Thursday, June 30, 2011

habitat ~ 06/30/11 ~ Fort Ord - BLM InterGarrison

Fort Ord Public Lands - InterGarrison entrance
June 30, 2011

As dry as it appears from a distance, I am always a little surprised at how green it can be under the oak trees... granted most of the green comes from posion-oak. The second picture is looking northeast across Salinas towards Fremont Peak. The third picture is looking southeast towards Mt. Toro, which funnily enough is not located in Toro County Park. Finally, in the last picture is an ever-present reminder along the trails of how this land was once used.

CA oak moth ~ 06/30/11 ~ Fort Ord

California oak moth on coast live oak
Phryganidia californica on Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia

The populations of the CA oak moth are known to fluctuate dramatically over the years in an apparent cycle. I tend to forget about them until I start seeing swarms of moths around oak trees on warm June or September/October afternoons. It's really quite an amazing sight. In places of heavy outbreaks, people who normally don't pay attention to such things definitely notice massive numbers of caterpillars swinging on lines of silk from defoliated oak trees and climbing everywhere to pupate, from tree trunks to buildings and cars. I've read the population cycle runs anywhere from 5 to 10 years. It seems to me this would be a difficult thing to monitor, particularly the relative numbers, length of time, and locations. What I recall is that one year it could be heavy out in Carmel Valley and three years later it could be heavy up in Aptos. I've even seen one oak completely defoliated and the oak right next to it not even touched. I wish I had taken notes and photos of my observations through the years.

Many people seem to get alarmed when their precious oak tree in their yard gets defoliated. They call out pest management companies to spray and inject pesticides. I think this is a waste of time and money. I also believe this is harmful to the tree, the fauna that depends on the tree, and surrounding wildlife, including birds that collect the acorns and other moths that don't even eat oaks. Some reputable companies will clearly state oak moth infestations generally only last 2 years at most and they will treat in the second year. Huh? Well, if you wait to the third year without doing anything, the moths mysteriously disappear anyways. Plus, the live oak usually recovers with vigorous new growth, which is not an annual thing for this evergreen oak. It's cost-free pruning with an added benefit of natural fertilizer from the frass. I've seen this first-hand in the oak trees next to our driveway; I actually think they look healthier now than a few years ago before defoliation from the oak moths.

I believe these regular population crashes are density dependent. My theory is that when you intervene in the natural cycle and artificially suppress the peak population size, you prolong the higher than average population numbers. Again just my theory, the reason for this is that parasitoids (tachinids and ichneumonids), viruses, fungi, other diseases, and predators that normally keep the oak moth population in check aren't allowed to do their job as effectively. You end up with a bedraggled oak (think how your hair looks without a hair cut for a long time) and the potential to prolong the stress of repeated partial defoliation, which could in the long-run do more harm to your oak tree.

Okay, I'll get off my soap box. For decent links with better information, check out Elkhorn, University of California Hastings Reserve, Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs, and Tree Solutions (yes, a pest management company with well-written information).

ps 10/09/11 - The oak moths have started swirling around our oak tree en masse. Interesting to note, the tree itself does not look defoliated like I've seen other trees around town.

statice ~ 06/30/11 ~ Fort Ord

I usually think of statice as the standard cheap grocery store bouquet filler. I prefer seeing small patches of it growing out in the wild. It's considered a garden escapee, which is a funny term. One can envision little plants waiting until nightfall to execute their break over the fence from manicured life. No one seems to agree on its origins, from the Canary Islands, the Mediterranean, Europe, and/or Asia. This plant is also called sea-lavender, but I'd prefer to reserve that name for the native Limonium californicum, which I've seen blooming down in Morro Bay (sorry, no pics, yet).

CA cudweed ~ 06/30/11 ~ Fort Ord

best guess California cudweed / California everlasting
best guess Gnaphalium californicum (aka Pseudognaphalium californicum)

I'm starting to like cudweeds despite my not being too fond of crispy, dried flowers. They remind me of the dead flower bouquets my mother used to keep in waterless vases or baskets about the house. I think the main flower was strawflower, which must have had their peak of popularity as craft fair staples in the 1970's since I don't see them around anymore. One of my assigned chores was to dust weekly and those bouquets were impossible to clean without breaking off petals. I despise dusting, which may explain why I have so few knickknacks in my own home.

I'm pretty sure of this ID. I've seen CA cudweed before at a different Fort Ord location when it was very green. However, with a touch of white fuzz on the stems, I wonder if it might be slender everlasting (Psudognaphalium thermale), although and Jepson disagree over its distribution. What made searching for possible IDs challenging is Gnaphalium cudweeds/everlastings are variously aka Pseudognaphalium, Euchiton, and Gamochaeta.

wavyleaf soap plant ~ 06/30/11 ~ Fort Ord

Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum

Finally I have some pictures of this plant's flowers. They're only open in the late afternoon through one night (hence pomeridianum from post meridium, aka p.m.), a time of day when we don't usually hike. Shown in the second picture at the base of the green flower stalk are the dried leaves, although I don't think they always dry up by the time this plant blooms. True to the common name, when the rosette leaves are green, they can have a distinctive wavy margin. Also, it's named soap plant for a reason. The best site I've found that talks about its many historical uses is Wayne's Word.

STRONG WORDS OF CAUTION: As Wayne points out, make sure you're positive of the ID before using soap plant. You'd think no one would mistake death camas for soap plant, but many do, including myself in retrospect. I've seen both plants growing within a couple feet of each other (Jack's Peak death camas / soap plant, Wilder Ranch death camas / soap plant, and Rocky Creek death camas), and the leaves can look somewhat similar when the variation and extent of waviness is in question. This can be an issue if you dig up the bulb in winter when only the green leaves are visible. As I was looking up information for this post, I found a couple blogs and professional-looking sites with incorrect photo IDs, e.g., Plants of California, a Guide to Useful, Edible and Medicinal Plants shows death camas flowers, not soap plant! This is why I try to be as diligent as possible when posting IDs, because I know Nature ID gets picked up by search engines. While I do make mistakes, I also do not claim to be an expert, especially on edible or medicinal plants. It basically comes down to being smart about what we read online.

As a last note, I should mention the lush green stuff in the background is poison-oak. Funnily enough one of the reported uses of soap plant is to treat poison-oak rash. While there are many generic "obviously copied from somewhere else" notations of this online, I discovered Plants for a Future actually includes original references.

ps 01/23/12 - For a soap plant recipe, check out the comments on this blog post.

coast pretty face ~ 06/30/11 ~ Fort Ord

coast pretty face / golden brodiaea
Triteleia ixioides ssp. ixioides

Themidaceae (aka Asparagaceae and formerly Liliaceae)

This pretty face is locally common and looks similar to the related goldenstar I found inland at Pinnacles. There are 5 subspecies of golden brodiaea (T. ixioides), and I used the Fort Ord plant list to narrow this down. For some reason I started calling this "yellow dick" a couple years back, perhaps because it's also related to the blue dick. It's my own made-up name. To read a better blog post of golden brodiaea, check out Sierra Foothill Garden.

smooth harvester ant ~ 06/30/11 ~ Fort Ord

best guess smooth harvester ant
best guess Messor andrei

This is my best guess, seeing as how my attempt to get a close-up shot resulted in an ant's eye view and not much detail. Another possibility would be the rough harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex rugosus). These ants serve as a major food source for the coast horned lizard. While searching for information, I found these two blogs to have great information: Myremecos "North American Ants" and Wild About Ants "Objects on Harvester Ant Mounds".

spider egg sac ~ 06/30/11 ~ at home

spider egg sac

Ever since I found several pupa and a poop-shooting, geranium-eating caterpillar, I've placed various wandering spiders on my geranium plant. I am hoping these are spider eggs, but I don't really know. Each egg rolled around inside the silk sac like miniature gumballs. To find out what they are, I placed this broken stem in some water and the whole thing in a container. My handy-dandy containers with nylon stocking tops are getting a workout this year.

ps 07/14/11 - I originally posted this as an unidentified egg sac. Yep, these are spiders. They hatched 2 days ago and were clustered around the silk casing. I took them out this morning to take a closer look and hopefully get some pictures, but with the slight movement they all started dropping on tiny lines of silk. I was barely able to float them over to a couple plants where they hung in the breeze off the leaves. I hope they stick around.

unknown pink amaranth ~ 06/30/11 ~ at home

best guess unknown goosefoot
best guess Chenopodium sp.
Amaranthaceae (formerly Chenopodiaceae)

I found a small, creeping volunteer sprout in my dead bougainvillea container. After I transferred it to its own container and propped it up, it quickly grew to about 18" tall with small pink flower clusters. I love how the new leaves also have a pink tinge. Does anyone know what this could be?

ps 07/11/12 - I believe Cindy is correct in that this is a type of amaranth. Considering it hitchhiked with another plant from who knows where (the bougainvillea was a gift), it could be any number of garden cultivars.

pss 10/04/11 - Thanks to a second post of this same plant 3 months later as it's setting seed, I have again revised my ID guess above from Amaranthus sp.

Pacific chorus frog ~ 06/30/11 ~ at home

I've thoroughly enjoyed watching my tadpoles. Almost all of them were released from their egg sacs the day after I first posted pictures on 05/30/11 making them 1 month old. Most of the time they simply rest on the bottom of the aquarium, not too exciting. Around mid-morning and mid-afternoon they get more active. They eat duckweed roots as shown above and algae off the sides and bottom of the aquarium like miniature vacuums. Amazingly, they can float up without moving their tails. How do they regulate their buoyancy? I had to fiddle with the pictures above to show the details; it's really difficult to get clear pictures through glass and murky water. I have over 15 tadpoles and numerous snails which have already mated, laid eggs, and hatched young since I've had them. Does anyone know what kind of snail commonly comes with purchased pond plants? Speaking of which, the oxygenating plant (shown in the second pic) is not milfoil, but I forgot what it is.

ps 07/11/11 - The frilly plant floating in the second pic is rigid hornwort, aka coon's-tail (Ceratophyllum demersum). While this is a native plant in CA and elsewhere, I will be careful about how I dispose of this plant's parts as it can be considered invasive and easily propagates from fragments. As for the snail, I believe it is a bladder snail (Physa acuta, aka Physella acuta). It has a left-sided aperture (all Physa spp. have this), pointed spire (sharper than the other common aquarium tadpole snail), thin shell (I accidentally crushed one while taking a closer look), and small size of 3-12 mm (generally smaller than Physa gyrina). For now I'm going to keep the snails; they may end up being a good food source for when the tadpoles metamorphose.

pss 08/09/11 - For a much better picture of a pacific chorus frog tadpole, check out John Wall's Natural California.

pss 08/13/11 - For nice pictures of pacific chorus frogs out in the wild, check out Cindy at Bug Safari. She's quite a bit south from where I'm at. I don't know if I'll have any adults this year.

four-leaf clover ~ 06/30/11 ~ at home

four-leaf version of white clover
Trifolium repens

It must be my lucky day, times 2! I never thought about what species of clover the "traditional" four-leaf lucky clover is. Ah, I have many fond memories laying in the warm school yard grass with my girlfriends, searching every recess for those 4 leaves of luck. Looking online for information was entertaining. Here's a "how-to" from wikiHow and its corresponding luck link - numbers 10 and 12 hold especially true for Nature ID. May you have the blessings of luck.