Sunday, June 8, 2014

When Mycorrhizae debunks the Scientific Orthodoxy on what & who they'll colonize

Dogmatic Scientific Consensus gets blown out of the proverbial saddle once again!

Sorry, I couldn't resist. In most of the text books and literature promoting the wonders of mycorrhizal fungi, both Ecto (EM) & Endo (AM) Mycorrhizae generally are categorized into lists that highlight the main types of trees, shrubs and other plants which both of these differing fungi will supposedly ONLY colonize. The lists are almost a sort of etched in stone religious scriptural text that cannot be altered without facing some sort of backlash from the established Scientific Orthodoxy which establishes facts. Frankly, the Natural World couldn't care less what the research membership club may assume to be the prevailing consensus. Take for example the Chaparral Plant Community. The conventional thinking is that aside from Scrub Oak, Manzanita and a handful of other plants, most shrubs are Endomycorrhizal . Interestingly back in 2005, the US Forest Service published a report entitled:
Biodiversity of Mycorrhizal Fungi in Southern California
"Greasewood or Chamise ( Adenostoma fasciculatum ) normally forms arbuscular mycorrhizae with all genera found in the region. However, during wet years (El NiƱo), we found EM associated with its roots and EM fungi in the stands (Allen and others 1999b). There was a high diversity of fungi ranging from Cenococcum and Balsamia spp. (ascomycetes ) to a variety of basidiomycetes such as Pisolithus sp., Cortinarius spp., and Hysterangium separabile. We also found a new species of Rhizopogon : R. mengei (Allen and others 1999a). This is an important finding , since all other known species of Rhizopog on are associated with conifers. In addition, we sequenced the dominant fungus found on the root tips of Chamise, and this fungus was an unknown species of ascomycete, most closely related to Sarcocypha emarginata (97 percent similarity in t h e sequence alignment of the 5.8S region, 63 percent similarity in I TS1, and 59 percent similarity in ITS2), a common fire-following fungus. There are clearly plant/ fungal symbiotic combinations that we do not understand and have yet to explore."
"Although we have focused on Coast Live Oak and Chamise, it must be noted that there are many other EM plants in southern California. These include all other species of oaks, all members of the Pinaceae, and Chinquapin ( Chrysolepus semper-virens ). In our region, these never have been surveyed comprehensively."
Maverick Example #1 - Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) & Pisolithus/Rhizopogon
The final quote in the very last sentence says it all, "In our region, these never have been surveyed comprehensively." No kidding ? The fact is, nothing is etched in stone when it comes to understanding Nature. If it was, our natural world wouldn't be in danger from global ruin as it is at present. The above admission and findings regarding ectomycorrhial colonization of many chaparral shrubs should takes us further in our understanding how to restore habitats and make practical application within the urban landscapes of Southern California. Why the very idea of Chamise or it's other not so flattering label Greasewood being ectomycorrhizal is almost unheard of. It's value to the natural world has been demonized by many insisting that it along is responsible for some of the worst wildfires in Southern California. Colonization by symbiotic various species of Ecto-Fungi, especially Pisolithus & Rhizopogon during wet rainy seasons is interesting and almost speaks volumes about the information encoded within the Chamise plant's DNA for facilitating tree establishment during these wetter periods like El Nino events. It almost has the appearance of a cooperative strategy within an entire ecosystem to mutualistically help the entire plant community advance itself towards woodland re-establishment. This clearly exposes the ignorance and arrogance of many powerful Forest Managers who have conveniently and deliberately (no doubt for financial gain) ignored the beneficial roles chaparral plants play in forest establishment and lifetime health of the forest. It is clear that during drier periods, such lack of symbiosis would prevent tree seedlings from unsuccessful establishment due to lack of moisture, even within the subsoil and also at the same time taxing the survival mechanisms of the Chamise itself, who although being a tough fighter in hot drier regions, also has it's own limits. BTW, I originally alluded to Chamise ability of helping to advance forest trees and other oak woodlands over a year ago in May of 2013 last year. It's one of the best at further Parry Pinyon growth. Given the new ectomycorrhizal connection revelations during extreme wet years, this along with it's incredible ability at hydraulic redistribution makes perfect explanatory sense for the successes in some areas regarding woodland increase.
Chamise (Greasewood) Adenostoma fasciculatum a Major Forest Plant Facilitator 
 Update October 2, 2015
Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise or greasewood): Worthless Brush or potential Nurse Plant ???
Maverick Example #2 - Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) & Carob Tree (Ceratonia siliqua) - Pisolithus tinctorius

image: University California of Riverside
We all know what a Carob Tree is, but it may surprise many to find that Pisolithus tinctorius will conolonize this tree. Not me, I have known of this since the middle 1990s. Here is where anyone can observe the prooof. At California State University San Bernardino, the massive parking lot where Carob Trees can be found in the parking islands you will find many old dried Pisolithus truffles everywhere. I'm serious, go see this parking area for yourself. I'll be passing through there in two weeks on my way to Phelan, I'll take photos if I can. I know because this was one of my favourite collecting areas back then. But what was a shocker was the proof of Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) being colonized by Pisolithus tinctorius. I mean all of the literature and text books insist this tropical or sub-tropical loving tree is strictly an endomycorrhizal plant ONLY. And yet once again research has proven otherwise. A 2012 study by Moroccan researchers who collected Psiolithus truffles from Eucaplytus woodlands in Morocco for acquiring spore source for Pisolithus inoculant for testing both Carob & Date Palm actually proven colonization does take place. Again this is contrary to what many of the approved conventional textbooks say with regards this subject. Clearly both trees are a major food source for Middle Eastern and North African peoples and cultures. The Arab researchers therefore had a strong motive for finding if such a possibility did exist when would greatly enhance their agricultural practices with these two trees.
"In this study ectomycorrhizal plants frequency after inoculation by Pisolithus tinctorius in this study was 6.66% for Date Palm and 10% for Ceratonia Siliqua . Thus , Phoenix dactylifera and Ceratonia siliqua were ecto-mycorrhized for the first time in our experience conditions."
Clearly, most western researchers, especially in the USA wouldn't have bothered such an investigation considering such plants as not being of a pressing economic concern as would Arab researchers, opting instead to believe the prevailing doctrinal literature on the matter regarding Palms and other plants considered strictly to be endomycorrhizal. But this brings me to ponder about what other possible success stories are out there waiting to be discovered. For example, what about California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera) and other Palm Trees used in the urban landscape ? I don't doubt they are definitely endomycorrhizal, but is there a possibility they could also become ecto colonized, which would allow them to interconnect with other plants in the wild within an Oasis setting or urban landscape in association with other trees and/or shrubs ?
 Further references on Date Palms and Ectomycorrhization
From Laboratory of plants and microorganisms Biology, De partment of Biology, Faculty of Sciences, Universit y Mohamed  I, Oujda Morocco
 Ectomycorrhization of Date Palms
Maverick Example #3 - Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) & Pisolithus tinctorius
image: Mine
I have my own example which I experimented with back in the late 1990s. My Son and I went on a trip to the Huachuca Mountains above Sierra Vista Arizona while driving up Carr Canyon and along side the road I found a 6 inch high Alligator Juniper seedling I scooped up and took back to my property back in Anza. I planted the 6 inch Juniper seedling within a grouping of mature Redshank or Ribbonwood (Adenostoma sparsifolium). I did inoculate the seedling with a Pisolithus tinctorius mix I purchased from Plant Health Care Inc. Back then I was in continual communication with lead PHC Scientist, Dr Donald Marx and informed him that after a month from the time I inoculated this Juniper, a thumb sized truffle appeared at the base of the plant. This wasn't supposed to happen according to the literature. Of course lots of natural phenomena actually happen which is not in the conventional literature and textbooks. Dr Marx had me send him pictures of the tree with the truffle for documenting sake. Unfortunately I never received a reply and in all of the present literature out there, I still find no reference to colonization between the two species of organism. Not surprising since most religious orthodoxies resent being challenged as to what they consider TRUTH. This tree today hasn't grown to much, only close to a meter perhaps, but healthy enough to show promise. Given the fact that we are all shackled under climate change and extreme drought in SoCal, it's remarkable that this tree has survived at all. There are of course a number of things to also consider here. I have always had my greatest success in Southern California mountains establishing trees in remote areas and landscape by associating them with Adenostoma sparsifolium and Adenostoma fasciculatum. I had always thought that these extreme deeply rooted trees were the source of success as a Nurse Plant, but apparently there may be more to it than that. It makes sense to me that I have found in the past large Pisolithus truffles several meters away from target trees, like my Black Oak (Quercus kellogii) where I found numerous truffles which never existed before several meters away from the Black Oak and within mature bases of Redshank or Ribbonwood. Same with Coutler and Jeffrey Pine I have planted and have done so successfully and within any watering beyond the first year I might add. There is a wealth of information here and I hope more researchers follow this lead and actually do something with the information once it's published, instead of shelving it in some obscure place on the Net only to be stumbled upon by an occasional accident. This world's powerful Elites of the Timber Industry and Forestry are in terrible need of replacing if things out in Nature are ever going to improve. The religious dogma of "Survival of the Fittest" has done far more damage than we can possibly know. Demonizing and eradicating chaparral as something invasive and overwhelmingly competitive in re-establishing a forest after wildfire is a flat out lie. The old archaic thinking of forest re-establishment techniques and innovation based on flawed worldview dogma needs to get a grip and change with the times. They desperately need replacing because the natural world cannot afford anymore mismanagement. They have been weighed in the balances and found deficient. We can't afford to have these individuals in charge anymore as time is running out. For the average person reading here who actually gets a clue and cares about their own property or habitat restoration project, this is invaluable information regarding ecto-mycorrhizal relationship with chaparral, added to the already deep rooted capability of their root infrastructure along with hydraulic redistribution phenomena. There is no guarantee officials will ever get this revelation unless of course there is some sort of career advancement promise or some other personal profit incentive attached to the deal. Below are further examples of my own success with community planting pines and oaks within Redshank & Chamise chaparral vegetation. Clearly more than hydraulic redistribution created the successes here. Inoculating with Pisolithus tinctorius also clearly created an interconnection pathway between all these plants. Let's create a new catch phrase, "Mutually Assured Survival"

image: Mine

This is my old place where I planted, inoculated and left to it's own devices a Coulter Pine the very year I left in 2001. It was planted in between those huge Redshank & smaller Chamise chaparral shrubs. Watered that first year ONLY and after that was left to it's own. The present owners cleared the land in front of this tree and put up the fence, but otherwise it was in a remote spot on the property. They did not move there until 3 years after I left and they have  said they've never watered the tree. The height and spread are very large (taller than me @ 6.3) and pretty amazing considering the present long drought scenario in SoCal since then. It's also important to take special and specific note of how many years growth of needles are still clinging to each branch whorl. There were actually 4 years of needles still clinging onto the tree which is an amazing feat considering the drought that California is presently experiencing and predicted to get even worse and far reaching over a decade. Of course the credit goes to the way Nature is engineered here. Not only is the mycorrhizae imperative to the health and long term life of the tree, but a huge credit should also go to the two cousins of Chaparral you see here. Redshank & Chamise which facilitate hydraulic lift and redistribution of deeper under ground water resources which actually help hydrate and sustain the young Coulter Pine.

image: Mine

This Coulter Pine was a foot tall like the one in the above photo. It's location is in front of the one above where the Chaparral was cleared around it and a shed built which is in between both trees. However this was not done until 2004 almost 4 years after they were planted and they told me that they have never watered any of these trees. This seedling was actually slightly bigger than the one behind. Again, look at the height here which is much greater than the one above and notice the formation of cones already. This is unusual again given the drought circumstances which are presently hovering over this region and throughout California. What's exciting here as well is the formation of Coulter Pine cones already at this young stage. Clearly this less than one decade's worth of growth and survival can be attributed to the Chaparral which rather than compete, are aiding the tree's survival.

image: Mine
Once again this is the old Dawson homestead where we planted hundreds of Coulter & Jeffrey in 1983 which are now around between 20 and 30 feet high and bearing cones. We left the majority of Redshank, Chamise, Manzanita and Sugarbush. But clearly after inoculation with the PT Mycorrhizae, more happened than just hydraulic redistribution for mutual survival. I clearly have more picture examples of my old place and elsewhere, but the point has been made. Look forward to more research and discovery. In fact, biomimic it yourself and document what happens with photography. Share the results with others. BTW, for the landscapers, remember the importance of following establishment by replicating what happens during wetter years by watering with deep soaking frequently to first couple of years, then tapering off. Clearly this is also important in PT Mycorrhizal coolonization within the chaparral community which assures better tree seedling success. 
Lessons Learned from the Bajadas (Alluvial Fans) 
Further reading of Interest:
University Mohamed Premier, Bd Med VI, Oujda Morocco:"Ectomycorrhization of Date Palm and Carob Plants"
US Forest Service: "Biodiversity of Mycorrhizal Fungi in Southern California"
Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) @ Ramsey Canyon Arizona
"Survival of the Mutually Cooperative"
Chamise (Greasewood) Adenostoma fasciculatum a Major Forest Plant Facilitator

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting to the Root of why Natives rule & Exotics struggle or outright fail

For those particularly interested in Landscapes in the Southwest, you need to seriously pay attention
animation: Beatrice the Biologist
Whenever I am out anywhere in Nature, I am often intrigued with the natural underground networks which I believe make the beauty above ground all possible. Although usually unseen, I know there is something more going on with a luxuriant Chaparral shrub, especially when it first off appears to the eye to be in an impossible hot dry setting. In any event, it's always in the back of my mind and when I stumble upon a prime example while exploring, I record the scene straight away. I did recently stumble across these exact circumstances last week as my wife and I revisited Torrey Pines State Reserve between  Del Mar and La Jolla California. While walking the Park road back to Visitor Lodge from the Guy Flemming Trail, I noticed along the road cut out where the bank was crumbling and fractured rock debris was falling down to the road, there were numerous chaparral plant roots exposed as a result. This sand stone here looks to be a fairly dense impenetrable material where even water would merely run off the surface rather than percolate. Yet there they were, the cracks and fractures underneath being exploited by the plant's root system. It brought back to mind something that was reported on in a recent article and which I wrote about (Here) with the importance of plant roots being able to open up not only the surface ground layers, but also the sub-soils which further allows water percolation and deeper earth penetration by means of hydraulic descent. If course they exploit the hidden cracks and crevices with the Earth through their spiral drilling mechanisms. Take a look at three interesting photographs I took at Torrey Pines State Reserve which illustrate the intense natural engineering lengths at which California Chaparral species will take in order to survive.

Image: Torrey Pines State Reserve Park Rd

image: Torrey Pines State Preserve Park Rd

image: Torrey Pines State Reserve Park Rd

I was also further amazed by something I found regarding California Fan Palms this past weekend west of Ocotillo California in a canyon between Dos Cabezas Springs and Mortero Palms Oasis. To be honest, I never really paid much attention when it came to Fan Palm root structure and viewed their network as something which never strayed far from the tree. I mean after all, they always seem to be located near springs or seeps which run close to the surface. But I again stumbled upon something interesting again and in a location most hikers normally avoid or pay little attention to. The parking area for setting out on the long strenuous hike to Mortero Palms Oasis is in a separate canyon from that of the Oasis, but up that canyon there 5 or 6 good medium sized California Fan Palms along with smaller ones. There does also exist an older fallen log of a grand daddy which I can tell you has been there for years. The dry hot desert air tends to mummify wooden things in a sort of preservation phenomena. But aside from the usual placement of the odd palm here and there, it was the root system with in the area's fractured granite rock strata which actually caught my eye. First off, there was this one interesting fan Palm which was the first palm you come to climbing up the wash. Everything looked pretty much normal until you squeezed around to the back behind it. This is where I started paying attention once again to the ground and the network of root systems. Take a look at the photo below here where all is not what it seems from a visual perspective
This California Fan Palm was intriguing for one particular reason. I actually had to squeeze by this granite boulder here where I saw an interesting growth anomaly which took place decades back history where flood waters had knocked this tree down flat on the wash bottom as a youth, but through gravitropism it was able thereafter to right itself back up where from a frontal view looks perfectly normal and opposite in the back door. Nothing out in the wild can be attributed to ideal conditions. Everything is a tough struggle with some slight ideal conditions which allow for the success and survival. Of course in the urban landscape, things can be ideal, but understanding the mechanisms by which things succeed out in the wild will enable you to establish a landscape which will be more likely to flourish on it's own, especially during times of water availability and uncertainty. This is the goal that should be sought after anyway under any conditions. A landscape developed and maintained on a life support scenario, otherwise known as welfare, will not survive such tough times. The degradation of 75% of Southern California yards is proof that something has to change.
For the moment, take a look at this Fan Palm to the right. This tree was at the top of a rocky outcropping higher in the wash with it's roots extending downwards and also broadly running in a side pattern horizontally almost 15 feet away from the base of the tree. As solid as the granite bedrock was, it had numerous fracture lines running vertically as well as horizontally. This is where these delicate, yet tough fan palm roots found a conduit channel for seeking out further water seepage. I never though the roots ever went that far away from the tree and actually they went further beyond down the wash, but these pictures are of what I could verify on the surface. I have no real idea of how deep a setting the Fan Palm roots will venture. It would seem however they may go some feet in deep sandy wash type soils where aeration is exceptional. Given their presence in washes with regular flash flooding and debris sediment movements, I have seen some which have been buried far above their normal root line. Also there is the fact that many in a sheltered landscape setting, as they age and mature do start showing the protrusion of roots growing down from the trunk a foot or two above the ground level higher up on the trunk base. So who knows what the possibilities of actual depth with which could be obtained by these trees as long as there is good healthy aeration.

image: Mine

PalmBob 2009
The photo above of the fan palm roots are about 12-15 foot at the bottom of the wash away from that tree above. The roots actually followed the cracks and fractures within the exposed granite bedrock and have been revealed by continual ongoing natural flooding within the wash. They actually proceed beyond this picture on the left to deep down inside the level sandy wash down stream to the right in the photo where the original large ancient palm trunk has fallen over. Although I didn't photograph them, there were also lateral roots which grew at great distance sideways across the wash to the other side, once again following the cracks in the bedrock. The other photo of a Mexican Fan Palm to the right is for illustrative purposes only. Older Palms develop roots a foot or two above the soil line where the bark splits and reveals root growth expansion which not only adds to it's water and nutrient uptake if it's successful in reaching the ground, but also adds a wider base for the strength of the larger tree as well. Under natural normal wild conditions, the palm frond skirting would hide these roots and protect them from the drying elements of the harsh sun, making it possible for them to expand all the way down into the soil. It's important in understanding how things actually work or have the potential to work out in Nature. Without practical application, for me none of this would be of any real value. This is important in understanding the physiology of any plant's growth, especially in later life and the geology of your own landscape and what can and cannot be planted and why or with what in a community planting. How does everything work and harmonize for the benefit of the other plants ? Which mycorrhizal applications should I use to further enhance the plant's ability to thrive in the landscape ? While I never thought it possible, recent research has uncovered that palms can be colonized by ecto-mycorrhizae and not just endo-mycorrhizae. This is an important find and one I'll share later in another post. It's incredible because one of my favourite fungi are mentioned as doing the colonization, Pisoliths tinctorius (Dog turd Fungus).

Below here is one final photo. This is the bottom of the canyon where the wash opens up and fans out in the alluvial plan. This is a specimen of Holly Leaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia). Most of you won't believe this, but this particular old chaparral plant was present in the late 1960s when I first ventured here as a Boy scout. It is also a fascinating phenomena considering it's placement in the wild landscape. This area is extremely hot and dry, often well over 100 F or 40+ C. It's root infrastructure is clearly tapped into a permanent water source. It's the only Holly Leaf Cherry I have ever found near here and mostly likely was placed here by means of Coyote scat as opposed to being washed downstream. The placement above the wash may support this. The main point here is this chaparral species and the giant Sugarbush (Rhus ovata) in the next wash over can succeed in harsh climates given access to regular water. This is why natives should be used more often in the landscapes where as time pants on to the end, survival is becoming more and more of an issue than at any time previously.

image: Mine
I've benefited tremendously from observation and replication of various plant community scenarios observed in Nature. Despite recent climate change and drought in California, I have been successful in three landscape examples I installed last year (2013) in the interior valleys and mountains of San Diego County. I'll reveal the photos and report on them later. Of course everything is native plants and respect for underground root infrastructure and the interconnections between plants of the same community. Sadly, many of my techniques I fear will not work in remote wild places without human intervention, as the ongoing climate shifting and drought have changed the rules. In the landscape however, you have more control and success can be easily achieved by respect for some basic fundamentals and principles. If the climate were to ever change by way of improvement, then the native landscape will also respond in kind. The genetic information and detailed instruction are still in place, just waiting for this to happen. Sadly, I also fear that this year Torrey Pines State Reserve could and will be lost to wildfire if circumstances don't change. The chaparral and pines up there look terrible. The chaparral in many areas hasn't put on new growth and is struggling to maintain what's left by shedding well over half their leaves. The pic below says it all.

image: Mine

The chaparral everywhere here was suffering terribly and sadly it will be blamed when a disastrous wildfire strikes and it will, trust me. This should also be a wake-up call to home owners whose landscapes are in horrible condition and I say this from first hand on the ground observation. While the incredible amazing root infrastructure is all still there and in existence within all the plant communities, it means nothing without a normal rainfall pattern coming back again.

image: Mine
There were many stressed Torrey Pines, especially on the highest points where annual needle bundles located along the yearly growth whorls were from this years growth and that of last year. Most healthy pines in general should have as far back as six year's needle growth still present. The fact that these trees here exhibited only two or three years at best proves the stress they are under as they eliminate what they are incapable of maintaining. Armed with this knowledge, folks should inspect their own home landscape and be observant to the tell tale signs of a weakening system within their landscape. This is one of the main problems with the recent San Marcos Fire last month where News Helicopters revealed many neglected stressed or outright dead trees in their landscape which caused a greater firestorm. Although the State Park by it's very rules won't allow trimming of branches and dead material, in the interest of the park as a whole, something of a maintenance plan should be devised. There should be a rethinking of all Park and Wilderness rules where the conditions of climate and ecosystem health under which those rules originally formulated do not any longer exist. The conditions and rules by which Nature once operated no longer exist and humankind changed the rules.

image: Mine

Further Reading Interest:
Old Growth Tree Roots are far far more than Nature's Climate Thermostat
How much Reverse Engineering of Earth happens before Humans Admit there's a Problem ?
Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution of Water for the Benefit of other Plants in San Diego County
Deep Irrigation Methods for Training Deeper Rooting networks
YouTube: Planting trees with "deep pipe" irrigation