Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Unexpected Wild Carrot - Native or Introduced?


Gardening with native plants can be a challenge. Natives don't always thrive in the site you assign them. For example, the sedge below is growing, but it isn't thriving. Right beside it, the coyote mint (Monardella villosa) pictured above is thriving. 



This toyon grew from seed on its own and is the most robust toyon in our garden.

I noticed the lacy-leaved plant, below, coming up last winter and I let it grow, because I wasn't quite sure what it was. It was sprouting from the dirt of a nursery raised native that had petered out.

It got bigger and bigger. I've tried to let go of the term"weed," sometimes native plants come and they grow where they're suited, not where we want them. It looked too pretty to be a weed, but what was it?


It reminded me of a plant I had seen in wild meadows, commonly called: Queen Anne's Lace

 As it started to bloom, the answer was clear: wild carrot (Daucus carota) also called Queen Anne's Lace.

With a little investigation, however, I discovered wild carrot is an introduced plant from Eurasia. It is indeed the ancestor of domestic carrots and most likely came with early European immigrants to North America. The USDA Plant Database map reveals that it is found throughout the North East to the Mississippi Valley, expanding into the South, and all along the West Coast of the U.S. Some sources site it as growing in all fifty states. In some states, according to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, it is considered an aggressive invasive. Like the carrot in your refrigerator, it has a thick taproot, difficult to pull out.

Some states villainize it and make it illegal to transport or sell the seeds. At the same time researchers are investigating the possible health benefits of its volatile oil. Wild carrot has long been considered a medicinal herb with diuretic properties. 


Where did this lovely specimen in my yard come from? I have no idea. Most likely, birds transported the seed, which have tiny burs on their edges. Birds occasionally bring black nightshade into the yard. Or maybe it was in the soil that came with that nursery plant. 

Will I remove it? The biggest claim against it is that it takes hold in disturbed soils and out competes native plants or grasses grown for livestock. It can be mildly toxic to livestock, in other words: this plant has evolved to protect itself from grazing animals. Because of its deep root, it holds unstable ground, but after several years all sources say that it gives way to the natives. Controlled burning doesn't reduce it, because it grows back from the deeply established root. 

Right now it is beautiful and somewhat contained. I think I'll leave it. We'll pick the flowers and not let it go to seed.

Another surprise nonnative - lawn shrimp 

April was Native Plant Month

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Monarch Caterpillars!


What a surprise this morning, monarch caterpillars! And they are an inch and a half long.

We've been seeing an adult monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) a couple of times a week. The last few years we have been growing native narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) and the introduced tropical species (Asclepias curassavica) that is readily available at garden stores.

We've had little caterpillars in the past, but they seemed to get eaten by either a bird or a predatory insect. This is the first time that we have had caterpillars reach this size in years.

The group of monarch butterflies that live in California (west of the Rocky Mountains) do not migrate to Mexico with the main population from the southern Central and Eastern part of the U.S. This Pacific population overwinters along the coast in Southern California down into Baja. 

Loss of milkweed habitat has caused declines in this population. Most butterfly species lay eggs on a specific plant species and their caterpillars are dependent on that plant for food. Native milkweed can be a challenge to grow. I didn't realize that narrow-leaved milkweed dies back each winter. I thought I had killed it and took it out. Now I understand that it will grow back in the spring. Until my native milkweed is established, I supplement with the tropical species in a planter, to avoid it becoming invasive.

These hot days, with temperatures above 100 degrees are a challenge for plants and wildlife. I hope that our caterpillars make it to chrysalis. It would be great to contribute to a new generation of monarch butterflies.

Other caterpillars you might see in your CA yard

Backyard Butterfly Quiz

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Monarchs and Jerusalem Crickets

Monday, April 19, 2021

April Is Native Plant Month!


Did you know that the U.S. Senate has found something to agree on: Native Plants!

On March 25th, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced a resolution declaring April as "National Native Plant Month." Amazingly, the Senate passed the declaration by unanimous consent. They all agreed!

Wherever you live, native plants are vital to your local wildlife. 

Flowering native plants provide the pollen and nectar vital to native insects. 

 


This mallow was one of the first native plants we grew successfully. It provides food for native insects, which in-turn provide food for the Bewick's wren and bushtits that regularly nest in our yard. 

A family of western fence lizards live in the protection of its branches and leaves.

The mallow also helps hold our hillside. We know it is in the right location because it has grown from a single plant to patch of plants.

 


This cultivar of California fuchia (Epilobium canum) feeds our Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds. I love the brilliant red flowers.


Ceanothus has long been some of our favorite native plants. Also known as California lilac, they bloom in a range of purple to white flowers. This new specimen is a 'Ray Hartman'. It will grow to the size of a small tree. We used it as a living Christmas tree in a pot this past December and now it is filling out nicely to become a screening plant between us and our neighbors. 

The purple to blue flowers feed a variety of bee species, including valley carpenter bees. It has grown six inches in the past four months. We are thinking of adding a second plant beside it.


The Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana) (in white and purple) are showstoppers in the spring and their ground cover provides a year-round home for a lovely alligator lizard, another insect eating native species.

Native plants are adapted for their location and native wildlife is adapted to interact with them. Planting native plants can change your yard from sterile landscaping to a wildlife refuge.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Joys of Providing Wildlife Habitat


This morning some traveling friends stopped in for breakfast. Three migrating black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) were at the bird feeder. (A female is sitting on the right side of the tube feeder above.) They have spent the winter in Mexico or Central America and now they are headed north. They may nest somewhere near-by or they may migrate all the way up to British Columbia, Canada.

It's rewarding to know that they can find our oasis of habitat in the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles. For more than ten years, black-headed grosbeaks have been stopping here for food and water as they pass through in April and then again in late July or August as they head south. I know this because I keep track in a bird journal.


Especially when the California hillsides are dryer than they should be, our yard provides food, water, and shelter for these migrants to stop and rest for a few days. 

The birds who live here year round are nesting. The native plants are providing nectar for at least four nesting Allen's hummingbirds. 


These Allen's hummingbird chicks hatched on April 10th. (The nest wasn't finished when the first egg was laid.) If you look closely you can see the bits of eggshell inside the nest cup just to the left and above the naked chick.


Two full days old and the chicks still have closed eyes, but they raise their little beaks to be fed whenever a shadow falls across the nest. (See the tiny beak raised for food.) This nest is on our patio. 


Another female nesting in a native hollyleaf cherry shrub in the front yard urged her fully feather chicks to fly on April 10th. (She has been successfully nesting in our yard for several years.)

So far in 2021 we've had four Allen's hummingbird nesting attempts. Two were successful - one with one chick and the other with two chicks.

Creating wildlife habitat is vital for migrating and nesting birds. Too much of their native habitat has been developed and changed. We have watched our yard transform from a sterile suburban yard to a small wildlife reserve. Birds in California face a huge loss of habitat due to development and climate change. You can make a difference with native plants and water.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Cymbidium Orchids - Thriving in CA with Sublime Neglect


The cymbidium orchids began to open their blooms yesterday. 

It is amazing how a plant can thrive with sublime neglect if it is in the right place. This yellow cymbidium was cultivated by my husband's grandfather over 40 years ago, before cloning made orchids abundant. It was one of the few orchids in his vast collection that stayed in the family after he passed away. 


We've been lucky to find the right micro-climate in our yard where it flourishes without much attention. Living in the San Fernando Valley, hot summers might wilt or scorch this specimen, but we have an area in the yard we call "the canyon." Part of a natural stream bed, it is the "v" where two north-facing slopes meet. It can become an actual stream in a down pour. 

Here a native elderberry, hollyleaf cherry, and a redwood tree (a previously living Christmas tree) are growing well and providing mottled shade most of the day. The orchid gets just enough sun to burst into bloom each spring.

I don't feed it. I don't bring it in during the winter; other plants protect it from possible frost. It gets rainfall or water once or twice a week. It currently has four flower spikes.

native hollyleaf cherry
 

When I fail with various native plants, I blame myself. The most common reason for a plant to fail is that it just isn't in the right place. Southern California yards can have a range of micro-climates. The front of our north-facing house has pockets where the plants never have direct sun: cool dry shade. The very top of our hill slope has an area that experiences direct sun most of the year combined with heavy clay soil that repels water: hot dry sun. The hollyleaf cherry can survive in both micro-climates, but most plants can't. 

Even a change in the other plants can alter a micro-climate creating opportunity for plants that weren't thriving before: Cistus begins blooming.


Success can help us repeat success - a second cymbidium has joined the elder honorable bloomer and it too is thriving. If a plant is struggling, don't be afraid to move it. We planted a desert willow in the canyon and it wasn't happy. Out on the front slope it has doubled its size. Maybe we've found the right place for it. 

Native plants are by definition in the right place. They have native pollinators and are accustom to California's weather patterns. Find the right place for them in your yard and they too will thrive with sublime neglect.

 Orchids in the Yard and Upclose 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Book Review: "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I heard about this book through some independent booksellers on the PBS Newshour. While it isn't brand new, it is vital reading if you want to make a positive difference in the world.

Braiding Sweetgrass; Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Milkweed Editions 2013

Imagine how different the daily operations of our federal government might be if each convening of the U.S. Congress began with our elected officials first agreeing that all people and all living things had the right to clean air, clean water, and a sustainable life. How could they build solutions, if they agreed that the water had an obligation to be clean and to flow naturally so that it could play the roll it was meant to play for the planet and for the living beings. How different would we look at our planet if we saw ourselves as part of its natural processes and not separate from them?


Robin Wall Kimmerer is that rare human who lives both in the world of modern science and indigenous culture. Can the two intertwine and compliment one another? Kimmerer reveals her own path to combining new knowledge with ancient wisdom. She provides insight from ancient language that can name challenges our English language has no words for. 

There is no lecturing here, but there are challenges to a Western European mindset of conquer and subjugate. The Earth gives all that it can to us, what do we give back?

hummingbird nest in native Catalina cherry
 

This book has won a spot on my nightstand. I know that I will go back to it time and again, finding greater depth in my understanding and discovering new layers in its wisdom. For now, I have put my hands back into the earth to grow some of my own food. I renew my efforts to bring native plants into my yard to feed and shelter the flying families and "four-legged peoples." I will tend my "standing people" because the trees provide shade from the summer heat and clean the air for us all. 

Channel Island fox
 

"Reciprocal" is the word you will walk away with. In Kimmerer's stories I found insights into my own relationship with island fox conservation and the human relationship with island foxes.

What will you find in these pages to enlighten your own journey? 

 

 

 

 

Other Book Reviews:

"The Big Ones" by Lucy Jones

"Life in a Shell" by Donald C. Jackson

"Feathers; The Evolution of a Miracle" by Thor Hansen

"The Geese of Beaver Bog" by Bernard Heinrich

    

Monday, March 22, 2021

Hummingbird Egg Laid Today

I'm always happy when I find a new Allen's hummingbird nest. I know this egg was laid this morning because it wasn't there yesterday. A second egg will probably be laid tomorrow or the next day. It typically takes 19 days for them to hatch.

Allen's hummingbird nest P1-3/22/2021

This nest is actually last year's patio nest refurbished. The nest is a bit incomplete and even unstable, but that is a trait of this female. She is a bit haphazard in her building and her mothering. I knew she was rebuilding the nest, but it didn't seem finished. The egg this morning caught me by surprise.

This female was successful with her first nest last year. The second attempt both chicks perished just after hatching and the third attempt came too late in the season. The chicks did not survive the multiple days of temperatures over 100 degrees that we had in late June into July. Despite our attempts to provide shade, the heat was too much.

We've had two nesting attempts by other Allen's hummingbirds this season. One chick successfully fledged on March 14th. The other nest with two chicks was taken by an unknown predator. March is typically when second nesting attempts are started, but we are way behind the 5 successful chicks by March 2019. Nests 2019

The weather has been cold. Most females have waited to nest.

I discovered a fourth nest a few days ago, in a location also previously used. This female has a type "A" personality. Her nest is pristine. She was on the nest constantly for the past four days. She was keeping hatchlings warm in our cooler than usual weather. So on this first Monday in spring - one hummingbird egg and two tiny chicks. 

Spotting hummingbird nests