Sunday, April 29, 2012

Santa Lucia Mountains slender salamander ~ 04/29/12 ~ at home

Santa Lucia Mountains slender salamander
Batrachoseps luciae
(map of distribution)
Plethodontidae

I ran out of potting soil, my compost isn't ready, and my favorite commercial soil mix is out of stock for a week. Sigh. So, I decided to pull out some of the prolific Vinca major under the douglas-fir and collect what turned out to be very rich soil. As I was sifting the soil for rocks and debris, I found what I figured was an earthworm. "Oh, good!", I thought, because I've been adding earthworms to my largest container with nasturtiums. Hmm... but hey, this little one has short legs and the cutest toes that put me over the edge of aww!

Oh man, I have had such a difficult time figuring out which species this slender salamander is. According to different sources, in CA there are anywhere from 19, 20, to 21 species of Batrachoseps. AmphibiaWeb shows an old map of relictual slender salamander (B. relictus) as being in this area; whereas California Herps shows both Gabilan Mountains slender salamander (B. gavilanensis with map) and Santa Lucia Mountains slender salamander (B. luciae). However, I wonder if it might be a California slender salamander (B. attenuatus with more information). I'm sending e-mails to some experts to help me, but if you know, please comment. Don Roberson of Creagus has an excellent site on slender salamanders.

ps 05/04/12 - I heard back from Gary at California Herps; he's continually creating the best CA herp site I've found. With his permission, here's what he said, "Fortunately there is only one species of slender salamander in that area [at my home] - the Santa Lucia Mountains Slender Salamander. Since all of the species look the same, you need to go by the range in order to identify most slender salamanders. Old books call it the relictual slender salamander, but that name was changed around 10 years ago. The Gabilan Mountains Slender Salamander does get up to Monterey Bay, but only north of the Monterey peninsula up near the Elkhorn Slough area. The California slender salamander is found north of there. You are welcome to quote me, but I wouldn't call myself an expert." Ha! Thank you very much, Mr. Nafis, aka Mr. Herp King.

Oh, I want to mention that I believe Batrachoseps spp. are the only genus of salamanders with 4 toes on their hind feet; all other salamanders have 5 toes on their hind feet along with the always 4 front toes. Cool!  Right?

pss 05/07/12 - I also heard back from John at Wild Herps. I forgot to provide him specific location information. With his permission, here's what he said, "Your salamander is a Batrachoseps (slender salamander) species. Exactly which Batrachoseps species can probably be determined only by where you found it, as there are a bunch of nearly identical species in California. If it was in Monterey or Pacific Grove then it would be Batrachoseps luciae. Check out the range maps at <http://californiaherps.com/salamanders/salamandersmaps.html>." Thank you, John! Hope your trip was amazing.

pss 06/05/12 - I found another slender salamander in soil I had collected several weeks ago in a bucket and just now got around to sifting through it. It looked different than the one above by not having the reddish back. I wonder if there are loads of slender salamanders hidden among the Vinca major.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

cheeseweed ~ 04/25/12 ~ Frog Pond



Did you ever wonder how a plant got its common name? Cheeseweed, really? This non-native from Northern Africa, Europe, and Asia supposedly has fruiting heads that look like little wheels of cheese. I wonder if cheese fanatic Wallace of Wallace and Gromit was the one who named this plant. It should be noted that this individual was the only one I found at the Frog Pond and is not listed on either the old or the new 2012 CNPS plant list for the Frog Pond Wetland Preserve, Del Rey Oaks.

ps 05/06/12 - I did wonder if this was bull mallow (Malva nicaeensis), but according to Jepson, bull mallow should be trailing along the ground and not erect as shown.

yellow houseplant mushroom ~ 04/25/12 ~ at home

yellow houseplant mushroom
Leucocoprinus birnbaumii (aka Lepiota lutea)
for more information click here and here

It's thanks to Amber at Nature Drunk's posts from last year (here and here) that I even knew right away what this fungus is. Last year I got a 6-pack of Lobelia and a bag of potting mix (OSH compost mix). Considering I haven't purchased houseplant material in many years, it's interesting that this pretty yellow fungus is the first I've ever had. It appeared very quickly and is already almost finished. Along with my 4-leaf clover patch, I'm glad to have these store purchase bonuses. By the way, the Lobelia is often planted outside around here, but I had a few extra and added them when I repotted my Dracaena last May. I'm glad the Lobelia is blooming inside.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

vernal pool bent grass ~ 04/22/12 ~ MBC CNPS Wildflower Show

vernal pool bent grass
Agrostis lacuna-vernalis
Poaceae

Normally, I never include pictures from the annual Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society Wildflower Show held at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. However, for the 51st Wildflower Show (the largest in the Northern and Western Hemispheres!) there was a newly described grass species found at Fort Ord. When Brian LeNeve and his wife Carol were creating the identifier card, they faced a challenge coming up with a common name. Before they added water to this tiny chunk of specimen, the grass was actually bent... hence the name. Despite the lack of rain this year, there were over 670 species of flowering plants at the Wildflower Show - not too shabby.

I love Fort Ord and am looking forward to when 15,000 acres are saved as publicly accessible natural areas. The species diversity there is incredibly unique. Speaking of which, the federally-owned former Fort Ord lands (~14,600 acres) has just become the newest National Monument (link to another local news article) putting it on the map with the likes of Pinnacles National Monument. The remaining few hundred natural area acres belong to the State of CA as Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

ps 05/11/12 - I've since learned Brian was pulling our legs during his talk the day before this picture was taken. For those who don't know the genus Agrostis is known as bent grass. From David Styer I guess there was some talk about whether it should be vernalis-lacuna or lacuna-vernalis.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

wedding tree ~ 04/08/12 ~ Garland Ranch



How often will our wedding anniversary land on Easter? While extending our regrets for leaving the Highlands shin-dig early, a sentimental fellow best known as "Boo" suggested we take Easter egg offerings for our wedding tree. That's exactly what we did! Once the kids' egg and adults' beer hunts were finished, we found cracked eggs we liked and wrapped them up for our hike up to the mesa. It was great fun selecting our own hiding spots on our tree. Notice the ant on mine? Many ants came to check it out. Andy hid his high in a nook. The vernal greenery on this deciduous oak was notably varied this year with clusters of tight buds to soft unfurled leaves. Click to see this tree on April 8 in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

ps 04/12/12 - I looked for fairy fingers and could not find them.

Easter 2012 in the Highlands

(not) our eggs

brightest flowers (fuchsias) that caught my eye

Bird Island of Point Lobos

hidden egg

my favorite spring garden view

Here's my annual Easter post. I use the same five picture themes every year. To see past years, click my * easter label and scroll down.

This year's celebration felt very different for several reasons. The Williams family are making the tough and beautiful transition without Cynthia. Two of her daughters, Molly and Honey live on the compound, and they are shaping "The Carmel Institute" to better suit their own preferences. I absolutely love their garden. Also, Andy and I have our own evolving life priorities. At the shin-dig, there were plenty of familiar faces and several new folks who brought plastic eggs and decorated beer cans. I don't remember the last time I saw plastic eggs as part of the hunt. As for Andy and me, well, we didn't dye any eggs this year (nor did we make paper snowflakes... hmm?) Time and attention have certainly slipped by us. Plus, it was our wedding anniversary, and that post will be forthcoming.

If Molly, Honey, and all their friends who helped out read this, here's a heartfelt thank you!

common flax ~ 04/08/12 ~ Carmel Highlands

common flax / linseed
Linum usitatissimum
for more information click here, here, and here
Linaceae

I really wanted this to be the native Lewis' Flax / western blue flax (Linum lewisii); however after looking at numerous pictures, the flower face and the leaves just didn't seem right to me. The newly designed Jepson eFlora descriptions for L. usitatissimum and L. lewisii are as confusing as usual for a novice like me, but compared to the 1993 version, the maps are very impressive with updates thanks to Joshua R. McDill. So, this widely naturalized common flax from eastern Mediterranean to India is my best guess. The flowers were sparsely spread around the paths in the orchard. Each stem was about knee to thigh high; I'm short, so maybe about 25 inches or so. It's a pretty delicate flower.

I must confess to how I happened to discover what kind of flower this is. As I was looking in the neighbor's trash bin for plastic containers (yogurt, hummus, salsa...) for my spring repotting, I found one of those lavender eye pillows. Since I wanted to used the nice silk fabric for another project, I emptied out the contents. There were funny looking flat brown seeds mixed in with the dried lavender blooms. Of course, I looked it up online and discovered flax's many uses. I now scoop a little bit of the mix into an old tied stocking and toss it into the occasional bath water. My homemade bath bag smells nice and seriously softens my skin. Eh, what a motley set of discoveries from simply going through trash.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Indian warrior ~ 04/01/12 ~ Fort Ord

Indian warrior
Pedicularis densiflora
Orobanchaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae)

It's a tough call to say these were more prolific than last year's batch.  I would say yes.  There was a definite lushness around what we saw.  The host plant manzanitas look like they've grown some, but not as much as I would have guessed from clearing this fire road two years ago in 2010.