius – Claperyron equation). I measure daily levels of absolute humidity throughout my study area. In general, absolute humidity rises with temperature; however in our region this does not necessarily translate into increased precipitation [Jasmin adds:  or precipitation at all!  I explain this momentarily.]. The general Rossby Wave pattern around the Northern Hemisphere largely governs the transport of latent heat (at lower levels of the atmosphere ~ 850 mb) and sensible heat (at mid and high levels of the atmosphere ~ 500 mb and 250 mb) northward (a planetary energy balance). Given the generalized trough pattern in the eastern U.S.A., with the cresting wave in the vicinity of northwestern Europe, with another trough in Eastern Europe, I am not surprised by the temperature and precipitation data you posted. Of course, this is a very generalized description of the Rossby Wave pattern (there is also the generalized trough in eastern Asia – in lee of the mountainous interior – a similar relationship to that of the Rocky Mountains and the Eastern U.S.A. trough). There are seasonal pattern variances caused by winter-summer and land-ocean temperature differences; and additionally, in our part of the globe the frequently strong influences of the ENSO, MJO, AO, etc. This is all very simplified; however it explains our current warm, dry weather despite consistently high absolute humidity levels. Water vapor is a strong greenhouse gas, but not a forcing agent as are CO2, CH4, and N2O. However, water vapor can create a positive feedback loop allowing temperatures to rise more than if absolute humidity levels remained constant.

Thank you again for posting the graphics.

Today we are having our second day of persistent fog. Above the inversion layer temperatures are still above average; however they are somewhat less than their record-breaking levels. Some important changes have taken place in the atmosphere. Hopefully these will lead to some much-needed precipitation in our region.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on December 05, 2021, 02:19:30 PM
Hello Trond,

I found the graphics fascinating, so much so that I photographed the screen (i.e. saved them). Thank you for posting them.


Robert,

Here is the main page:

https://www.met.no/vaer-og-klima/klima-siste-150-ar/

with graphics for each season.

We are warned about the coupling of increased temperature and precipitation -  and also about the increasing frequency og disastrous weather. We had an incident in November when extremely strong gusts of winds  flattened vast forests in the eastern parts of the country. They are usually spared such things.

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 https://g.acdn.no/obscura/API/dynamic/r1/ece5/tr_2000_2000_s_f/0000/oppl/2021/11/22/15/IMG-83191.jpg?chk=666A97

Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 11, 2021, 08:22:40 PM
We finally have a major shift in our local weather. Average daily temperatures dropped dramatically. The first significant precipitation fell after many weeks of dry weather. Snow fell in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with snow levels dropping to 3,500 feet (1,067 meters) for the first time this season. At our Sacramento home there has been patchy frost the past two mornings. We are actually getting some winter chilling. The seed I planted recently may actually get sufficient vernalization and germinate well without refrigeration.  [Jasmin says:  Wow! Does that mean I can fit food in the refrigerator—absolutely no juggling with plants for space?!?]

This is just some of the good weather news: Presently, a major winter storm is bearing down on our region. This storm is expected to have major impacts on our region: significant precipitation, extremely low snow levels, and major snow accumulations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is expected to be a multi-day event. The first precipitation is expected to arrive this evening with lingering showers predicted 7 days out in the current forecast. We desperately need precipitation and a lingering snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to avoid a catastrophic water crisis this coming summer. The 20-plus-years drought may not end; however there is hope that a catastrophic water crisis may be avoided this coming summer.  [Jasmin says:  This we pray from our mouths to God’s ear!]

With colder temperatures our garden is getting a bit of a winter rest.

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There are not many flowers in the garden at this time; however the foliage of Cyclamen species is very attractive and is a great plus for the garden during the winter.

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A few Cyclamen species such as Cyclamen coum will be blooming soon.

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Cyclamen foliage seems to come in an infinite variety of patterns.

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Cyclamen graecum does very well in our garden and has nice foliage during the winter. This pot has many seedlings that can be transplanted into our garden.

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The first Hoop-Petticoat Narcissus to bloom in our garden is Narcissus romieuxii and its various forms. Flower buds generally start to open around the end of December. We grow our plants out in the open without protection from the weather. With a greenhouse and early autumn watering they would likely bloom earlier in the season.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 11, 2021, 08:25:44 PM
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I have two clones of Arctostaphylos myrtifolia that I grow in our garden. This clone consistently blooms about 3 to 4 week before the other clone.

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The seeds of California native annual species that I planted about two weeks ago have germinated well.

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Our California native annuals make rapid growth in the cool moist weather.

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Even with the cool weather, there is still plenty to keep me busy in our mild California garden:  After 15 years of caregiving, many neglected yet beloved plants such as this lovely silver-leafed Cyclamen hederifolium can receive the tender loving care we have longed to bestow.  Additionally, now that winter dormancy has come to the garden, winter pruning can commence.

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A parting view of our garden as high clouds rapidly stream in in advance of the first cold front imbedded in the long wave trough. Geo potential heights are likely to fall to their lowest levels of the season to date. A series of very cold, very wet storms is just what we need. It is very exciting!
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on December 12, 2021, 10:04:42 AM
Robert,

You have some very nice Cyclamens!

I grow a few in my garden but they have been covered by snow for 14 days now. But yesterday we got warmer weather so the snow disappear rapidly.


It seems you will get quite a lot of precipitation the next days. Hope it doesn't just run off but percolate through the soil.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 12, 2021, 08:16:25 PM
Trond,

The first band of rain showers arrived in our area early this morning, 12/12. The bulk of the heavy precipitation and cold air is still offshore. When I checked the 12 Z, 500 mb map of the Northern Pacific Ocean this morning there was a large low at 56 N – 139 W with very cold air advection directed toward California. It looks like the US – NWS forecast for our region is going to be spot on: a great deal of precipitation, very low elevation snow levels, and large or huge snow accumulations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A large snow pack--with high liquid equivalent values that linger late into the spring season--are essential to our regional water security. Climatic change is altering this pattern.

Here are the current snow totals for selected locations within my study area as of 0 Z yesterday. I will keep the forum posted as to the changes that the current storm system brings to our area.

Site 1 > 8,275 ft.  - 2,522 meters
Snow Depth 9.61 inches – 24.41 cm
Current Liquid Equivalents 12/11 = 1.58 inches (4.01 cm) - 3 year average 13.30 inches (33.78 cm) 11.9% of 3-year average.

Site 2 > 6,750 ft. - 2,057 meters
Snow Depth 5.20 inches – 13.21 cm
Current Liquid Equivalents 12/11 = 1.14 inches (2.90 cm)  - 17 year average 5.34 inches (13.56 cm) 21.3% of 17-year average.


Site 3 > 5,275 ft. - 1,608 meters – 9.32 cm
Snow Depth 3.67 inches - 9.32 cm
Current Liquid Equivalents 12/11 = 0.51 inches (1.30 cm) - 13 year average = 0.91 inches (2.31 cm) 11.9% of 13 year average.

Site 4 > 3,450 ft. – 1,052 meters
Snow Depth 0.00 inches – 0.00 cm
Current Liquid Equivalents 12/11 = 0.00 inches - 3 year average 0.00 inches.

We grow many species of Cyclamen in containers where they are allowed to seed out in the container. The best-of-the-best [Robert’s thinking] are planted out in the garden for further evaluation. Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen coum are the easiest species in the open; however other species are doing well too. Both Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen coum seed freely in our garden. Here too I am selecting, often isolating distinct lines for further development of specific traits. It is great fun and the Cyclamen add a great deal of interest to our garden for much of the season. Our gardening goal is a beautiful garden, an earthy paradise to enjoy.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 18, 2021, 07:20:58 PM
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The recent series of storms have exited our region. Current snow depths have improved dramatically. Above is a snow depth chart from a site at 6,700 feet (2,042 meters) in the Crystal Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The blue line is last season’s snow depth, a very dry precipitation year. The red line is the snow depth as of today, 18 December 2021.

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Snow liquid equivalents provide another perspective on our current precipitation season. The blue dashed line is the 17 year average. The dotted red line is last year’s totals. The solid red line is this season’s total to date. We are currently above average; however we still need more to build a large snow pack to provide water for both managed and unmanaged ecosystems during the dry summer and autumn seasons.

Snow cover or its absence impacts many plant biological processes. In some instances and circumstances, photoinhibition can severely affect plant biological possesses or cause death. Conifers in alpine or subarctic habitats are well adapted to deal with the combination of extremely low temperatures with periods of high light intensity.  This is also true of evergreen alpine and arctic/subarctic plant species. However, in other instances, evergreen and newly emerging herbaceous perennial species need to adjust to cold temperatures and high light intensities to cope with the stresses of photoinhibition. A sudden abrupt end to snow-cover during winter or early spring, when temperatures can still be extremely cold, can create conditions where the excess flow of electrons from photosystem II light-harvesting complexes can overwhelm a plant’s ability to quench or redirect the flow of energy, causing destruction of exposed tissues, or in severe instances, death to the plant. I wonder if photoinhibition is an overlooked source of cultural difficulties when attempting to grow alpine species well beyond their normal range of growing conditions.

In my next posting I will give some examples.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on December 19, 2021, 08:58:16 AM
Robert,

I hope you'll get a lot more snow!

After a very cold period we have had a mild period with up to 8-10C here at the coast. Even the mountains have had above freezing for some days. But now we will get a new inflow of cold Siberian air and the temperature will drop below freezing again.

As we have no permanent snow cover (the snow disappeared quickly when the mild weather arrived) the plants have to withstand cycles of freezing and thawing. Not all plants tolerate that! Next week we will get temperatures down to -5C probably without snow. I don't like it!
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 19, 2021, 06:55:30 PM
Photoinhibition continued…

I am writing about photoinhibition in a broad sense. To the best of my knowledge, both prokaryotes (e.g. cyanobacteria) and eukaryotes (e.g. any plant species) species that carry out the photoactive portion of photosynthesis using photosystem II light-harvesting complexes continually need to repair and replace damaged photosystem II complexes, due to photoinhibition during periods when they are exposed to light.  Liken it to our bodies replacing damaged cells and tissues, such as when our skin becomes sunburned.

Plants have evolved multiple methods to diminish the impacts of photoinhibition, and partially protect sensitive biological systems.  Under certain circumstances, these protective processes become overwhelmed, and tissue damage and death of the plant can ensue.  My definition of photoinhibition in a broader sense is the many processes to reduce the impacts of photoinhibition.

In my previous posting, I wrote about how conifers and perennial alpine species have evolved protective processes to channel excessive potentially damaging energy away from sensitive biological structures.  In addition, plants have evolved morphological adaptations, such as leaves that are held perpendicular (rosette structure, etc.) to the most intense mid-day sun, and glaucus, gray foliage that increases albedo.  Biological adaptations, such as the ability to adjust the ratio of photosystem I and photosystem II light-harvesting complexes based on light intensity, and the adjustment of the position and arrangement of chloroplasts/thylakoids within the plant’s cells, help plants ameliorate the potential excessive overload of energy to other biological structures within the plant.

This returns us to the question if photoinhibition contributes to some cultural challenges faced when growing alpine species well beyond the parameters of their native habitats.  Observations, based on my studies in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, suggest that under specific conditions certain alpine species can be impacted by photoinhibition (overload of excessive energy that cannot be processed quickly by other downstream biological processes).  During conditions where protective snow cover is abruptly missing during the mid-winter months, in conjunction with extremely low temperatures, appears to impact vulnerable species.

While my ultimate goal is to have a beautiful garden, I enjoy this type of research and development.  I like to find ways to bring a broader selection of plants into permanent cultivation in our garden.  Too many fine species have been transient in our garden.  They have been extremely difficult to maintain, and are now gone.  We know we are not the only gardeners to have this experience.  Our propensity for seeds and plants from other regions is perhaps our shared longing to bring the wider world into our gardens, especially when travel is prohibitive.  In my case, it is being able to bring some of the mountains I have loved my whole life to our home.  Creating an easy-to-grow version of Viola purpurea will only occur through creative innovation.  There are so many additional possibilities.


Trond,

More precipitation is forecasted for us during the coming week.  There are also hints that this wet pattern will persist into the new year. This is great news for us. Currently, our precipitation totals have already exceeded last season’s totals for the whole year.  I will be posting more on this topic as events unfold.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on December 21, 2021, 10:58:58 AM
Photoinhibition is an interesting topic. Much has been written since I was a student! My wife worked with photorespiration in her degree. (I worked with genetics.) However I think plants in your part of the world are more affected by high light levels in winter than plants up here.

YR tells you will get rain almost every day this week!

https://www.yr.no/nb/værvarsel/daglig-tabell/2-5389489/USA/California/Sacramento/Sacramento (https://www.yr.no/nb/værvarsel/daglig-tabell/2-5389489/USA/California/Sacramento/Sacramento)
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 21, 2021, 07:20:23 PM
Trond,

Yes, I agree. Plant genetics, photorespiration, photoinhibition, etc. are all interesting topics. Clearly, I am attempting to simplify my discussion of these topics, explain how I apply these concepts into my gardening activities, and share my results (both the failures and successes). Growing exotic species from habitats that are incongruent to our growing conditions has never worked well for me. Many of our local California native species have never been fully studied or their horticultural potentials fully explored. This is enough to keep be busy for many lifetimes. Each day in the garden brings something new. Molding our garden into a tapestry of beauty is such a pleasure.

When caregiving ended last year I thought that I would end up “retired”. This has not turned out to be the case at all. Avenues of plant/habitat/ecological research and other closely related projects have opened up for me. Who wants to retire when life can be so fascinating? In this diary I am attempting to blend aspects of my work with gardening/horticulture. Maybe this is of no interest to the reader of the forum (no rare, exotic plants here). I enjoy exploring deeper into the workings of the most common plant species and discovering the yet hidden potentials they contain. This is my approach to garden. Others have their approach. It is all good. We can benefit and learn from other perspectives - to create fascinating gardens for us and bring something good to this planet.

I will have updated weather information as I can. We need the rain and snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Hoy on December 22, 2021, 11:04:14 AM
Robert,

It is interesting to read about your efforts. Although you say you have noe exotics, you have! Your more or less common native plants are exotic to most of us. I for example, like to try our native plants in my "gardens" but but we have very few native plants here in Norway compared to S. Europe, N. America etc. Therefore I like to try exotics in my garden!

Here is photograph of a native plant I grow at the shed roof in my garden at home, Thalictrum alpinum. It is not uncommon in the mountains though.

[attachimg=1]
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Leena on December 25, 2021, 10:58:06 AM
Your more or less common native plants are exotic to most of us. I for example, like to try our native plants in my "gardens" but but we have very few native plants here in Norway compared to S. Europe, N. America etc. Therefore I like to try exotics in my garden!

I feel just the same. There are so few garden worthy native plants, and also the variation within a species is very little. I am always amazed how much variation there is in plants in North America and also in other countries, like Corydalis is Russia. Here Corydalis solida comes only in one colour and form. It is probably because there was only a "little" time for them to develop here after the last ice age.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on December 28, 2021, 08:02:35 PM
December 2021 is turning out to be the snowiest in 50 years. We started the month of December with, more or less, no snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Temperatures were well above average for the first 7 days of December, and then the weather pattern began to make a dramatic shift. For most of November and the first week of December, the Walker Circulation pattern was in a typical La Niña pattern with convection along 120 to 125 E longitude. This pattern brought abundant precipitation to the Pacific Northwestern portion of North America. Here in California the weather was sunny and extremely dry, with above average temperatures. By 9 November a very strong region of convection developed along 140 E longitude. Our temperatures began to cool and the storm track shifted, bringing cold low-pressure weather systems out of the Gulf of Alaska into California. By 18 December an Omega blocking high-pressure system started to develop in the Northern Pacific Ocean. We were on the eastern (wet) side of this Omega blocking high pressure. One after another, cold Gulf of Alaska weather systems tracked through our portion of California bringing abundant snowfall to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and, at times, very low snow levels. [So far nothing at our Sacramento home.  We had to make sure the pipes were covered in Sacramento, and covered and drained at the property in Placerville.  Currently, it is at the border between rain and snow.  Not much further up the road, it was a complete traffic standstill in heavy wet snow.  Returning home yesterday was hazardous with several heavy downpours.  If the air had been just a few degrees colder, it would have halted us completely in heavy wet snow.]

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As one can see from this chart, the snow depth at 8,600 feet (2,621 meters) in the Crystal Range is well above any level achieved during the 2020-2021 season. Red line 2021 to date, blue line 2020-2021 season.

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Examining the snow liquid equivalents for the same site one can see that we are well above average to date, but still need a great deal of snow to have an average snow pack for the current season (in other words, our drought conditions have not ended yet).

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At times a great deal of snow fell at lower elevations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This local site at an elevation of 3,625 feet (1,105 meters) currently has over 65 cm of snow on the ground. This is well above any snow depth seen in many years.

Although the current Pacific Ocean equatorial SSTs are indicative of a strong La Niña event, the current weather and atmospheric pattern is not what I usually associate with La Niña. For example, currently the Trade Winds in the Central Pacific are weak. In addition, a strong convection center at 140 E longitude is more suggestive of an El Niño type pattern. Where will the weather turn from here? Very cold temperatures are forecasted in our region into the New Year: nothing extreme, but much colder than anything we have experienced in many years; although it is very much like what we once regularly lived with. The big question is, will the weather continue in the current atypical cold, wet pattern or will the typical dry La Niña pattern return to our portion of California.

Stay tuned…
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 05, 2022, 07:51:33 PM
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With an average temperature of 61.03 F (16.13 C), the year 2021 tied 1986 and 1987 as the third warmest year on record since 1983 when consistent weather records started at our Placerville, California property.

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The summer of 2021, June through September, with an average temperature of 76.30 F (24.61 C) was the second warmest on record since the brutal summer of 1984 (76.53 F, 24.74 C).

Atmospheric variables such as temperature, precipitation, solar radiation (cloud cover, etc.) and more have such an impact on both managed (farms and gardens) and unmanaged ecosystems (wild habitats). I carefully observe and compile data on how changing weather and longer-term climatic changes impact individual plant species as well as ecosystems as a whole.

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Atmospheric teleconnections have a major impact on our weather, and thus our gardens. The current La Niña has been unusual in that there have been periods of time when the Trade Winds in the Central Pacific Ocean have been very weak (very un-La Niña like). During both instances we experienced well above average precipitation in our portion of California. The late October atmospheric river that impacted California occurred during the annual shift in the difference between continental and surface sea temperatures (relatively warm continental temperatures vs. relatively cooler surface sea temperatures shift to the opposite pattern).

The above chart shows the weekly changes in the Northern Pacific Trade Winds during the month of December 2021. The x-axis shows degrees longitude, starting on the left at 120 E to 120 W on the far right. The y-axis is Trade Wind magnitude. From slightly before mid-month to the end of the month the Trade Winds relaxed in the Central Pacific and we experienced well above average precipitation in our portion of California. The shift in the Trade Wind pattern also reflected an eastward shift in the connective pattern in the Western Pacific Ocean.

Obviously the ENSO teleconnection is complex. Rather than a simplistic flux between La Niña, Neutral, and El Niño patterns there are nuances that strongly alter the climatic outcomes.

Now that the Holiday season is over, I will soon be resuming my fieldwork in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Foothill regions. The strong interaction between weather, climate, plant species, and their ecosystems will be continuing topics of discussion. My goal is to provide information that will help gardeners succeed with specific plant species and create resilient garden ecosystems.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 15, 2022, 07:56:24 PM
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I am currently preparing for my first outing of the 2022 season, scheduled for this coming week. Although much of the snow below 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) has melted, I will be surveying lower elevation sites in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone region of Northern California. It has been a number of years since I have been able to work in these areas.

[Jasmin adds]: Much has changed: The pace of development has been astounding. We question the viability of the developments in these areas that were never meant to sustain human population density. The areas in question never had water access, and with the sustained drought water tables have plummeted further. The loss of habitat, of beautiful wildflowers, native oaks, and other native plants, plus the loss of habitat for wildlife is a travesty.

Our Placerville property is located in a Blue Oak Savannah, well within the Lower Sonoran Life Zone. Ranunculus occidentalis var. occidentalis, pictured above, is a very common perennial species in this Life Zone region.

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Sanicula crassicaulis prefers shaded habitats. This perennial species has very interesting textured foliage.

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Claytonia perfoliata is an annual species. It prefers semi-shaded moist locations. Over the years this edible species has infiltrated into commercial agriculture and is now frequently sold at markets, generally as one component of a salad mix.

[Jasmin adds]: It has a delightful, lightly sweet, refreshing flavor. It is very tender, like butterhead lettuce when young, but still quite tender when mature, unlike regular lettuce which can become tough. It also never develops the bitter flavors lettuce can.

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Primula (Dodecatheon) hendersonii has emerged from the ground. There are a number of interesting forms and a few ecotypes of this species.

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Non-native, invasive species are now a large component of the lower Life Zones throughout California. In this photograph, Trifolium hirtum can be seen on the right, and the partly dissected leaves of Geranium molle on the left. Non-native species, especially non-native grasses, have seriously impacted our lower elevation ecosystems.

[Jasmin adds]: Their vigor has outcompeted native plants, aided by the variety of human activities: Livestock favored the native plants, consuming them nearly to oblivion, and excreting and otherwise spreading invasives; agricultural activity stripped the land, and the invasives thrive in disturbed areas; development adds to this burden, and no space is left for native plants or animals. The invasive plants life cycles are enhanced in these environments: Rapid growth is followed by early seeding and spreading, concluding with dying back to a very tinder-dry grass that ignites at the least opportunity. These are the very hot fires that are so devastating in California for all life forms.  Although many native plants do survive and thrive, often coexisting with fire—many do need fire to germinate and survive—they are unable to propagate themselves in this environment. It really is a miracle we have any native plants at all.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 15, 2022, 07:59:04 PM
[attachimg=1]

Micranthes californica is not native to our Placerville property; however it is native to other local sites within the Lower Sonoran Life Zone. For better or worse, I introduced these plants over 10 years ago. They continue to persist, blooming each season. Despite their persistence, they have not found an available niche where they can propagate and spread on our property.

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For many years, I have been attempting to reintroduce native species that likely grew on this site in the past. Heteromeles arbutifolia has been successfully reintroduced to the property and new plants appear here and there each season.

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By the means of animal scat, birds, or the wind, other species have started to recolonize our property. Pictured is White-leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida. This species is fire dependent for seed germination. After a fire this species will germinate prolifically; however this species is clearly not 100% dependent on fire for seed germination. I have seen plants germinating from scat and bird droppings.

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The Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii, pictured center, has retained many of its leaves from the previous growing season. This is unusual for this species and is an indication of extreme drought stress. The extreme drought our region has been experiencing over the past 20 years is seriously impacting the ecology of our region. Many trees have died (see background, right side). In addition, regeneration through seed has slowed or shifted with many species.

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A closer view of the drought-stressed Blue Oak, Quecus douglasii.

Until the next time…
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: fermi de Sousa on January 19, 2022, 11:44:22 AM
Claytonia perfoliata is an annual species. It prefers semi-shaded moist locations. Over the years this edible species has infiltrated into commercial agriculture and is now frequently sold at markets, generally as one component of a salad mix.

[Jasmin adds]: It has a delightful, lightly sweet, refreshing flavor. It is very tender, like butterhead lettuce when young, but still quite tender when mature, unlike regular lettuce which can become tough. It also never develops the bitter flavors lettuce can.
Hi Robert and Jasmin,
it's called "Miner's Lettuce" here and has become a minor pest in my pots! I think a single seedling appeared in a potted plant of something else a number of years ago and has spread around since. I have to admit though I know that it's edible I haven't actually tried it! Maybe next spring,
cheers
fermi
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 19, 2022, 07:21:37 PM
Hi Fermi,

Here in California, Claytonia perfoliata is also called Miner’s Lettuce. It is quite good. We eat it all the time! Up at the Placerville property it is a naturally occurring native plant. It also grows at our Sacramento home, however the seeds traveled from Placerville to Sacramento in pots. It most likely grew here at our Sacramento home in the very distant past. However, the native flora was removed from the area around our Sacramento home so long ago it is impossible to determine with certainty if this species grew near our Sacramento home.

[attachimg=1]

I had a very productive outing yesterday in an Upper Sonoran ecological habitat. I will report on this outing over the next week to 10 days.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 22, 2022, 08:13:15 PM
[attachimg=1]

I started this outing at a very familiar site in the Upper Sonoran life zone of Northern California. Although much of the area I surveyed on this outing was at an elevation of  ~ 500 feet (152.4 meters)--an elevation generally associated with the Lower Sonoran Life Zone--a ridge of tall hills separated this area from the Central Valley and its Lower Sonoran Life Zone to the west.

A pair of old and very familiar Western Redbuds, Cercis occidentalis (pictured), greeted me as I arrived at this site. I first visited this site during the early 1970’s when I was in High School. It was a great place to spend summer evenings swimming and fishing. Later in the 1970’s our college Native Plant Identification class held a field trip to this site. It was during this field trip that I came to appreciate the botanical significance of this area.

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This site consists of areas of dense chaparral (pictured) and areas of Blue Oak (Quercus dougasii) woodland and savannah. Our Northern Californian Upper Sonoran chaparral habitat has a very distinct scent due to the mixture of the many aromatic plant species that occupy this ecological life zone.

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California Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana, is a very common species in this area. This species has very large pinecones, something that you want to avoid having fall on your head!

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Salvia sonomensis is a chaparral species. This mat-forming species is frequently seen growing under and around the taller-growing chaparral shrubbery.

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The foliage of Salvia sonomensis has a very strong and delightful scent. On a warm summer day the scent of this species fills the air, mixing with the scents of the other chaparral plants.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 22, 2022, 08:16:01 PM
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White-leaf Mazanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida, is one of the primary chaparral shrubbery species. This species is extremely drought tolerant; however in extreme cases of drought even this species can show signs of stress.

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Some of the younger specimens of Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida are often better able to cope with extreme drought. This specimen is well clothed with foliage and has many nascent influences.

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Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida is an early blooming species. This nascent flower bud had not opened yet; however I observed some plants with open flowers. The flowers of this species are an important source of nectar for our native hummingbirds, and a host of native insects.

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The evergreen species, Penstemon heterophyllus var. purdyi, will open with lavender-blue flowers much later during the spring blooming season.

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Quercus durata var. durata is a small evergreen oak, generally found growing in the chaparral plant community. Forms with small densely set foliage are particularly attractive.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 24, 2022, 08:35:10 PM
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Garrya congdonii is an upright evergreen shrub. Good forms of this species are quite handsome. The nascent pendent inflorescence appears in the late summer with the flowers opening in the spring.

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A number of Chlorogalum species are native to California. Chlorogalum pomeridianum is the most common species in our region. A tall inflorescence with small white flowers appears in the late spring. The flowers tend to open in the evening and are said to be fragrant; however I have never been able to detect the fragrance in the wild or in our garden.

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Agriculture, ranching, urban and suburban development, and the invasion of non-native annual grasses have, for the most part, destroyed the open prairie Bunchgrass ecosystems of California. Remnants of our native perennial Bunch Grass ecosystem can sometimes be found in and on the periphery of the chaparral ecosystem. Needlegrass, Stipa species, were once an integral part of these bunchgrass ecosystems. Pictured is most likely Stipa pulcha; however other Stipa species can also be found. A positive identification can easily be made when they are in bloom.

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Sanicula crassicaulis is a perennial woodland species. The foliage of Sanicula crassicaulis is very similar in appearance to Delphinium hansenii ssp. hansenii and they can occupy similar habitat niches. Delphinium hansenii is a striking species when in bloom and was also seen on this outing.

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The Oracle Oak, Quercus x morehus is a natural hybrid between the California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii and the Interior Live Oak, Querus wislizenii. It is not a common oak; however generally a few can be seen in most Upper Sonoran Oak Woodland/ Savannah ecosystems.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 24, 2022, 08:38:27 PM
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Sanicula bipinnatifida, Purple Sanicula, is another commonly seen Sanicula species in this area.  Both of these Apiaceae (Carrot Family) species are perennial woodland species.

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Primula (Dodecatheon) hendersonii is a small-growing perennial with very attractive nodding magenta-colored flowers in the early spring.

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Our Goldback Ferns, Pentagramma triangularis, are frequently seen in shaded, often rocky, sites in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone. They are a xeric, dryland species, never found growing in perennially moist sites.

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Lupinus albifrons var. albifrons is a sun-loving xeric species. The best forms of this species seem to always inhabit dry, steep, south-facing slopes. This group of plants was found growing on a grassy, sunny knoll. Encroaching oaks were beginning to shade this site, thus the plants were developing a looser, more open growth habit.

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Lepechinia calycina is another highly aromatic chaparral species. During cold weather this species can drop its leaves; however new growth quickly follows. The Lamiaceae (Mint Family) species frequently have highly aromatic foliage. Monardella sheltonii, another aromatic Lamiaceae, was also seen on this outing.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 28, 2022, 07:11:15 PM
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Diplacus aurantiacus is frequently seen in dry, rocky sites. This species enjoys full sun. The yellow-orange flowers are produced for many months in the spring. I did not see any open flowers on this outing, however I observed open flowers on plants growing along the freeway as I traveled to our El Dorado County property (27 January).

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As I continued on my survey, I eventually worked my way up into a canyon traversing the north-facing slope. At one location there is an old, well-established, single specimen of Pinus ponderosa. Pinus ponderosa is a common species of the Transition Life Zone higher in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Based on the names of 49er era settlements and other historic records, I have often wondered if the range of this species extended into lower elevation sites during the Little Ice Age. The glaciers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains are remnants from the Little Ice Age. This is one more thing for me to look into in the future.

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Many shade-loving ferns were seen on the shaded, north facing slopes of the canyon. Polypodium calirhiza was frequently seen. This is a dryland species. During the summer months the fronds disappear as the plant rests in its summer dormancy.  Summer dormancy aids a number of California species to both maximize growth and reproduction during our wetter seasons, and have a better opportunity to survive our long, dry, and hot summers.

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California Maiden-hair Fern, Adiantum jordonii, is another dryland fern species that is dormant during the summertime.

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California Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica, was coming into new growth. This species is the primary food source for the larvae Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 31, 2022, 02:52:00 AM
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Tauschia hartwegii is a member of the Carrot Family, Apiaceae. This perennial species is found growing in shaded canyons and pine-oak woodland habitats.

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I was surprised to find a single specimen of Tauschia hartwegii in bloom. Generally this species blooms later in the growing season.

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Often the health and resiliency of an ecosystem can be partly assessed by the reproduction rate of one of the dominant climax species. I found a number of young Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii, scattered in the canyon I was surveying. This was a very good indication of health and resiliency; however it is important to assess additional aspects of the ecosystem dynamics before coming to any conclusion. The fact that leaf drop had not occurred caught my attention. This has been a frequent observation this autumn and winter. Many drought stressed oaks in our region dropped their leaves extremely late. In extreme cases, the leaf abscission layer never formed and the dried leaves are still clinging to the trees. These trees are extremely drought stressed and may even be dead. Obviously, these are strong indications that the current ecosystem is in a state of decay and transformation to another state of equilibrium.

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In our region, Madrone, Arbutus menziesii, is commonly found in the Transition Life Zone. Occasionally, I find old mature specimens in shaded canyons at much lower elevations. This tree is growing at a very low elevation and it is very unusual in that it is very young.

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This mature specimen of Clematis lasiantha still had many ripe seed heads clinging to the vine. Small birds, such as hummingbirds, will use these lingering seed heads for lining their nests.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on January 31, 2022, 02:54:16 AM
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While a few Clematis lasiantha were still holding seed, many were now beginning new growth.

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Chaparral Honeysuckle, Lonicera interrupta, was well into its new growth cycle. Early emergence of new growth is normal for this species.

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Lonicera interrupta can be a very vigorous species. It is not unusual to find vines burying other plant species or forming large twinning mounds.

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I was very pleased to find many of our California native bunch grasses surviving in the chaparral habitat and some of the isolated woodland canyons. Elymus multisetus (pictured) grew fairly abundantly in some locations. In other locations there were strong stands of Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens. In isolated shaded canyons Elymus gluacus ssp. gluacus, Blue Wild-Rye, was occasionally observed.

I am very pleased to be surveying our low elevation habitats again. This was a great start to the season.

Until the next time…
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 03, 2022, 04:30:12 PM
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I had a very successful outing yesterday to a very botanically rich area. It is still early in the season, however there were still many plants to observe. I will be reporting on this outing over the next 1 to 2 weeks.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 08, 2022, 02:21:58 AM
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My most recent outing was to a lower Transition Zone ecosystem. Although this site is well within the Yellow Pine Belt (Transition Zone), the geology and history of this site during the last 170 years have influenced the ecology of this site dramatically. This site has many characteristics of the Upper Sonoran Life Zone. The life zone designations are generalizations. In reality ecosystems can be very fluid, often shifting spatially very rapidly with changing environmental variables.

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Madrone, Arbutus menziesii, is a very common tree found in the Transition Life Zone.

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The trunk and larger branches of Arbutus menziesii is quite striking. As the trees age, the rough and dark older bark is shed revealing the polished, lighter colored inner bark.

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California Bay, Umbellularia californica, is another frequently observed tree in the lower Transition Zone. This species has highly aromatic foliage. The presence of this tree can frequently be detected well before the trees are seen.

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Despite the dry weather for the past month, the creeks in this area are low but still flowing well. Through much of the later part in December until 3 January, this area was blanketed with snow. The last measurable precipitation in the area was on 8 January. On the day of this outing 2 February, there was still water puddleing in a few areas and the soil in most of the area was still moist. As the solar radiation potential increases each day, without precipitation the moist soils will quickly become dry. There are areas that become intensely hot and dry in summer.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 08, 2022, 02:25:38 AM
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There are many serpentine rock outcropping at this site. Many highly specialized plant species can be found growing in these seemingly barren sites.

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Lewisia rediviva var. rediviva is found growing almost exclusively on serpentine in our part of California. In this photo, they look like little sea urchins.

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I found many healthy specimens of Lewisia rediviva on this outing. The plants are propagating well at this site. In the spring the flower display will be spectacular: Lewisia blooming with many other annual, perennial, and bulbous species. During the hot, dry summer months, Lewisia and most other perennial-bulbous species go into dormancy and disappear for the summer and autumn.

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Eriogonum tripodum is a semi-woody, subshrub that remains evergreen and permanent through the summer and autumn months.

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Eriogonum tripodum is variable. Some forms have very silvery foliage.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 09, 2022, 01:35:52 PM
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A number of interesting plant species grow in this summer dry-hot serpentine landscape. One of my goals on this outing was to determine the early germination of specific annual species. The distribution of annual species such as Chaenactis glabriuscula var. heterocarpha, Githopsis pulchella ssp. serpentinicola, and Diplacus angustatus is generally confined to shallow rocky serpentine or gabbro based soils. These habitats are scattered and disjointed from one another. In addition, land development and land use practices have highly altered and fragmented [Jasmin thinks destroyed] suitable habitats for these species to the point where these species can be difficult to find in our area.

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Another goal on this outing was to check for the early emergence of the perennial Viola species at this site. I have recorded low elevation forms of Viola purpurea and V. sheltonii at this site. In addition, there are several locations where Viola douglasii can be found.

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A typical Transitions Zone Yellow Pine forest surrounds this serpentine landscape. Pinus ponderosa, Ponderosa Pine, is the dominant species. Pinus lambertiana, and Pseudotsuga menziesii are also residents of this forest system. Umbellularia californica, and Arbutus menziesii--mentioned earlier--are some of the more common broad leaf evergreen species found in the Transition Zone forest.

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The dwarf evergreen oak Quercus durata var. durata is frequently found growing on serpentine and gabbro based soils in our area. The foliage of some forms has a striking silver powdery coating on the upper surface.

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The Apiacaea, Carrot Family, species Lomatium utriculatum is found growing in serpentine rock crevices.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 09, 2022, 01:38:44 PM
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In a sunny protected crevice I found one specimen of Lomatium utriculatum in bloom. The majority of the plants of this species will bloom later in the spring.

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Rhamnus ilicifolia is a small evergreen shrub commonly found in chaparral ecosystems in our region. It is a little mounding shrub. In autumn there usually are small buff brick-red berries.

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As I hiked through the serpentine-chaparral habitat, I noted many common chaparral species. Drymocallis glandulosa var. glandulosa prefers semi-shaded sites in this area. They have many five-petaled yellow flowers on tall stems in the spring.

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Generally evergreen, Monardella sheltonii is a low-growing, very aromatic perennial with bright lavender flowers in the spring.

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The small evergreen perennial species Eriophyllum lanatum var. achilleoides is an interesting indicator species. Although generally a short-lived species, and possessing a great deal of drought tolerance, this species is still a good indicator of drought stress at a specific site. Careful observation of this species during the growing season can reveal a great deal of information.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 09, 2022, 09:11:32 PM
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Near the crest of a hill many emerging leaves of Calochortus monophyllus were seen. Representatives of the Themidaceae--Brodiaea Family--such as Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum and Triteleia hyacinthina were well advanced in growth; however they are still a number of weeks away from blooming.

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Aspidotis densa grows through a wide altitude range in our region. This species is commonly seen at altitudes between 2,000 feet (610 meters) and 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) in our area. This fern species is a dryland species growing in habitats where during the summer and autumn months conditions are extremely xeric.

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Later in the day, I investigated a ravine where there was a dense Transition Zone coniferous forest. Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana, shared space with the Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, and predominant Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa. The cones of Sugar Pine are very distinct in shape, being large and long in shape.

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Bear Clover, Chamaebatia foliolosa, created low dense carpets of fern-like evergreen foliage where the forest canopy was less dense. The foliage of this species is highly aromatic. Another common name for this species is Mountain Misery, as many object to its odor. When I was very young, my parents thought that the odor of this plant made me carsick. Looking back, I think that it was the car exhaust that made me carsick; there was no control of car exhaust emissions in the U.S.A. in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

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In the semi-forested area I occasionally came across Sanicula bipinnatifida (pictured). Sanicula crassicaulis was also present in much greater numbers. Both species are associated with the Upper Sonoran Life Zone. Their populations diminish rapidly with elevation in this area.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 09, 2022, 09:14:26 PM
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I crossed a perennial creek in several locations in the ravine. Moisture-loving species such as Woodwardia fimbriata, Western Chain Fern, and Juncus balticus ssp. ater grew near the stream. Wood Rose, Rosa gymnocarpa var. gymnocarpa was found growing on higher ground in shaded locations.

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As the forest began to thin, colonies of the yellow-flowered Iris hartwegii ssp. hartwegii began to appear.

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I left the coniferous forest near the crest of the opposite ridge. Here I had a good view of the forested landscape. Areas of extreme drought stress were very apparent. Our region of California has experienced 20 years of consistently dry weather and drought. There have been a few well above average precipitation seasons, however the overall rate of yearly precipitation has declined ~ 20% over the past 150 years, with a very marked decline in the last 20 years. Currently, I am analyzing other local historical precipitation data to more precisely support this trend.

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After leaving the coniferous forest, I reentered the chaparral landscape. This ecosystem is strongly influenced by the underlying geology of this site; however this site still has scars from the activities of the gold seekers during the California Gold Rush. Mine tailings are very evident. In some places, placer mining removed all the soil down to the serpentine bedrock. Now, 100 years or more later, very few plants grow in these areas. Additionally, xenobiotics are still present in this area: toxic mineral species based on redox reactions are in the soil; and mercury used by the miners to extract the gold flakes from the mining sluices is still present. How these ecosystems appeared before foreign settlers and gold seekers arrived is very hard to determine. The distribution and variability of plants species has certainly diminished greatly; however there are often few detailed and accurate written records to help reconstruct the appearance of these pre-settlement ecosystems. Sadly, in other ways, the alteration and destruction of our existing ecosystems and the plants that grow in them continues.

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Delphinium hansenii ssp. hansenii is one of the few species that has partly recolonized the more harshly impacted locations at this site. This Delphinium species is stunningly beautiful when in bloom with its lavender-blue flowers.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 12, 2022, 07:59:59 PM
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I finished my survey of this site by exploring the chaparral on a west-facing slope. The patchwork of chaparral shrubbery was interspersed with scattered stands of California Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana, and occasional stands of Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa.

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Delphinium hansenii ssp. hansenii is adaptable to various environmental conditions. I found a very dense stand of this species growing in full sun among broken pieces of serpentine rock. This habitat is extremely hot and dry during the summer-early autumn months. Delphinium hansenii is a perennial species that copes with the harsh growing conditions by going dormant during the hot dry summer.

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The small evergreen perennial Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum var. nudum is well adapted to grow in hot, dry, sunny sites. From the rosette of leathery leaves rise tall stems with many small white flowers during the spring.

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During the autumn months, shortly after the first rainfall many California native annual species germinate and begin growth. During the winter months the earth-toned foliage of Gilia capitata ssp. mediomontana is difficult to detect in the bare mineral soil where this species frequently germinates.  Gilia is extremely popular as a nectar and food source for a variety of bees, insects, and birds.

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Lithophragma parviflorum var. parviflorum is found growing in moist, semi-shaded cervices among the serpentine rock. The growth of this perennial species emerges from bulblet baring rhizomes when the autumn rains commence. Stems with small white to pink flowers arise from the foliage during the spring.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 12, 2022, 08:01:35 PM
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Big Squirreltail, Elymus multisetus, is one of the most frequently seen grass species at this site. During the winter, if remnants of the distinct inflorescence can be found, the auricles that are frequently present clasping the stems easily identify this species.

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Our perennial California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is frequently found at many low elevations sites throughout California. This species grows abundantly at the outing site I visited; however I often question if the plants are native to the site or were introduced via some habitat revegatation effort or part of a local road cut revegatation project. California Poppy and a few other annual native species were, and may still be, used in revegatation seed mixes within the state of California. The use of native plant species might be well intentioned; however if miss-used in inappropriate habitat ecosystems, there can be unintended and sometimes detrimental results.

Once again, I had a very insightful and productive outing.

Until the next time…
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 18, 2022, 07:37:49 PM
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This week’s outing has been postponed and rescheduled for next week. The early blooming wildflowers have started to bloom in our local Lower Sonoran Life Zone (Sacramento Valley), with a few species now blooming in Upper Sonoran Life Zone (Sierra Nevada Foothill region). Despite the blooming wildflowers at lower elevation sites, I will be traveling higher into the Sierra Nevada Mountains next week to survey emerging herbaceous species in the Transition Life Zone. The snow has melted and temperatures have been well above average during the month of February. Extremely dry conditions prevail. How dry conditions are impacting specific plant species and their ecosystems is a major goal of this outing. It has been 40 days since the last measurable precipitation has fallen at our Placerville property. The record number of days without measurable precipitation during the winter months is 44 days. This record may be broken in the next 4 to 5 days.

I do have a few photographs to share from our Placerville property in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone. The photographs were taken yesterday, 17 February. Pictured above is Ranunculus occidentalis var. occidentalis one of the common early blooming species in our area. Over the next few days I will have a few more photographs to share.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 21, 2022, 02:47:42 AM
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I spent most of the day at our Placerville property working with my brother. The irrigation piping is very old and needs replacing. We rented a trenching machine to dig new trenches for some replacement irrigation lines. The trenching went well and we will be laying new irrigation piping this coming week.

Before returning to Sacramento, I had time to walk the property and see how the spring season was progressing. I found Cardamine oligosperma in bloom scattered about the property. This is a very common spring annual in our area. This species is somewhat weedy almost like an invasive plant; however it is a California native plant.

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Lamium purpureum is a weedy invasive species. Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, can also be found on our property during the spring. The flowers of Lamium amplexicaule are small but very interesting. The photographs of this species did not turn out.

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A great deal of habitat restoration needs to be accomplished on our property. Many of the native species that occupied the property 40 years ago can no longer be found on the property. Very poor land use practices that were commonly used and still are used in the area to provide protection from wildfires is the primary cause of the loss of biodiversity and habitat. About 15 years ago I began efforts to reestablish the flora and original habitat of our property. White Leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida, occasionally germinates and grows on the property. I was able to save the plant pictured above and it is now getting ready to bloom for the first time.

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Ripgut Brome Grass, Bromus diandrus, is one of many highly aggressive and highly invasive non-native grasses in California. These non-native grasses have displaced, and replaced most of our California native bunch grass habitat. These non-native, invasive grasses have an extremely large impact on our native grassland and savannah ecosystems. Their presence has completely altered the behavior of fire in much of California. During the summer and autumn months their dried foliage provides explosive fuel for wildfires. Their dried foliage ignites very easily and fire spreads very rapidly in their dried dense growth. This grass is one of the major wildfire issues not being addressed in California.

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Several years ago I began reintroducing Purple Needles Grass, Stipa pulchra, to our property. No only have the original plugs survived and grown well, but they have also begun to seed and spread around the property. There are strong indications that with proper management our native bunch grasses can be reintroduced into their former habitats. With simple yet effective management they can compete well with the existing non-native invasive grass species. With further research I hope to create simple, easy-to-implement processes where our native bunch grasses can reestablish their dominance in their former habitats.

Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 21, 2022, 02:48:57 AM
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I will end this discussion with this photograph of Primula (Dodecatheon) hendersonii blooming on our property.

Until the next time…

Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 24, 2022, 02:46:42 AM
Due to snow and treacherous driving conditions, this week’s outing has been postponed again. Tentatively, I have this outing rescheduled for next week providing that the weather cooperates. Jasmin, however, has ideas that tie together our varied garden journeys, the ecological shifts, and our current garden vision with a hopeful vision for how things can become in our environment.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 26, 2022, 09:42:07 PM
Usually, an outing involves surveying a nearby locale, exploring the geology, botany, and human impact upon the area.  Frequently, the discussion involves the impact on native plants of current human activities, be they the past of gold mining, or cattle ranching, or development.  Because these locations have been visited frequently over the decades, memory provides an appraisal.

However, what if there were no living memory of a location, and its native habitat?  Could one reconstruct what might have been?  How could one do that?

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Just as we speak of a climax forest, here we have a climax urban environment.  This is how we find the Lower Sonoran Life Zone today.  It is a place where concrete, asphalt, and the replacement of one building structure by another dominate.  The children of this environment know only this.  Orange juice and milk come from paper or plastic cartons or glass bottles, not oranges from an orange tree, nor milk from the mammary glands of a lactating female mammal—be it sheep, goat, cow, or camel.

If our ancestors saw this place, would they be able to describe what once was?  Can it even be found?  Let us suppose we have a guide, this fellow here.

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We leave the urban center, searching.  Our first encounter with trees is sporadic enclaves, tiny spaces scattered through various neighborhoods, and parks; however, the largest trees are mostly sycamore and camphor, surrounded by close-cropped Bermuda grass lawns.

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Even along freeways, the prevalence of non-native plantings is extreme:  Everything was stripped away for ranching, farming, and broken into housing parcels. Some major roads were widened, and the interstate freeways installed and expanded.  Our guide might recognize something familiar in the housing of our modern-day homeless, the resourcefulness and creativity common to all humans, but little else.

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One has to travel more than a couple kilometers (miles) to find fragments of what the urban center might have been.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 26, 2022, 09:44:54 PM
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Closer to the river, we find larger swaths of remnant habitat, something more like what the first explorers said they found when they came up these rivers:

“Along the banks, wild grapes, anchors of box elder, willow, and cottonwood.  Some are still stout, with thick trunks.  Steelhead and salmon, herons, cranes, Swainson’s and ospreys, elk, pronghorn, and bears… Ducks, rabbits, deer, mountain lions, various snakes, lizards, and other wildlife. . . “ 

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Many of these creatures are still here, but more secretive.  Despite the large urban center, the fragmentation of habitat, and the encroaching homeless, these riverways are among the busiest wildlife paths, connecting many diverse populations with each other, ensuring that some remnants thrive.  Generally, people are coexisting here with mountain lions and bears quite well.  Once in a while there will be a surprise, the young inexperienced animal attracted to, or by, or curious about someone’s backyard.

Although Indigenous stories tell us much about the environment as it was, teaching the proper time to gather acorn is when duck, squirrel, and salmon are “friends” or abundant, and there are vague written references, such as those by John Muir—that there were so many flowers in the Sacramento Valley, that an ant could walk from one end of the Valley to the other without touching the ground, by going from petal to petal—we are missing many of the tiny denizens that are as critical to our ecological habitat as the oaks, willow, box elder, and cottonwood trees.

We must look to areas that are further away; yet more intact and surmise:

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Asclepias fascicularis

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Calochortus luteus

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Carex integra
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 26, 2022, 09:48:02 PM

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Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea

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Rosa californica

As part of the Lower Sonoran Life Zone, our garden has gone through many phases and transformations:

It was once part of the Kessler ranch.  At that time, there was a dairy.  Remnants of posts and other hardware that were used are sometimes still found.  The soil was incredibly rich:  corn and hops were also grown here.  As the city urban center expanded, eminent domain forced the sale of the ranch, which was graded and subdivided into suburban plots.  Much original forest was still in existence here at that time, and was still connected to the river.

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Map of subdivision

The previous owner did his own addition on the existing 1941 house.  Typical for the era, it had fruit trees, roses, wisteria, and other ornamentals, and lawn. 

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In 1971, Jasmin’s parents bought the house and property that we call home. 

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Her father planted a vegetable garden and the orange tree.  Most of the neighborhood consisted of immigrants who remembered wartime and hunger, so vegetable gardens were quite common.  Jasmin still remembers someone had goats, and there was abundant open space.  Red fox and deer were common until the freeway interstate was completed, blocking the neighborhood from the river access.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on February 26, 2022, 09:49:46 PM
During the 1980’s open spaces were divided and housing was built.  When Jasmin returned here around 1990 to help her aging mother, there was much less forest and open space.  Around 1992, Jasmin removed the lawn and planted wildflowers, just a common seed mix sold at the time.  There were stragglers from that mix for many years; the calendula is one straggler that remains.  Later, Jasmin planted a cottage garden and herbs.  She loved to bring in cut flowers.  Along with that, she decided to plant a butterfly and bee garden.

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Like many, she had the right idea—plants to feed these insects—but not the right plants.  The plants that are sold frequently provide some shelter and nectar, which aids the adults, but provides nothing for their offspring.

By the time we married, the garden she planted was changing:  Caregiving did not give her much time to tend it, and weeds were claiming territory.  There was still enough of the garden for flowers, and encouraged birds and bees, all of which her mother loved.

Our marriage meant the marriage of many things:  her property, her mother, my parents’ property with the farm and nursery, --and all our parents were of the same generation!  We had a lot of ambition and hope despite the circumstances, for what we wanted to create together. I think the ideals and energy of love allowed us to take on super-human tasks.

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We restructured the garden in Sacramento, adding plants that were among my choice treasures.  We built areas of special soil, for lewisias and rhododendrons. For a number of years, things did actually work miraculously enough, largely because my parents were strong and active for their age.  It was Jasmin’s mother who required special care, and we were blessed to arrange it.

However, the deepening drought, the increasing inability of our parents, the mounting bureaucratic challenges for small farms and businesses, the 2007-2008 economic downturn, and a changing customer demographic turned into a tsunami, and it all came at once wiping the slate clean. It really is a wonder we have any of our plant treasures from earlier garden phases, let alone our health and anything else.

We look back, and it seemed really horrible at the time, but really turned out to be a blessing:  We are thankful we closed our businesses and cleaned up when we did, and that the gardens here and uphill fell apart.  Now, together, we are able to create again, something that is truly ours.  Now that our parents are gone, we have begun that process, picking up old dreams and reevaluating them.  Some we let go, and are glad to do so; others, we reimagine, and redesign.  The garden that is now forming is that re-imagination embodied:

The old, shoddy 1951 house addition was removed, and in the space there is now an expanded vegetable garden surrounded by cinder blocks full of dry bulbs.  Rather than attempt to keep and maintain plants that are failing with the climate changes, we see the possibilities of what we will plant in the blank space once it is clear the plants will not recover.

This brings us to the beginning of this essay:  Is it possible to truly restore a natural place once it has been so dramatically altered?  The answer is yes and no.  It can never be whatever it was; there is just not enough information: Our guide from the past will not find the habitat that once was. However, we can glean ideas from the remnants, and build them into the garden here, a token for nature to feel welcome, re-invited to thrive.  Only time will tell if our guesses and theories will bring the desired birds, butterflies, insects—and their offspring.

We know we cannot change the global climate alone; however, rather than fall into despair we choose the hope of doing what we can do, with what we do have: our garden.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 12, 2022, 07:28:00 PM
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I had a very productive outing to the Sierra Nevada Mountains last week. I have a great deal to report over the next two weeks.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 16, 2022, 02:37:52 AM
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On 9 March 2022, I set out to survey a number of sites in the Transition Zone of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. My goal was to focus my attention on sites within the watershed of the South Fork of the American River. Last year’s Caldor Fire, the King Fire in September and October 2014 and the Cleveland Fire in September and October of 1992 impacted large portions of this watershed. At some of the sites I have detailed field notes dating back to the 1990’s--well before the wildfires impacted some of these sites. Compiling large data sets of accurate, detailed information about individual plant species and plant communities at these sites is a primary long-term goal.

My first stop was near the site of Riverton. This site partially burned during the 1992 Cleveland Fire. Many of the conifers at this site are very uniform in size, being planted at the same time and the transplants derive from a very uniform seed line. Many deciduous hardwood trees stump-sprouted from their bases, creating many multi-trunked trees. In addition, the seeds of many species germinated naturally after the Cleveland Fire. All of these species are now somewhat mature.

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Indian Manzanita, Arctostaphylos mewukka ssp. mewukka, is the dominant Manzanita species at this site. This species forms burls, which can sprout with new vegetive shoots after a fire. In much lesser numbers, White-leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida, can also be found at this site. Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida is an obligate seeder. This species will not resprout after a fire; however their seed will often germinate prolifically after a fire. Knowledge of the behavior of plant species to environmental variables can reveal a great deal about the current status of an ecosystem, its past history, and its possible future evolution.

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Many Phacelia species can be found in this portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Phacelia heterophylla var. virgata is the dominant Phacelia species at this site. It is a perennial species that forms a distinctive, somewhat tall single-stalked inflorescence.

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This site was covered with snow during most of the month of December, as well as the first part of January. Very little precipitation fell during the remaining part of January, all of February, into mid-March. Despite the dry weather, the soil on this south-facing slope was still moist. In the above photograph, seedlings of Diplacus kelloggii and Leptosiphon ciliatus can be seen. At this time, there were few signs of major drought stress on these seedlings.

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Caldor Fire Burn Scar

Across the canyon the burn scar from the Caldor Fire was very evident.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 16, 2022, 02:40:27 AM
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Many perennial species can be seen at this site. When temperatures are relatively warm, Agoseris grandiflora var. grandiflora emerges quickly from its summer dormancy when the autumn-winter precipitation season begins.

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The single leaf of Fritillaria micrantha can be seen to the left of the Incense Cedar seedling, Calocedrus decurrens. Fritillaria micrantha is a dryland species. This species requires bone-dry conditions during its summer dormancy.

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In the center is a single specimen of Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa. This species is very common in the Transition Life Zone. To its left is an evergreen oak, Quecus chrysolepis, Canyon Live Oak. This species frequently stump- sprouts after a fire, often forming a multi-trunked tree. To the right is a dormant California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii. This species too can resprout from its base after a fire.

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Generally Quecus kelloggii will drop all of its leaves during the autumn. Dry leaves clinging to the branch is often--but not always--an indication of drought stress with this species. In this instance, it is a sign of extreme drought stress.

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After finishing my survey of this site it was time to move on to the top of the ridge. Those that follow this diary will recognize this view.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 16, 2022, 02:43:06 AM
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This crest of the ridge at this site is at an elevation of ~ 5,125 feet (1,562 meters). I was pleased to find some snow still on the ground at this site. Precipitation has been well below average for the last 2 months and temperatures have been generally above the 30-year average.

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Spring is beginning to arrive at this site. The flowers of Greenleaf Manzanita, Acrtostaphylos patula, are beginning to open.

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In this photograph, the variations of the leaf color of Penstemon laetus var. laetus can be seen. This species also has a wide variation in its expression of anthocyanins in the leaves and stems during periods of environmental stress.

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The new growth of Viola purpurea ssp. integrifolia was emerging from the ground. At the lower site, I spent time trying to locate a stand of Viola purpurea ssp. purpurea that I have been observing for a number of years. I know the exact location; however I never found the plants. Did they expire from the drought last year? I will know soon enough as the season progresses.

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The flower buds of Primula (Dodecatheon) hendersonii were showing color. This species will be blooming shortly.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 16, 2022, 02:45:41 AM
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Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum, is another species that emerges quickly from its summer dormancy once the autumn precipitation begins.

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Dichelostemma multiflorum can express various levels of anthocyanins in its new foliage during the winter and early spring months when the weather is still quite cold. In addition, the new growth can also be buried by snow for weeks at a time often into April. I have found some forms of this species that maintain a rich purplish color to their leaves for most of the growing season.

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Phacelia stebbinsii is fairly common at this site. This species ranked 1B.2 by the California Native Plant Society is considered rare, threatened, endangered in California and elsewhere. There are other rare and endangered species at this site. Keep this in mind as I continue this diary.

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Eriogonum prattenianum var. prattenianum is a very tough, drought-tolerant species. During the winter months they can look distressed; however, once spring arrives fresh new growth emerges from semi-dormant twigs.

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Even without the wildfire, there are many dead and distressed trees in the forest due shift towards a much drier climatic pattern during the last 20 years.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 16, 2022, 02:48:41 AM
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Castilleja applegatei ssp. pinetorum is a very attractive Paintbrush species. As the new growth emerges in the very early spring, this new growth is frequently tinted reddish-purple with anthocyanis.

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Aspidotis densa is a very common fern species in this part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The species is very drought tolerant and is also commonly found growing at the bases of large boulders.

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As I worked my way around my usual circuit at this site, I arrived in an old mature stand of Jeffrey Pine, Pinus jeffreyi. Here there were additional stands of Acrtostaphylos patula. This grove of Jeffrey Pine survived the 1992 Cleveland Fire with its ecosystem--more or less--intact. Within this grove of Jeffrey Pine there is (was) a colony of Pyrola picta. I have been observing this colony of Pyrola picta for many years. Last year the plants in this colony became extremely drought stressed. Most of the plants disappeared and the few remaining plants were clearly impaired from the dry conditions. This year there are no signs of any of the plants in this colony.

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As I continued my circuit I was shocked by what I discovered next. Even now I do not have words to describe the mess and destruction I found. This photograph shows only a fraction of the mess (the destruction comes next). Beer bottles, empty food cans and junk were strewn about the site.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 16, 2022, 02:52:18 AM
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This fire pit was the location of a vernal seep where rare plant species once grew. This was one of two sites where Erythranthe microphylla, a rare but not endangered plant species, once grew. Due to the prevailing drought, I have not seen this species at either site for over two years. The other site where this species grows is very inaccessible, so hopefully the species is safe at the other site. I am hopeful that the “Death Valley”* effect will prevail with Erthyranthe microphylla.  Between the drought, wildfire, and human-generated destruction such as this fire pit, the future is uncertain.

* The “Death Valley” effect is this:

Death Valley, California is an extremely hot and dry location. Very few perennial plant species grow in this ecosystem. Occasionally there are seasons where abundant precipitation falls during the winter months. Dry lakebeds fill with water and in the spring the desert explodes with wildflowers. The seeds of annual species often lay dormant in the soil for decades before a wet event occurs, the seeds germinate and grow, and the plants produce flowers and more seeds. In the intervening years there is little or no indication that these plant exist in this ecosystem. It remains to be seen if our other plants can be so adaptive in the face of the onslaught of climate change and human activity.

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A great deal of brush clearing had taken place at this site. The Mazanita species cleared at this site will sprout from their burls. This new growth will be sprayed with herbicides until the area cleared no longer supports plant life. The herbicides enter the watershed, poisoning the drinking water of many communities.

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The reasons for these strips cleared of plant life are to slow and control the spread of wildfires. Instead, the introduction of invasive grasses increases fire potential. Native birds, insects, and other animal life have no food sources, no habitat to live in, no location to raise young, and no place to go.

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I do not understand the churning of the soil in this location where there was “apparently” very little plant life. This site did not support the growth of shrubby species. This site was not a fire hazard; it was a habitat for many small bulbous species and tiny herbaceous species, including a unique ecotype of one species.

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In addition to the churning of the soil, uprooted trees and shrubs were dumped on these barren sites. Now there is fuel for a wildfire where there was once no fuel. Such thinking and activities are beyond my comprehension! This type of disregard and destruction of natural ecosystems is taking place in California on a vast, immeasurable, and rapid scale. With this type of disregard and destruction taking place, like the Passenger Pigeon, even once abundant plant species face extinction.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 20, 2022, 12:49:20 PM
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Before leaving the top of the ridge, I went to check on a small population of Viola sheltonii growing in a small grove of Jeffreyii Pine, Pinus jeffreyi. The plants had emerged from the ground; however it will be a month or so before they bloom. Viola sheltonii is an early blooming Viola species and is the first Viola species to bloom at this site.

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The ridgeline was the current low elevation limit of the Sierra Nevada snow pack. The current snow liquid equivalent of the Sierra snow pack is ~ 70% of the 15 year average.

Now that I finished my survey of this site, I traveled to a low elevation site that was impacted by the Caldor Fire. I have excellent long-term field notes from this site dating back to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Unfortunately, when I arrived near the site, I found that the site was still closed. The departing log trucks filled with burn-scared timber was an ominous sign. I was informed that the site might be open 1 April, so I will try again to visit the site as soon as possible after 1 April.

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My new option was to survey a nearby site that was impacted by the 2014 King Fire. This site is also at a relatively low elevation; however I had time to only survey the south-facing slopes and the ridge crest at this site. I only have 10 years of detailed field notes from this site. It would be better to have longer-term field notes; however it is still interesting documenting the response of plant species and plant communities in the aftermath of the King Fire.

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Gilia capitata is a commonly seen species on the lower portions (~2,200 feet, 670 meters) of the ridge on exposed south-facing slopes. There has been so little precipitation since early-January through mid-March that the plants were extremely drought stressed and appeared red in color.

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Diplacus grandiflorus is another species that is frequently observed on dry, exposed south-facing slopes. This perennial, evergreen species is often seen growing out of rock crevices where there is very little soil.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 20, 2022, 12:52:15 PM
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Pellaea mucrontata var. mucronata is an evergreen rock fern that is extremely tolerant of dry soil conditions, exposed sunny south-facing rock faces, and is growing where there is often very little soil. There are clearly limits to what this species can endure: This specimen was extremely stressed from the relentlessly dry conditions in our region.

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Some plants do not survive. This is not unusual even when drought conditions are not as extreme as they currently are. What is alarming is the large numbers of plants in a variety of habitats that are extremely drought-stressed. Extreme drought stress and apparent shifts in plants and plant communities are variables that I am monitoring closely.

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Foothill Poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa, was one of the few plant species in bloom when I surveyed this site.

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The perennial Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons var. albifrons, is extremely drought tolerant and is frequently seen growing from rocky ledges in full sun.

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The first flowers were beginning to open on Lupinus albifron var. albifrons. Where there was slightly better growing conditions, the plants were large and well budded for the coming blooming season.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 20, 2022, 12:55:40 PM
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The Genus Keckielia is closely related to the Genus Penstemon. Keckielia breviflora var. breviflora is a shrubby species easily obtaining 1 meter or more in size. The creamy white flowers of this species have distinct pink markings and striping.

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Philadelphus lewisii is one of many shrubby chaparral species found in the lower Transition Zone ecosystems in the river canyons of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in our region. The species is deciduous and has lightly fragrant white flowers that open in the spring.

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Often found in sunny, exposed, dry sites is Pellaea andromedifolia. This species is evergreen and larger growing than Pellaea mucronata.

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In semi-shaded sites where the soil is seasonally moist Nemophila heterophylla is commonly found. This is the most frequently seen species in canyon habitats in the Transition Life Zone.

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Scrophularia californica is found in perennially moist habitats. Growing above this specimen was a large vine of Vitus californica. The two species enjoy moist soil conditions and are often seen growing in the same location.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 20, 2022, 12:58:45 PM
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The showy flowers of the annual species Lupinus nanus were showing in scattered locations on the steep slopes of the south-facing canyon.

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After making a survey of the lower portion of the canyon I moved to the top of the ridge, elevation 3,318 feet (1,011 meters). Here at the top of the ridge the King Fire burned very intensely. Shortly after the fire, I observed where trees had burned completely to the ground. In some cases, the roots of the trees had completely burned, leaving a hole in the ground that appeared like the cavity left by an extracted tooth. In extreme cases, the fire was so intense that nothing stump-sprouted and no seeds germinated in the first few seasons after the fire. Fortunately, there were few sites where the fire’s impact was so extreme.

Pictured is a young 7 to 8-year old Knobcone Pine, Pinus attenutata. This pine species is dependent on fire for reproduction. The pinecones of this species will not open until they are heated and/or partly burned by a fire. Cones are formed on this species at an extremely young age. The cones will also cling to the tree for many years. It is not unusual to see cones being slowly engulfed by the successive growth of a tree each season.

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Here is another view of the cones of Pinus attenuata.

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Pinecones at various stages of development can be seen on Pinus attenuata once this species attains a reproductive age.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 21, 2022, 01:20:50 AM
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White Leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida, is an obligate seeder. This Manzanita species does not form burls and will not stump sprout after a fire. The seeds of this species frequently germinate abundantly after a fire. Pictured above is a dense stand of Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida that germinated after the King Fire.

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I found this Tanbark Oak near the edge of the King Fire burn scar area. It had stump sprouted from its base after being burned to the ground. I saw no indication that the original plant had a large central tree, so it was most likely Notholithocarpus densiflora var. echinoides, the shrubby form of Tanbark Oak. Variety echinoides is the most frequent form of this species that I find in our part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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Near the edge of the burn scar many trees still had blackened bark. In the foreground of this photograph are the dormant twigs and small branches of Bitter Cherry, Prunus emarginata.

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Pictured is a view of the canyon of the South Fork of the American River. This view is toward the east with the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance.

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The American River canyon was severely impacted by the King Fire, and the damage to the forest in the canyon is still evident.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on March 21, 2022, 01:23:07 AM
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Near the edge of the King Fire burn scar, the fire only burned the growth under the forest canopy. Here the revitalizing effects of the fire were apparent: a rich diversity of perennial plant species flourished. Sanicula graveolens was one of the early-blooming species in active growth.

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Dense mats of Bear Clover, Chamaebatia foliolosa, covered much of the forest floor. This species is well adapted to fire. The flash point of the green foliage is extremely high, nearly impossible to ignite. The dormant stem, lower center photograph, is Rosa bridgesii, a low-growing species that suckers freely from the roots.

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This is another view of the King Fire burn scar, facing the distant ridges to the north. Here scattered patches of forest were left intact, surrounded by large areas where the forest completely burned.

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One of the highlights of this outing was finding the first open flowers of Mountain Violet, Viola purpurea ssp. purpurea. Here the species is seen mixed with the foliage of Sanicula graveolens.

Despite not being able to visit any of the Caldor Fire burn area, this outing was very productive and a great success.

Until the next time…
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on April 03, 2022, 08:19:35 PM
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In our local area, spring has arrived to the Upper Sonoran Life Zone of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. How long spring conditions will last is questionable. Extremely dry conditions have prevailed since mid-January 2022. For the month of March, temperatures at our Placerville property--located in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone--were 3.97 F (2.206 C) above the 1991-2020, 30-year average. This is extremely anomalous! At other sites in our region where I gather environmental data, I recorded similar anomalously high temperature readings. Currently, another round of record-breaking high temperatures are forecasted with temperatures in excess of 32 C expected for many sites in our area. Compounding the already extremely dry conditions is our rapidly dwindling snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Currently, there is no snow at and below 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). At the higher elevations, the snow pack is ~ 50% of average. How managed, unmanaged, and altered ecosystems (e.g. burn scar areas) and the plants that grow in them will respond to these extremes is a question that I will pursue during the coming season. Over the next week to ten days I will report on my last plant and ecosystem survey.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on April 08, 2022, 05:36:03 PM
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Many ecological life zones encompass portions of the South Fork of the American River Canyon. There can be vast differences in the flora depending on the exposure of the canyon slopes to solar radiation, the underlying geological rock formations from which soils are derived, and other environmental variables. I spend a large portion of this outing surveying areas of the canyon encompassed within the Upper Sonoran Life Zone.

Before I continue with my account of this outing, I want to further clarify the current anomalously dry weather and warm temperatures we are experiencing in our region. 51.38% of our average annual precipitation falls during the months of January, February, and March. We received only 10.9% of the average January through March precipitation in 2022. This is an extremely anomalous event. In addition, our current snow pack in our region is only ~ 45% of average. For the first 5 days on April temperatures in our region are running ~ 5 F (2.78 C) above average. Even warmer, record to near record, high temperatures are forecasted over the next 3 days. These and other climatic trends are extremely worrisome and are having a dramatic impact on our natural ecosystems.

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I started my survey at an elevation of 1,397 feet (426 meters) on the south facing canyon slope. As I worked my way down into the canyon toward the South Fork of the American River I spotted a few mature trees of Arbutus menziesii in full bloom.

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Arbutus menziesii is an evergreen species. The creamy white, urn-shaped flowers are typical of plants in the Ericaceae Family.

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Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum, is a very common species in the lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the adjoining foothill region. Some individuals, such as myself, are extremely sensitive to exposure to this species. Contact with the leaves and even the dormant branches can cause a severe skin rash and itching, burning oozing skin.

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The emerging foliage of Toxicidendron diversilobum is often very striking and attractive. For those sensitive it still needs to be avoided completely.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on April 08, 2022, 05:39:22 PM
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The flora of this life zone can be very diverse. Pictured is the vigorous new growth of Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea.

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The small lavender-blue and white flowers of Lupinus bicolor were frequently seen as I worked my way down the steep canyon slope. Lupinus bicolor is an annual species found mostly in the Upper and Lower Sonoran Life Zones.

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In sunny glades, many blooming stems of Dipterostemon capitatus ssp. capitatus were observed with flowers in a range of lavender-blue shades.

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As I worked my way down into the canyon it was apparent that many of the coniferous tree species were highly stressed. The Douglas Fir, Psuedostuga menziesii var. menziesii, pictured is defoliating and will likely die later this spring or during the early summer.

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This photograph shows the numbers of dead and dying conifers in this area. 20 years of drought and rising temperatures are causing dramatic changes to our natural ecosystems. What is alarming is that drought conditions appear to be intensifying, the rate of temperature increase may be accelerating, and ecosystems appear to be shifting rapidly. Generally unmanaged ecosystems display a great deal of resiliency, however now even unmanaged ecosystems are often stressed and undergoing unprecedented change.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on April 17, 2022, 05:22:46 PM
There has been a major shift in our local weather, and it is planting season.

An account of my 30 March outing to the canyon of the South Fork of the American River has been delayed.

Now I will continue as time and circumstances permit.

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As I continued my way down into the canyon, small meadows in the openings of the forest canopy were filled with blooming carpets of the yellow Asteraceae, Pseudobahia heeramannii mixed with various bulbous species such as Dipterostemon capitatus ssp. capitatus.

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Pseudobahia heermannii is a low growing annual species.

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It was a short distance down to the South Fork of the American River. The reflection of the trees in the placid water was very serene.

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On the opposite bank of the river grew a mixture of coniferous and deciduous tree species. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia, grew near the riverbank. Up on slightly higher ground grew Bigleaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum.

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I spent time surveying the flora along the riverbank before starting back up the trail. On rocky ledges near the trail the first flowers of Calochortus albus were open. This species is generally found growing under the high canopy of evergreen and deciduous oak, Quercus, species.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on April 25, 2022, 06:00:17 PM
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Winter and the early spring have been extremely dry. On exposed south facing slopes of the canyon the annual grasses were beginning to dry and turn brown.

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I found one location on the canyon side where a small colony of Delphinium patens ssp. patens was growing. This perennial species is quite attractive when in bloom. As with many of our California native Delphinium this species is summer dormant, well adapted to its extremely summer dry habitat.

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Whitehead Wyethia, Wyethia helenioides, is one of two Wythia species found in the lower portions of the South Fork of the American River canyon. This species has very distinct large woolly gray leaves.

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Many deciduous trees were beginning to leaf out. The new growth of Quercus kelloggii is frequently tinted red.

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Other trees such as California Buckeye, Aesculus californica, were well advanced in their new growth.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on July 11, 2022, 07:38:49 PM
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Back in the end of March I needed to make a decision whether to pursue field botany or agriculture. I could not do both. The decision to return to agriculture was easy. I will still visit the Sierra Nevada Mountains on occasions; however currently my primary goal is to continue the development of our Sacramento garden as well as restore the orchard and field production at the Placerville property. A great deal of progress is being made.

Developing a sustainable subsistence agricultural system that also integrates ornamental plants is our primary goal. Although, over many, many years, I have developed my own unique methods for row crop (vegetables), field crop (grains), and orchard production, I originally drew inspiration from John Jeavons, Eliot Coleman, Masanobu Fukuoka, Helen and Scott Nearing, and others. At the Four Season Farm website (www.fourseasonfarm.com) under the heading “About Us: How we farm”, one can gain a general idea of the principles of sustainable agriculture and “Real Organic” food standards. John Jeavons and the folks at Ecology Action (www.growbiointensive.org) also have wealth of information about their method of sustainable agriculture.

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At our Sacramento home, Zephyranthes macrosiphon has begun its summer blooming cycle. I have a batch of seedlings coming along that I will eventually trial in our open garden. In addition, hybrids with other Zephyranthes species have been made. The hybrid plants are progressing well. The first flowers will likely appear later this summer or next year. These plants as well as other plant species will eventually fill the June to October flower gap in our garden.

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Many medicinal and culinary herbs have attractive flowers. I enjoy the flowers of Scutellaria baicalensis (pictured) and Valarian officinalis.

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Zinnia elegans is so common; however this species attracts many butterflies to our garden and is well worth growing for this attribute alone. (A Duskywing Butterfly can be seen below left of the yellow Zinnia). There are also many other species of Zinnia that will likely thrive in our garden. Many are native to the southern U.S.A., Mexico, and other locations in Central and South America in hot, dry habitats similar to ours. Seeds of many Zinnia species are relatively easy to obtain in our region and will be fun to grow in the coming years.

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[Jasmin]:  The reddish pink bulges on the Arctostaphylos leaves are the leaf galls of the aphid Tamalia coweni or T. dicksoni.

Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on July 11, 2022, 07:42:15 PM
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In this bed I am trialing my own Long Purple Japanese Eggplant, Solanum melogena, with the open pollinated variety ‘Listada de Grandia’. In the background, construction has started on expanding our dry “rock garden” beds. We are also expanding our planting in our front yard. Jasmin will explain this in more detail.

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In this bed I am trialing various lines of my Long Purple Japanese Eggplant. Saving seed and fine tuned regional varieties are amazing in their productivity and overall plant performance. The same principles can apply to ornamental species.

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Prunus persica “Momo-San” is our own peach selection from our Sacramento garden. It is a large orange flesh, clingstone peach with exceptional flavor. It ripens early August. Development of site-specific adaptation of stone fruit rootstocks is now continuing at the Placerville property, as well as the development of new regionally adapted fruit varieties.

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[Jasmin]:  This expands our native habitat and food/host plants for native insects and birds.  Each panel will support one Aristilochia californica plant.  In the foreground we will have at least three two-compartment cinderblocks, where dry shade-loving natives will be planted.  The current front narcissus and iris will border the sides.  Since I am deeply fond of the very tiny narcissus, a few cinderblock spaces will have these. 

The addition of these three panels brings our Aristilochia areas up to seven total, with one mature plant and three other areas in back.  I am hoping the signage out front will serve as education, since there will be caterpillars, and eventually the cocoons and hatching of Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) butterflies.

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Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on July 25, 2022, 07:26:23 PM
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Until today, the weather has been fairly quiet for mid and late July. Daytime high temperatures have been bouncing around 38 C, which is typical for this time of the year.

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The edibles in the summer garden are near full production.

Steady progress is being made toward establishing a sustainable gardening system that is inclusive of fruits, vegetables and ornamental species. My primary focus is toward the development of regional and site-specific varieties that can adjust to the climatic changes that are rapidly taking place on this planet.

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Zinnia elegans is a commonly grown species and a favorite in our garden. With a creative mind interesting things can be done with even common plant species. In addition, there are many species in the genus Zinnia that hold endless possibilities.  [Jasmin]:  Our hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees love them!

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Cleome hassleriana is another commonly grown species that is also a favorite in our summer garden. I am also working with plants that are not commonly seen in our local gardens here in Sacramento, California. Many Meso-American Salvia species thrive in our region. Recently, I made up a list of Meso-American Salvia species to incorporate into our garden. Just by making the list most of them have already arrived in our garden, as young plants, cuttings, or seed. I am a strong advocate of close-to-home, regional gardening and plant sourcing. It certainly works for me.

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Much of the ornamental garden is fairly quiet right now. The last of the Lilium species and hybrids are now blooming. The June blooming gap has been the June, July, and August blooming gap in our garden. Now that a flood of new plant material is coming into our garden this will be changing. It will likely take a few seasons for these new plants to mature and settle in; however it is exciting for me to be growing species that are “old friends” as well as species that are new to me. In addition, I have been working diligently to bring the Placerville property back into production. Soon it will be much easier to do large grow-outs for the many ongoing breeding and selection projects.  [Jasmin]:  Robert keeps speaking of these season gaps!  Yes, spring is the most floriferous; however, there is plenty to interest the eye: there are not only the lilies, but zinnias, common gladiolas, the dried pods, and spent flowering heads, the burgeoning vegetables and fruits.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on July 25, 2022, 07:29:10 PM
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Summer is a time for ripening fruit. Our Flavor King Pluots are ripening.

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Tree ripened peaches are divine! Paradise Peach is rightly named. They are delicious, a taste of paradise.

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Sustainable, subsistence food production is an important goal. West African Pearl Millet, Cenchrus americanus, or Pennisetum glaucum, along with maize, Zea mays, is an important summer compost, carbon-producing crop in our garden. These crops produce large amounts of carbonaceous biomass for compost production as well as a grain crop for the dinner table.

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[Jasmin]:  On the subject of sustainability, there is the topic of recycling and repurposing.  In this photo are two 15-gallon containers that had large tears.  Rather than throw them out, we are experimenting with repair techniques to salvage them.  On top are the remains of a fan that died:  the fan blade guards now can guard the germinating seeds and young seedlings from the birds, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and skunks.

Anyway, excellent progress is being made establishing our sustainable food garden that is also filled with many beautiful ornamental species. Creative, and regionally adapted plants are being developed that will thrive in our garden, and provide an endless supply of fresh, wholesome food throughout the year, as well as a year round display of flowers. A fun and exciting project!

[Jasmin]:  We have been holding so many of you in our hearts and prayers with the terrible heat, drought, and fires affecting so many.  It is surreal to witness “California conditions” are now a global phenomena. 
     After all these many years, I still find 38 and 40 too hot.  I hang our winter quilts in the windows with the most sun exposure, but I also maintain lighter covers for the less exposed windows, to block radiant heat from the walkways, and reflections from parked automobiles.  In the garden my favorite herbs are mints:  peppermint and lemon balm not only make excellent refreshing teas to drink, but a basin of infused water is soothing and cooling for the body.  Chamomile and lavender are similarly soothing, and make an excellent combination for improving one’s sleep during hot nights.  A bit of lemon in water is excellent for hydration.  However, avoid caffeine, excess salt and sugar as these act as diuretics and dehydrate the body.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on August 06, 2022, 07:23:33 PM
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I had an opportunity to visit the Sierra Nevada Mountains in early August. Previously my intent was to visit a high elevation site within the 2021 Caldor Fire burn scar, however this area is closed to the public. My life is now occupied with new projects, so visiting another location worked perfectly.

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I started out at an elevation of 6,400 feet (1,951 meters). Precipitation in our region was highly irregular this past season, however the totals for the whole precipitation season ended up near average. Snow cover days were below average, so the drying season started sooner than average. All this being said, the area was still reasonably moist and there were many wildflowers in bloom.

Anaphalis margaritacea (white flowers) and Drymocallis lacteal var. austiniae (yellow flowers) are pictured above.

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Solidago elongata is a very common perennial species at this elevation. Most were still in the peak of their blooming cycle.

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Lupinus polyphyllus var. bukei is another very common species at this elevation. Good forms of this species are very attractive when in flower.

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Spiraea splendens is a fairly compact deciduous shrub. The pink flowers are very beautiful. During the autumn the foliage generally turns bright golden yellow, however I have observed forms where the foliage turns red and red-orange in the autumn.
Title: Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
Post by: Robert on August 06, 2022, 07:26:18 PM
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I am sure everyone in Europe is familiar with Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium ssp. circumvagum.

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 Within its native habitat Fireweed is very conspicuous when in full bloom.

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Some forms of Aquilegia formosa can bloom for long periods of time. Many were still in bloom when I visited this site.

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Lonicera conjugialis is a deciduous shrub with inconspicuous flowers that open in the early spring. The red berries of this species can be very attractive. It is still too early in the season for the berries to color fully.

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Helenium bigelovii is another commonly seen species at this site.


I will be posting more photographs from this trip.
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