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

Listed as Washingtonia filifera or in Spanish as it's
common name of 'Palma de Abanko', but in reality it's a 

Guadalupe Island Fan Palm (Brahea edulis) from Baja California
There is a very interesting and truthful text in the Christian Greek scriptures (Matthew 7:16) which draws a comparison of what we observe in the botanical world and having ability and insight in providing a true identification for the plant by the fruit it bears. Of course the application is in identifying people by their actions, but it still never goes out of style when it comes to field identification. It reads like this:
"You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?"
Not very tough to tell what is meant by the text above, but can anyone tell me what is wrong with the botanical label stake at the foot of this Fan Palm tree when you compare it to the photo above ? It is listed as Washingtonia filifera, but I know better. The fruits of California Fan Palm are black and much tinier than the large round dates seen here. The Spanish name given on this label, 'Palma de Abanko' is apparently misspelled and should be "Palma de Abanico" which is basically a translation of the palm native to southern Baja California which we all know as Mexican Fan Palm or Washingtonia robusta. Mexican Fan Palm likewise does NOT have large dates on it's flowering fronds. They are like the California small and black little seeds. These palms were 5 together in the Baja part of the display. It is certainly similar in frond shape, but much smaller than the filifera and the spread is smaller. Clearly what is lacks in frond size and spread is more than made up for in date size. This is none other than Guadalupe Island Fan Palm (Brahea edulis). The main point here is the so-called University educated professionals who no doubt are paid great wages for their expertise in putting this display together dropped the ball big time on this one. In the Chaparral section where a typical desert oasis is incorporated within the SoCal Chaparral exhibit are indeed correct as a visit would reveal. 

Image: Mine
I hope everyone appreciates what I am criticizing here is the lack of expertise as I simply expect more out of Science Experts and Professionals who are promoted as being above the visiting public in their understanding of any particular section of this Safari Park. Now look at another extremely glaring example of incompetence. I often find this in other areas also such as Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego. This photograph below was listed as a California Sycamore (Plantanus racemosa). So can anyone tell me what's wrong with this picture ? Many in Southern California have a negative opinion on the chaparral plant community mainly because they lack in education on how to care for it. An exhibit which is badly maintained and choice of specimens planted in the wrong geologic location is yet another reason the plants look so dry jagged and rangy and many of the former lush types of secies are now dead because of the wrong irrigation methods.

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
Now on a Positive Note

image: Mine

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

 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*
Further Reading Educational References of Interest
Deep Irrigation Methods for Training Deeper Rooting networks 
California Native Plant Resources
Tree of Life Nursery: California Native Plants