Monday, July 21, 2014

Water provides a Hydropatterning Blueprint for Rooting Architecture & "Infrastructure"

Job 14:7-9
 7 “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. 8 Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant."
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Below here is a study published back on June 9th 2014 which I read during my trip in California, on a plant root's ability to sniff out water where ever it may be found. Only now am I commenting on this phenomena. In so doing, the presence of water within any type of soil geology may actually influence the architectural pattern a tree develops for it's eventual mature rooting infrastructure. Understanding and developing appreciation for such plant mechanisms and the environmental triggers that influence their internal sensors which creates growth response even if we don't totally understand all the processes going on, allow us to plan and design our landscape and restoration projects for success. I'll have some examples of plants that made me curious about all of this at the end. Trees such as those in the Poplar family are great choices for study as these trees are almost obsessed in their search for water. Understandable since they are a riparian water loving tree, even if it's 20+ feet below the surface of a dry desert wash. If you’re a plant, [especially where I hail from] then finding and exploiting available water resources is pretty crucial to your existence. Hence I've written previously about my own testing and playing with seed germination of desert plants such as Mesquite and Acacia. But sometimes this can be tricky even for these desert dwellers. Localized water availability in soil can be highly variable depending on it's structure and climate, especially where I come from in the southwestern part of the USA, and those plants native to this region must gather water quickly and as efficiently as possible from the environment. The research in this article below finds that they have the ability to sniff it out even when it is not immediately available to them. So how do they do it ? As with most of these research papers, much of it may be boring, but keep in mind that you don't have to understand the science of just how plants do this, you only need to be aware that they have this ability and this should influence you in the way you care for and maintain them. It also calls on you to train plant's roots for their future survivability in the landscape or in some remote backcountry out planting as with habitat restoration. The article was called:
"Water provides a Hydropatterning Blueprint for Rooting Architecture"
"Soil is a microscopic maze of nooks and crannies that hosts a wide array of life. Plants explore this environment by developing a complex branched network of roots that tap into scarce resources such as water and nutrients. How roots sense which regions of soil contain water and what effect this moisture has on the architecture of the root system has been unclear."
Wissenschaft – Design – Animation
"New research from a team led by Carnegie's José Dinneny focuses on how physical properties of a root's local environment control root branching and through which developmental pathways these signals act. Their findings, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describe a novel process called hydropatterning that allows plants to optimize root branching for water uptake."
 photo is credited to Pooja Aggarwal

Cross section of Rice root showing the
 development of a root branch towards water
"Plant roots form a branching network like that above ground, with lateral roots growing out from a main axis. Because water is not uniformly distributed in soil, the structure of the root system networks needs to be regulated in ways that optimizes soil exploration, while limiting growth into water-poor regions." 
"Dinneny and his team developed methods for growing roots in environments in which the distributions of water and air around the root were highly controlled. By analyzing the position where new branches formed, the researchers found that plants tend to place these root branches in close proximity to where water exists, while tiny root hairs appear in areas exposed to air."


photo is credited to Neil Edwards II

This is a cross section of a maize root showing the
development of a root branch towards water
"Dinneny and his team developed methods for growing roots in environments in whiche the distributions of water and air around the root were highly controlled. By analyzing the position where new branches formed, the researchers found that plants tend to place these root branches in close proximity to where water exists, while tiny root hairs appear in areas exposed to air."
Their work revealed that opposite sides of the same single root are optimized to take advantage of air or water resources when the environment is varied. Working with colleagues Malcolm Bennett and Sacha Mooney at the University of Nottingham, micro-scale X-ray tomography was used to build 3-D models of roots growing in soil and revealed that similar processes occur in this more-natural environment. 
 "We had completely underestimated the spatial acuity of the patterning system in the root. It was fascinating to discover that roots can respond to environmental conditions that vary over distances as small as 100 microns, which is the size of a typical soil particle," said Dinneny."
The team named the new phenomenon hydropatterning and they observed it in several plant species, including the important crop plants maize and rice. The process is controlled by signaling pathways in the plant that are distinct from previously characterized drought responses suggesting that hydropatterning could be important for regulating root branching under non-stressful growth conditions. 
 "This simple observation opens up a whole new area of investigation for us," Dinneny said. "How plant cells distinguish between wet and dry environments is an important frontier that may lead to a better understanding of how plants efficiently use water."
(source)

Wissenschaft – Design – Animation
"Using technology called x-ray microscale computed tomography to create 3D reconstructions of root architecture, researchers have been able to peer beneath the soil surface to see exactly what is going on. They find that plant roots are able to distinguish between water and air at extremely small scales – as little as a tenth of a millimetre – and that this is what determines the patterns of root branching along the main root axis; a process they term hydropatterning." 
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My old place in Anza California

Take special note of the Jeffrey Pine which you see here in front of the Mobile Home. Notice the pine tree's shadow on the ground and the silhouetted shadow outline of the cottonwood tree which is to it's left. This tree when it was around 12-15 foot tall in 1986 had one branch of it's root system grew clear around the right side of this mobile home to a garden hose spigot which was over 60+ foot away where there always was a constant leak dripping,  which caused the immediate area of soil to remain damp. More details on this tree below.

riverpartners.org
My best example of this plant water sniffing phenomena that actually got me to even consider what and how roots do what they do was when I first began to ponder just how a Cottonwood tree in my front yard managed to send forth a root system which made a beeline over 60+ feet away from the tree to the region where the utilities entered in the back along the side of my Mobile Home. This was back when I lived in Anza California at my new home which I purchased in June of 1985. This hybrid Cottonless Cottonwood in the front yard was only 10-12 foot tall, but was at least a few years old. The previous owner planted it in 1980 when he developed the site. The people were on and off weekenders and the cottonwood no doubt struggled a bit in the beginning. You should know however that the water facet for the hose bib had an ongoing dripping leak, so over time the immediate soil around the utility box was damp, but not necessarily wet. What alerted my attention to the root's presence was a sapling which sprouted out of the ground next to the faucet. I knew the tree was incapable of producing seed, so I dug down and sure enough hit the root. I did cut it way back, but it was always an ongoing issue the whole time I lived there every few years. Cottonwood roots are incredible as the picture from riverpartners.org reveals. This particular cottonwood was rescued after a flashflood in which five of the main branching roots were over 25 foot long. 

Previously I wrote about the roots of the native California Fan Palm in the deserts of Southeastern California. I had never given any consideration into palm tree rooting development, since I had always assumed as do most people that their roots are mostly fibrous roots as those of most grasses and probably don't stray far from the main region of the tree. I was wrong as I eyewitnessed California Fan Palm roots in one dry wash growing almost 25 foot away from one living tree where they had followed several cracks and fractures in the canyon wall bedrock. At my mother's place where I have partially removed some of her water sucking lawn, I stumbled upon Mexican Fan Palm roots 15 foot away from largest and only palm as you can see above left. I have since installed 4 other palms, both California and Mexican Fan Palm to create an Oasis effect around the already existing Baja Faiyduster, Pride of Barbados and Screwbean Mesquite. The lawn will be total history by next year. My post about my trip up to Mortero Palms Oasis and the pictures I took earlier in my trip near Ocotillo & to Torrey Pines State Reserve also brought incredible visual examples of just how natives seek out water by means of existing pathways provided by soil and bedrock structure this past May 2014 are here:
Getting to the Root of why Natives rule & Exotics struggle or outright fail

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Nitrogen-tracking tools for better crops and less pollution
Another interesting related note regarding root structure comes from the same University regarding effects on fertilizing with nitrogen and it's effects on rooting development which is interesting. Again, you don't need to understand all the exact details of how the Science research explains how things work, but you should know the effects and why NOT to fertilize for a number of reasons. As every gardener knows, nitrogen is crucial for a plant’s growth. Landscapers and Gardeners alike have been indoctrinated by massive amounts of advertising from the likes of Scott's Miracle Gro , etc just how important it is to fertilize your plants regularly if you really care about them. But the the present conventional industrial chemical  form of nitrogen sold to most novice people only allows for a portion of the product to actually reach the plant, most techniques for nitrogen absorption are inefficient. This means that on an industrial scale level when fertilizing food crops, adding significant levels of nitrogen to the soil through fertilizer presents a number of problems, particularly river and groundwater pollution. Why is that ? Because were back to a numbers game with regards absorption. Interestingly, the plant roots grew bigger and longer when they were not fertilized. Take a close look at some important quotes from the article below: 
"Contemporary nitrogen fertilization practices are not environmentally or economically smart," says Busov, who studies the functional genomics of plant development. "Only 30 percent is used by the plants. The rest goes into the ground water. It changes the soil and causes increases in algal blooms, greenhouse gases and insects like mosquitoes that carry disease."
Now notice what they found out regarding the effects on plant root growth and overall infrastructure.

"Nobody knew the mechanisms of how low nitrogen affects plant roots," Busov explains.
In their laboratory at Michigan Tech, Busov and Yordanov planted poplar seedlings under normal nitrogen levels. Then they transplanted them to a medium that contained almost no nitrogen.  What happened? "Surprisingly, the roots got larger and longer," says Yordanov.  "We think that the roots were looking for nitrogen," Busov suggests. "But what is the genetic machinery behind this growth?"
(source)
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Conclusions:
So exactly what do we gain and come away with here after reading both of these studies ? First, it isn't necessary to understand nor comprehend everything these researchers bring to our attention. The live and speak in a world all their own and the motivation for the research while interesting isn't always about biomimicry. In fact you should know that many biotechs like Monsanto, etc, while claiming to champion replicating what nature does, actually view nature as flawed, imperfect and a lousy designer. They believe that their collective genius can accomplish a far better product. Many of the gene switches and other nano-mechanisms they are looking into with their research and attempting to identify, they hope to manipulate and bypass the why and how nature works in the wild and create shortcuts mainly for profit. The public relations smoke screen they spout like, we are just wanting to help humankind is bogus and always has been. These are commercial business decisions and nothing more. 

Hunter Industries



nativerevegetation.org

A newer interesting field in genetics is something called epigenetics or geneomic imprinting in which earlier researchers stumbled upon DNA as being more complex than ever religiously thought. Genes apparently have innumerable switches which can be turned on and off much like a light switch and these are what many are trying to identify and and manipulate, patent and turn into a new product for profit. For most of us here now, just knowing that they have discovered info on a plant's ability to sniff out water should tell us something about plant establishment and maintenance thereafter in the landscape, garden or habitat rehabilitation. As I've attempted over time to pound through  everyone's skull the idea or concept of deep pipe irrigation. You have seen both the pics I'm referencing here, the one from Hunter Industries and the other which shows a home made device. Either will work. Plants need to be trained from youth to develop deeper roots where future subsoil water is going to allow them to mature, maintain  and make a living the rest of their natural lives in your landscape. Most conventional practices have been ingrained into the average person by garden shows or advertising to water regularly and fertilize at time of planting and you should know that there are huge business reasons for them to market their products that way to you. Obviously as we've seen in both research studies above, there are clearly both scientific & natural reasons for not doing so. Fertilizing at time of planting is also another waste of time and as you've read above, does not encourage, promote nor facilitate root growth and development. However mycorrhizal inoculation at time of planting is a must and if some expert insists it's already there or everywhere somewhere in the air, run the other way. From my experience and recent trip, if things above ground are failing in Nature, it's a sure bet things aren't doing well under the soil. More on that later on a mycorrhizal article I'm writing and almost finished with.
Earth's Internet: "Deep Irrigation Methods for Training Deeper Rooting networks" 
I've also got another post in which I'll deal with the reasons for not utilizing the conventional methods of watering not only your native plants, but also the conventional exotic plant stocks you've purchased from the conventional retail plant Nurseries. The problems are identical and also for the same health reasons. This topic was earlier posted in many places around the Net and discussed sometime back after the California Native Plant Society posted a link which warned folks about the dangers of summer watering natives, but as many complained, it was rather vague. It had good points, but yes it was vague about the technicalities of what goes on with the plants and why they die. (Article Here) Personally, having worked with both natives and exotics in SoCal for decades, for me the reasons are identical. Stay Tuned.

"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry" ~Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732

image: east bay express

Monday, July 14, 2014

Palo Colorado Canyon Rd, Big Sur California


image: Mine - Palo Colorado Canyon Road, Big Sur California
Back in the 1970s when I became more and more interested in California native plants as a viable means of replacing exotics, I realized that many of the plants of the lower elevations of SoCal were of a rangy type and would never go over well with most folks and the prevailing traditional mindset back then of everything in the landscape having to be a rich deep green. I knew at higher elevations like Julian and the Cuyamaca Mountains there were many beautiful lush green looking plants which could be great candidates, but knew almost nothing about them. But that changed during high school.


Lawson and Lyons Peaks
I first came into contact with Mrs Bonner from Jamul California at the Del Mar Fair in the summer of 1974 where I was showing my sheep and she was promoting the effective use of Southern California native plants along with other vendors at the Garden Show. Her nursery was the first I visited up in Lyons Valley east of Jamul. The other early pioneers I knew of in Jamul California and further up the road on Lawson Valley Rd, was the Lawson Valley Nursery owned and run by Clyde and Ann Wall. Both families had survived the infamous 1970 Laguna Fire, but had a love of the native chaparral backcountry of San Diego County. Both started their native plant Nurseries out of love for the native flora which they believed had potential for urban landscaping and they were correct. But it was mostly Clyde and Ann Wall down in Lawson Valley who had the biggest influence on me. The Walls helped me the most in developing deeper appreciation for the backcountry and potential chaparral cultivators and other trees native to California. They recommended some books for plant identification and I was curious about both Big Leaf Maple and Pacific Madrone which they spoke of often. The research led me to one of the easiest southern locations for finding and viewing these native trees and it pointed to Palo Colorado Canyon Road at the north end of Big Sur California.


My Photo of Monterey Cypress
Needless to say, this is where I brought my wife on our Summer 2014 trip this year. We planned to drive down from Monterey along Hwy 1 and follow the beautiful winding highway all the way to San Luis Obispo. We had spent over night in Monterey after driving most of the day from Phelan California in the high desert country with friends near Wrightwood. But I had a planned side detour on our adventure south. As you may be able to tell from the photograph at the top of this page, the road junction is not a particularly remarkable spot that jumps out at you, in fact I past it at first and had to do a U-Turn when no cars were coming. My wife's first impression was, "where are you taking us now". Understandable since there are none of the picturesque Monterey Cypress or Pines which the area is famous for, nor the southern most redwoods she was looking forward to seeing. You are greeted with a large grove of non-native Eucalyptus and some old ranch house along the way. Extremely narrow road with the appearance of not being well traveled, but alas, I knew what was back there. There is a sign about a quarter of a mile from the Cabrillo Hwy where you first enter the extremely narrow canyon that informs you that you must turn your headlights on bright before entering and watch for oncoming vehicles. You then suddenly realize that you have entered an enchanted world of Redwood old growth Forest, something only imagined in fairytale movies. Look at the gallery below.


image mine: 
This fallen chainsawed Redwood log greets you at the beginning and other such scenes as this were here when I first came through this valley around 1985. Yes it took me awhile, even through I first knew about the area since 1976. Notice all the young Redwood sprouts coming from out of the log itself ? This journey for me this time was amazing since most other areas I have visited on this were in complete disrepair and shambles ecologically speaking. This Central California Coastal hidden Shangri La seemed almost untouched from what I remember. Oddly enough I have always experience the truth of you can't go back, but this was an exception.
photo Mine
What a contrast this was from the coast and so well hidden. It was refreshing to get off the beaten track. Absolutely no competition from other visitors.

photo Mine
Take note here that forest fire has been a historical feature of this far south Redwood Forest. Not uncommon with humans living and traveling through the Big Sur area and it's potential for fires. In fact as time goes on, more and more of this area will be threatened by human intervention. The beauty however with this road, if someone with evil intent decided to play games here, there is only one way in and one way out. So anybody would be easily identified.

photo Mine
There were mostly curvy roadways throughout this part of the drive, but I mostly took the straight shots since there was more light for photography, but below you can see some of the slight curves. Most of the extreme curves and narrows were in the deepest darkest places and slithering between large massive trees. I'll show a video which someone did through this canyon on a Motorcycle in 2010. The video is about 5+ minutes long and very well done. It will give you the full flavour of the journey.


Photo Mine
This is an example of the curves you wind through up this Canyon. Mind you, this is straight by comparison to those tight turns inside the denser darkness areas which I didn't really photograph, with the exception of the fire scared trees.

photo Mine
Houses and small cabins are all up and down this canyon on both sides of the road and stream. Below here is where the road starts moving upwards in elevation and out of the Palo Colorado creek bed. 

Photo Mine
Below here is a photograph looking back at the scenery above. The view is towards the west looking back at the direction of the ocean with it's low clouds and fog coming through the canyon. At the top of this hill it is called Bottcher's Gap which opens up into a very pristine and for the most part as I truly remember it, untouched valley. 

Photo Mine
Below is Bottcher's Gap at the top of the grade which opens up into that huge untouched valley. Watch the entire video and then I'll provide a gallery of the chaparral plants and trees I first came to find years ago.


Image: Bottcher's Gap Campground

Below is the motorcycle ride video in Palo Colorado 
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDcKGUEDLd0
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Photo Mine
Through the dark enchanted wooded corridor, climbing up the grade and through Bottcher's Gap and beyond the fire station you are treated to this scenery. Though you can see many dead trees on the mountainside, this place pretty much remains as I remember. My reason of course for coming here was to view, identify and perhaps collect seed from highly ornamental tree and chaparral plant specimens. I wasn't disappointed. For example in the center of that picture is a Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii). Below is a much better close up of the tree. Believe it or not, I'd swear that same tree was here when I first came through in '85', but surely that couldn't be true.

Photo Mine
Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
It was the first time I had ever seen a Pacific Madrone or Madrona other than through someone else's photos. It was also a treat not to have to drive to Northern California or Oregon to see these beautiful trees. The closest I suppose I ever came was viewing it's Mediterranean cousin which is called a Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo). The other notable thing about these trees were similar characteristics they had with Manzanita (which I was familiar with) like the glossy evergreen leaves, Chinese lantern flower clusters and smooth deep red bark. A Madrone was one of those prized plant collection specimens I just had to have, but unfortunately found no seeds. 
Photo Mine

California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica)
This was the other tree that had got my attention again. I had told my wife about it some years back, but t´she had never heard nor experienced it's fragrant leaves. She cooks with bay leaves found in most markets, but when I cut off some leaves and gave to her, she described the essence as typical Bay Leaf, but with a hint of Peppermint and Tea Tree Oil and that's just about how I've described it in the past as well. When I lived in Idyllwild, I often stopped at Bay Tree Spring (no closed because of water container hoarders who'd line up and fill 20 giant containers at a time) and pluck off some leaves and place under the seat before going down the hill for work, so that by the end of the day the truck's interior permeated with the fragrance of this wondrous beautiful tree. 
Photo Mine

Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)

Bigleaf Maple Seedlings
The Bigleaf Maple was another draw for me when I first came here. It was the first time I had actually seen one. Clyde and Ann Wall had told me of a woman in San Diego who had a huge one in her front yard and they grew extremely well in San Diego's climate if good deep soil and water was available. But they could never find viable seed from her tree. They were the ones who first got me interested in collecting native plant seed in the first place. So there is also an interesting story behind my visit up Palo Colorado Canyon Rd. I found no seed back then, but found thousands of two inch high Maple seedlings all along the roadside. I found an old fast food soda cup and scooped up several seedlings along with wet moist soil with organic material. Once I got them home I quickly out planted many. Only two of them made it. One I planted in Hamilton Creek down along Burnt Valley Rd near the old log cabin. It did well until County Road crews came and pulled it and other vegetation out to keep the channel clean.
The other one I planted in between a well hidden glen surrounded by large old growth Redshank or Ribbnwood chaparral trees which gave protection from drying winds and it was also below my grey water line, so there was plenty of moisture in this area as well. This was of course late June and the tree grew two feet that year. What was extraordinary was the following year when it grew another 8 foot high. The following Winter I had the stupid bright idea to replant it on the west side of my house along the chain-link fence to create a large shade for the house on it's western side. The problem was this location always had dry afternoon winds which were always quite brisk. The tree struggled with leaves becoming wind burned and eventually died as the soil was more shallow here. Well, live and learn. I've made many many mistakes, but have made fewer mistakes as I grow older. Trouble is for humans, time runs out quickly. Maybe by writing experiences down this helps other folks to not make the same mistakes I have in the past if they'll only listen. I never did get another Bigleaf Maple, but always wished I had. The closest place to get any seedlings is to drive up north Waterman in the city of San Bernardino which is Hwy 18 up to Crestline and Lake Arrowhead. Closest place in San Jacinto Mountains was Cedar Spring at the trails end above Morris Ranch Road near the Girl Scout Camp. Sadly this area burned in 2013 during the Mountain fire. The problem now is with climate change, any viable seed production and seedling emergence more than likely won't be happening since most any of the plant's food resources are now in survival mode. Hence even mycorrhizae are suffering as a result of plants and trees withholding carbohydrates the fungi needs, but I'll post about this later in another article with examples. Now for some Chaparral shrubs with high ornamental value below. 

Photo Mine

California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus 
californica tomentella)
This plant here is the form of California Coffeeberry most folks see or find at the native plant nurseries. Gardeners and landscapers tend to like plants that are deep dark or bright green and this variety in Palo Colorado Canyon definitely qualifies. The variety up in Anza and other high interior mountain areas is most likely the gray or dull olive green variety called "Mountain Coffeeberry" (Rhamnus californica tomentella). Of course such choices are mere opinion as all varieties have importance in the field where they are adapted. I had these ones on my property, along with the Nursery variety I have purchased from both Tree of Life and Las Pilitas Nurseries. In fact I wrote last year of the wild gray green variety up in Anza which some have used as a hedge and/or sculpting shrub on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation on Cary Road where the Cigarette Shack is located: 
 California Coffeeberry - Rhamnus californica tomentella - in Anza California

Photo Mine

Monkey Flower (Mimulus)
Okay, so who knows what variety ? There are so many varieties as they easily crossbreed and are found scattered everywhere. They are said to come from the genus Mimulus  which is named for the Latin mimus, a comic actor or mime. Supposedly they have a funny-faced grin like that of a Monkey, hence the common name. This particular variety along the road here had a very deep rich yellow as opposed to the many paler yellows I have encountered down in SoCal. Of course there are all shades of yellows, oranges, creams and various reds. I even saw multiple other plants like another variety of Honeysuckle I have never seen previously, but appears to be the one known as Pink Honeysuckle or California Honeysuckle Lonicera hispidula which is common around Big Sur area.

Photo Mine
Pink Honeysuckle or California Honeysuckle 

Lonicera hispidula 




Photo Mine
There were so many trees other than the ones mentioned, for example the variety of oaks as well as many areas with the predominantly heavily forested Coast Redwood areas, along with more and more chaparral species like Manzanita which I didn't even photograph. One more photo however before I close and it surprised me.

Photo Mine

Rattlesnake Grass (
Briza maxima)
I'll close for the moment as there are so many more things I need to relate later on another post about this trip. What surprised me this time was something I didn't remember seeing before and this was Rattlesnake Grass. It's name is an obvious choice given the appearance of it's seed heads looking like rattlesnake rattles. This grass is originally native to North Africa, Southern Europe and Western Asia, but apparently has naturalized in the western United States. I only found it a few places along the open roadside areas where sun penetrated. To sum up the attraction of this area is it's richness in native plants with powerful ornamental value. I've never had the time to go beyond the Fee area and explore deeper. I've always wanted to see a Santa Lucia Fir, but I'm sure they are further south. What surprises me is that California Gold's Huell Howser never found this hidden gem and I always thought he knew of all the kool getaways. At the very least readers will now know of another hidden, mostly untouched (mainly by tourists) area which is truly a hidden California native plant Shangri La.
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Further Reading and Resources for California Native Plants
California Chaparral Institute
 Tree of Life Nursery California Native Plants - Welcome
Las Pilitas Native Plant Nurseries
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For those in San Diego County genuinely interested in obtaining native plants to landscape with on your own home project, I'm posting this link to Kniffings Nursery which is east of Lakeside California and off of old Hwy 80 within the Flynn Springs area. You'll find it up behind the Evergreen Nursery which can be seen from Interstate 8. The other reason besides closeness is Pricing. On my last trip I purchased California Holly, Lemonade Berry, Cleveland Sage and other plants for around $5 which is almost half price from the usual native plant Nurseries. And they have many many more native choices which I'll be entertaining next year.
http://www.kniffingsnursery.com/
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Friday, July 11, 2014

Scissors Crossing & San Felipe Creek Revisited (2014)

Photo Image by Richard HalseyChaparral Institute
Last year I accompanied Chaparral Biologist Richard Halsey and his assistant Dylan Tweed to inspect the damage done by an un-necessary and costly Cal-Fire control burn which actually got out of control and extended the burn into an already burn recovery area of the 2002 Pines Fire which was started by government helicopter looking for drugs and accidentally hit a power pole. This fire as you may recalled burned all the way from Banner Canyon to the higher elevation community of Ranchita California and northward into the mountains beyond. At one point many thought it would burn all the way to Anza California. In the above picture, Richard has pointed out a location of the eastern most low elevation Engelmann Oak grew, but now are mostly skeleton snags. No doubt if lucky, they will sprout back from the trunk and possibly branches. We reached the point of a hill, but I couldn't go on any longer. The knee I had an operation on was hurting again [exacerbated by bushwhacking just a month earlier up near Idyllwild], so I stayed behind, viewed the entire valley to the south & east and reminisced about what this place use to look like decades before. At time of traveling this valley from the 1960s, 70s & 80s, I never thought to photograph what I always assumed would always be there. The view last year were of mountains on the east side of this San Felipe Valley which were bare and brown. In the old days they were bright rich green, even & especially during the Summertime. The plant community did have large chaparral plant species like Sugarbush and Hollyleaf Cherry, but was mostly dominated by the rich greenness common to Mesquite and Cat's Claw Acacia, with the later being the most dominant by at least 75% of the plant cover. Ocotillos were also on these eastern slopes of the valley. The valley was always a beautiful green until a fire in the late 1980s changed a portion of this. The Rancho Valle de San Felipe at that time was still a working Cattle ranch. San Felipe Road has several Hwy cattle guards which still exist today, but back there there were no fences as cattle were allowed to roam freely. There were attempts back in the late 1980s by the private ranch owner to eliminate all the Mesquite Bosques on not only the valley floor, but also the lower gradual slopes or steppes of those Vallecito Mountains which border on the east of San Felipe Rd. Some clearing was done by fire, and one of these burned on the  east side of San Felipe Rd over the those mountains and on down into Sentenac Canyon where a split in the Vallecito Mountains allows San Felipe Creek to flow towards the Salton Sea. They later took bull dozers and scraped piles of dead Mesquite in separate mounds and burned them that way. What I do remember about that first fore was the large black scar in the middle of a sea of bright green. The erroneous idea was that such vegetation removal would allow grasses to grow in place of the Mesquite and Cat's Claw Acacia. Big mistake since cattle love mesquite pods which produce every years and are very high in nutritious proteins. Nevertheless, eventually the entire valley and surrounding mountains have since then been burned off to the point where the rich greenness of the border hillsides have never completely recovered ever again. Eventually the valley floor itself has died back to the point of where only a handful of riparian habitat pockets remain. The former  9,972-acre (40.36 km2) San Felipe Ranch is no longer private ownership, but rather purchased by the government some time back. 


USGS Historical Topographic Map


Image University of Arizona (2004)
On an older Topo Map above are some symbols denoting marshlands otherwise known as Sentenac Cienega which was a rich surface spring region which began at the top of Sentenac Canyon where San Felipe Creek flows east down into the Borrego Desert on it's way to Ocotillo Wells and the Salton Sea. The University of Arizona photo to the right was taken in 2004, but even this picture does not tell the story of how rich green this spring fed wetland actually was. Never were there any brown straw in among pale green. It historically was always deep rich green with no variation in it's greenness. You should also be aware that even the green here above is no longer in existence, but rather brown and dry, with scrubby ragged Tamarisk moving in. This area is just east of Scissors Crossing. You should also take note that most all the large old growth Cottonwoods in Sentenac Canyon are gone as are the spectacular waterfalls which were numerous and ran all year long year after year. Okay, back to last years trip and the changes here since then.


Desert Viewpoint south of Julian on Hwy 79
So while playing around with some of the Google Earth features after I came back to Sweden last Spring 2013, I stumbled upon the ability to look back at the same picture historically over a period of years. Hence I looked at the same location at Scissors Crossing and the dramatic degradation of the riparian habitat loss along San Felipe Creek which had traditional always had been a permanent wealth of water flowing all along it's surface. From the Sheriff sub-station at the upper end of S-2 or San Felipe Road, all the way to Scissors Crossing, there was always a large permanent green ribbon of life. Since the early 1990s this area has gone rapidly down hill ecologically speaking. The photo to the right is looking down and east on the San Felipe Valley floor at Scissors Crossing. In the foreground are the skeleton remains of mostly Engelmann & Scrub Oak, Cuyamaca Cypress and Coulter pine which were made such by the 2003 Cedar Fire. I'll provide more on this Inspiration Desert Viewpoint much later in a separate post where I found a treasure trove of PT Mycorrhizae truffles. Below is a 2006 photo of the Scissors Crossing bridge and although there are some green vegetation of Cottonwoods present, the former old growth riparian forests which once flourished are gone as is the surface water stream. Presently today there is nothing but a dry sandy wash which is now converting into a true dry dusty desert floodplain.


image: San Diego Birding Pages (2006)
  The photograph here taken in 2006 by the San Diego Birding Society is nothing compared to the majesty that was once this old growth forest where permanent crystal clear surface stream water could always be seen rushing under this bridge on it's way east towards the Salton Sea. While the surface water here in this picture was close to the surface which allowed these trees to exist, there was no surface running water here any longer in the form of it's once historical streambed teaming with lots of aquatic life which now no longer exists. 


Google Earth (2012)
This photograph taken by the Google Camera Van was taken in 2012. Those same trees from the 2006 photograph are now completely dead in this photograph. In the photos after 2012, even these dead wood skeletons are gone as well. This was the photograph I used last year to verify in my article last summer in 2013: Anyone Really into Using Google Earth ? I hadn't actually gone down to Scissors Crossing last year, but little did I know it was worse than the photo above.


Updated Photo from Google Earth (2013)

This is the updated version from last year which reveals the dead wood from the trees which was consumed in a fire since then. Definitely in poorer shape, but it gets worse.


San Felipe Creek bridge on Hwy 78 looking north (June 30, 2014)

This photograph was taken two weeks ago on June 30th. The Cottonwood trees still standing in the distance are actually only partially leafed out. They are beginning to struggle. As a youth in the early 1970s who started driving, we would stop at this exact spot and go down to the water's edge. You couldn't see much beyond the railing and massive Cottonwoods & Sycamores. Down by the water the first thing you'd see with the masses of tiny fish darting everywhere. Oddly enough these were not the common Mosquito fish (Gambusia), with that characteristic flat topped head and body. Off hand from memory, I would relate what I saw and caught to something similar to the Arroyo Chub (Gila orcuttii) which I have seen in the San Jacinto South Fork River canyon, but perhaps more likely it was something more similar to the down stream Desert Pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius) which is indeed native to the lower San Felipe Creek, Fish Creek and drainage ditches all around Imperial Valley. I use to fish down there in the 1970s canal fishing and some drainage ditches. Young Mexican kids were always catching them back then and using them for bait for catch fish under road culverts. In any event, what were present didn't seem to be mosquitos fish. 

Desert pupfish photo © John Rinne
Friends and I did see what were larger fish which would dart out here and there sending those smaller fish scurrying, but we could never get a handle on exactly what they were. We had no idea whether someone had let go some bluegill or bass, but they seemed too slender for those fish and the habitat seemed two warm for trout of any type. Pondering back now, I'd love to believe they were historical holdovers from when Lake Cahuilla was at it's shoreline peak near Ocotillo Wells and San Felipe Creek flowed more perennially down to the lake's shore where perhaps some Humpback Suckers and Bonytail Chubs may have made their way upstream. Both of these were present in the Cahuilla Fish traps and hearths around Coachella Valley, but again who really knows for sure. 
Humpback Chub (gila cypha)



Bonytail Chub (Gila elegans)

Another critter we use to see were turtles which would flop back into the water as we walked along San Felipe creek's banks. I have to assume that this could have been the Western Pond Turtle, but again way back in the 1970s. It could also have been the Desert or Sonoran Mud Turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense), since this region has more connection to deserts east, but again, who knows for sure. Not myself, nor friends ever gave it any thought way back when, other than we knew what we saw. The other creature which I don't remember seeing, but know of it's existence is the lowland leopard frog which is endangered and use to inhabit the upper San Felipe Creek all the way to San Sebastian Marsh near the present day Salton Sea. 
Photo by Diego Ortiz

Sonoran or Desert Mud Turtle



image: Calphotos

Lowland Leopard Frog
Whatever the truth about the exact species of critters we saw, they never the less existed and the reason was water, which also now appears to be extinct as well. Recently about 3 or 4 weeks ago, I met Curtis and Linda Croulet up in Anza California at there home in Terwilliger. Curtis actually verified many of the things I saw there as he has worked at conservation in this specific area or region of the San Felipe Valley. If the world doesn't get a handle on this climate issue, many more things are bound to disappear.
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Hwy 78 bridge over San Felipe Creek looking south (June 30, 2014)

This view is looking towards the south side of San Felipe Creek bridge at Scissors Crossing. Straight ahead is community of Shelter Valley and the creek itself veers off to the left down Sentenac Canyon. Between here and the Canyon most of the majestic Cottonwoods are gone and even the Mesquite are struggling against the invasive Tamarisk which was never there previously in such massive population numbers. The lush reeds, rushes and sedges are all but gone now.

image: Charles Doersch (April 2012)
 These are some hikers camping under San Felipe Creek bridge in April 2012, something that never would have been before possible just a few decades ago where permanent surface water flowed under here at a good pace.
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Conclusions
There are multiple complex components all throughout this San Felipe Valley riparian ecosystem & beyond which are only the tip of a vast iceberg here. For that matter, take any ecosystem around the globe and view as a body with various  parts of necessary function: climate, geography, plants, animals, birds, reptiles, aquatic creatures, whatever – all of these components within their niche habitats can be subdivided into sub-ecosystems all within the entire system, and those can be further subdivided all the way down to microbiological level with it's underground organisms and right down to the very nutrient molecules they organize for life above, but all working together cooperating as a whole. Putting it all back together again requires recognizing the whole picture and not just some researcher working within their own specialty of personal training and practice. At every level, we see incredibly intricate tuning, synchronization, and functional complexity. Frankly for the sake of debate, it doesn't matter how it all came together as a finely tuned machine firing on all pistons with precision. It has always been that way from the beginning. True biomimicry in putting it all back together again is imperative, minus all the jealousies, envies, childish infighting among researchers, conjecture, assumptions and religious assertions. Find out how things really work and replicate.
In the old days when things weren't so globally effected, a civilization like those of Easter Island, Colorado Plateau or Empires of Central America or Europe could screw up locally or regionally and not effect an entire continent. Things are not that way now. Like global economies whose oil prices go through the roof every time some psychopath dictator hiccups, there are consequences now where all nations fail at taking care of business properly. If one Nation does something stupid ecologically, everyone else suffers. No amount of restoration techniques or politicking for stricter laws and regulations are going to succeed unless these weather mechanisms get back to proper function. I've seen to much disruption and outright wholesale failure out there on my last visit to California which has become increasingly worse since every other last visit. The biggest problem is never addressed and that is human behavior. How do you convince humans to do the right thing ? Persuasion seems to be a failure. Marshal Law ? Who wants  to live in a Sci-Fi world ? Some major event around the globe is about to explode onto the scene, but how many are willing & ready to pay attention and keep awake ? When it does happen, that will not be the time to pay attention. It will be too late.
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     “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.” Mohandas Gandhi 
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Further Reading of Interest
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Anza-Borrego Foundation acquire Sentenac Cienega

This might be of interest to some reading here. The USGS has an Historical Topographic Map Explorer that allows you to view topographical maps at all scales that were ever produced by the agency, going back to the 1880s. You can  pull up an 1887 map of the Prescott area like the one in the screen shot below. The sliding bar at the bottom of the search box lets you see what scale maps were generated in what year. This is where I brought up the older 1984 shot of Sentenac Canyon with it's graphics symbols. Maps are available for the entire country or regions of North America. You seriously may want to consider bookmarking this link below for future reference.

 http://historicalmaps.arcgis.com/usgs/

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Forest Ecology & Management: Will Researchers ever get on the same page ?

This post will be mostly short and sweet. Competition among Scientists for celebrity and notoriety in the specific fields of research they are involved with is a huge motivator in a slant or opposing take they pursue on any subject. Some are stubborn and ideologically driven when it comes to forest land management practices, while others may simply be out of touch with all the differing takes on the subject as a result of being so narrowly focused as opposed to utilizing important peripheral views on the matter which would give far deeper insight. In any event, it's no wonder the public is so confused on which side to believe. You'll often see this in the numerous ignorant comments from the public under almost any media frenzy inspired article where the subject is controversial with regards any type of land management subject. All too often the average Joe Commenter will usually parrot the bad research which he views as having the least personal impact on his or her well being. Recently there was another article dealing with the ongoing problem of Deer destroying forests for no other reason than their higher than normal population numbers. Makes sense, since lack of predators makes for a great catastrophic imbalance.                
Cornell University
This July 9th 2014 Purdue University forest ecology study came out agreeing with yet another study which supported those that came out in March 2014, which shed light on the problem of overpopulation by White-Tailed Deer gobbling up eastern forests. Here is a sample quote from that article:
"A research team led by Michael Jenkins, associate professor of forest ecology, found that a 17-year-long Indiana Department of Natural Resources policy of organizing hunts in state parks has successfully spurred the regrowth of native tree seedlings, herbs and wildflowers rendered scarce by browsing deer."
(source)
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Earthworm Damage ???
This piece above also agreed with another one published earlier this year back in March 2014 about White-Tailed Deer populations ruining forests through mere over abundance. The article there also spoke of the dangers to biodiversity. Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity . This also follows on the heels of the warning concerning invasive non-native earthworms for which I wrote this piece where not only were the worms being blamed for ruining forest floors, but also causing global warming. Apparently Earthworms are said to give off CO2 emissions. With science research articles like this, climate change remains a tough sell to many of those who still are bent on questioning the problem exists at all:
Global Weirding (climate change) & stories that make it a tough sell
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But now oddly enough, both of these issues involving Deer and Earthworms denuding forest floors of precious plant biodiversity are in direct conflict with the western forest ecologists who insist that a healthy forest must look like a clean manicured Park-like setting with nothing but a sterile understory. 


fireecology.org

Wildfire is a creator of Parks
Fire scientists fight over what Western forests should look like
"Conventional wildfire wisdom is generally the opposite. Many scientists say that dry Western forests were once open and park-like, with large, widely spaced trees and little undergrowth."
Often times the above mindset will justify the use of prescribed or controlled burns for providing grassland meadows for deer and other foraging wildlife or domestic livestock, but almost always leave out the part about deer often preferring saplings, young shrubs and other herbaceous plants in the forest understory. They will often cite the often repeated romanticized Native American usage of fire to grow greener pastures and increasing wild herds of game animals. What is also often left out is the countless other reasons these folks set fires which had zero to do with ecology. Also, the setting in which many of these fires were set were the great plains habitats where such animals as Bison, Elk and Pronghorn Antelope preferred such  habitat along with the grassland diet are entirely different than those animals who inhabit many of the forests. Of course forest deer will graze meadows, but they love understory growth. But making sweeping generalizations are common when attempting to justify something under the guise of ecology, when alternatively, such studies are bought and paid for by the usual big commercial Timber and Livestock interests. Again, if you want to truly understand and interpret any scientific research work, first you must follow the money from those who backed and funded the study in the first place. 


image: Paul White
Last night I watch a European documentary about Wild Europe versus modern European agriculture. East European Farmers are more in tune with working with nature as opposed to western Europe which prefers to kill off all predators, dump livestock in fields and harvest when ready. Much of this mentality is what moved over into the North American New World, and was especially disastrous out in the western states. East Europeans like those in Romania live with their animals and protect and move them along. This was the case where they were shown to herd sheep alongside wolves with no problems. The key is to mob up the herds or flocks and keep them moving, all the while, sheep graze and browse forest understories but with little damage to the actual forest floor. In this way they biomimic wild grazers who are always on the move. The Sheep in the above photo are on route through forest to grazing meadow near Cernat - Transylvania - Romania. There is a great page link here on just how the Romanians accomplish this coexistence with predators on the Wild Transylvania website:
Wild Transylvania: Coexisting with Predators
Unfortunately many of these North American Researchers are not always on the same page as colleagues working for the greater good and sharing information discovered. Many are so narrowly focused that they cannot see beyond their own little self-appointed niche of expertise on a subject. For example, there is far more to the deer culling then by means of hunting. There is also the "Fear of Predators", which influences deer behavour, habitat choice and distribution. In other words, lack of predators almost domesticates wild Deer and Elk which will also graze vegetation to the ground, but Wolves and Lynx give them their wild roaming instincts a kick start again. These things were never mentioned in the Purdue University hunting study, but again one wonders despite that funding was provided by the John S. Wright Endowment, if there were not others in the shadows with a vested interest in the research. Here is Constantine Alexander's blog article on east European Deer management:
http://www.constantinealexander.net/2012/03/deer-culls-are-not-effective-for-forest-protection.html 
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Keep,watch, I have more news on fire ecology and seed germination coming up from my trip to the United States this past Spring and early Summer