Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mission Manzanitas Uncovered

When we first moved out to our property in 2006, I discovered that we had a beautiful old Mission Manzanita tree  (Xylococcus bicolor), about 8 feet in height, growing in the middle of a small chaparral stand that we had set aside for preservation when our home was under construction. At first, I couldn't figure out what it was - it had the beautiful reddish-brown twisted bark reminiscent of a Manzanita, but it also had these odd, leathery, elliptical-shaped leaves that were sort of curled or rolled under, and a profusion of little black berries. I was stumped - was this some kind of manzanita-ceanothus-oak-elderberry experiment gone wrong?

1/31/10 Mission Manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor). A wild cucumber vine (Marah macrocarpus) went to town last summer and strung itself up all over the tree. The dead remnants of the vine are now hanging off it like TP on a house after homecoming. 

Anyhoo, after pouring through all my plant guides and floras, I finally found a photo of the Mission Manzanita in the field guide, San Diego Native Plants, by James Lightner, and then it all clicked. A further cross check with the Jepson manual confirmed the ID. Seems to be a chaparral plant confined to California's South Coast, Santa Catalina Island, and the north coast of Baja. Not a true Manzanita, but a kissing cousin.

1/31/10 Mission Manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor)

Flash forward three and a half years later to today, January 31, 2010. This afternoon, as I was trekking up the hill on the east side of our property, I saw a super-juicy "shrub" covered with tiny white blossoms along the fence line with one of our neighbors. Upon closer inspection, ANOTHER Mission Manzanita!! It was always there, in plain view, gone unnoticed until now. Words fail me. 

1/31/10 Berries on Mission Manzanita

1/31/10 2nd Mission Manzanita which I "discovered" today, studded with blooms. Hummingbirds were staking out their turf on this one with their aerial fly-bys. 

There's much to appreciate in the Southern California winter gardenscape. The Ceanothus and a few of the Salvias are budded, with some already blooming. To top it off, the Juncos and White-Crowned Sparrows are mixing it up with the resident Lesser Goldfinches, Scrub Jays, House Finches, and California Towhees.

1/31/10 Male Dark-Eyed Junco with Lesser Goldfinch

1/31/10 Immature (first winter) White-Crowned Sparrow

1/31/10 Female Dark-Eyed Junco

1/31/10 California Thrasher

1/30/10 Lesser Goldfinch

1/31/10 'Valley Violet' Maritime Ceanothus (Ceanothus maritimus)

1/31/10 Hoary-leaved Ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius).
Native to the property.

Nothing sums up my feelings about the unfortunate naming of this noble staple of our chaparral community better than this oh-so-sage pondering from Las Pilitas Nursery:
"Who would make up the name Hoary Leaf Ceanothus? I mean, what were they thinking? Gray or white with age, covered with gray hairs, or so old as to inspire? How about Southern California Lilac, or Gray Leaved White Lilac? I mean I can't image a customer wandering in asking for Hoary Leaved Ceanothus. Horny Bush I could believe." 


1/31/10 Moonset at 6:30am this morning. Friday, Jan. 29th was supposed to be the brightest moon of the year. Well, I missed it, so here's the next bestest.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photography Class at the Santa Rosa Plateau...and the Reserve is still closed

This afternoon, went to the 3rd session of a series of photography classes being at the SRP Reserve's visitor center. The classes are offered through the Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation and taught by wildlife photographer Dick Cronberg. Dick's not only an excellent photographer, but also a great instructor with a knack for demystifying the esoterica of photography for the uninitiated, making crystal clear all that maddening stuff in our camera manuals that none of us ever really remembers or wants to understand.

His website is  

Per the SRP Foundation's website: 
the Level 2 class is still open for registration, but I hope that the vernal pools will actually be accessible to foot traffic by the time of the upcoming March 6th field trip.

When I got to the visitor center this afternoon, it appeared that the entire reserve was still closed due to the extensive flooding and damage to most if not all of the trails and bridges from our recent rains. Word is that the boardwalk over the main vernal pool is still submerged. Now, all this should dry out by March, but the problem is that there's more rain in the forecast for next weekend and who knows how much more to come.

In a 1/29/10 article posted on the Southwest Riverside News Network, the SRP Reserve Manager, Carole Bell, noted that the reserve received 9.5 inches of rain from the recent storms:

Santa Rosa Plateau expected to partially reopen after damage from storms

A bridge on the Punta Mesa trail within the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve that was washed out during recent storms. (Courtesy photo),
Even here in La Cresta, we have our very own version of a vernal pool forming off Valle Vista, visible from the main drag of Avenida La Cresta:

1/30/10 "Vernal Pool" off Valle Vista in La Cresta

But the rain has also sprung some forth some delectable surprises in my garden. Last spring, I decided to roll the dice and purchased, through mail order, one Dodecatheon clevelandii (Padre's Shooting Star) from Annie's Annuals and one Dodecatheon jeffreyi (Jeffrey's Shooting Star) from Beaver Creek Nursery in Coleville, WA. WOW...imagine that. ONE EACH of the kind of wildflower that typically grows in masses of perhaps hundreds upon hundreds. Well, darn it, they're expensive and tricky to establish, so I wasn't about to break the bank on this experiment. I had planted the Padre's in the ground in decomposed granite next to some Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), and the Jeffrey's in an old wine barrel planter with other wetland species, including Giant Stream Orchid (Epipatcus gigantea) and Seep Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus). Both of the Shooting Stars died down before summer, and I just assumed that they were goners. But then lo and behold and I'll be a monkey's uncle...I saw some herbage today emerging from whence the original plants had met their presumed demise. Call me nuts, but at that moment I felt this overwhelming need to break out a bottle of some really, really good bubbly or at least do some kind of crazy jiggy rain dance. Frankly though, it's all kind of a blur now, so maybe I did both...

1/30/10 Padre's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii)

1/30/10 Jeffrey's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffrey)

1/30/10 Seep Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), reseeded from last year's plants

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Storm #4...and this one's a doozy

I believe today's torrential downpour is storm number 4 in this back-to-back series. Mother nature seems to have saved the baddest for the last.

1/21/10 View from rear deck of the house. Normally bone dry seasonal creek coming alive from the rain.

Based on the forecast last night, Gilbert and I decided to stay home today rather than risk driving 2+ hours each way to and from work in treacherous conditions. Rain and wind have been unrelenting and fierce since about 10:00am this morning, and we got pelted twice (3:00pm and 4:30pm) with some major hail. So far, there's been no let up in the inclement weather.

1/21/10 Photos of creeks forming off Calle Centro in La Cresta, taken by Gil just after 3:00pm on his way to a store run to Ralph's supermarket

The vernal pools on the SRP reserve must be brimming and swimming right now. Will be over at the visitor center for a photo class this Saturday so will check out the water levels at that time. Regardless, this recent deluge is surely the prelude to a super sweet wildflower season!

1/21/10 Hail raining down on the driveway

1/21/10 Closeup of Hail (pea-sized, so they melted pretty quickly)

1/21/10 Hana is a glutton for punishment. Maybe SHE likes "Eau de Wet Dog", but moi? Not so much...

1/21/10 Herb garden is flooded (again!). Where are the rubber duckies?

1/21/10 A beautiful (albeit brief) break in the rain at 2:40pm

Monday, January 18, 2010

Woohoo! El Nino has arrived, and with a vengeance

The rain started trickling in late yesterday afternoon and continued steadily through the night and into the morning hours.  By noon, the wind began gusting maybe 40+ mph, blowing the pounding rain in at a horizontal angle.  It got so bad that the ceiling of our library actually sprung a leak and I had to put a bucket and towels underneath to catch the drips.

Around 5pm, the rain finally let up and we are now in a temporary lull. The forecast, however, shows at least a couple more storms on the way. I wouldn't be surprised if we got over 4 inches of total rainfall up here on the plateau just from this first storm.

If I had any doubts about the prospects of an El Nino before, well I don't anymore. We definitely need the rain, but this deluge must be very worrisome for those folks living in the burn areas. I pray that they will be safe and their homes spared from mudslides.

1/18/10 Hana, wondering where all her frenemies are hiding out in the pouring rain

1/18/10 Around 2:30pm, water coming down on the library window from the upstairs balcony

1/18/10 4pm, herb garden is flooded

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Catering to the Birds

Gilbert thinks I'm an automaton-robot slave to the birds because the first thing I do, every day, without fail, is to feed the birds before I will even consider feeding him. And even mo' betta, Hana is next in line in that food chain. So that leaves Gil at the bottom of the proverbial ladder.

But, the daily scattering of bird seed really does pay off, drawing in a multitude of avian diners and even the occasional leporid party crasher.

A resident covey of about 15-20 California Quail invariably appears twice a day around the bird feeder to partake of the bounty, accompanied by a hodgepodge of House Finches, Juncos, Scrub Jays, Thrashers, Towhees (both California & Spotted), and White-Crowned Sparrows. Then there are the gazillion Lesser Goldfinches that flock to the finch sock filled with niger seed hanging off a shepherd's hook near the Sycamore tree.

1/10/10 California Quail, in line for the goodies

1/10/10 California Thrasher (lower right), hangin' with the Quail...

1/10/10 Girl Quail on the left, Boy Quail on the right

You can run, but you can't hide (from the camera) - bwahaahaaaaaaaaa!!!!

1/10/10 Lesser Goldfinches, en masse...

A lazy day today, so not much new or interesting to report. And as you can see, Hana also had a very busy day, lounging on the rug with her compadres and moseying slo mo through the garden:

1/10/10 Hana with Bunny & Piglet

1/10/10 Hana on patrol, keeping Mom & Dad safe from the lizards & bunnies

So, wrapping up another very SoCal, 'can't complain' kinda weekend, here are some parting shots:

1/10/10 San Bernardino Mountains, still snow-capped, despite our recent balmy weather

1/10/10 Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) in foreground, leafless but budded for bloom (unless we never snap out of this mild warm snap)

1/10/10 Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) on right, Cedros Island Verbena 'De La Mina' (Verbena lilacina) on the left. Potted plants include Pansies, Violas, Zonal Geraniums and Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea).

1/10/10 Pansies

1/10/10 Pansies and Violas

1/10/10 Pansies, Violas, and Lobelias

1/10/10 Beautiful sunset, with an ethereal "rainbow" cloud to the left

1/10/10 "Rainbow" cloud's encore

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Manzanitas in bloom and "THE HILLS ARE ALIVE, WITH THE SOUND OF potential weeds sprouting..."

The slopes and bare spots around the property are starting to green up from the recent rains, but still waiting until the sproutlings are a bit more defined before hitting the Mustard and Filaree with Round Up. I am not generally an advocate of using chemicals for weed abatement, but we've just got to get the bad stuff under control, once and for all. If you've got more than a couple acres to contend with, then you will understand where I'm coming from. Who the hay wants to spend 24-7 for months on end trying to remove all the offending invaders (which, btw, are firmly entrenched in decomposed granite) by hand?

Last spring we also had large swaths of Fiddlenecks popping up all over the map and I'm sure they've reseeded. Although native, some find them weedy. I myself am rather fond of the Amsinckias, so will do my best to avoid them in the upcoming spraying frenzy.

Spotted the first manzanitas in bloom this morning - two Paradise Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos pajaroensis) have kicked off the winter season with their teensy, adorable, urn-shaped blossoms.

1/9/10 Paradise Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pajaroensis)


1/9/10 'Jolon' Santa Lucia Bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri)

1/9/10 'Alexandra' Monkeyflower (Mimulus Cultivar)

1/9/10 Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus)

1/9/10 Seaside Dahlia (Coreopsis maritimus)

1/9/10 Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi)

1/9/10 Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea)

1/9/10 Cliff Aster (Malacothrix saxatilis var. implicata)

1/9/10 'Cape Sebastian' Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus)

1/9/10 Clarkia rubicunda 'Shamini'

1/9/10 Whitney's Clarkia (Clarkia amoena ssp. whitneyi)

1/9/10 Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), native to site.

1/9/10 Bush Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus)

1/9/10 Canyon Sunflower (Venegasia carpesioides)

Cool weather also suits the sweet peas, pansies, violas, snapdragons, and heathers. My fav perennial violet is "Etain' and the Black-Eyed heather is just as cute as a pixie.

Viola 'Etain'

1/9/10 Viola 'Etain'

1/9/10 Black-Eyed Heather (Erica canaliculata rosea)