Saturday, November 19, 2011

habitat ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch - Garzas Creek

Happy Thanksgiving! Garzas Creek is going to become my must-do pre-Thanksgiving hike. It's one of the only places around Monterey that has large, native, crunchy, deciduous leaves to tromp through and feels almost like the autumn most people expect in North America. The area along the creek is absolutely gorgeous!

Andy is training for a 50K trail run, so he sped off while I casually took a short loop. We planned to meet up at our favorite restaurant Jeffrey's at Carmel Mid-Valley for lunch. Thanks to a couple of hikers with a dog that liked to jump on me (I had muddy footprints all over me!), I veered off to the redwood trail to avoid them. I worried I wouldn't get back in time to meet Andy, but I am so glad I took this new-to-me trail. The trail loops back to the creek for some of the most scenic spots.

As the sign says, the seasonal foot bridges were taken out the Monday before my hike. I asked a fellow if the creek was passable. He was confident that it could be crossed at the 4 intersections along the trail. Note to self: do not take the advice of a 6 foot tall man with walking sticks if a creek is passable. While I love rock hopping, it helps if you don't have muddy shoes and aren't needing to pass over wet rocks. I managed just fine once I found a couple large sticks to help me balance. After my very grouchy previous week, this hike really helped cheer me up. It was food for the soul, and I am thankful for places like this.

snowberry ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch

common snowberry
Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus

I have yet to notice the pretty pink flowers of the snowberry. However, the bright white, small marshmallow-looking berries are so easy to spot, especially when most of the leaves have dropped. The other species of snowberry at Garland is the creeping snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis), which according to the USDA is only native to CA and NV. To me they look nearly identical in photos, except for the obvious difference, one is erect and the other creeps along the ground. I'll try to keep a look-out next year for the flowers, which, if my books are correct, should bloom in the spring.

CA bay ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch

After a full year of thinking about it and posting about it back in July, I finally had my first taste of a California bay nut. Well, actually, being the piglet I am and wanting to compare, I tried 3 bay nuts. I was so excited I didn't get a picture of the first one, but it was reddish and squishy like the first photo above. The flesh had the texture and taste that reminded me of a cross between a firm avocado and an unripe mango, mild, slightly sweet, and with only a hint of bay. The second one I tried was a bit greener yet also soft. I barely nibbled it before I spat it out. It had a very, very strong bay flavor. It left a burning tingle in the back of my throat, similar to the effect I get when I eat fresh mangoes - I've already looked it up, CA bays are related to avocados but not mangoes. Hoping to try another ripe bay nut, I ate a third that was somewhere in between. Had I been prudent, I would have simply saved them and waited until I got home to taste them; for the rest of my hike, my throat tingled and every exhale tasted like bay. My stomach was not a happy camper by the time I finished my hike.

Interesting to note the seed of the first ripe one was very dark, whereas the seed of the second green one was a much lighter color. In the third photo I also want to show there are buds on the evergreen CA bay already. And the last picture shows a very large and mature CA bay tree.

ps 02/06/12 - I initially posted the last picture believing the large tree was an oak (Quercus sp.) next to a smaller CA bay. The significance of this is that the CA bay serves as a host to a pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death, which also affects tanbark oaks (Notholithocarpus densiflorus). For a very informative blog post about SOD, check out Randy at Way Points. I'm always amazed at the things I learn from fellow bloggers. During another hike at Garzas Creek on 01/16/12, I took a second look at the large tree and realized I had been mistaken about its ID. I've still got a lot to learn about trees.

bigleaf maple and CA sycamore ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch

bigleaf maple (left) and California sycamore (right)

Both these deciduous trees are native to California and provide lovely autumn colors. They can be quite tall, so it's difficult to compare the shapes of the leaves when they're too high to examine. It's taken me until this hike, when the forest floor is littered, to truly distinguish the leaves. For the longest time, I thought Garland only had one native large-leaved tree, that being the bigleaf maple. I was wrong. Considering the place used to be a ranch, I figured any sycamores I found were non-native. I've corrected past posts to reflect my new understanding, like last November's Garzas Creek habitat post.

bigleaf maple
Acer macrophyllum
Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)

Notice the 5 deep lobes of the leaf? The vertically grooved bark, often covered in moss or lichen, reminds me very much of walnut trees. Other eastern North American counterparts are red maple (Acer rubrum), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), and sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Despite what the USDA PLANTS database shows, the silver maple is not native to CA.

western sycamore / California sycamore
Platanus racemosa

What originally confused me about the leaves is the CA sycamore's can have 3 or 5 lobes. I can usually recognize sycamore bark by its sickly, puzzle-like look - yep, that's my own highly technical description. Its eastern North American counterpart is American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis).

bigleaf maple

In a previous post from this summer, I showed how big the CA sycamore leaves get, which can be considerably larger than the bigleaf maple. Happy fall!

ps 11/29/11 - I'm glad I don't have to deal with the differences between sycamore maples and field maples like they do over in the UK, The Squirrelbasket and Loose and Leafy.