Thursday, September 4, 2014

Coastal Sage Scrub & Chaparral Exhibit @ San Diego Safari Park

image mine: San Diego Safari Park Chaparral Nativescape Exhibit


I've visited here many times in the past and I've always known that the Sage Scrub exhibit was the least visited of all the Park themes. But this time was worse and I actually will fault those in charge. While they certainly way back at the beginning of creating & constructing the exhibit, it's apparently that not a lot of attention to design planning went into the idea. This isn't unique to San Diego Safari Park (former Wild Animal Park), I found some of the same identical gross errors at the Mission Trails Park, particularly near the old Padre Dam parking area. Take note of the photograph below of a native California Sycamore planted within an Oasis setting with California Fan Palms in the San Diego County native plants Chaparral/Sage Scrub exhibit. Can anyone tell me what's wrong here with this picture ???


image mine: San Diego Safari Park Chaparral
 exhibit @ Oasis setting 
Let me help you out. Below here are just three examples of Sycamores which have a characteristic Maple leaf shape:
Mexican Sycamore (Platanus mexicana)
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
London Plane (Platanus acerfolia)
At worst it's one of these above species of Sycamores with the characteristic Maple Leaf pattern or at best a cross breed with one of the above examples and one of the Southwestern native Sycamores listed below here:
California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa)
Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii)

This is the same exact mistake blunder at the San Diego Mission Trails Regional Park near the Padre Dam Parking area when I visited there in June and along also the old winding Mission Gorge Rd in the Mission Gorge Canyon. I have also seen this same mistake in many of the common conventional retail Nurseries with a label  advertising California Sycamore when clearly it was one of the  eastern North American or European varieties. Now I could almost excuse a mistake of Arizona Sycamore being mislabeled as a California since both these Western Sycamores have a long fingered leaf design as opposed to the obvious maple leaf pattern, but there is no excuse for the other mistaken identity. The other thing is the east North American and European [maybe even Eurasian Sycamore] are a darker green instead of the lighter green of characteristic of the western. Also their leaf is thicker and smoother & has more of a gloss texture on the surface than the western.  I can forgive a rookie gardener or greenhorn landscaper for this type of mistake, but it's irresponsible of those caliber of people in charge of exhibits or displays at public locations where biologists and botanists are supposed to be in charge of oversight and nature education of the public. Even Landscape Company owners or supervisors and owners of Retail Nurseries should have a measure of responsibility for the glaring mistakes where I often see California Sycamore labels on what clearly is a London Plane or American Sycamore tree. At times I have stumbled upon a mistaken label and mentioned this to Nurserymen. but my experience has been that they don't exactly appreciate you pointing this out and dismiss the complaint as nonsense. Whatever !!! It should be noted however that at Native Plant Nurseries, I have never seen this since their reputation is at stake and they pretty much know their specific plant subjects. Another give away of incorrect tree identification is the tree's overall silhouette, shape and form. California Sycamores as well as Arizona have a more picturesque twisting shape or form and often can be multi-trunked with competing leaders, but of course as in anything, it's not always the rule. In the urban landscape where most of the non-natives with Maple-like leaves are found, they are generally a long single straight trunk tree with rounded ball-like crown or  conventional tree form that most people consider in the landscape. Even when young the differences are obvious. But back to the other problems I had with the chaparral display at the San Diego Safari Park. They unfortunately use an inappropriate exposed drip irrigation system on the ground's surface which is normally a horrible idea for native California plants anyway. The result is an  unsightly, in decline and rangy dead appearance of the shrubs on display for the public to view.

image mine: chaparral display with exposed improper irrigation
One of the main goals of any public landscape exhibit is to educate  and instill deeper appreciation of the subject being displayed. The Chaparral Plant Community in general gets bad press from an ignorant public relations land management service whose loyalties generally lay within groups with vested interests in money making ventures of various sorts. The rangy appearance and degradation of the Chaparral and other native plant area altogether has only reinforced these negative views of the native plant life of Southern California in my opinion. I have hit hard time and again how imperative deep pipe irrigation is to California Natives and an irrigation which should not be used all the time. The other factor which hurts many of these plants they have selected is it's southern slope exposure over a geologically shallow soil with massive granite bedrock below a few inches of soil in some places. One of the things they could have done in preparation prior to planting is something home builders  do in rural environments where soil percolation for septic lines needs vast improvement. They drill fairly deep holes in strategic locations within an area and place enough dynamite charge in each hole to simply fracture the ground down deep. Had this preparation been done here, the chaparral and other native tree roots would have had an easier time of penetrating more deeply through  the surface to subsoil layers. Water would also have a better chance at percolating down into deeper layers of the earth where native plants prefer it. Now here was another disappointment for me below.

Image Mine: Former Tecate Cypress display which contained at least half a dozen trees which are all now dead and removed.

This was sad. All Tecate Cypress with the exception of the small one to the right here are all dead and removed. There are still some Cuyamaca Cypress, but even some of them are gone and the ones that are left are unfortunately defoliating. Once again the culprit is poor maintenance and an inept irrigation system which had an "enabling effect" on the trees which probably grew to fast and out performed the root system which could not later support the needs of the larger trees. Despite the present California mega-drought, the power of an urban landscape garden is that it doesn't have to reflect how poorly things are doing in the wild. This doesn't mean they need to water during summer, but they could have supplemented the poor showing of winter rains by irrigating slowly and deeply during the cooler months of the season. Below here is an example of what is left from the Cuyamaca Cypress display in the garden which was always right next to the Tecate Cypress location along the service road.

Cuyamaca Cypress 

Unfortunately, this Cuyamaca Cypress above is also in dire straights as it sheds foliage to weather the drought period until the next winter season's rains offer some hopeful respite from the heat. But the main purpose and idea is that behind an educational display such as this nativescape should always reflect the beauty of a Chaparral and other native plant landscape which will draw the average person to appreciating such ecosystems more fully. After all, this is a replica not so much of the wild, but of an urban landscape where people have the power to control the climate settings. Heat is no obstacle to chaparral and other native plants as long as they have deep access to available subsoil moisture. In fact that was the very purpose of creating the Nativescape Gardens in the first place. As their own website states, their goal is to influence as many visitors as possible  to replicate this Nativescape Garden in their own urban landscape back home. This is what the website and page on Nativescape project actually says:
"The garden's 4 acres (1.6 hectares) show off Southern California's plant communities: chaparral, coastal sage scrub, cypress, desert transition, high desert, island, low desert, montane, palm oasis, and riparian. With names like Apache plume, California buckeye, and monkey flower, these intriguing but often overlooked plants show that there's considerable variety and splendor to California's native landscape. Once you've experienced these unique plants, you can help restore some of California's botanical heritage by including them in your own garden!"
San Diego Safari Park: Nativescapes Garden


One exceptionally bright spot in this garden was the health and vigor of the Parry Pinyon which once numbered in the 1000s up in and around Anza Valley where I lived for 20+ years. Unfortunately as I last informed readers on their condition and survival up there in Anza, they are in a major steep decline. Many Parry Pinyon skeletons are everywhere on the southeastern end of the Thomas Mountain range where they once dominated. But it's still nice to see this one could indeed inspired landscape designers in building a nativescape and using this tree as a choice addition. I've always considered the Parry Pinyon the most beautiful of all the Pinyons and yet under used as a potential landscape tree. The closest pinyon competitor which is also beautiful would be the darker green Pinus edulis which is native to New Mexico thru Arizona on into the Mojave Desert's backyard. But still, the Parry is so unique and probably has smallest concentrated locations more than many of the  Pinyons.

Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrafolia)

There were of course some other bright spots like many of the Native Oaks which looked healthy and some Manzanitas which also looked to be in healthy peak condition, but could have done with a bit of trimming and sprucing up. There were also some other negatives like the California Holly, Lemonade Berry, Dudleya and other plants needing cages around them to prevent the local wild Mule deer population from eating the display. Well you can't blame them, like the opportunistic gopher, they just do what they do. Every living thing is desperate in California at the moment. Again, while I understand the need to show or illustrate the wildness of the chaparral and other native trees and plants, the idea is to impress and inspire the public to develop deep appreciate for a beautiful but misunderstood and often demonized plant community. The demonization has always been unfair and the motives behind the Critics [who generally have no expertise on the subject] have always been influenced by power and money. I admit that I've been a critic myself of the way things are done at the San Diego Safari Park in other areas before, but not because I dislike what they are attempting, which I believe goes well beyond entertainment and a mere profit making venture. But I'm just jealous for things to succeed and work out towards a positive outcome. But I do hold what clearly must be the cream of the crop highly educated ones whom the Park hired in the first place because of their specific education and expertise in certain areas who were hired and placed in positions of  responsibility and oversight, for making what I consider countless rookie greenhorn mistakes that one would find at a high school level. If it's a landscape workers or laborers issue, then educational programs should be mandated as a requirement for anyone hired for a specific area of maintenance. Deep appreciation has to be in the figurative heart of those assigned to care for such an area or the result is exactly as what exists now. In fact it should be a employment hiring qualification. Again, this is the area of that entire massive Safari Park which has always been the least visited. I have been there maybe 100s of times, often as a yearly member since 1972 and people will stop short of the Baja exhibit and turn right around and go back to Park Central because nothing inspires beyond that point. Below here is a website which offers Garden Tours and one of them was this past season's winter period when moisture how ever slight greened up the area a bit. It illustrates how beautiful the area could be. And using the wrong plants and labels ? go figure - rookie stuff
http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/wild_animal_park_gardens


 Just so that everyone is aware, this region up on that hill is still my favourite area of the entire Safari or Wild animal Park whatever you want to call it. I'm a freak for native chaparral woodland environments and so again if I'm critical, it's because I want their entire program up there to succeed and not fail. Generally when I come with family I have to tolerate several hours of seeing all the bottomland exhibits with the birds and animals before climbing up the hill to where I wanted go in the first place. But at least in the end I get my way anyway. *smile*
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Further Reading Educational References of Interest
http://www.californiachaparral.org/
Deep Irrigation Methods for Training Deeper Rooting networks 
California Native Plant Resources
http://www.laspilitas.com/
http://www.matilijanursery.com/
Tree of Life Nursery: California Native Plants

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Should Firefighters be expected to save Homes which are located in fire trap geography and where the owner cared less about landscape hygiene ?

Image: NBC San Diego
The above photo was taken up in the Coronado Hills above San Marcos back in the middle of May 2014 when the Cocos Fire erupted during one of the earliest heat waves driven by abnormal unseasonal Santa Ana Winds. I actually watched this fire creep up to this place on the Live News from NBC's helicopter. In the beginning, there was only a small spot fire, but it was headed towards these dead Aleppo Pines which the owner didn't bother to chop down. These trees went up like giant Roman Candles and from the vantage point of the helicopter, you could see 1000s of embers breaking free from these dead dried Aleppo Pines which exploded high up into the air spreading spot fires on both sides of this house & beyond that is pictured there behind the fire. These trees actually made the fire worse and prolonged it's life at the risk to firefighters on the ground. From the live News feeds you could see there were firefighters up around the driveway next to the house at the top, which is not surprising since heroics is part of most firefighter's nature anyway. But fortunately their commanders who had a better vantage point to survey the conditions ordered them to get out of there quickly. Luckily the house at the top of the hill was spared, but not the one closest to those trees. It should also be noted that there are some situations where homes with vast amounts of acreage that have home owners who clearly could have cared less about their landscape's lack of hygiene or landscape neatness which deserve to be left to chance. So should anyone consider such  properties really worth any firefighter's life for the sake of saving  material possessions ? Personally I say no. There is a vast difference in putting one's life on the line for them personally or saving their possessions. Houses can be replaced, but a firefighter who is a father, mother, son, daughter, friend etc cannot be replaced. This wasn't the only poor example up in those hills either, but it's an outstanding example of what I mean. For example, I saw multiple disease infested Oleander hedge rows used as a privacy barrier to outsiders which were mostly brown and dead. This phenomena with Oleanders isn't new. The blight attacking them has been spreading for years in Southern California, even Cal Trans has removed many median hedge barriers. Take the example below which as it was a couple years ago. Today it is almost totally yellow/brown & dead.

Google Earth
This photo from Google Earth is at the end of my mother's street across from Pepper Drive School in El Cajon California. This is at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain. I neglected to take a photo on the very day we came back to Sweden the first week of July 2014, but not only is this exact same hedge almost totally brown and dead, but foxtail grasses which have been mowed down in the above photo, are two foot high leading clear up to this same hedge which is now almost totally dead. Now this location is an easier defensive position, but many places with such flammable landscape components in many remote property areas are in more fire trap locations where homes should have been allowed to be built in the first place. Of course never underestimate the power of future tax revenues when permits are issued. Now take a fast look at another fire which burned down in Lakeside at the very same week as the Cocos & Carlsbad Fires.


Image by Billy Ortiz Lakeside California Old Hwy 80 & Aurora Drive
When my wife and I flew into Southern California, we came during a period of intense heat and Santa Ana winds which are more characteristic of Sept/Oct/Nov. San Marcos, Carlsbad, Rancho Bernardo and Camp Pendleton were raging with fires. But a much smaller fire exploded further down south in Lakeside near old Hwy 80 & Los Coches Road. Oddly enough, I wrote exactly about this very spot where numerous dead and dying Eucalyptus could be found everywhere and the potential for future wildfire catastrophe. Low and behold lookie how accurate that prophecy came true. I wrote about this exact location back on May 29th, 2013 of last year and the issues regarding Red Gum Lerp infested Eucalyptus which seem to be everywhere and nobody taking any notice or actions to remove them. This would also include the San Diego Safari Park in Escondido: 
It's the Lerp Psyllid's fault ? So ? And ? (Nature takes the hit again in blame game) 

Image: Billy Ortiz - Fire along old Hwy 80 & Aurora Drive May 2014
Here again above is the wildfire as photographed by Billy Ortiz of Lakeside/El Cajon. Below here I drove by and took photos of the wildfire's aftermath. Both sides of the Highway were burned which means embers easily made it to the other side no doubt helped by winds burning dead Eucalyptus branches and twigs which exploded when the fire torched them. The very tall dead eucalyptus seen in Billy Ortiz's photo no doubt facilitated the fire's spread when it exploded into the atmosphere and carried along by the unseasonal Santa Ana Winds at that time of year. Fortunately they got the fire out, but it could have been much worse.


Photo Mine

Highway Eight Business Route, olde 80 & Aurora Drive



Photo Mine

This is the east side of old Highway route 80



Photo Mine

These next two photos are of the west side of
Old Hwy Route 80



Photo Mime
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Now Back to Coronado Hills & the Landscape
My Son and other family members of mine have a house up in those Coronado Hills on Cycad Drive which was very much in the News. In fact, their house specifically was the focus of attention on the News during this firestorm. They lost three sheds, a truck, their  gazebo, and the back eve's of the house were burnt. Below is a News 8 team's 4:00 minute video of the fire moving up the opposite side of the canyon where the camera vantage point was right on Coronado Hills drive on the west side. The fire moves right up through their backyard which is on the east side of this heavily vegetated Canyon. Oddly enough, they did have a considerable firebreak on the north and west sides, but the neighbour to the south had a huge forest of giant Bamboo, which by the way has sprung back to life.




 From the very start of the video above to the 30 second mark, you can actually see the Coulter Pine my Son and I planted over a decade ago and I've written about in the past. The Cocos Fire never really burned the tree, as we had a lot of clearance right down to the bare soil all around this tree. But it took everything else around that tree. The tree itself was scorched by the intense heat. Like the tree, the house was miraculously spared with only the interior window blinds being melted inside, along with some exterior roofing. If you look very closely at the photo below here of the branch end tips, they still have life in them and are green. This happened in the 1982 with many of the Jeffrey and Coulter pine in the Mountain Center Fire. Many trees which looked dead were merely experiencing needle scorch. They sprang back to life and today a younger forest which was helped along by chaparral that was left intact and not interfered with for doing it's job of Sapling encouragement. Notice the green interior of the pine bud above ? Now look below at the branch ends of the young scorched Coulter Pine.


Image Mine
Now take a close look at some other interesting feature plant components within their landscape. For example, most folks here know of or have at least seen Sea Fig which has naturalized down along the SoCal beach coastlines or commonly used along SoCal Freeways. We also call them iceplant and they seem like such a perfect fit in a wildfire prone area's landscape. You may need to rethink that.


Image Mine

The above photo is of what use to be the bank's Sea Fig Ice Plant which burned like anything else on the property. In fact the immediate garden or landscape was surrounded by massive amounts of this plant which skirted the entire canyon side of the landscape. While it has the appearance of being the prefect fire barrier for it's seeming water storage capacity, what most folks don't often realize about all ice plants is that they have a heavy dead thatch building up underneath their top green exterior. I cannot find the News video, but one News outlet was showing firefighters during mopping up operations on some properties which had smoking and smoldering ice plant which had heavy thatch underneath the seeming protective mass of green water storage plants. Nothing is a guarantee if weather conditions are right. He are some more shots of the Sea Fig below.
Photo Mine

Looking west from property across
the canyon at Coronado Hills Drive


Photo Mine
Take a close look at these next two photographs below here. Both are of two different locations in their front yard which wasn't at all a part of the direct hit frontal attack from the fire coming up the canyon, but there were spot fires from embers. This is where landscape tidiness is imperative, but not always a guarantee. It's just the way things are. Blowing sparks and embers can find their way anywhere.


Photo Mine
Both of these photos tell a story of fire defense spaces. The one above was where a Manzanita with the usual amount of natural dander [mulch] underneath it branches once stood. Now I like dander underneath my native landscape plants, that's the way things work in Nature, but fire will find these spots and ignite a fire, just so you know. The other one below has succulents which had their own version of dead older leaves and thatch underneath. The main reason you'd never take notice of such older dead material is because the overall top cover was always pretty and green to the eye. It mirrors the very same deceptive problems common with the Ice Plant banks. But where ever dead thatch is present, wind blown embers are sure to find. BTW the homeowners mentioned in the property above did have a well maintained clean landscape, but nothing is a guarantee when it comes to poor location.


Photo Mine
Below here now is another interesting example of a landscape tree in the same neighbourhood which looks to have been enveloped by the intense heat which turned the needles brown like the Coulter Pine in the backyard. You can tell that the fire never actually touched this tree, otherwise we wouldn't be viewing anything in the way of pine needles now. In actual fact I have been told that this tree is still alive and well, although it's tough to view it that way from this photo. Canary Island pines are tough and one of the few to sprout back from the truck and branches after going through a forest fire. But fire prone areas even on the Canary Island are what this tree is adapted well to. I love Canary Island Pines, in fact so much that I traveled to the Canary Islands to see them in their natural habitat to see and view just how they live. Incredibly as tough & drought resistant as they are, I don't think I'd recommend them for rural properties with wildfire hazard potential. The main reason is that of all pines I have ever dealt with, they are the most intense producers of Pine Straw thatch on the ground below themselves. Their pine straw also completely coats and smothers other shrubs underneath them which makes those plants more prone to catching fire.


Photo Mine
When I was landscape head gardener in San Diego, we had numerous Canary Island Pines around the pool and clubhouse area. It was an almost daily chore to deal with the massive amounts of needles that were shed almost every single day. Below gives you an idea of the overwhelming task of maintaining under these Canary Island Pine trees. And yet I admire them greatly. They are beautiful and tough survivors and if you don't mind the regular maintenance, then by all means utilize them in your landscape. But be forewarned of their fire encouraging potential if you don't clean up after them. 


David Lange, Santa Barbara California

Below here is my trip to the Canary Island of Tenerife. The photograph was taken inside the ancient super volcanic caldera which collapsed in on itself and formed this massive several miles across in diameter enclosed valley. A later pyramid shaped volcano developed and is actually to the right, but out of the picture below. What fascinated me is the almost absence of any other shrubs on the slopes with the exception of this tree in pure stands. The forest floor under these trees was heavily littered with Canary Island pine needles which was extremely dense and thick. They tend to cover up and soften the geological ruggedness of the fractured volcanic soil landscape which then better allows for rain to soak in and percolate. Very little run off here from what I observed with no riparian vegetation that I could ever see in most of the washes and canyons on the island. When I maintained the landscape at the Mobile Home Park in El Cajon which was one of the properties our company maintained, it was always a chore to clean up needles off of all the shrubs and even within the entire Chainlink fencing which surrounded the pool deck area. This alone should give clues as to the present danger of fire ignition possibilities when maintenance lacks around these trees. Again, I'm not against Canary Island Pines, but Just Say'in.


Photo Mine (Tenerife 2012)


image mine: 2014 SD Safari Park
My favourite Pine for the rural landscape would be a Torrey Pine over a Canary Island Pine. The reason is they don't have as dense a needles production and their heavier needle bundles will fall through Chaparral easier than the lighter longer Canary Island Pine needles which will float and land on top of the shrub. When they are young they will tend to be long and leggy as you see here in the photograph I took of a staked young Torrey Pine at the San Diego Safari Park near Escondido. In the wild it's the large Chaparral Scrub which not only provides and nurtures these trees with water and nutrients, but also provide them with the natural mechanical staking that we do otherwise in our urban landscapes artificially with wooden or steel posts and ties. From a moderate to light wildfire perspective, they could endure much better because they have a much cleaner smoother bark and trunk than many other pines and they'll merely shed their lower branches with any heat or smoke damage. The smoke and heat even further prunes them naturally into a more clean streamlined tall look far above the ground. I had an experience with this in the photograph below when I lived up in Anza California. Those are the first Torrey Pines I planted back in 1986.


Photo Mine

Torrey Pines - Anza California, Burnt Valley Road

When the four Torrey Pines were as tall as the one pictured in the Safari Park photo above, there was a rather large Hedgehog Cactus at the bottom of this back below where that was is now. There were foxtail grasses which were only 5 or 6 inches high, but they had grown into the cactus spines and it was a tedious stickery job to get them out. Thinking I had a clever idea [please do not try this stupid dumb stunt at home], I decided one late night after the neighbourhood was in bed, to strike a match and take care of the foxtails cleanly. Didn't happen. The long large spines of the cactus caught fire, created a rather large high flame which in turn created it's own powerful stiff breeze which swished the lower Torrey Pine branches back and forth till it finally died down. The next morning I came out and found the cactus a total loss and though the Torrey Pine branches didn't burn, they did turn brown. Eventually those lower branches never came back and actually died. I had to prune them. Not all chaparral fires burn up through the Scrub canopy. Many small fires if conditions are right will burn the undergrowth only. I saw this several times in Anza where the weather conditions with high humidity and little wind allowed lightning fires to only burn chaparral understory. Even still, maintenance is a must for fire protection and defensible space and everyone in the rural areas should get this. 
Further Update: Monday 25, August 2014
The headlines everywhere read, "Small Actions can Reduce Wildfire Risks" and along with it the latest favourite poster child photo of a house that escaped because of it's landscaping. Well, that's only partially correct. Wind direction and luck played a bigger role.

AP File Photo Taylor Bridge Fire

USA Today
Lately there has been a reemergence of a double before and after photograph [above] of a house on a hillside above Bettas Road near Cle Elum Washington during the Taylor Bridge Fire which doesn't exactly tell the whole. The upper photo shows a roaring fire about ready to pounce on a helpless looking house. The lower photo gives the impression that the clever smart landscaping of the homeowners is what saved the day. The lower photo shows a completely blackened area which that raging fire consumed all around the home. While the landscaping was fairly clean and neat, those pictures and the story told in the articles don't reveal or expose the truth of the matter. You see, all but one [USA Today] news journal left out another important photo which reveals the fire wasn't as bad as first photographed. It was burning down hill and against the wind direction. The photo at the above right here shows a completely subdued slow moving fire with no firetrucks or firemen saving the day. What saved this house was the weather conditions more than anything else. Believe it or not I actually wrote about this exact fire and the circumstances back in August 2012 and yet still the incomplete story still prevails today:
Modern Day Megafires: Understanding Some Basic Fundamentals for Survival

In summing up, there are a couple of things rural homeowners need to come to grips with here. First, if you choose a high profile view lot, then you have chosen a wildfire magnet which wants to drive uphill. That's the nature of what most all fires will do. It's called physics. Fires thrive on defying gravity. You should also chose a property that is not a fire trap. The photo to the right here is in San Diego County California and is located behind the Sheriff Sub-Station on San Felipe Road or S-2. It has an impossible access with no escape route. I asked my brother in nearby Ranchita about this lot and nobody seems to know what they owners has in mind here.  If the person chooses to build and  to live here, then they should  be prepared to accept the financial property loss consequences and do NOT expect firefighters to be heroes and save your dream home by quite possibly sacrificing their lives literally. Many will try and save it anyway, because that's in their nature to rescue people and their material possessions. But j just don't take advantage of this. Even on my property in Anza, I always knew being at the top of a knoll with a fantastic 180 degree view also brought inevitable consequences which I accepted. Also, you need to understand there is no such thing as fire resistant landscapes. Everything organic under the right conditions will burn. Some do have more volatile oils than others, but everything burns, even the cryptonite immune ice plant on steroids burns. In southern California I have always found the Natives do the best under the climate conditions that exist there. Many non-natives will stress and partially die at best without constant water availability. But mostly you will have to accept the inevitable when and where you choose to live. With climate change and urban environments, there is no guarantee as we have seen on the News.
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Update August 25, 2014
Lincoln Bramwell, US Forest Service Historian: “Wilderburbs: Communities on Nature’s Edge”




http://www.nhbs.com/wilderburbs_communities_on_natures_edge_tefno_199783.html

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reclaimed Water: Municipal Projects, CalTrans Landscaping & Pompous Grass Resorts

I'd almost be willing to except Tamarisks as an alternative - Okay, well maybe not
Desert Willow Golf Resort
So let's first start with what I call the Pompous Grass Resorts which are nothing more than ecosystem habitats for the rich and famous down in the desert. And you thought I misspelled the name for a species of fountain grass! Nope, I did however type the term Pompous Grass with an intended purpose. Most of you will recognize the scenery above as somewhere in the Coachella Valley. I'm not exactly a fan of such environments for the wealthy, especially in an environment which is costly to maintain and taxing on precious rare resources where they simply don't exist. I an also not fan of Golf, though I consider it none of my business if others do. I also found it difficult working for many of the local eccentric elites which made up the bulk of my customer base when I engaged in another line of employment in another life so to speak. Some time back, I believe perhaps in February 2014, there was an article in Time Magazine which  reported on the visit by the US President who arrived in the Coachella Valley. Of course as usual, many were critical of his stay at the Walter Annenberg or Sunnylands Estate and the Porcupine Creek Estate where he supposedly played golf amid the drought crisis. Both these courses are closed to the public and reserved for people of special privilege, irrespective of what privileged background they may come from. To be fair, every single Politician around the globe from every ideological background has visited and stayed here over the decades. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone since people of high public office ALL live a privileged lifestyle, even if their ideological core values condemn such things as an  obscene lifestyle of material possession. It goes with the job and will never change no matter the philosophical label some attach to themselves. The article however, did make some good points about Golf Courses down in Coachella Valley. 
"The 124 golf courses in the Coachella Valley consume roughly 17 percent of all water there, and one quarter of the water pumped out of the region’s at-risk groundwater aquifer, according to the Coachella Valley Water District. Statewide, roughly one percent of water goes to keep golf courses green. Each of the 124 Coachella Valley courses, on average, uses nearly 1 million gallons a day due to the hot and dry climate, 3-4 times more water per day than the average American golf course."
(source)
Wow, each 124 courses use 1 millions gallons of water a day, which is not surprising given the extreme hot and dry climatic environment they are location. Of course to justify the existence of this industry in the desert, they claim to ONLY use reclaimed water. In fact I will often hear people defend the existence of such businesses who insist, "They only use reclaimed water". Still, that's a lot of water which considering the presence climate shift crisis, one would assume  could be put to better uses. Even so, the Sunnyland Estate has made an official Public Relations Statement on the subject.
"The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands has taken significant  measures to reduce water usage. In consideration of the  conditions that led Governor Brown to make a drought  declaration, reducing water consumption is a more important  priority than ever." 
(source - Sunnylands.org)

Commendable, but is it enough, especially since 1 million gallons a day goes to entertain a handful of an elite minority at these places ? Obviously Golf Courses like the Annenberg Estate are easy targets for no other reason than they are so huge and cannot be dismissed or ignored so easily. The term I used to describe the main plant used at such desert Golf Courses is, "Pompous Grass", which are nothing more than non-native exotic grasses from an entirely foreign environment. Short rooted and always thirsty for water and equally hungry for those chemical fertilizers which keep them green. They are indeed a unnatural water resource waster no matter what label you attach to the water's origin. And mind you, these are water resources that were originally taken from far away from somewhere else and transported here. But besides the exotic water loving grasses, there are examples which are in need dire change and not mentioned in any of the articles which deserve equal criticism. I've written about this before. Tamarisk wind and privacy breaks. Take another look at an older photograph of the Annenberg Estate. I chose this one because it beautifully highlights and contrasts this Wealthy Compound with the surrounding desert environment. Today the raw land in the background for the most part is presently occupied. It's surrounded by a dense wall of Tamarisk which are topped every so often for maintenance. In the distance you can also see the windbreak barrier lining the right-of-way for Southern Pacific Railroad & Interstate 10. 


 aerial photograph taken by Lawrence Levy in 1983
I actually wrote about my feeling towards Tamarisk or Salt Cedar being used as windbreaks and a better solution of replicating the natural structure of Mesquite Dunes as a replacement. Many things done in the past were out of ignorance as well as quick fixes for profit. We do however live in a time of greater understanding of nature and practical experience. Anyway, I wrote my account of Salt Cedar and desert infrastructure solutions utilizing & replicating things found and observed in Nature was here:

Mesquite Dunes: Practical Solution to Tamarisk Removal & Replacement



There was a miniseries film back in 1993 called "The Fire Next Time" which starred Craig T. Nelson. Here's an overview of what the film was about by Brian Dillard: "This ecological drama, set in 2017, presents a world where pollution has generated ever more unpredictable weather and rendered large chunks of the planet into disaster zones. After a hurricane destroys everything they've built for themselves, Louisiana shrimp fisherman Drew Morgan (Craig T. Nelson) and his family, including wife Suzanne (Bonnie Bedelia), flee through a series of refugee camps to upstate New York, where Drew's estranged former business partner Larry Richter (Jurgen Prochnow) -- who has designs on Suzanne -- lives in comfort and affluence. Along the way, Drew loses his daughter, Linnie (Ashley Jones), to an agrarian doomsday cult; watches his elderly father (Richard Farnsworth) suffer a stroke; and almost drives away his confused oldest son, Paul (Justin Whalin). When Larry offers to shelter Drew's family if Drew himself will leave, Suzanne and the kids rally behind him. Things go awry, however, when an attempt to smuggle themselves across the border ends with Craig washed up on Canadian shores and the rest of the family stranded and penniless back in America. Originally presented as a two-part miniseries, "The Fire Next Time" premiered on CBS on April 18 and 20, 1993."  What is it about the year 2017 and global warming ? This is the same 2017 date in which things started going wrong in another iconic Sci-Fi film called "Soylent Green" which starred Charlton Heston in yet another futuristic Global Warming disaster scenario. In the film "The Fire Next Time", Craig T. Nelson's character, Drew Morgan has problems with his Son, Paul [played by Justin Whalin] who hates the life the family must endure and runs away to live with his rich uncle Buddy Eckhard [played by Charles Haid] who profits off the misfortunes of the common people who are suffering through the climate change. Uncle Buddy lives in Palm Springs, has a posh air-conditioned home, has employee servants who was his expensive cars out in the open, has a plush green lawn all of which are extremely expensive and against the law of that time to possess. But he explains to his nephew that he's rich and can pay for it and it's all about who you know. Of course the kid is impressionable. But the attitude of Uncle Buddy Eckhard isn't that far fetched. My former Ag Instructor from CalPoly San Luis Obispo who was pressured by an industrial giant who threatened the college to fire him for his sustainable farming course and comments he made about water being wasted in the San Joaquin's western side, recently wrote me this about the coming castastrophic ecological events headed towards California, "Never in the history of civilization have people been able to sustain themselves irrigating a desert. We are seeing that play out on a large stage. There will be a lot of pain and suffering. Of course, the 1% won't be affected....but the other 99% are in for some big shocks over the next century." I think things are coming to a head sooner than later. It's about "The Fire This Time"
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Photo Mine

Hwy 52 and 67 Interchange, Santee California

Photo Mine
This all brings me to another  example which is closer to home, or well my old growing up stomping grounds between El Cajon and Santee California. There is a Freeway interchange where attempts at landscaping with California natives is certainly commendable and welcome, but falls short because of poor design and short sighted maintenance planning from it's beginning. A sign on the site proclaims how recycled water is being incorporated into the natural beautification project. Again, commendable, but it lacks foresight and actual knowledge of what and how the healthy ecosystem actually needs for it's continual healthy function. Mostly it's the inadequate irrigation design they used for establishing the native plant Xeriscape. Again, very very commendable, but poorly planned and managed. As I've stated before, native plants want deep subsoil moisture during the hotter months which allows them to shift into maintenance mode away from the new seasons growth mode. Deep Pipe irrigation actually works in conjunction with the vegetation's own self-regulating hydraulic lift and redistribution which is further enhanced by a healthy mycorrhizal network working within the distribution system. They don't want their soil surface sprayed with token amounts of water through Rainbird sprinkler heads. This not only creates weeds, but encourages tender succulent growth on the plants which are subject to sucking pests such as aphids and the transmitting of several blight pathogens like powdery mildew and others. At that point control is nothing more than a chemical answer and no one should want anything to do with that. Not only is it unnecessary and preventable, but saves maintenance budget costs for cities and states. Not to mention worker's hourly wages which could be spent elsewhere.

Image Mine

You can pick out a fair number of native California plants here, but also notice the almost chocking presence of weeds everywhere in between. Commendable that they are using reclaimed water, also commendable in their choice of some native plants, but it's clearly being wasted by the irresponsible watering technology and techniques which in my opinion are out of date and antiquated. Take a look below at why. Among the many native plants which definitely have aesthetic value, that were planted are California Holly, Laurel Sumac, Matilija Poppy, Coast Live Oak, etc. However on closer inspection they also used other native plants which in my opinion are not necessarily of the ornamental value kind, especially when it comes to the urban Landscape where people are driving slower and concentrated such as at an interchange with numerous on and off ramps and other exists. For example I saw California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), Black sage (Salvia mellifera), White sage (Salvia apiana), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Coast brittle-bush (Encelia californica, etc, etc, etc. All kool plants in my opinion and of great wildlife value for local critters, but they dry out and tend to be rangy looking. Now, on down the road in areas of the roadway where they have blasted through the mountain which creates large roadway bank easements, that's great, those plants work perfect there and will adapt and perfectly take care of themselves over time.  But the importance of such State or city funded & sponsored roadway beautification projects is that they should also want to encourage the public to do likewise. Many native plants,  while they all have value and importance to ecosystem function, are often just not equal in their aesthetic value in appearance, some being rangy, which is folk's impression when you suggest going Native. Many of the plants I spoke of earlier along the Palo Colorado Canyon Road in Central California are if anything beautiful deep evergreen which is what you want for public eye appeal. 


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What could be wrong with this you wonder ? It wastes water and I don't care if it is only reclaimed water which is considered not good enough for drinking. It's valuable water none the less and they are throwing away a valuable resource that is especially now almost worth it's weight in gold. We're not even talking evapotranspiration here from the vegetation leaves. We're talking surface evaporation off a dry surface which probably doesn't soak in all that well, We're also talking about the majority of the mist of which blows off into the wind rather than on the proposed target. This also facilitates the production of non-mycorrhizal ruderals otherwise known as weeds which compete for water and nutrients and whose sole offensive purpose in life is to mass reproduce themselves by means of seed production which in turn spreads more of themselves across the landscape. That creates tougher maintenance costs in chemicals beside man hours which would be better spent elsewhere. Notice now another important issue below. Non-Native invasive shrubs and trees like that of the Tamarisk or Salt Cedar. Incredibly, like Cottonwood and Willow, they have a cottony seed that only has a short window of viability and opportunity to germinate. Oddly enough I've even seen Cottonwood and Willow volunteer germinate under such wet landscape conditions. That in itself should be an indicate of water overuse, since the presence of such trees represents a riparian ecosystem. But the wet surface conditions of the wasted reclaimed water used have allowed this environment to be favourable to Tamarix establishment. There are literally 100s of small Tamarix seedlings and saplings at this very interchange landscape. Take a look below here.


image Mine

Salt Cedar (Tamarix)



image Mine Salt Cedar (Tamarix) 
Seriously, who wants this in their landscape ? Now I've tried to have an open mind about Tamarisk and I am certain they play major important ecosystem roles where they originate from in North Africa, Middle east & China, but just not here. The last thing anyone needs is a Tamarix Tree in the landscape which suck far more water than a Native plant.


image Mine

Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri)



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Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina)


So simple, even a child gets this
I've previously written about far superior types of irrigation before. In California and the rest of the Southwest, the Rainbird technology for most landscapes whether used by private property owners or commercial activities is wasteful and should be replaced with far better intelligent technology, especially considering the times we live in. Having been a landscape Supervisor, I can tell you that most irrigation has to be inspected on almost a daily basis for debris and other forms of malfunction. Every morning on the properties I managed, I inspected all irrigation heads for possible failure to deliver properly. Especially in lawns where in a matter of days, dry patches and brown discoloration are a sign water is not hitting it's target. This isn't surprising since most of the irrigation heads are of a pop-up and hidden in ground design. When the irrigation timing is finished and the spray heads fall back into their tubes in the soil, they take with them loose debris which along with the reverse suction created by the vacuum within the pipes when water shuts down, the debris is then pulled into the emitters. Although most of these heads have a plastic strainer to collect debris down inside, it's still a maintenance time waster for me, and I feel the same about most drip system emitter attachments as well. Mostly the problem with them is the hard water mineral deposits and build up which clogs the spray openings. I'm sure the reclaimed water is even worse. In any event, deep pipe irrigation should be used more. It also doesn't have to be an expensive undertaking, especially if a homeowner, landscape company or the landscape division of a governmental agency has capable problem solving employees who understand the basic fundamentals for the architectural designing skills necessary to even build or develop such a simple system from scratch. It would also be help if such institutions had an educational program on a regular basis of just how most all plant communities actually work or function in the wild and how practical application in replication can be made. Not only would this instill deeper appreciation for the plant world & their employment, but it also could be tailored to the exact plant community they have chosen to install as the theme for their landscape. 



Image: Hunter Industires

Deep Irrigation Methods for Training Deeper Rooting networks

I've written previously as I've stated about this before in the link above. Picture the above illustration as a typical California native tree, especially an Oak Tree. This underground location in the animated illustration is where they actually want and need water in the summer time. Irrespective of the soil type, this is where most all plant's in dry locations need their moisture during the hotter months of the year and this is where many and most of the giant majestic trees like Oaks and Sycamores obtain their water anyway. This is obvious when you drive past almost any bajada or alluvial floodplain in Southern California. Take a drive by any of the east/west Freeway road corridors from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, and you will find great examples of large mature trees whose sole source of surface water is the rainy season, but whose prime source of hydration comes from deep down under. You won't have to venture off far from the freeways at all since most all of them cross over these giant geological structures throughout their corridor routes. My favourite example is driving north on I-215 from San Bernardino to Cajon Pass via Devore. Notice on your right hand side especially the major lone Sycamores here and there, even though some are stunted, still you have to ask yourself why does such a water loving tree exist on such a dry rocky sandy site where even perennial or even annual spring stream runoff is nonexistent ? It's because something is going on deep under ground. This is where light bulbs should be turning on under your thinking caps right now. Ask yourself, How can I replicate that natural system and save water in my landscape, and in some instances almost eliminating it altogether ? You should also consider that this same basic need of natives are also the same exacting requirements with many similar outsider exotic plants used in landscaping today. The exception to that rule would be tropical plant communities and plants from Boreal climates like where I live now. Take a quick look at this simple quote from a great article where Science is finally recognizing the important roles properly constructed plant communities play in Earth's Climate. It's far more than simply looking pretty for us. 
"Scientists have assumed a simple model of plants sucking water out of the soil and spewing water vapor into the atmosphere."
"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." 
Deep-rooted plants have much greater impact on climate than experts thought
Failure and/or refusal to acknowledge the great sophistication which is our plant world is put together and works in harmony with each other along with the major mechanism roles their infrastructure plays in weather creation and cloud formation just doesn't cut it anymore. BTW, the quote above and below in yellow are from Todd Dawsonprofessor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley,
 and his team published back in 2006 and here we are 8 years later dealing with the same ignorance and a climate in far worse shape than it was then. Again, no excuse not to know how to replicate a natural system within any human construct. This is especially true where designing urban landscapes or engineering a habitat restoration using the old outdated antiquated methods is an irresponsible deliberate act siding comfortably with ignorance. At one time people [especially those in position of responsible oversight] could claim ignorance. Repeat, there is too much info out there now for designers, engineers and architects to claim ignorance for their improperly designed installations.
"The process is a passive one, he noted, driven by chemical potential gradients, with tree roots acting like pipes to allow water to shift around much faster than it could otherwise percolate through the soil. In many plants that exhibit hydraulic redistribution, the tap roots are like the part of an iceberg below water. In some cases these roots can reach down more than 100 times the height of the plant above ground. Such deep roots make sense if their purpose is to redistribute water during the dry season for use by the plant's shallow roots, though Dawson suspects that the real reason for keeping the surface soil moist is to make it easier for the plant to take in nutrients." 
Saying we just never knew this before isn't any longer a viable excuse. It's as bad as those who condemned the Ascension Island success story with the cloud forests which now presently create their own unique weather & climate. People have got to start reassessing their support in these organizations which insist they are all about a biodiverse environment when in reality what they are really interested in is ideological indoctrination around the global in another  fatally flawed political worldview and the corrupting power that comes with it. Their actions clearly speak louder than their words. I get politicians being uninformed, but the people on the ground and those advising them should have known better.


Image: Colleen Sasser, Asuza California

Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, Nature Center
Another beautiful example of majestic large trees in alluvial floodplains is the region of Irwindale California which is a massive floodplain re-routed, channeled with concrete and manipulated so much by mankind's need for raw building materials, housing and road right-of-way corridors. Still we have remnants of trees of which whose seed was deposited decades ago in the past during a very heavy rainy event like an El Nino pattern over a few years time. No doubt many more 1000s of such trees here were germinated at the same time, competition became stiff and heavy, with only the toughest trees fortunate enough to put down roots deep into the earth and tap into the underground aquifer. Many urban landscape trees like these examples above would be so easy to pattern after with the right encouragement by landscape architects and developers over a period of a few years. Root training would be easy given all plant's ability at sniffing out the direction of water. A couple weeks ago I wrote about a plant's uncanny ability at sensing out water and sending roots in that direction to tap into that life sustaining resource. Now it isn't necessary to understand the science behind just how a plant is able to do this, but simply knowing about this ability they possess arms one with the knowledge of how to proceed when training plant roots for deeper underground root infrastructure which will benefit for life. 
Water provides a Hydropatterning Blueprint for Rooting Architecture & "Infrastructure" 
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So what about Golf Courses in Deserts ?


Mycorrhizal Application Inc did a test plot of three lawns section in Washington DC as the 2010 photo they posted revealed. Those Washington D.C. Capital Lawns where only the front three areas were treated with MycoApply while the rest had not yet been treated! In fact I remember MycoApply highlighting the experience they had on making application on the White House lawn when Obama became President which was posted on their Facebook page. It proves that commercial applications can be a success, but there also needs to be follow through on maintenance and proper fertilization. Mycorrhizae hate the chemicals conventional landscapers use. Therefore almost a deprogramming and re-education work needs to be done in order for the newer program to remain viable. There is no guarantee that those commercial Golf Courses down in the deserts will ever change. Getting people to think outside the box is tough to do, even if Nature has been doing things a certain way successfully for countless 1000s of years. I'm still no fan of Pompous Grass resorts, but that's just me. If everyone else has to change, then so should they, irrespective of how much money and power they may think they have. Reclaimed Water is as equally valuable as the clean fresh water which comes out of the tap. The present Climate Change reality has finally forced a redefinition that term's true meaning.
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Further Turf Resources for everyone
http://mycorrhizae.com/info-by-industry/turf/
http://mycorrhizae.com/info-by-industry/turf/turf-image-gallery/
Update August 3, 2014: Man-made wetlands turn wastewater into tap water
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Image: Mycorrhizal Applications Inc

One month since sowing, the difference between inoculating one species Glomus intraradices (left) and a 7 endomycorrhizal species inoculation (right) is quite striking. The only difference between the soil/treatments was the biodiversity of the mycorrhizal inoculum.