Thursday, February 15, 2018

Move over Birds, Bears disperse Berries & other Seeds as well

Think birds are the primary dispersers of seeds? Think again. OSU researchers in Alaska found another animal that might disperse more seeds.
Pixabay / MGN
New research recently released by Oregon State University shows bears in southeast Alaska may be the best contributor for spreading berry seeds. Researchers used motion activated cameras set up in a study area about 30 miles north of Haines. 
“We checked the cameras and the status of the berry clusters approximately once per week.” quote from the study
Image taken on December 26, 2017 by Santee Lakes

Cedar Waxwings eating Toyon Berries @ Santee Lakes

Image by Danilo Carradori - (Fairy Wren)
We all know that birds consume tonnes of seeds, nuts & berries, etc and disperse these seeds to other locations by means of their poop. Just check any fence lines in the rurals or even in urban neighbourhoods of any city and you'll find out just what birds are fond of eating. For me as a landscaper it was annoying to see Brazilian Pepper tree seedling emerging from the bottom of chainlink fence borders. They are a nightmare to control if allowed to grow. Others who live in rangelands whose business is cattle may curse Junipers for spreading across their grasslands, but even here again it's the birds who are at fault. Maybe Cattleman should find economic ways to profit from the Juniper's presence, than blaming them for the invasion in their home territory. It's a common misconception to say that birds are the primary resource for naturally spreading seeds. There is an Oregon State University study that says it’s bears can ddo this through their scat (poop). I'd say both critters do this, but the bear factor is interesting. The Scientists concluded that’s largely in part due to the fact that brown and black bears could consume an estimated 300-400 berries in a single bite of a devil’s club cluster. Hopefully one day somebody renames beautiful things found in Nature which incorporate these otherwise vulgar words/terms "devil," "hell," etc. It's clear that there are a number of ways that seeds from plants in nature become dispersed. Another recent report from Cornell University stated that even Snakes act as 'ecosystem engineers' in seed dispersal. Well, that's what they said 😲 See, the idea is that snakes eat rodents like rats, mice, gophers, etc. These little critters eat seed and often store them in their cheek pouches and if a snake comes along and eats them, then the seeds are eventually released by means of snake poop. Whatever 😏 Anyway it's interesting and a little scary too when you consider the way humans have "reverse engineered" (Oops, recently got in trouble from someone for not using another science-based religious metaphor, "evolutionary degeneration") our planet Earth. It's like slowly dismantling an automobile to see how many parts and components you can remove before the vehicle is incapable of functioning anymore. How's that for this world's settled science? 😒

Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
“In search of the nutrition in devil’s club fruit, we estimate that a single bear can consume over 100,000 devil’s club berries per hour of continuous foraging, and brown and black bears can collectively disperse an incredible 200,000 seeds.”quote from the study
Image by
The Oregon State researcher's data also showed black bears were more likely to eat berries late in the season when Grizzly Bears were trading in the berries for salmon. 😅
Got Kids ? Teach them about Nature 😸

Here's the full article on the interesting study:
The primacy of bears as seed dispersers in salmon-bearing ecosystems 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Southern California: Breathtaking Natural Wonders that will one day Disappear

My Postcard World

In the old days back in the 1950s, animated post cards for travelers were everywhere like this California Natural Wonders postcard. I've always loved the map card's artwork and this one of California is really kool with all the little animated cartoony characters. This map card shows all the different natural wonders throughout California, like the giant redwoods, Death Valley and of course Yosemite National Park, just to name a few. California was always promoted and advertised as a land of wonders and rightly so. But I want to focuss on Southern California and many of the wonders which are now either gone or will be going soon. Did you know that Southern California boast one of the largest Lodgepole Pines ?

Photograph - Bryant Olsen - June 19, 2010 - prefab log cabin kit
Most of us when we think of the lodgepole Pines, we may think of those dense woodlands in the northern reaches like Yellowstone where 80% of forest there is Lodgepole pine. We may also think of where their name comes from because these were used by the Native Americans there who did use them for lodgepoles for the typical Indian Teepee. The density of a Lodgepole Pine forest is such that because of the phenotypic plasticity scenario they often are associated with, competition is so incredibly extreme that all these trees can do is grow up as opposed to out. Hence we get a pole that is so perfect, that many prefab log cabin kit companies use the Lodgepole Pine for this very purpose.

Photograph - Jim Peaco - Yellowstone Sept 1998

Another name for a Lodgepole Pine forest is a Matchstick Forest. Not only because they actually do look like a book of matchsticks, but they are also known to go up in an explosion of fierce forest fire like matchsticks when ignited. Whenever the subject of wildfire comes up together with Lodgepole Pine, you almost always get an associated headline that reads, "Fire Adapted Forests & Fire Ecology." Fire Ecologists are passionate bunch when it comes to wildfire, so much so that they sometimes seem to almost worship fire as the only means for saving a plant community. This doesn't mean that fire cannot be used for good. Because it most certainly can. I know because I've used it on my own  land. But the question is, "Is fire really all that necessary in every and all circumstance and with what frequency ?" Opinions and beliefs among fire ecologists vary. Some say the necessary interval between wildfires should be 30-50 years, other say 70-130 years. Trust me there is no real united consensus among them. How often do you hear or read about them bickering amongst themselves for position as to each one's expertise in the public eye through various journals ? Now take a look at this megafauna dude below known as a Mastadon. He was mainly a browser. Can you imagine what effect he had on keeping forests and chaparral bush habitats open and airy ??? Or what about the giant ground sloth ???

No matter who you wish to believe or follow, almost none of them will acknowledge the benefits of grazing and browsing animals as a means of healthy ecosystem maintenance. Megafauna are almost never mentioned as part of the term "Natural" for no other reason than they no longer exist. Yet we often hear the term, "Pristine Wilderness." This term most generally means untouched pre-European white man landscape. But this also most often gives the impression that the Native American is somehow considered as having a sub-human status. Like a sort of animistic conservation force guiding nature. Indeed, the Native Americans are much revered and worshipped by fire ecologists and even environmental groups because of this ongoing romantacized myth that these people were the ultimate ecological land stewards. When we listen to their public lectures or read their articles in journals, the conversation almost always comes from the standpoint of the methods used by the Indians as land stewards. What has always bothered me is that I know for a fact that the Native Americans were and still are equal to all other human beings. They are prone to mistakes as everyone else. So are we to believe they only lit fires for conservation purposes ? What about mistakes with fire like lighting fires during a Santa Ana wind event to cook supper or deliberate acts of war utilizing fire against other hated enemy tribes ? The list is endless, but apparently if they made stupid mistakes, are we then to believe this too is a part of natural because they were natives??? Now consider this item below.
Champion Lodgepole Pine in San Bernardino National Forest
"Champion Lodgepole Pine"

image -
Wow, now that's not exactly what one thinks of when the image of a Lodgepole Pine comes to mind. The world "Champion Lodgepole Pine" (discovered in 1963) is a magnificent, double-topped tree that towers above the surrounding forest reaching a height of roughly 110 feet. It's age is estimated to be older than 450 years, which means that it germinated about the year 1560 CE. You really have to stand back at a distance to get the full view from across the meadow up there in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear. The trail getting there features a wet meadow and other mature conifers including this largest recorded Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in California! But some puzzling questions come up about the fire ecology dogma we are force fed about what is "natural" & "normal" when it comes to fire ecology. Take a look at those low hanging branches on this massive Lodgepole in the photo taken by Walter Feller above. Are we to believe that no fire blew through here and used those low hanging branches as a fire ladder at any time in it's 450+ years of life from 1650 onward ??? Clearly when this tree was young, the dense branches would have been from the ground up for a 100+ years anyway, with time and age naturally pruning off lower branches eventually. But still, these other giant dead limbs are almost touching the ground, how did all those fires miss this tree ??? There has been some remarkable work done on fire history and it doesn't really jive with all the blind faith dogma we've been fed. Back in February 2017 of this year, the Smithsonian Magazine printed an article about research done which stated that 84% of wildfires in North America were human caused. Interestingly, on the west coast of the United States the percentage is actually 90%. Here's the article below:
SmithsonianMag: Study Shows 84% of Wildfires Caused by Humans
Now back this past September, ScienceMag, did an interview with one of the researchers of that original study, Jennifer Balch, a wildfire ecologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Surprisingly, California itself is up around 90% higher than nationwide average of human caused wildfires:
"Nationwide, humans are responsible for starting 84% of wildfires, according to a paper co-authored by Balch, published this past March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In California, the eastern United States, and the coastal Northwest, people are behind more than 90% of wildfires."
Now here is a breakdown on highest reasons in order of highest stupidy just why many wildfires come about:
"So the breakdown: Of the approximately 1.5 million wildfires in the government record, 25% were burning of trash and debris; about a quarter (22%) were unknown human causes. The next biggest category is arson, [then] heavy equipment, campfires, children, and smokers. Those are the seven biggest categories.  Fireworks didn't rank in the very top for the whole year, but it does pop on July 4th. It’s the day with the most fires. Over 7000 events started on July 4th alone. They were predominantly started by fireworks. It's unfortunate that our Independence Day didn't fall in January or December when it's cooler and wetter.
So now we have to assume that out of all these wildfires, natural wildfire only accounts for a mere 10% which might translate to lightning storms (rarely volcanoes). Most of these occur within the middle of the country along either side of the Rocky Mountains all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. That 10% is still not a lot of wildfire if we want to label something natural in the forest maintenance department. When researchers study wildfire and proclaim it's hallowed importance to mantaining a healthy vegetative ecosystems, rarely do any of them ever account for the historical presence of large animal herds (herbivores like deer, elk, antelope, etc) and possibly even still farther back, the one time extistence of the herbivore megafauna presence which would have kept forests and chaparral bush habitats with well pruned understories.

But it was when Native Americans (also real human beings) finally arrived on the scene, that they then would introduce their reasons for utilizing wildfire, like running buffalo (bison and/or other megafauna) off cliffs and gradually putting pressure on slow moving megafauna species towards extinction through hunting, then yes everything did change. But some are still clinging to this Indian Burn dogma as natural phenomena for no other reason than ideologically driven religious dogma and politics. I'll move on and put other references at the bottom of this post. The final point here is that environmental components and other natural mechanisms now have changed for the worse and unfortunately this Champion Lodgepole tree's good fortune for avoiding catastrophe has run out. No doubt the end is nearer than we think for this tree also. If a catastrophic forest wildfire doesn't take the Lodgepole Pine tree, then perhaps it'll succumb to another fate like that of the last ancient Ponderosa Pine tree in Idyllwild California earlier this year 2017 which finally died and was professionally removed.

Image from
I wrote about this very tree in 2013. In all my searching while I lived up there this was the biggest Ponderosa Pine in all of Idyllwild and before that early logging in the area, such large trees were very common. But here is the last final documentation I am aware of. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. 😞
Saturday in Idyllwild viewing it's most gigantic Ponderosa Pine
Image is mine from 2013 - Idyllwild California
One sad thing for sure we can count on is that this mega-drought is not over and this despite many eco-groups & government officials proclaiming the drought over and all is well, offering proof through photo posting on social media sites of a record year of wildflower abundance. And most bought into that. Scott McLean, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal-Fire said this in June 2017:
“Everybody’s excited about the drought being over but all that moisture enhances the grass crop. It’s denser and higher, and it catches fire very easily."
Yes and the 2017 wildfire season turned out to be another record year of destruction. But lo & behold we are hearing again the drought was not over as propagandized last year. The death of trees will now only escalate. Previous news reports had estimated that 100 million trees in California had died thus far as a result of the 4 or 5 year mega-drought, but now a new report has that firgure at 129 million trees. As a news report just today stated, the warmer temps, lack of rain and snow are allowing more bark beetles to survive, when the normal cold should be killing and reducing their numbers. But that's not happening right now.
"Unseasonably warm and dry winter giving Bark Beetles in the Sierra a second lease on life" ABC30 Action News

More Bad News for another natural icon, Torrey Pines 😬
Photo: Scott Davenport/Flickr/Creative Commons (2013)
Major decline in Torrey Pines & SoCal Forests in general
Sad to imagine decline and general death in Torrey Pines, but it's true. The top photo is a favourite viewpoint for 1000s of photographers, both professional and amateur. Take note of the beautiful iconic scene in the top photo from 2013. Below is a photo of this same geological location as it exists today. Notice the dead trees ? Many blamed drought, but oddly enough down the road at Torrey Pines Country Club and Golf Resort, 66 trees planted many decades ago in association with massive networks of golf course green lawns are dead as well. This is a strange anomaly because the golf course setting creates a wetter climate scenario which is the extreme opposite of the State Reserve circumstance just to the north. Thus far no one is really taking note of the difference.

Broken Hill Sunrise by Phillip Colla (2015)

Other examples are just plain devastation of natural areas by wildfire. In San Diego County, the 2003 Cedar Fire almost completely obliterated the entire Cuyamaca Stat Park. For those who don't know this region in the San Diego Mountains, it was like the Yosemite of Southern California with numerous square miles of no development, just raw unbridled wild old growth forest. It's all gone now and numerous generations after generations will never see Cuyamaca's old growth splender with the exception of old photographs. Go ahead and google it for yourself. Mankind is debating back and forth about whether or not humans are the cause of climate change. No one now disputes climate change is upon us, but rather the argument appears to be who or what is at fault for the climate change. Presently, the Scientific Orthodoxy is fingerpointing at the whole of mankind as fault for climate. Oddly enough there is an element of truth to that.

This Lemming animation above is well known. The animals themselves have often been the subject of overpopulation and mass suicide myths. Interestingly back in 1951, there was a science-fiction piece published entitled, "The_Marching_Morons" which depicted an over-populated planet run by a handful of Elites who viewed the rest of humanity as nothing more than unintellectual morons (compared to themselves) who needed to be controlled. You see, the morons over-populated (prolithic at having babies) Earth as compared to the intellectual elites who didn't procreate as much. Sound familiar ??? Sounds like much of the scientific environmental talking points from scientists who blame global climate change on everyone else but themselves. The sad reality fact is that mankind only follows the bad leadership it has been given. People have been conditioned and trained that way from birth. Secular Science has truly further created a mainly materialist minded human being who only wants more and more THINGS (TOYS) like the wealthy among them have. Mind you, this same materialism infects the conventionally religious among mankind who also have been material minded for many centuries as opposed to anything spiritual. And science for the past 150 years has oblidged their hunger for materialism with their technologically advanced products. Unfortunately these products and other wares demand raw materials taken from Earth's dwindling easy to get natural resources and science has oblidged there as well by providing more efficient technologically advanced destructive means by which these raw materals could be extracted. In so doing they have reverse engineered vast ecosystems across the globe, much of which provide weather and climate controls, clean water filtration and food production by incredibly complex and sophisticated mechanisms for countless 1000s of years which other more responsible parts of science are now only beginning to understand. Yes the average poor slob human beings are viewed as those moron Lemmings and Big Consensus Settled Science represents the Elitists who now attempt to run things and fingerpoint at everyone else as the problem. Really guys ??? 😔😕

I'll add more examples as I have time, but clearly many many more major natural attractions in California will continue to be in decline, despite so-called proclamations from environmental groups that all is well.

Other References on Reason for Decline
What's the real connection between Droughts & Wildfires ?
Burn Baby Burn - Fire Ecologist Celebrate Fire Season

Saturday, January 27, 2018

California Fan Palm Updates

Like most all living things today, the Oasis of Mara in 29 Palms is fighting for it's life on Earth
"The Oasis of Mara was first settled by the Serrano and provided them with food, clothes, tools and housing. In one legend told about the oasis, the Serrano were instructed by a medicine man to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year, they planted 29 palm trees at the oasis."
Hi-Desert Star: "Oasis of Mara fights for life"

Hi-Desert Star - June 2017
There is no argument that in this 2017 photo above, these lovely California Fan Palms are struggling to stay alive. The being narative being spun on this is that the desert oasis ecosystem here in 29 Palms is a casualty of the bigger ongoing megadrought which has been effecting all of California over the past five years. What I find odd however is that deserts by definition compared to other ecosystems are generally all about drought in the sense that deserts always experiencee less rainfall, general lack of humidy and lots of heat. So what is drought to most ecosystems is life to deserts. Despite the record rainfall from the last rainy season (winter of 2016/17), the drought pattern is far from over. Most environmental groups proclaimed all was still well in Nature to their followers by posting wildflower images taken on outdoor Springtime field trips on social networks in an attempt to smokescreen the real dire nature of our times. Fact, all is not well and the leadership in these organizations know that. Clearly so far this season, those promised normal rainfall patterns are once again a no show and the weather experts have explained that the negative high pressure pattern over the Pacific is still stationary and stronger than ever. But there is something even more worrying here than declining fan palm trees as you can see in this photo below.

Comelia Botha - April 2015 (AllTrails)
"The mesquite trees in the oasis area are also declining," says Neil Frakes - Vegetation Branch Chief - National Parks
This is definitely even more odd. The native desert Mesquite Trees are in decline at this same Oasis ? 😲 Mesquite, Acacia, Palo Verde and Ironwood are some of the toughest desert trees I know when it comes to survival in the harshest of desert climate conditions. They can take any amount of intense heat the summer sun can throw at them as long as they have available water supply. And normally they do as you can see in the illustration on the right hand side of the page here. Once mature, many mesquite trees have an extremely extensive long deep tap root system which grows down 150' to 200' where many water tables can be tapped into. This allows most mesquite no real need for any available surface water which is usually dependent on rainfall. As long as Mesquite is tapped into an underground aquifer, there should be no problem. But these mesquite in the photograph above are clearly struggling and they are having a tough time in a geologic scenario where for perhaps 1000s of years this desert artesian spring has existed. This oasis is located at the end of the Pinto Mountain fault. Many earthquake faults are natural conduits for moving water where it collects and is moved towards the surface. But this sudden lack of water in an artesian spring on a fault such as Mara Oasis is troubling. Clearly one could understand shallower rooted plants like the California Fan Palms and then Cottonwoods having a rough go of things if the surface water table dropped significantly, but dropping so far down that mesquite start to die off ??? Below is a map of the earthquake faults in and around Joshua Tree National Monument.

National Park Service
Take note of the pinpointed spot located at the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park where the Oasis of Mara is located at the end of the Pinto Mountain Faultline. Below is a definition of just what constitutes an actual artesian spring as opposed to other types of springs or seeps from the US Geological Survey site.
"A spring is the result of an aquifer being filled to the point that the water overflows onto the land surface. There are different kinds of springs and they may be classified according to the geologic formation from which they obtain their water, such as limestone springs or lava-rock springs; or according to the amount of water they discharge-large or small; or according to the temperature of the water-hot, warm, or cold; or by the forces causing the spring-gravity or artesian flow."  (Source: USGS)

Daniel Mayer - July 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)
This photograph above was taken in 2009 and can be found on Wikimedia. What a contrast when we compare this 2009 photograph to the one at the beginning from the Hi-Desert Star's article from June 30, 2017. There was one comment at the bottom of the Hi-Desert Star article which however well meaning, would never be a viable solution to correcting anything at the Oasis.
"I've lived in 29 Palms since the early 1960s and this is by far the worst the Oasis has looked in that time period. Something needs to be done to save what's left. The mesquite needs to be cut way back for starters because it's stealing water from other plants that need it more, like the Palms and the lone Cottonwood. After all, these palms in the Oasis are our namesake."
(Hi-Desert Star's comment section) 

The Mesquite at the Oasis are not the bad guys here. But this is common with many people who by nature will demonize one favoured plant over another less loved plant. I clearly do understand the emotion behind the commenter's feelings about the idea of removing the mesquite to save the much beloved and rarer palm as compared to plants from the pea family, but the mesquite are generally more helpful than harmful. In previous posts I've provided this animated illustration above showing the incredible natural hydrological phenomena mesquite are known for. This natural phenomena is known as, Hydrailic Lift and Redistribution. The Mesquite tree is quite often an excellent important nurse tree for other desert plants like young Saguaros cacti. Likewise so are Palo Verde and other desert trees. They can tap into a permanent water source and lift that deep water to the surface re-hydrating their own lateral rootsystem, thereafter feeding it into the mycorrhizal fungal network grid which may be connected to other plants like the California Fan Palms and/or Fremont Cottonwoods. This phenomena is especially strongest at night. So cutting down the mesquite would offer no value, since the mesquite themselves are clearly struggling and in decline. This would not be so if the water table within the fault were at normal levels. It could be that a lack of rainfall and snow up in the San Bernardino Mountains to the west have not been capable of recharging the Pinto Mountain Fault aquifer because of the mega-drought. But I'm not sure. Or it may also be another natural anomaly which sometimes changes hydrological conduits caused by some major earthquakes which have been known to close off and completely shut down age old artesian Springs, forcing their waters to resurface elsewhere. This actually happened historically with the town of St David Arizona south of Benson where artesian springs and ponds began to appear where they never were previously. However in other townsite areas further south like Charleston and Fairbanks where springs and lush grazing lands once existed in the old west cattle ranching days, they actually began to dry up and disappear after an earthquake. Here is the link below to this event and it's a good read. Mind you, I'm not certain if that happened near 29 Palms, but it's one posibility given the historical seismic activity of Yucca Valley which is aligned with the infamous San Andreas fault.

Tombstone Times: "The Day the Earth Shook in 1887"
How an 1887 Earthquake change a high desert environment into a lush riparian paradise - St. David, Arizona

Other California Fan Palm Updates
“Pygmy Grove” - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Well in other News, there appear to be a number of people with agendas insisting that the Washingtonia filifera is a non-native invasive brought here from Mexico and planted in numerous brand new locations throughout the Southwestern USA by Native Americans and therefore not Natural. This is a switch since numerous environmentalist groups have often considered the Native American as type of early primitive sub-human animal which was an integral part of North American ecosystems. But as I've stated before, the idea of an "Ecological Indian" is nothing more than a myth. They always were/are real human beings equal to all other cultures and races on Earth. The ONLY real difference between themselves and the white European settlers when they first came to North America was nothing more than differences in education and technology. I don't really wish to focus on this controversy which is mostly time wasting. But apparently there is another ideologue out there, James W. Cornett, an ecological consultant with the city of Palm Springs, who is convinced that the California Fan Palm is actually an invasive, brought here originally from Mexico by native indigenous peoples from the ancient past. While acknowledging they can be spread by animals like birds and coyotes, etc, he blames Native Americans (real people/humans) as the foremost cause for the Fan Palm's presence. Clearly many Natives Americans did farm, plants small gardens and field crops, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that they did spread the Fan Palms to new locations as they did with Elderberry and Prickly Pear Cactus. But we live in times of controversy in the botany world. There's a plethora of individuals out there right now attempting to rewrite classsification history of all manner of plants. Here is his story anyway:

Photo courtesy Elayne Sears
"Did Native Americans introduce Fan Palms to California?"
This is certainly not the first time he has promoted this same line of reasoning since he has done so as far back as back in 1991. Apparently, James W. Cornett  published this same Washingtonia filifera is invasive nonsense in the San Bernardino county Museum Association Quarterly Volume 38 Number 2, summer 1991. But there is another person out there who is dedicated to the saving of the Moapa Palms Oasis, Spencer Winton, who has written numerous articles about justification for the palms long ancient history. He's researched thoroughly and even interviewed the grand parents and great grand parents of many of the Native Americans to this area who have explained the palms were always a major part of life in this area. You can judge for yourself. Here Spencer provides a rebuttal to Cornett's 1991 invasive narative. "The Desert Fan Palm-- Evidence Supports Relict Status"
Another player in the proposed Fan Palm removal has not only been the Government, but also the Southern Nevada Water Authority who has stepped in pushing it's own water rights agenda by using the saving of a native fish, Moapa Dace, strategy for which the Palm Trees are said to be partially the blame for the fish's decline. Here are some pertinent quotes:
"Tensions are running high in the Warm Springs area 60 miles north of Las Vegas, where the Southern Nevada Water Authority bought up land to protect a rare fish but has endangered relations with the locals in the process. 
  Lately, it’s the sound of chain saws that has residents buzzing. Over the past year, workers have cut down some 900 wild palm trees on the fenced, 1,200-acre tract the authority bought in 2007 and now operates as the Warm Springs Natural Area." 
"Before the Southern Nevada Water Authority took a lead role in protecting the endangered Moapa dace, the regional agency was widely considered one of the biggest threats to its survival.  
For decades, the authority has pushed a plan to tap billions of gallons of groundwater across rural Nevada. One of the links in that pipeline network is Coyote Springs Valley, just west of the palm-lined springs and streams at the upper end of the Moapa Valley.  
Authority officials became chief defenders of the finger-length fish under a 2006 federal agreement that also cleared them to pump water at Coyote Springs."
Southern Nevada Water Authority thins palms, upsets Warm Springs residents
By Henry Brean - Las Vegas Review Journal

So 900 Washingtonia filifera or California Fan Palms were cut down and the happy biologists can now snorkle to count how many Moapa Dace actually exist as seen in the photo above where palm stumps are the only visible remnants of the Fan Palm's former existence. It's the same old story, to obtain success with one's favoured agenda, justify it by claiming you just want to save something else. This happens all the time, especially regarding forestry and housing development arguments. Environmental groups do this all the time championing the life of something when something entirely different is on their mind. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't care about saving endangered organisms, we should. But you really have to put those who make claims to be outraged about an endangered creature into perspective when often times their goal is this just another "Sue and Settle" money making scheme to fill their coffers. 

Moapa Oasis & Natural Area, Nevada
Image - Stan Shebs - May 2006

Intro to The Basis for the Current Official Listing of Washingtonia filifera in Moapa Warm Springs Nevada as a 'Non-native' Species - and the evidence which contradicts it

Anyway all these updates make for some interesting reading about California Fan Palm beyond the brief landscaping descriptions referenced in a Sunset Western Garden book. It is interesting that the native Desert California Fan Palm is on the increase in desert areas of Coachella and Imperial Valley and not necessarily by people, but by means of critters. The Mexican Fan Palm on the other hand is out of control, spreading and invading riparian habitats on the western side of the Mountains near the Pacific coast. Here are some other posts I've written regarding California Fan Palms and finally the invasive Mexican Fan Palm.

Getting to the Root of why Natives rule & Exotics struggle or outright fail
California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera) growth explosion with Mycorrhizal Fungi
"Day of the Triffids" or "Monolith Monsters" ? (Mexican Fan Palm - Washingtonia robusta)
The Fan Palm Oasis in Mum's Front Yard

Photo mine in 2015 (El Cajon, California)
Both Mexican & California Fan Palms, Screwbean Mesquite, Mexican Bird of Paradise Bush, Baja Fairyduster, Laurel Sumac, and Engelmann Oak.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Southern California: Engineering an Urban Landscape patterned after the blueprint found in Nature

Some interesting facts about Laurel Sumac and it's ability as an ideal nurse plant which utilizes Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution of sub-soil water which facilitated this Torrey Pine to thrive
I've written previously about this specific location in El Cajon California on the famous Rattlesnake Mountain regarding the Torrey Pines planted there over 30+ years ago and the emotional response by many folks over the irresponsible actions by Sky Ranch Housing  residents who cut them down with chainsaws and the blind eye stance by Center for Natural Lands Management to what took place even though the conservation area has a plethora of threatening signage around this mountain about the consequences of trepass into this conservation area (I would presume this also means Sky Ranch residents). I did contact someone at the CNLM (I don't remember his name), but he said there was nothing they could do. However this post isn't about them or the negative actions they undertook. This is for people who wish to understand why these trees succeeded in such an inhospitable environment for trees where failure should have been the norm. The practical applications I used so many years ago which were inspired of biomimicry (strictly replicating how Nature works) is even more important now in view of the major declines of Torrey Pines at their native habitat in La Jolla and Del Mar along the coast which I just now wrote about in this link below.
Earth's Internet: "Major decline in Torrey Pines & SoCal Forests in general"
My photograph from 2011

This Torrey Pine tree above was one of many planted during the winter rainy season of 1980/81 after a wildfire had raged all across the Rattlesnake Mountain range between the cities of El Cajon, Santee and Lakeside that previous hot summer of 1980. I had planted other Torrey Pines during the 1977, but the wildfire of 1980 consumed all of them. It was in the middle 1970s when I was taking Ornamental Horticulture that some research was just coming out about the idea of nature having some plants which acted as nurse plants for tree seedlings. That intrigued me and my first experiments with testing for the best nurse plants were with California Buckwheat shrubs. While they worked okay, many plants failed after a couple of years and I eventually settled on Laurel Sumac which I found far more successful. I eventually chose the location I did because it was remote and rarely had visitors. It was on the direct south facing slopes of Rattlesnake Mountain towards direct sunlight. Not exactly an ideal location for trees in the dry west. Very little trails or reasons for people to hike around there. The tree in the photo above was over 25' in height when this photo was taken in 2011. It grew slowly at first, then started shooting up more as it matured. Under more ideal conditions it would be almost double that height like my 4 Torrey Pines I planted at my home in Anza California at elevation 4,500' (Table Mountain) back in 1986. Those trees are about 50', but the San Jacinto Mountains also get far more measurable rainfall per year compared to the interior hot valleys east of San Diego. An important part of that rain also comes in the form of Summer monsoonal thunderstorms from Mexico, something El Cajon never sees. This tree below is the smallest of the two Torrey Pines mainly because it became overwhelmed by it's nurse plant's foliage until it much later found a way out from the Laural Sumac's canopy. Hence you can see the crocked picturesque angle it had to take much like the Torrey Pines along the Sea cliffs. 

Photo is mine from 2011

Image - AZ Plant Lady
Again this photo above is the smaller of the Torrey Pine which like the larger one was planted within the influence of a large Laurel Sumac chaparral shrub, but at time of planting after wildfire was burnt to the ground. The shrub resprouted and grew rapidly. Eventually enveloping both trees, but the upper tree had managed to have it's central leader always protruding through the Laurel Sumac's canopy. While this lower tree's foliage struggled with not only the larger Sumac's foliage, but also from competition from another Laurel Sumac on the other  side as there was a second shrub. I watered them once a week during the first Summer by carrying milk jugs full of water, three in each hand. It was tough going and generally 100+ Fahrenheit in summer. Later I switched to very early mornings or evenings after sunset, but still light outside. I had to also be careful so as not to drawn any suspicion from neighbours. And of course you know the reason why. My method of using the milk jugs was not like the one in the picture above, but rather I would turn them upside down partially burried and water would percolate slowly straight down into the soil directly next to the seedling. But after a year, this method was no longer needed.

Photo is mine from 
The following two years after that first hot summer the trees were doing excellent under their nurse chaparral shrubs (Laurel Sumacs and California Buckwheat), but something more was needed because I was not going to pack mule water up that mountainside forever which would force the seedlings to remain on life-support. Eventually they had to mature and stand on their own in the wild. For about eight good years the trees grwe slowly, but remained healthy. Something more was needed and again there was newer research coming out in some Ag & Forestry Journals about numerous symbiotic fungi which lived on plant roots and kept their hosts alive in the wild. 
(Research was tougher come by back in the 1970s as access was limited to conventional brick & Mortar libraries, school textbook references and subscriptions to journals. Today we have the internet which provides mountains of research on how nature works. And yet amazingly biomimicry still doesn't represent mainstream science.
Human understanding of plant ecosystem mechanisms in the wild was improving in the late 70s - early 80s. I found the research of US Forest Service Biologist, Dr Donald Marx (former senior scientist for PHC), who was studying which was the best species of ectomycorrhzal fungi that would benefit new pine and oak seedlings for survival. His conclusion was Pisolithus tinctorius like the one I collected here in the photo above from the San Diego County backcountry just south of the gold mining town of Julian. So I figured why not. The dried puffball truffles which looked like dog turds had the dark brown powdery substance (spores) I needed to make this work. So almost a decade after planting in 1980, I dug small three inch deep holes (about four) around all sides of the Torrey Pine seedlings with my finger and drop in some of the chocolate coloured spore powder into the holes, then back fill it in with soil and watered. I made about a dozen holes and inoculation points far enough away from the tree trunks where I thought the root hair feeder roots would be. It was crude in comparision to what I use now because many of the commercially prepared mixes today come with root growth stimulators like humic acid, etc. These are important because they encourage new root hair growth which is necessary for the fungi to begin to colonize. The fungi will only colonize the root hair tips or cap when it comes into contact with the spore. I worked quickly because in 1982 I was moving to Idyllwild California up in the San Jacinto Mountains. Take note below of the benefits of fungi and plant root interactions.

You can see clearly the colonized roots on the pine seeding at right. The image on the left has been digitally altered to remove the fungal web so that the actual pine seedling root system are exposed. As you can see, pines without fungal colonization are at a huge disadvantage from a water distribution area point of view. Frankly it was still some years later that I became more familiar with the value in nutrient uptake as well. For me, access to water was the more important factor at that time. It wasn't till the middle 1990s I found out that this particular fungi increases both water and nutrient absorption from 200% to 800%. Some of the central leader stems on the trees were now growing more than a foot high in a season and producing next years leader with numerous branch buds six more inches in length. That explained to me even further why I always had success with pines and oaks on my acreage up in Anza, California, when I mostly attributed the healthy vigorous growth to better access to more water availability because of higher geographical rainfall totals. This particular fungi is an ectomycorrhizal fungi symbiotic companion which generally prefers trees, but the nurse shrubs I used in El Cajon were endomycorrhizal. So no real connective interactions between pines and shrub. However, the PT mycorrhizae will travel underground 200' away from it's host looking for water and nutrients, so any water acquired by the nurse plant shrub from deeper sub-soil will be released in the top surface layers of soil and picked up be the ecto-fungi. More on that function and phenomena we call hydraulic lift below.
A Perfectly Natural Phenomena of Older Needle Drop in Evergreens like Pines

Image -

Photo: Ladd Livingston, Idaho Department of Lands,
Some people become alarmed when they see yellow dead and dying needles within their urban landscape pines or other evergreens. No worries, if the older, interior needles of your evergreen pine trees or even shrubs are yellowing and dropping, rest assured it is probably not a disease or an insect infestation. It is the normal fall needle drop, sometimes referred to as seasonal needle drop. All conifers loose at least some of their needles every year. Most conifers (Pines) will retain needles through several growing seasons as indicated by the branch whorls which count as a years growth in a season. But think of the foliage of a Pine tree or any other tree or shrub as a living biological manufacturing plant. They will shed and remove any of their older, less efficient needles each fall. Generally these are the oldest needles from past years. Prior to shedding these needles they will change color from their healthy green to yellow, orange and brownish-red like both photos above and to the right. Early in the shedding process, while the needles are still attached to the branches, these trees may appear to have an unhealthy appearance which can cause unnecessary concern. In urban landscapes people generally want everything to be perfect. Below is a beautiful illustrative graphic from Michigan State University which helps you to understand the process.

MSU Graphic

Take note in the graphic above, it indicates two and a half years growth is still going strong. However, about three and a quarter years growth is being shed. In some cases this could also be due to drier, maybe even drought conditions. Hence the elimination of older needles may help limit transpiration surface to help the tree survive.
References on Dead or Dying seasonal Pine Needle Drop
Why the ability of Pine Trees to hold many growth years of their needles is important
My last photograph taken 2013 - Tree was diliberately destroyed the following year 2014

Colorado State University
One of the more remarkable things I noticed when I took this last photo in 2014 of the largest Torrey Pine on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon, California, was the fact that the tree was still carrying all it's needles on every branch and the central leader on all it's growth whorls six years back. Same was true of the Torrey pine that was half this size. Keep in mind these trees were 30+ years old and survived only on the meager rainfall averages (many of which were drought years) within an interior environment where the temperatures soared to 100+ Fahrenheit which is common. The photo at right is of a drought stressed Ponderosa Pine which has all it's needles turned brown with the exception of that present year's growth. This is also often common scene in Southern California urban landscapes where much of the trees and shrubs are on some sort of irrigation life-support infrastructure. When water rates soar sky-high, then the householder cuts back. Unfortunately the underground root structure has not developed naturally to where sub-soil moisture cannot be reached and all supporting cast members present in a wild setting like deeply rooted shrubs and mycorrhizal fungi are greatly reduced or more than likely completely absent. Often the root water transportation infrastructure and it's landscaping will suffer the most. Take this example below.

Image Google Earth (2914) - Interchange between Freeway 52 & I-15

These pines are actually Torrey Pines planted along the western side of Interstate 15 heading south to San Diego just before the Freeway 52 interchange. Take close note of the extreme stress they are in holding only present years growth of pine needles and tiny needles at that. Torreys have some of the largest and longest needles of most pines. These are also natives and not that far from the coastline where they are native. This location also experiences a strong marine air influence of daily cloud cover, especially in May-Gray & June-Gloom periods. Still they are stressed more so than those Torrey Pines further east in the much hotter inland interior valleys of Santee, Lakeside & El Cajon. Not to mention the location on a southern slope face of Rattlesnake Mountain in direct intense sunlight. I should say that some of the Torrey Pine seedlings I did plant within the shelter of California Sagebrush and California Buckwheat did well for a few years, but at about 10 years they looked much like these example you see here above and below. Eventually they died or were vandalized by idiots with guns for target practice. Only the trees planted within Laurel Sumac fared exceptionally well. The installation plan and maintenance techniques are clear, Nature needs to be replicated through biomimicry. Now look at this same location below with a Google Earth shot in 2017.

Google earth Same location along Interstate 15 (2017) 

Take note of the lusher greener plants in the foreground. In San Diego this past rainfall season they had much heavier rainfall records, but also an irrigation system and plants have been installed in the foreground. The trees are still in an incrediblly stressed out state with only present growth barely hanging on. Water is not the only key here, but rather colonization of Pisolithus tinctorius mycorrhizal fungi. PT mycorrhizal fungi is the best fungi for plants growing in hot dry areas. Yes, species does matter in this case. But so does a supprting cast of native deep rooted chaparral shrubs in the right strategic placements in this industrial landscape.
Supporting Cast Members in the Landscape, includes various species of Chaparral

Photograph by David Magney (2005)

San Alijo Lagoon Conservancy
This is the nurse plant chaparral shrub above and to the right called Laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) which has outstanding bright green foliage all year. These large clusters of cream flowers appear in the summer. Later the dried flowers and seed heads turn a rusty red-brown. The leaves tend to fold up along the midrib, especially during dry weather whuch apparently helps reduce exposure to the dry hot summer sun of the coastal sage scrub plant community, especially in the hotter interior valleys and mountains nearer to the coast. This gives the plant another common name reference, the taco shell plant. This along with a colony of very old, almost ancient, looking Lemonade Berry which are at the top of this mountain at the head of this normally dry wash (sometimes perennial stream) are the largest shrubs on this hill. Everything else is California Buckwheat, California Sagebrush, White Sage, Gold Yarrow, Monkeyflower, Deer Weed, Coastal Prickly Pear Cactus, Coastal Cholla Cactus, Coastal San Diego Barrel Cactus, etc. My choice for nurse plant was Laurel Sumac in 1980 which turned out to be a great choice and here's why:

"Laurel sumac roots are deep and extensive; vertical root depth of one individual in the Santa Monica Mountains exceeded 43.6 feet (13.2 m)"
US Forest Service - Malmosa laurina

One of the most amazing phenomena of a good nurse plant is it's deep root system ability to extract water from very deep subsoil layers and bring it to the surface. This process is known as Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution. Not only for itself, but also the more shallow rooted shrubs and perennials around it. But it's also beneficial for tree seedlings like oak or pine which would otherwise fail and not make it to the sapling stage of life and beyond towards being a fully mature tree. Especially at night will nurse plants like Laurel Sumac pull up incredible amounts of moisture for themselves and other plants as you see here on the left in the illustration. In places like Africa, plants like grasses and other forbes on the Savanna benefit by growing closest to those giant picturesque Acacia trees like Acacia tortilis. Young tree seedlings also benefit as a tiny emergent seedling from the nurse plant's shade before it pushes through the shrub's foliage when reaching for the sky on it's own. But there is so much more to this hydraulic movement of water.

There is yet another reverse type of phenomena known as Hydraulic Descent where in winter rainy season when the shrub or tree is dormant and not actively growing above ground, the root system is still active underground taking surface soils saturated with rainwater and sucking in and pumping that water into deeper sub-soil layers. If an ecosystem is healthy enough, this collective action by trees and shrubs can recharge acquifers. Many soils are to tough for water to percolate on it's own, so a healthy vegetated ecosystem like an old growth forest or even an old growth Chaparral Plant Community of Southern California will saturate the deeper layers of sub-soils for later usage during the hot summer months. Now even though this shrub is endomycorrhizal and will not form interconnected relationships with pines, oaks, etc, they will still release water from their lateral roots at the surface which can then be accessed by the ecto mycelium or fungal strands. When I lived at elevation 4,500' I used the chaparral shrub called Redshank or Ribbonwood as a nurse plant. Take a look at this gallery of trees below from my former acreage in Anza California.

Photo Mine 2012
These to Coulter Pines above and below were planted across from one another. These trees were foot high bareroot trees I planted on a remote section of my acreage in Anza California. No irrigation. Although these were wild collected from along roadsides, I still inoculated them with Pisolithus tinctorius or P.T. Mycorrhizal Fungal spores. I also located them next to Scrub Oaks or Redshank Chaparral Shrubs. If Redshank was unavailable then I would use it's cousin Chamise or Greasewood (shrub gets blamed for intense wildfires), both of which are also ectomycorrhizal, but under only certain environmental conditions like times of heavy rainfall years. This is important to know because such knowledge allows for foresters to plant trees like Jeffrey, Coulter or Torrey Pines to pioneer into predominantly chaparral areas. Thus the shrubs and trees can interconnect through the mycorrhizal network and young trees throughout youth will be assured of being hydrated by their chaparral nurse plants. Up in Anza the Parry Pinyon will interconnect with Chamise and redshank during the wetter years. Sadly the present property owner removed some of the chaparral around the trees and built this shed between them. Still the healthy start for these trees has been a success. 
Photo is Mine 2012
The three trees below here are two Ponderosa and one Coulter Pine. The Coulter was actually a volunteer under a Redshank which was planted by a scrubjay from pine nuts taken from a large maturee tree next to my front porch. The two Ponderosas I planted within the same chaparral. At one time they were all surround by Redshank and Scrub Oaks, but the present owner wanted all brush removed. But notice on all my trees the five or six years growth of needles still on their whorls ? Very little leaf dander under these trees. This is a sign of very healthy trees. An odd side effect was that there was also an improvement in shrub vegetation and vigor after I inoculated with fungi, especially from the scrub oaks. Truffle formation was everywhere after that. The other fascinating thing here is that these trees are already baring pine cones.
Photo Mine 2012
Below are the three Torrey Pines I planted in Anza, California
Photo Mine 2012
These four Torrey Pines were planted on this bank behind the house in association with California Coffeeberry, San Gabriel Flannelbush and California Holly (Toyon). The year was 1985 where we has a couple of winters (3 in a row which had extremely low subzero temps from Arctic blasts from Canada and high wins at times from 50 to 60 mph. It was insane. The only problem for the Torreys were the very tips of all needles turned brown for about an inch in length. No problem, because after those three winters the central leader grew more than a meter or more in length, with often a secondary growth spurt after summer monsoonal thunderstorms which were intense with heavy rainfall. So no worries at high elevations and no supplementary watering after that.
Examples of Nurse Plant Mutualisms found in Nature within San Diego County

Photo is mine from 2013

The photo above shows a stand of Fremont Cottonwoods on the Henshaw Valley floor in northeast San Diego County. Take note that these large deeply rooted Cottonwood trees are able to support other smaller native plants like this wild native California Rose (Rosa californica) hedge. Other plants are also able to thrive under these trees like the native Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus) and Western Bracken Ferns. This location is amazing because of it's distance away from the forests on the mountainside and the fact that birds or animals originally brought the seeds of these plants to the trees through their feces droppings.
Photo is mine from 2013

This photo is much further east in the backcountry community of Ranchita where my brother lives. This is a much hotter drier area just before the landscape drops down into the Anza Borrego Desert. The tree is an Interior Live Oak and the plant below which it is supporting is the native Honeysuckle. Take this Oak tree away and the honeysuckle dies. The area is just too harsh and dry for it to thrive without a companion nurse plant. No doubt a bird flew within the foliage of this Oak tree, pooped after eating the honeysuckle fruits somewhere else and poof, a honeysuckle seedling.

Photo is mine from 2013

Photo is by Cody Bish
One of my favourite nurse plants is the Silver Sagebrush which thrives in the dry high mountain valleys and high deserts steppes of the western United States. The photo at the top is along Montezuma Road in Ranchita almost across from Old Mine Road turnoff. These Silver Sagebrush (Artemisia cana) are nursing along numerous Incense Cedar seedlings and Saplings. Older trees of Cedar were planted several decades ago along this road and San Felipe Road further west. In 2002 there was a wildfire that burned from Julian to the mountains north of Ranchita above Warner Springs. Many of the trees (Coulter Pine, Incense Cedar, etc) escaped the Pines Fire's fury and were years later producing seed which successfully germinated as you see in the top photo taken back in 2013. Another common association with Silver Sagebrush is the Indian Paintbrush seen in the photo here on the right. What many never realize is that Silver Sagebrush is an excellent facilitator of hydraulic lift and redistribution of water. While many will say that the Indian Paintbrush is partially parasitic to Silver Sagebrush, I imagine that this remarkable water hydraulics phenomena goes a long way in why Indian Paintbrush works out successsfully in growing in association with this Artesemia plant. Below are two other posts I've written more extensively on this mutualism with both plants & Artemesia.

An Icon of the Old West, Sagebrush (Atermisia tridentata) is Still Demonized as a Competing Invasive in it's Own Native Habitat
Lessons Observed From the Ranchita Hwy Beautification Project
Tragic End to one of the koolest 30+ year  Forestry Nurse Plant Experiments I've ever accomplished in 2014
Image taken from Google Earth

Image is mine from 2011

San Diego Coast Cholla
When the Sky Ranch Housing Development bulldozed it's way across the western part of the Rattlesnake Mountain range, they stopped short of the colony of Torrey Pines and Coastal Cholla colony. The San Diego Coast Cholla Cactus are also another endangered species from the coast sage scrub plant community. There never was Coast Cholla on Rattlesnake Mountain before, only San Diego Coast Barrel Cactus for which there were 1000s of them when I was a kid in the early 1960s and now only a handful, almost extinct. But I was excited to see that when they pre-stripped the land of all vegetation prior to bulldozing for roads and housing unit property pads, that they had roped off with special environmental sensitive area tape protecting the pines and cacti. Kool I thought. That was on an earlier visit in 2007 when I came back for a visit from my new home in Sweden. Above here you can see the construction and if you gaze up that rainwater runoff channel you can see one of the larger Torrey Pines just behind and to the left of the concrete roof tiles stacks. Unfortunately this did not last.

My photograph from 2011

This photo above shows a different viewpoint on how close the Sky Ranch Housing Development came to the Torrey Pine experiment. In fact this is the same smaller Torrey Pine I posted above, but out of view of the housing. Sadly in 2014 these Sky Ranch home owners and I'm guessing with the blessing of the Conservation Area Biologist (I only say I'm guessing because he was very vague on the telephone when I called to report the incident and was disinterested in doing anything about the trespass and destruction), cut down with chainsaws all of these Torrey Pines. They were in their backyards and the wives ran into the house to get their husbands because I was photographing the area. The husbands weren't exactly overly friendly. The reason these residents gave me was that they were a fire hazard. The biologist in Escondido said they were non-natives to the Coastal Sage Scrub within this designated California Gnat Catcher Conservation Area. This was bunk, almost a century prior to this Rattlesnake Mountain being considered as a conservation area, no one ever gave a rat's backside about Rattlesnake Mountain. In fact the very landscape company they hired to restore areas damaged or disturbed by the Sky Ranch contractors installed numerous exotic non-native Mediterranean plants like Rock Rose, some type of Iris and a variety of other non-native cactus to this mountain. Friends and neighbours were upset for me, but frankly while I was bummed in the beginning, I had always understood the property was never mine and the trees could succum to whatever disaster came along, be it wildfire or housing development. In any event what cannot be taken away is the valuable experience and knowledge I gained from these nurse plant experiments. So seriously, nobody should hold anything against these folks. That's just the way our world works.

Gallery of Photographs Documenting the Destruction of the Torrey Pines
Photo is mine 2014

Photo is mine 2014

Photo is mine 2014

Photo is mine 2014

Photo is mine from 2014
Above is the photo of the signage threatening anyone with trespass which can be found everywhere around the conservation area borders. Interestingly when I was confronted by the residents wondering why I was taking photographs by angry people in their backyards, I asked the reason for the Torrey Pines being cut down. The unbelievable excuse I was given was that these pines posed a wildfire hazzard and the larger trees were producing cones and seedlings were discovered along the bank behind the backyards. Seriously, seedlings ??? That would have meant if the cones were truly matured (I had previously seen cones, but didn't know if they were mature enough the previous year), that ScrubJays had been taking the heavy pine nuts and planting them somewhere, since the heavy Torrey Pine nuts are unable to sail away on wind currents like other pines. The Sky Ranch Housing development also has allowed invasive plants such as non-native weedy invasives like Mediterranean Wild Mustard, Yellow Star Thistle, European Wild Oats, Cheatgrass, and African Fountain Grass (commonly planted along freeway cutouts in Southern California). For example, in this photo on the right I brought in numerous Coastal Cholla sections and planted them within the coastal sage scrub. Previous Cholla colonies were never there and surprisingly Cactus Wren are present when they never were before. But African Fountain grass has made it's way here. I believe the Sky Ranch landscapers planted them along the road cutous like CalTrans has done along freeways. None of these invaders existed in mass qualities at this high of elevation on Rattlesnake Mountain prior to Sky Ranch Development. These invasives have an epigenetic effect in the releasing of chemical root exudates which hinder the chemical signaling between the native shrubs and/or trees and their mycorrhizal partners. Eventually this coast sage scrub landscape will disappear and become like the shrubless hillsides of northern Santee and Fletcher Hills west of El Cajon which are now nothing more than non-native grasslands. But at least many reading who may live in this area will get a glimpse of how Nature of SoCal works and how they can replicate the mechanisms within their own landscapes. Seriously, anyone reading can easily replicate this within their own landscapes. The local area newspaper, El Cajon Californian (online), has a nice reecent article about the Rattlesnake Mountain Conservation Area and visiting certain portions of it which are open to public and the challenges of ridding that area of invasive non-native weeds.
Also another news source,, had an interesting article from September of 2016 about the dire situation of all forests within San Diego county disappearing for good. If San Diego County Lost it's Forests
And here is my own take on climate change's effect on San Diego County and how people can counter it's effects on a personal level.
Face of the Climate Change & Drought in San Diego County 
An Urban Landscape Success Story at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain's Sky Ranch Housing Development
Image Mine in September 2015
California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera) growth explosion with Mycorrhizal Fungi
This is my mother's place above, the same place I grew up in from 1961 all the way through high school until I left home in 1977. It's at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain across from Pepper Drive Elementary School in El Cajon. There is no irrigation infrastructure  here and the entire landscape is native plants with heavily inoculated mycorrhizal associations. Yearly applications of mulch is the only fertilizer they ever get. Annual weeds do not appear anymore. The only weeds are shrub and tree seedlings and these are easy to deal with once a year. You can read about this landscape from the link below the photograph.

Further Educational References on Practical Applications Biomimicing Nature
Chaparral Biome & it's Forest building abilities with or without Wildfire

My source for mycorrhizal fungi mixes