Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Streams still flow in California's officially designated "Exceptional Drought" zone

It's been building up in the News for the last couple of decades. The global Climate Change or Global Warming and now the worst drought to hit the southwestern states in years. The state of California of course is on top of the pile with differing regions showing varying degrees of  the drought's worst effects. Oddly enough when I went through the one region listed as being above the "extreme" level with the designation "Exceptional" in some places along this coastline in Central California, it was hard to tell if any coastal and immediate interior valleys were really suffering. Of course I've already partly written about this experience with my post:
 Palo Colorado Canyon Rd, Big Sur California 
Now further inland from the coast on the eastern side of the Santa Lucia mountain coastal chain & Hwy 101 from Salinas south to Paso Robles over to the San Joaquin Valley it did indeed deserve the label "Exceptional" Drought. The steep hills which should be chaparral covered have been grazed to the bare soil for more than 100+ years. Only a handful of rare pockets of chaparral and Oak/Pine woodland are present. The closest exact location of a photo I can find which matches the area we past through and the landmarks we witnessed in exceptional drought is from a Google Earth - Panoramio user, 'Patmon' who photographed an exact spot we drove through this past June 2014, only the date was in 2009. I was tough with myself not to take too many negative photos, but maybe I should have taken a few for educational purposes. The photo below is a bit deceiving if you drive through this area on Hwy 58 today. This picture is actually a lush grassland compared to the reality of what my wife and I experienced on the drive all the way from San Joaquin Valley town of Buttonwillow to Santa Margarita near Hwy 101. There literally is no grass at all at this very moment of writing. The entire landscape is nothing more than bare soil with not even a whisper of any stubble. Joel Salatin was right, the rule of grazing on hilly terrain should be, "If you cannot drive a tractor on it, don't graze cattle there."  The only exception of the presence of plant life of course were the pockets vegetation high up the ridges like chaparral and mature oak trees which you can see in the photo below and there were not many of those vegetation pocket islands to be found. 


Hwy 58 Buttonwillow to Santa Margarita California
What mankind has done in the name of Agri-business [We only  want to feed mankind] has been disastrous for the natural world. Stripping steep slopes of their weather moderating, cloud formation and rainfall creating mechanisms makes absolutely no sense and yet, 'lo & behold' lookie at where we stand today and the dire climate disruption crisis we're all facing. For all the supposed brain power which runs western science [Europe/North America], you'd think the collapse of many of their own collective Nation's ecosystems would provide a pattern for the developing world of what you shouldn't do. But unfortunately we're just not seeing that. Maybe all the folks who actually care about what's happening to the Earth's hydrological cycling should stop telling those in positions of environmental responsibility and oversight who seem to blunder time and again, "Just how stupid can you people be?"  I'm beginning to think that many of these world leaders appear to be taking it as a challenge. Well, it's just an observation.


image Mine: Along Cabrillo Highway at Big Sur California
Given the designated label of  "Exceptional Drought" status by the U.S. Drought Monitor for this central coastal California location, I was surprised to see that so many streams were running with a fair amount of water, with even many of the smaller brooks up Palo Colorado Canyon and beyond at a good flow. The question of course that entered my mind was, Why ? Now when you look up any information about this part of the natural world and it's many ecosystems, the label Closed-Cone Forest comes to the fore. One also realizes that this is the southern end of the famous California Coastal Redwood tree in it's native range. But in the literature about the Closed-Cone Forest Climate description, you will find that rainfall totals from actual Pacific Storms during the wintertime's  rainy wet season only amount to about between 16 to 25 inches of actual rainfall from these storms and again it varies from location to location. Doesn't seem enough to support Redwoods and other trees like Madrone (Arbutus), Big Leaf Maple, California Bay, etc. But, there is of course another phenomena which needs to be factored in which contributes to higher moisture totals. The higher moisture readings are calculated from a unique phenomena to this area which also receives moisture in the form of heavy wet low marine clouds and fog which is said to push some area totals upwards to 60 or 70 inches annually. Again it still depends on the location. But still, does this explain why streams are running well with lots of water, enough for 100s campers to romp, play and bathe at Pfeiffer State Park at Big Sur when we came through this past June 2014 ? Even at the full blown average of 20 to 22 inches of annual rain along the coast, that doesn't really explain the volume I saw in many of these streams.



As we all know, things regarding climate and generally local weather in most areas have been trending poorly. Like the historical tracking chart above of San Diego for a last two decades which while showing a couple spikes above average, these still don't make up for the well below normal dry averages which are more common in recent years [especially the past decade]. Last Winter I actually followed the weather rain events and storm totals throughout Southern California. What I remember most is the lack of consistent rainfall amounts across the entire southland. Some areas were drenched while others got only a mere trace. San Diego which is supposed to average around 10.34 actually received only 5.05 this past season and that following two previous dry years which have progressively gotten worse - 2012 @ 7.09 & 2013 @ 6.55. There is one particular rainfall record I also followed, though it's unofficial, it matches identically those of the official reporting stations throughout California. The record is on a blog called "Breathing Treatment" and written by Brent Morgan who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes along the coast in Los Angeles County. The way he went about reporting was by storm/Date, not monthly totals. I think this illustrates beautifully just how the total rainfall here recorded actually becomes worse when you consider where it went or rather where it didn't go.
Brent Morgan recorded the 2013/2014 rainy season by Storm Event with Date - Month/Year
October 27, 2013 - 0.15
November 20, 2013 - 0.54
November 29, 2013 - 0.4
December 7, 2013 - 0.27
January 29, 2014 - 0.001
February 2, 2014 - 0.19
February 6, 2014 - 0.28
February 7, 2014 - 0.02
February 26, 2014 - 0.83
February 27, 2014 - 1.5
 March 1, 2014 - 1.0
March 25, 2014 - 0.02
August 2, 2014 - 0.09  
 Total Storms 13 - total rainfall for season  5.29 inches
(Rainfall Totals Source) 
Now what is interesting to me with Brent's Rainfall Record and more importantly it's not so much the total rainfall amount at the end of season, but the low storm event amounts and significant time lapse between the storm events. There is almost no real measurable percolation into the soil, with the exception of maybe a little over three inches between February 26th through March 1st. No beneficial moisture even came close to penetrating the subsoil to sustain any newer season plant growth, which explains why many shrubs refrained from putting on any new growth this season [my firsthand observation] with the  shedding of more leaves as a result of drought stress and the fact that even weeds and other annual grasses made very little if any showing in many areas this year. This was even worse up north of here in Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties which are at the center of the "Exceptional Drought" Zone. Now factor in the present drought over the past three years which has actually halved most of those same California annual average totals in almost every location throughout the State, which would bring numbers way down further, this still is a puzzle as to what exactly is sustaining not only the good stream flows along those central coastal areas, but what must also be sustaining the massive usage necessary to maintain the large volume of old growth forest for this region. So what gives ?

"Hydraulic Redistribution", but especially & more specifically "Hydraulic Descent"

image mine: Big Sur coastline with fog and low clouds rolling inland


Researchers have known for quite some time that these Central and Northern California regions with those towering majestic old growth Redwood Forests would have never gotten that far in the sky without a little help from those coastal fogs and low elevation moisture rich marine layers. You see, Sequoia sempervirens has poor stomatal control in response to a drying atmosphere. Without help, it would be difficult for the Coast Redwood to reach great heights without a little help from above. Hence, rates of water loss on very dry days/nights can reach up to 40% during the midday summer season for which the tree on it's own is incapable of replacing water lost without the help of the Fog Belt marine layer. So it appears that the fog and low clouds with heavy moisture content have a greater role in suppressing this water loss from leaves of those extremely tall trees and thereby improve upon the daily water stress by providing supplemental water to foliage in the upper canopy. This is why the coastal Redwoods thrive in such fog belt areas in central and northern California and do not exist down in Southern California. Yes, of course people in SoCal do plant them in the landscape, but like many other similar trees not native to that environment, their requirements change and increase as they age. Pay close attention to the needle burn of many older aged Redwoods in Southern California gardens and any public landscapes. So the Fog/Marine cloud layers offers at least two services that we do know of. First, it clearly prevents very much evapotranspiration [water loss from leaves] from the foliage. Second, it also has the ability to hydrate the upper foliage canopy  for which these extremely tall Redwoods appear to have a tough time mechanically doing on their own by transporting water way up possibly a couple hundred foot high from their root systems far below. But there may be a third important benefit from these Fog Belts effects, that of Hydraulic Descent all the way down into the root system. 


An article published back in 2010 by the journal Scientific American, dealt with the work of Hydraulic Redistribution researcher Todd Dawson who I have repeatedly quoted and referenced on this blog. You may recall that Dr. Dawson discovered, that deep-rooted sugar maples were so well equipped with the ability to pull water from deeper layers in the subsoil and equally as well as any desert sagebrush. Drawing upon this deep water, the trees were able to water their neighboring plants within the ecosystem which ensured their survival during summertime back east. Dr. Dawson estimated that a 40-foot-tall maple was able to deliver between 40 and 60 gallons of water to the upper soil layers every night. He is also on record as stating in his belief of a health forest's ability at hydraulically descent of excess surface water to deeper subsoil layers and even regenerating deep aquifers. The 2010 Scientific American article itself was alluding to the very real possibility of these Fog Belt regions of the eastern Pacific disappearing altogether as climate change continues to advance. That would be devastating to these southern region Redwood Forests. That would create a Mediterranean climate in central California more like that of Southern California where Redwoods are not native. But there were a few paragraphs I'll quote from that article which were intriguing. 
"From 25 to 40 percent of the moisture in the system comes from fog," says Todd Dawson, who has been studying the relationship between the coastal fog and the redwoods for two decades. Some of the fog simply covers the leaves and prevents evaporation. But some of it also enters the stomata, or tiny pores, on the leaves and is drawn down through the branches to the roots. This is the reverse of transpiration, the normal flow of water from the roots to the leaves that exists in most trees. Redwoods are the first trees found to move water in both directions, though others have been identified.
Fog is not just a vital element for the redwoods—it's also crucial to the entire redwood forest ecosystem. Some of the moisture drips off the redwood leaves, landing on the forest floor to water the trees and young saplings. "It's not just a drip, drip, drip," says ecologist Holly Ewing of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, who also worked with Dawson. "The moisture can descend into the ground up to 35 centimeters deep, and that's a lot of water."
Scientific American: "Clearing and Present Danger? Fog That Nourishes California Redwoods Is Declining"
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 Deep-rooted plants have much greater impact on climate than experts thought
UC Berkeley News - Press Release 2006 (selected paragraphs)
Trees, particularly those with deep roots, contribute to the Earth's climate much more than scientists thought, according to a new study by biologists and climatologists from the University of California, Berkeley.
The new study in the Amazonian forest shows that trees use water in a much more complex way: The tap roots transfer rainwater from the surface to reservoirs deep underground and redistribute water upwards after the rains to keep the top layers moist, thereby accentuating both carbon uptake and localized atmospheric cooling during dry periods.
Trees have long been known to lift water from the soil to great heights using a principle called hydraulic lift, with energy supplied by evaporation of water from leaf openings called stomata. Twenty years ago, however, some small plants were found to do more than lift water from the soil to the leaves - they also lifted deep water with their tap root and deposited it in shallow soil for use at a later time, and reversed the process during the rainy season to push water into storage deep underground. Dawson discovered in 1990 that trees do this, too, and to date, so-called hydraulic redistribution has been found in some 60 separate deeply rooted plant species.
During the wet season, these plants can store as much as 10 percent of the annual precipitation as deep as 13 meters (43 feet) underground, to be tapped during the dry months. 
(Source)
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For Further information along these lines, I've actually created a resource page, so as not to over load the post here, which goes further into this amazing and fascinating phenomena which should be made simplified and inserted into every High School and College textbook around the globe:
 How Forests Attract Rain: An Examination of a New Hypothesis called the "Biotic Pump"
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After all this time I still don't know why the role of vegetation in our Earth's hydrological cycle has to remain so controversial. Incredibly, around the globe, local indigenous peoples in many partially forested regions have always believed that forests attract  rain, but climatology has until the last decade or so had no real scientific explanation for that belief. From the latest studies now, we know the roles these trees play in even simple cloud formation. Unfortunately, Roger C. Bales and Michael Goulden are back in the Industrial Science News again adding their take to the controversy. You remember that Roger Bales believes trees and chaparral are harming the Sierra Nevada Mountain's rivers and streams and therefore tree thinning by logging and salvage logging after wildfire should be championed to bring water flows [which he thinks trees & chaparral waste] to the San Joaquin Valley Industrial Agricultural business ventures. You may also remember Goulden along with Anne Kelly who slammed Jon Keeley & Dylan Schwilk for their take on why plants were moving up Santa Rosa Mountains above Palm Desert ? Anyway, they are pushing vegetation is evil hypothesis again, because they insist vegetation hogs water from rivers and streams, therefore needs removal by logging, Control Burns, whatever !!!

 Credit: NSF Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory/Jenny ParkResearch at NSF's Southern Sierra CZO links snowmelt with downstream water supplies. 

"Trees growing higher on the slopes will soak up water before it can run into rivers" Roger C. Bales
"The paper's results should be "another call to improve forest management to protect the water system," Roger C. Bales
"Managers need to understand what's going to happen to the water runoff from the mountains," says Bales "This paper is another piece to help inform that and will hopefully get more people's attention."
National Geographic: "As California Warms, Greener Mountains Will Mean Less Water for People" 
Conclusions:
I really don't want to get into Bales and Goulden's latest whining, but their worldview take on exactly how Nature actually works stands in stark contrast to what Todd Dawson/Inez Fung & Victor Gorshkov-Anastassia Makarieva have put together and published. And why are Gorschkov/Makarieva's research papers the ones that are given the label, "controversial" and not Bales' and Goulden's work ? Here's a better question, whose Funding backers stand to gain financially over such research work conclusions ? In any event, I'm banking on the later work of Dawson & Fung, Gorshkov & Makarieva for a more real world honest assessment. Do the hydraulic Redistribution abilities of Redwoods, Bigleaf Maples, California Bay and other native trees have the ability of sustaining stream flow within the coastal Santa Lucia Range ? So do I know for sure what is going on with consistent stream flow ? Not for a certainty, but I have a clear inference as to what the mechanisms could be. The fact that foliage transpiration is limited in such a marine coastal environment and that hydration mostly comes from marine layer moisture excesses rather than from roots to canopy, surely something far more important is secretly going on down below within this regional area marked by the U.S. Drought Monitor Authority as "Exceptional Drought Zone"

image Mine: Dense old growth forests in Palo Colorado Canyon Rd, Big Sur

Dense Forest and Chaparral cover drying up of Streams and Rivers Theory just doesn't jive here in the Big Sur location of Central California

Further Reading of Interest
Foliar water uptake: a common water acquisition strategy for plants of the redwood forest

Controversial research outlines physics behind how forests may bring rain

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Chaparral Biome & it's Forest building abilities with or without Wildfire

The great debate is over as far as the Industrial Forestry gang is concerned about how forests should be managed and made more productive for profit. Viewing the latest articles on how the Rim fire should be managed over at the New Century Forest Planning website, it is clear that much of the terminology they use in describing plants that normally and naturally sprout up after a wildfire, specifically  chaparral, is meant in the derogatory sense. Of all the metaphors, "Brush" is meant as a derogatory blanket description for any plant species within the Chaparral Biome. Brush in their warped view is nothing more than useless rangy bits of vegetation which hinders more valuable wood/paper component production plants such as Ponderosa Pines, Douglas Firs, Incense Cedar, etc, etc, etc. Some times these same critics even suffer from mixed metaphor disorder, when they label chaparral "invasive brush". First, the term "brush" again is meant as a derogatory term for living things these Foresters find no monetary value or worth in. This is a mistake, because it is exactly these living things which provide the early stages of healthy development until the desired timber gets a strong foothold on life. Second is the other term often applied in word or term combination and that is "invasive brush". This term "invasive" is often used even with trees which are considered undesirable for no other reason than someone's opinion. For example Red Cedar are often said to be creeping into a prairie or meadow. Or the Western Cedar is said to be invading Cattle grazing country up in Oregon, even though they are native there anyway. But how can you label something that is native to a region as something invasive, only because you don't like it ? This is where science ceases to become science and simply morphs into the sewer of bigotry by the ignorant. I've previous hit hard on the incredible ability of Chaparral to open up soil through cracks and fissures and bore deeply into subsoils, something many forest trees cannot do on their own. I've also hit hard on their ability of hydraulically lifting water and redistributing it to other shallow rooted plants within their sphere of influence which ultimately benefits the entire ecosystem as a whole. They also have the ability to deep percolate water deeply within the earth for use later, or to be an important component of aquifer recharge which also helps the entire ecosystem as a whole. This includes those highly valued timber Seedlings and later Saplings. But they also provide something else, something that most urban landscapers generally have to do artificially, although most probably don't give what they are doing a second thought as to how things work in the wild. Staking!


The reality is Chaparral plants do have other value and worth in the tender young tree structural support department. Unfortunately for these plants, the ignorance of exactly what benefits they do provide go mostly unnoticed or if known buried in the prevailing popular conventional literature and University textbooks, in favour of failed management policies mandated as successful which favour big business interests striving for monoculture forest products. As you can see in this photo at left, this is a Coulter Pine Sapling emerging from the Chaparral in a former burn from the 1990s. This particular tree is along a now extinct creek bed which was deliberately made extinct by diverting an ancient stream bed higher up in elevation to prevent a bridge being constructed over the creek on Hwy State Route 74 in favour of a cheap small culvert. The evidence and constructed berm are still up there, but mostly buried and covered over by vegetation. This tree is the resulting germination after that arson set fire and well away from the Hwy 74. There are no trails here. I only was able to find this shot by means of bushwhacking with friends. But notice the Staking ability of the chaparral to keep the delicate tree upright and strong and all the while providing water and nutrients even during these drought times. Of course this was taken in Spring of 2013, so maybe circumstances have changed as they have elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is what urban landscapers have to do artificially when creating a landscape scenario. Many trees just won't do well without staking or propping up with large poles. Below I have personal examples of my own and those I saw at some of the newer landscape features at the San Diego Safari Park near Escondido, California.


This is an Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii) which I purchased in the middle of April 2013 from Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery north of Escondido. This photo was actually taken at the middle of June 2013 just the day before I left to fly back to Sweden. When I originally purchased the tree, it was only about 10" high. You can see the newer top growth which grew from the previous year's bud formation after I planted it in it's new permanent location in my Mum's front yard. So it grew maybe another 10 or so inches while I was there. One of the other benefits of course was a healthy blend of mycorrhizal inoculent at the time of planting. Never ever plant a native without doing that to ensure it's lifetime health and survival. I do not like getting 5 gallon or larger trees. In my experience these one gallon will eventually out perform the ready made tall landscape trees demanded by most homeowners and/or commercial business enterprises. Unfortunately people are impatient and want instant landscape, but the next photo here below which I took at the end of this years trip the 1st of July 2014 reveals a year old planting which is presently over a meter in height and in desperate need of artificial staking as a result. Even with the many longer side branches which will eventually provide a measure of stability, this tree still needs staking. The staking itself was done this year when I first arrived. I never did stake it in the beginning, even after the 10 inch growth spurt. The continual growth was incredible after replicating a deep soaking rain with the garden hose for a few days when I first arrived. The abnormal lack of rain this winter season in San Diego and all of California actually necessitates artificially deep soaking during winter months to replicate deep soil moisture which will be utilized throughout the rest of the year if you plan it correctly.


Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii)

It should be noted that when I left the end of the first week of July 2014, the Oak was still growing, but more slowly, which is a good thing because I wanted it to harden off and toughen up. Who knows how big it will get next season. Still, one mete in a year wasn't a bad deal, even for the landscape impatient folks. I believe this is all the staking I will do. Trees need an element of wind swaying them back and forth to toughen up it's woody structure. If over done, then the tree again never develops properly on it's own. The situation turns into a type of tree bondage arrangement where the tree becomes dependent on a type of welfare entitlement and that is an undesirable goal for your landscape. For me, this is a sort of an "enabling" behavior, much like when you mix generous amounts of unnecessary soil amendment into the planting hole or establish a permanent drip system immediately around the trunk of the tree and it stays there for years. The tree simply will not mature the way it's supposed to. The goal here is to replicate the wild. The drip line in the above photo is no longer functional near the tree and none of the drip emitters provide anything to the oak. This was a previous line to other roses which are mostly gone except for the one or two in the background behind the Oak in the picture. Below here is a gallery of trees I photographed at the San Diego Safari Park near Escondido. They are indeed in need of staking, many of them Torrey Pines which are chaparral dependent.


Tree staked Torrey Pine @ San Diego Safari Park

Torrey Pines are long and leggy when young, especially in the urban landscape where water is plentiful and competition is usually nonexistent. They really do need chaparral in their youth. The area in which these beautiful pines growth actually receives very little rainfall by comparison to most pine habitats in the mountains of California. So the Torreys are very dependent on deeper rooted chaparral for their water requirements during those dry periods of the year. Of course the very mild climate along the coast coupled with the low clouds and fog of May-Gray & June-Gloom help a lot as well. Still, these tough trees excel in other ways and under other unique circumstances inland, but once again the chaparral are the main component necessary for survival as I have proven previously.




Below is an older grove of Torrey Pines at the San Diego Safari Park. Back when it was the San Diego Wild Animal Park there was a trail system which past under these trees. The area is a mix of chaparral in and around the grove of Torreys. Laurel Sumac and Lemonade Berry are the predominant shrubs mixed within this area. In a future post maybe I'll write about the Torrey Pine potential as a wood product tree. Most of the literature speaks of it as an inferior source for lumber, but they generally make such judgement calls based on it's growth along the coastal areas where it is still wild, but mostly in rounded and twisted picturesque forms. That would be a given, but when grown in the interior, they grow straight and tall with very few limbs on the lower truck. 





The Torrey Pine below is one where I experimented back in the late 1970s with the understanding that there is great potential of utilizing a nurse tree. In this case a Torrey Pine nursed along by a Laurel Sumac Chaparral shrub. At the time of this picture in 2011, this particular tree was between 25-30 in height. Landscape conditions would have more than doubled that trees size, but the experiment was to see what could happen in the wild and under harsh hotter and drier condition than where they are restricted as natives along the much cooler coastal areas around Del Mar. As far as I'm concerned the experiment was a success as I viewed it over the decades, which aloud me to replicate this in several places in and around Anza Valley where there are small woodlands of pines in areas the Forestry officials said would never become a success. Fortunately they were wrong. 


Unfortunately however, in hind sight, it apparently was a mistake to have written about and photographed where those Torrey Pine trees were located down in El Cajon on Rattlesnake Mountain. The biologist behind the Conservation Area project which oversees the protection of such endangered species in the coastal chaparral scrub there such as the California Knatcatcher songbird as much as hinted that he was alerted to the trees after I had asked why they were cut down with chainsaw. Evidently some reader complained. Frankly it really doesn't matter as I gained so much anyway from the experience, but it was still a cowardly thing to do. He was vague as to having anything to do with what the people up there in the Sky Ranch housing development did in chain sawing them down. But what's done is done. At least it's been documented and there for teaching purposes only.




Interestingly in the early years, that Torrey in the above photo and the others out of the picture to the right and left of this tree were almost completely smothered by the luxuriant Laurel Sumac foliage, but eventually they all of them exploded through the heavy shrub canopy. Now taking a different direction, take a close look at what I call a pine tree health gauge or ruler from the illustration below. Each whorl of a pine tree's branch reveals where next years buds form can as a general rule in the wild be considered one years worth of growth. Of course in the landscape there could be several growth whorls within a year and depending on the species, like Pinus halepensis which almost can have continuous growth and whorls given the ideal growing circumstances. But for the most part, California native pines have one whorl per year, unless it goes through an exceptionally wet El Nino period. I've had all my pines in Anza as well as this one above having the ability of keeping five or six years worth of needles on the growth whorls still intact and present on the tree even during dry years. In each case they were all connected to chaparral plants within the ecosystem. That's usually a sign of good health. It's when a pine gets down to one or only two years of whorls of needles, that a landscaper or homeowner should start to worry that the tree is drought stressing and in need of moisture. You seriously will need to get moisture to those trees quickly and manually if necessary. If chaparral are present in and around the trees, this is generally unnecessary in my experience.



The photograph below is of a location around the interchange of Freeways 15 & 52 near Miramar Naval Air Station where the 2003 Cedar fire blew through. Afterwards a bold attempt was made to use natives such as Torrey Pines and also California Sycamores on the banks above the shoulders. There was a massive amount of irrigation infrastructure installed everywhere to support these trees. In the beginning they were young and beautiful, but they were placed out on open sterile ground like most conventional landscapes with no real artistic imagination or placement other than rows of trees and planted with the same techniques and traditional understanding of plant establishment the US Forest Service uses when they plant pines on ground prepared by stripping it of all chaparral and then lightly tilling it. I understand that CalTran's Officials probably considers the chaparral a fire facilitator [especially after the Cedar Fire 2003], but so is any other landscape vegetation whether native or exotic. The fact is these trees would be far larger and have a much healthier history of dense foliage had they first planted and established chaparral shrubs in the beginning first couple of years, then planted those Torrey Pines thereafter. In the beginning they had staking because they were already several year old large container plants, but that doesn't help these plants now. Seriously, remember what I said about one gallon plants. Given the present drought crisis, I don't know if any of this can be salvaged. I don't think they have the water or motivational drive to even try.


Image Google Earth - Interstate 15 near Freeway 52
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Oak Woodlands need Chaparral for Successful Advancement
Hwy 79 @ Schoolhouse Rd
Okay, here is another subject, Oak trees & chaparral. Below is an example from the San Diego Safari Park which also added some newer oaks into the landscape where they were creating more of a native plants theme along the new pathways just recently constructed. Most all California Oaks need staking in the urban landscape in the beginning. Most California Oak varieties, with the exception of a few, have a twisted sort of growth with regards their central leading trunk as opposed to others which have a more pole-like structure. Hence the need for staking when young in the absence of Chaparral. Oaks in California generally do far better in a chaparral nursery environment than in an open grassland environment. The chaparral is the place where Scrubjays prefer hiding their catch of harvested acorns and such a large heavy seed certainly needs help being mechanically planted into the soil. At the based of a old growth chaparral shrub is an ideal place to a Scrubjay. But there are many people who believe oaks do far better and are much more natural in an Oak Savanna woodland setting. While California does have many areas where there are vast Oak Savannas, these were mostly created by ranchers who removed chaparral to allow grasses to grow for  grazing their cattle. Anza is a prime example of where they went too far and removed all oaks and chaparral entirely from the valley floor. Oaks have a tougher time germinating within a Savanna grassland than within a chaparral biome where chances of germination percentage-wise are much higher. This doesn't mean they won't germinate in grasslands, but the need for being buried is tougher in grasslands. The photo above is of an Engelmann Oak which has germinated long ago along the Hwy 79 roadside across from Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation entrance at Schoolhouse Road north of Dudley's Bakery. I actually saw this and another oak sapling struggle for survival here for almost two  decades. Under normal chaparral cover, the oak would have progressed much better and been three or four times the size than what you see in the picture above. You can see where this little oak has suffered some die back at times and the only reason it has gotten this far is because of concentrated storm runoff from the highway to the shoulder which it grows next to.



Incredibly, I stumbled across a website from the organization called the "Pleasant Valley Conservancy" which champions the care and maintenance of Oak Savanna woodlands. This group is based in Wisconsin and it's website reveals some incredible marketing and propaganda strategies which explains how & why human attitudes about the wild can be warped even from an early age over decades of time. The first quote below is what I would call a propaganda quote which champions the justification for fire. Not that fire isn't natural and cannot be used as a tool, but in the last century it has been over promoted and justified with just such misinformation as contained within the quote below:
"One of the principal reasons for clearing the undergrowth from around these open-grown oaks is to encourage acorn production. Acorns are the most important wildlife food and acorn production is best in healthy oaks that are able to "spread their wings".
In all my years I have never found oaks more productive in Acorn production because of so-called removal of competition from other plants. The idea here is that grasses and chaparral prevent the oak tree from having productive acorn seasons. No doubt further propaganda would have it that the Native Americans knew this. Seriously, I have seen old growth forests and heavy old growth chaparral plant communities intermingled with large massive oaks in which were exceptionally productive Acorn season year after year. Trust me, the Natives would have also seen what I have experienced as well, but it doesn't make for as romantic a story line to those with a vested interest in some money making venture. I know because I collected acorns in the past and processed them for meal production. Large Oaks within heavy Chaparral plant cover were the heaviest producers when I went out into the bush. Then there was this subheading on that first page calling attention to people's perception of what they considered a healthy forest is out in Nature. This had more to do with marketing an opinion and biased ideology more than anything else. They polled the people as to what they thought looks more aesthetically pleasing:
Aesthetics of the Oak Savanna Landscape
"Surveys of attitudes and perceptions have shown that the oak savanna landscape rates highly in the public mind. Open forests with large, relatively old trees are considered very attractive. Other pleasing factors of the oak savanna include the high plant diversity, the presence of wild flowers, the large openings surrounded by trees, and the extensive vistas and overlooks. These are characteristic of parks, and the park-like setting of oak savannas is appealing, just as it was to early travelers through the Midwest."
http://pleasantvalleyconservancy.org/savannas.html
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This is the exact marketing put out there by the US Forest Service. This is the mirror image of the mandated purpose up in the San Jacinto Mountains by the Palms to Pines highway beautification project and maintenance program. Show people park-like conditions which appear to be the most aesthetically pleasing to the average Joe/Jane Q-Public driving thru the area in their car and they'll imagine you are doing your job properly. Now I do like Oak Savannas and there is no doubt a historical presence throughout California's central valley & surrounding lower foothills for them, especially considering at one time there was an historical presence of more than 500,000 Elk alone which no doubt maintained such Oak Savanna areas. But much of the mountainous regions on the west side of the central valley to the coast of California has been ruined by overgrazing and removal of large tracts of chaparral where majestic oaks and Foothill pine have been left. Eventually these older trees will die and those Oak Savannas will be gone. What will be leftover is nothing but non-native grasslands and other exotic weeds. I saw it this past June 2014 when my wife and I traveled from Buttonwillow California over highway 58 to Santa Margarita on our way to Monterey up Hwy 101. The grazing that has been allowed on numerous steep slopes of mountainsides for miles and miles has cattle which have mowed the grasses to the ground where nothing now but bare soil exists. There are some pockets of large Oaks spread out here and there, but also many dead ones. There is zero presence of regeneration as would be evidenced by the existence of various younger to middle aged trees even over the last few decades. There's nothing but old oak trees and dead remnants. Even Foothill Pines are dying everywhere and lack of anything new, with the exception of maybe some roadside pine germination because of concentrated road runoff. Oaks and Pines in California need chaparral nurse feeding, hydrating and staking. Chaparral historically provided everything they needed. If humans don't get their act together with regards proper custodianship of Earth, then like climate change, all plant ecosystems may also end up at a point of no return.
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Ideas and Plans for using Chaparral in the Landscape
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Additional Tree Staking Resources:
Girdling Roots -- A Problem of Shade Trees, Ohio State University Extension 
http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1139.html
Planting Guidelines: Container Trees & Shrubs, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
http://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1022.pdf
The Myth of Staking: "Newly planted trees should be staked firmly and securely", 
Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup, Research and Extension Center, Washington State University 
http://puyallup.wsu.edu/~linda%20chalker-scott/horticultural%20myths_files/Myths/Staking.pdf 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Creating Chaparral Alcoves in your Landscape for personal regeneration & meditation retreats

We are also including here such other important descriptive terms such as Chaparral Tunnels, Chaparral Caves, Chaparral Hidden Glens
Image: Richard Halsey - Californtia Chaparral Institute
"Marriage of an old-growth legacy manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) and an Engelmann oak that has lasted for more than a century. No fire needed here!" 
Richard Halsey
From the very first time I gazed at this photograph, I fell love with it. It's mesmerizing and addicting. You just want to step into this place and escape from the outside world even if it's momentarily. It's one of those poster child pictures which would have been recreated onto one of those 1970s popular wall paper murals with a Lava Lamp sitting on a rustic knotty pine end table as part of the decor. But the tangle of biological plumbing/electrical networked infrastructure of the branches above ground and rooting infrastructure below ground all working with cooperative precision and perform all manner of hydraulic life and redistribution or hydraulic descent during the  winter months is just how nature's ecosystems run. People who are clever & intuitive enough to find these old ancient Chaparral Alcoves can experience the exact same energizing natural effects which can be illustrated in a rather unusual way by the re-energizing alcoves that only a mythical Borg could appreciate. Surely you remember the Borg ? However in real life, experiencing the negative ions given off from wet vegetation along with inhaling the various plant aerosols can have exactly that same effect on a human being. It's energizing! Couple that with the informational visual content being transmitted through your eye lens taking in the surrounding beauty [which is the rule in nature & not the exception] and being processed along with all other information coming in through other sense of smell and hearing, the effect can be truly energizing in a real true sense. Let's illustrate.

If you can recall the images from that popular iconic series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the alien species they encountered whom they called "The Borg" [actually a Swedish word "Fortress"] who were half human, half machine and periodically needing regular regenerating inside their Borg alcoves within the Cube. A Borg alcove was a device used by Borg drones for this regeneration. All manner of tubes and wiring, recharging and connecting individuals into the collective consciousness of the entire Borg Civilization within the Cube. When the Borg drones were not needed for immediate tasks, it was used as a drone storage device by the Borg Collective. From youth on a drone would make use of an alcove which was specifically attuned for the individual drone, although minor adjustments could be made to accommodate use by other drones. In a tweaked sort of way this was how these unnatural organisms regenerated themselves within their artificially created ecosystem. Though partly biological, their sole purpose in life was nothing more than mechanical, something humans today are in danger of becoming with the plethora of electronic gadgetry offered by our world's industrial scientists.


The Sci-Fi drone would then return to the alcove on a semi-regular basis for the purpose of regenerating mental, physical and electromechanical energies spent through normal daily activity. At the top of each Alcove was energy monitor screen symbolizing the collective energizing effects of all drones being connected to the system. Although real humans are nothing close to those Sci-fi drones, they are also in danger of becoming like drones in the conscious choices of direction they take. But with our world's increased marketing of newer and far more sophisticated gadgets, have you ever noticed the addictive reliance many have to these cyber implants they themselves plug into their brains ? Many people can't go anywhere without such devices. I'm finding that more and more, the average person doesn't like being alone with their own thoughts and prefer the continual transmission of cyberworld informatics to stimulate them through their day. It's almost like they're are on a sort of IT Life-Support. Humans of course do indeed need a measure of mental and emotional regeneration, but what they actually need is more of a healthy type of stimulation. This need can only be accomplished by getting out into nature by wandering through and exploring natural alcoves, wooded tunnels, caves, discovery secretive glens, etc. Earthing or Grounding if you will. Stopping momentarily here and there to take in sights, sounds and the stimulating fragrances of an Elfin Woodland's ability clear city life's polluted atmosphere of thought by replacing it with positive energies which come from the releases of spicy earthy scented fragrances which emit from within the interwoven tangle of biological hardware we call a Chaparral Alcove. 

Now to the point of this post. I love patterns in Nature, especially artistic natural patterns. I love how they make you feel once you discover and experience them. When I was a little kid, exploring chaparral alcoves and/or tunnels was easier, I was smaller. Gradually I experienced such features near beaches and city parks where the municipal landscapers created such decorative twisting features within their maintained landscapes, but did so with exotic plants. A fine example of this is to visit Pepper Grove at the southern end of Balboa Park in San Diego where they have maintained a twisted grove of Brazilian Pepper trees into a children's playground wonderland and picnic area. Google "Pepper Grove Balboa Park"  and you'll see what I mean. Later during the Southern California wet El Nino event period between 1978-1984 many traditionally dry washes and gulches within the chaparral plant community came alive with babbling brooks of water often running all year long. What made me explore some of these when I was out and about in the bush was the distant sound of water trickles and many times small waterfalls. What I noticed was the beauty of the tangled web or network of various chaparral branches. Often such tangle would open up within these hidden glens revealing a secret location where you could even stand. Such places gave me the idea for replicating such hidden spots by recreating them in the landscape. The twisted tree in the photo to the upper right here is at the beach at La Jolla Shores near San Diego.


Image Mine -  San Diego La Jolla Shores, California


Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
One of my goals on this 2014 trip to California was to photograph such places with their twisted interesting forms from which creative ideas and plans could come to the surface on how to replicate these in the landscapes of Southern California as decorative features, but with native chaparral shrubs and small trees. The chaparral is actually a more perfect fit. They also are more adapted to the drier climate than many of the water loving exotics used instead. For me the use of Brazilian Pepper would be more of a maintenance issue because of it's habit of continual growth and trimming of suckers. True, some chaparral in the beginning may sucker a bit when attempting to recreate a multi-trunk small tree, but with age even that would taper off. When we went up to Monterey to travel south on the Cabrillo Hwy to San Luis Obispo, we did make one stop in Carmel-by-the-Sea and I photographed some examples of the twisting native oaks most people there have in their landscapes. Take note of the gallery below.



Image Mine: Carmel-by-the-Sea neighborhood



Carmel-by-the-Sea, California




Carmel-by-the-Sea California

Carmel-by-the-Sea Monterey Cypress
Many of the neighbourhoods up north that I have seen first hand do incorporate many more of the natives as compared to SoCal, however you will find them in older sections of towns and cities down in Southern California if go go for a Sunday drive. But this is true of most older neighbourhoods in all cities within California. These were among the first plants chosen for decor around one's personal space in the garden in the early pioneer days. But sadly, this understanding of California native plants became lost as more and more exotics were introduced and the fact that introduction often came from human beings migrating in from other lands and cultures who brought over homeland favourites from their former countries. But now with the severe drought and water crisis effecting the southwestern United States in general, many are taking a fresher look at working with the native plants in their respective regions. But more should be done than mere placement of plants along hardscaped outlines. Using such plants should be done in creating artistic & aesthetically eye appeal and senses pleasing settings. These are the same settings you stumble upon when venturing out into the wildscape. While there are many 1000s of natives, there are only a few main types of shrubs that I find  that can be turned into ideal small tree form examples. I say shrubs because as time goes on, more and more landscapes in the modern day housing tracts constructed by today's developers are forcing more and more homes onto smaller lots. There is no longer any room for those large majestic trees. As you can see from the photo of the Monterey Cypress in the above right, even when lots were larger in the past, today just a few decades later such trees have come into confrontation with Utility Giants and their precious above ground infrastructure. At this late date, these scenes have become very common place. Most of the utility right-of-ways are above ground over in the United States, unlike much of modern Europe which has chosen to put such infrastructure under the ground, which is not only aesthetically more pleasing, but also less safety hazard as in windstorms and the wildfire ignition danger potential.

Laurel Sumac, Rattlesnake Mountain, El Cajon CA


The photo above was taken this year at my friend's home who lives backed up against Rattlesnake Mountain. This large Laurel Sumac chaparral shrub has been there since the 1960s back when I remember it as a kid growing up. Under normal rainfall patterns which are now almost nonexistent, the foliage is generally much more dense and heavier. But you can see the beautiful branching pattern and structure for a potential addition into any landscape. I had the privilege to witness a volunteer Laurel Sumac at my Mum's places years back before moving here to Sweden. You can it here at the left side yard of her house here. Unfortunately the neighbour at the concrete paved property on the left hated the small chaparral shrub and insisted it was going to turn into massive tree whose roots would crack and destroy his concrete block wall and he warned there would be lawsuits if it wasn't removed. My mother caved [only after I left] and it was taken out. But even from this vantage point, you can see that it poses no problems and at best is only a small tree created by pruning for multi-trunk form. We also never once watered this Chaparral Elfin tree, it was never necessary. All water came from Seasonal rains. Still, this tree is rarely used or thought of for this purpose by even those who purchase natives. This is reflected by the fact that even native plant nurseries rarely carry it. But it's a gem of a chaparral tree when incorporated among other chaparral.
 

Image Mine: Ranchita California, Sugarbush (Rhus ovata)

Calflora.net
Sugarbush is one of the favourites for people living in the backcountry. This one in the above photo is in Ranchita California on the road to my brother's place. Many of his neighbours have beautiful mature ones in and around their patio and Bar-B-Q areas where friends and family can enjoy a meal and pleasant relaxed association with each other. These also grow very well down below in the interior valleys away from the coastal areas where they can take exceptional heat as long as they have deep access to moisture in the subsoil. I've planted one in my mother's backyard along with another perfect chaparral shrub called Lemonade Berry. Both are on the southern side of her California Sycamore trees and will eventually provide a perfect privacy screen and tunnel along the pathway leading further to the back. I've also planted Toyon or California Holly which also is a perfect example of a chaparral which can be deep rooted and shaped into a multitrunk small tree. All three of these chaparral also provide good sources for food at different times of year through their flowering period and fruit berry production time which makes them wildlife magnets. 

Below is a project I am working on each year in the front yard. I'm creating more of a Native Fan Palm Oasis of sorts in the background here away from the driveway with smaller shrubs [some native - others not] to buffer the palms and add colourful border at the front. In the far background behind the palms is a lawn which is coming out and will be replaced by a secret hidden away chaparral alcove which will be slightly etched or excavated into the sloping landscape creating an oval circular arrangement of seating and relaxation under a central planter which will be installed next year and planted with some of the more high desert chaparral to match the Oasis theme better. Believe it or not, SoCal deserts do have Sugarbush, Hollyleaf Cherry and Desert Apricot in and around many of the native California Fan Palm habitats, often growing within or right next to the Fan Palms themselves. If you look to the far right in the photo below, you'll notice a dense hedge of low growing Juniper which my mother put in years ago which screens out the insanity of school traffic across the street multiple times a day. You can also use chaparral in this respect as a formal hedge if you wish, as the example above left of the Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifiolia) being shaped into formal hedge row. California Coffeeberry can also be used this was as I've written about previously. Surprise yourself by having fun experimenting with other ways of substituting some chaparral plants with unique characteristics you thought only the exotics provided.

Photo Mine: Across the street from Pepper Drive School in El Cajon California

Photo Mine
The palm here above behind the Baja Fairyduster is actually a Mexican Fan Palm. On my whole two month stay here I could find only one California Fan Palm which is mostly what I wanted, but alas, I settled for these. The California Fan Palm I did find is already planted just behind that black plastic border along the lawn in the photo at left. It may be difficult to see in the upper left of this photo, but it's there. That lawn of course will come out. I wanted California Palms because their trunks are much bigger and they are slower growing, but bigger broader palm frond canopy. The Meixcan Fan Palms are much more faster growing, but messier to me and get so high that they are very expensive to maintain because you need to hire a professional. The problem is most people want instant landscape and don't have the patience to wait, which really is not that much more time if you know how to make the California Fan Palms happy. A Mexican Fan Palm was already there in the landscape anyway since 8 years back. This one I chose deliberately because of the small pup growing on the side. Palms do this in nature just as the chaparral creates beautiful interesting twisting patterns. I wanted a more natural look anyway as opposed to smooth organized lines common with the majority of landscaping designs. The other surprising wildlife magnet which I had not known before was the Baja Fairyduster in the above photo at the right side of the picture. 

Photo Mine
I was pleasantly surprised one morning when I came out to the front yard to sit along the wall to enjoy my coffee, to hear all the various collection of humming sounds coming from the Baja Fairyduster. Every type of winged insect from Bees to Wasps, every kind of Fly, even Mosquitos and of course Hummingbirds and butterfiles. But it's all those tiny little small predatory wasps which most people mistakenly take for flies and no doubt have killed in ignorance, that I was more interested in. Attracting these guys to your yard will mean you'll have less predatory larva and caterpillars munching your landscape and garden vegetables. They lay their eggs on the caterpillars or if large enough, they capture and stun such garden enemies and take them back to nests they've created either under roof eaves or borrows dug in the ground where there they lay their eggs and seal off the entrance. Knowing such things and how an entire landscape can be both aesthetically pleasing and mechanized in a checks and balances sense will go a long way in helping educate you as to how unnecessary many of the Industrial Science products such as pesticides truly are. The problem though is that they literally own the marketing education on this subject and they've had a monopoly which is backed with massive amounts of money which even goes as far as influencing school textbooks from elementary school right up to the college level. But people can remove themselves from all of that and re-educate themselves and even do their own experimenting within the landscape. 

Sunset Gardening landscape pathways
The main idea behind this post is that you can build into your landscape these amazing Chaparral Alcoves for quiet time which can create such blissful experiences before and after work. Get into the habit of taking time out for yourself on a daily basis in your wild landscape, whether through reading a good book [please dump the electronic devices], meditative relaxation, daily prayer, or just a walk in the open air around your garden chaparral tunnel pathways if you've got the space for them. This will help you feel calmer and more at peace with yourself from the world outside. Order yourself to take a time out which will force you to see the bigger picture and can prevent you from letting the daily stressers of life get you down. Even if it's just sitting in your garden hideaway for a mere 15 minutes a day, that quiet time can help transform your state of mind and assist you in retaining control over your life. There are no cybernetic implants are required here for regeneration. You have all the natural senses of sight, sound and smell necessary for regeneration when the world outside drains you of vital energies. So go ahead and create an award winning Sunset Gardening magazine hideaway landscape alcove or pathway, just do it with Chaparral.