Friday, March 30, 2012

Canary Island Pine & Palm (Tenerifie)

Visiting the places where common everyday landscape plants are native to is a real education booster towards your experience in Life as a gardener/landscaper

Image - ASU
In Southern California, you've all seen them. Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) Long and Leggy when young. Then they fill out a little later on as they reach maturity. Common in many commercial Landscapes as you can see below. Mostly they are a pine that can handle drought dry conditions with very little water and seem to fend for themselves once planted. What is also interesting is that so many shrubs, trees and other plants from the Canary Islands work out well in southern California. In fact probably before the Canary Island Pine took hold, the other native tree, Canary Island Date Palm had a great foothold as a landscape plant. Not only in the gardens, but public parks and as a street side tree.

So we see them everywhere in the arid landscaping regions of the west. Other than Torrey Pines (Pinus torreyena) they are one of those pines that can tolerate lowland conditions of arid climates. Especially so if they have a mycorrhizal symbiosis connect going on below the ground connected to their root system, but then this is true of most pines. Most pines we only think of as living high up in the mountains somewhere. Okay, so well maybe they do in the West that's how folk think. But in it's actual for real native habitat (not the local Nursery)  the tree endures, yet thrives in some of the nastiest soil I've ever seen in a high mountain environment. Yes, the Canary Islands have very large high mountains, volcanic mountains and an area still active. Here are some pics of their habitat and associated plants when we visited there this past February 2012.

photo: Mine

photo by Jose Mesa
Tenerife landscape with plant Echium wildpretii also know as tower of jewelsred buglossTenerife bugloss or Mount Teide bugloss.

As you can well see, the soil is absolutely nasty looking, or maybe not so fine, but it works for them. But to a gardener or  landscaper by no means. The soil however should tell you something about their requirements. Those pics are on the side and foot of a volcano cone which itself is in this giant super-volcano caldera the size of say the Southern Californian communities of El Cajon , Lakeside and Santee all put together. I've always wanted to visit the Canary Islands to see all of these native plants in their own environment where so much of our Southern California Landscaping material in the way of adaptable plants work for Southern California

Another one which is also rather historical as a landscape icon for So-Cal is Canary Island Date Palm ( Phoenix canariensis ) which is also a familiar site one So-Cal boulevards and landscapes, especially in the older nieghbourhoods. Take a look below of a much younger Date Palm. Though they are called Date Palm, the Canary Island Palm is not grown commercially for dates, but the birds love them. Behind my parents house we had a neighbour in the 1960s who'd pay me a quarter to sweep up the date pits by what seemed to be in the thousands all over his front porch and walk way. That tree is gone today. Very messy trees in the wrong place. But it was always a wildlife magnet for many many birds. Especially the Hooded Oriole.
One difficulty faced with having this tree in your landscape is they tend to be messy, especially if you have the female that produces those dates. It is also a favourite target tree for the native Hooded Oriole who love to nest in them because of the available palm frond fibers they use to weave into the most perfect sock-like nest. But other birds also like them, like pigeons and sparrows. But also The Hooded Orioles build these amazing intricately woven sock-like nests with deep pockets for rearing their young and they use the fibrous Palm Frond strands to accomplish this. Take a look.

Image by Juan Jose Ramos Melos The Palm Grove of Las Carvas

Image - (Michael Chen)
Here's what the Canary Island Date Palms look like in their native environment in the Canary Islands where they often grow on the steep mountainsides on clusters or groupings.
Get a load of this next picture below. It's a popular destination for tourists traveling on the steep scary narrow roads which look like film locations for those old James Bond chase scenes along the Mediterranean somewhere. This place is called Masca and when I first saw it, it reminded me of the Peruvian Andies Inca hideaway city in the sky Machu Picchu . We weren't able to stop because there was no parking, but We briefly double parked and took some snapshots and shots as we slowly drove past as we avoided being knocked over the edge of these insanely narrow roads by Public Bus transport. A little spooky, but kool at the same time.

Image - Lonely Planet
Here is a picture of the ancient high mountain Inca city known as Machu Picchu in Peru. See if you also agree that this setting seems almost identical to Masca in Tenerife. Well those are my thoughts on visiting sites where common plants we all use in the landscape come from. There's an entire gigantic natural world out there still waiting to be explored, not through the pages of National Geographic or Arizona Highways, where someone else explains the adventure but you can do it for real. Where I have really benefitted is seeing common Southern California landscape plants in their original natural habitats and getting a feel for their requirements and replicating these conditions for the benefit of a healthy landscape.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Attracting Birds & other Benficial Foragers

There are many small wild animals and birds in the back country of Southern California Property Owners that live and actually thrive on/in the dander or mulch under the bushes and trees. Many Southern California native birds live off the a great variety of  the native living in the dander or mulch underneath trees and shrubs. Many of these are hard to find in the cities or other outer border areas of the Urban bedroom districts. They prefer a wilder setting and are therefore shy. But back country folks should encourage them with the correct native plants in the landscape. No doubt most of you in So-Cal have seen many of these. One that I've seen everywhere is the common California Towhee. Here's what this bird looks and sounds like:

Image - Riverside Co (2009)
They always reminded me of a fat little chubby bird that was a little too lax in it's lifestyle. Perhaps a little to trusting of other creatures around it. For this reason it is an easy little target for cats feral or domestic. We had an orange tiger striped Tabby cat like the one pictured below.
Image by

The Towhees were his favourite meal. We got the cat because we had mice issues up there in the mountains. The cat came from a litter of kittens whose mum was a good hunter. Needless to say we got rid of our mouse problem , but inherited an animal who was so proficient at capturing and killing birds and other creatures like lizards and Chipmonks that it was a sort of trade off. So consider that if you want to attract bird life, then a cat may be a slight hindrance. Again, the Towhees never seemed very bright, yet the cat's ability to continually catch them didn't seem to effect the numbers any.

Photo by GingkoChris
Quail were another one of those birds you need just for the sounds of the wildness of the backcountry. Cat could never get anywhere close to them as the big male patriarch of the clan was always on guard in a dead branch or some other high look out point and would call alarm the very instant he suspected danger or the cat in the vicinity.What I miss most about the Quail is their sound. Not really what you'd call a song, but more of a signature call unique to them. Below is a link to various Quail calls and their meanings. Enjoy!
California Thrasher was another interesting bird I loved to see in the spring. Mostly it's calls and beautiful singing reminded me a lot of the Mockingbird which was common in the cities around San Diego areas. Yet the bird looks nothing close to a Mockingbird with it's much larger brown body and large long curved bill used for probing the mulch under the shrubs.

And of course the beautiful sound of their melodies.
And of course, though not ground mulch loving birds, I appreciated the Humming birds we could attract. All of these sounds together were beautiful music. Add to that the aromatic scents given of  Cleveland Sage which is native to the southern California mountains, especially on a warm or hot day and the entire experience was a pleasant delight. Just some musings from the back of my memory. Lower image of hummingbird attracted to Cleveland Sage 'Pozo Blue' photo is taken by myself in 2014.

Photo is mine from 2014

 Bert Wilson -
Again, my main point here in this post was to attract ground loving birds that like to forage under shrubs and tree mulch for insects and small critters of all types. What made me think of them when I moved back to El Cajon was that when I planted my mum's yard before I left, the mulch was loaded with critters. so much so that the Chandler Strawberries I love to plant in native woodland landscapes where they can thrive since in nature they are found in just such an ecosystem, I had problems with Sowbugs and earwigs making tiny meals of my berries. What I remember as a kid at my parents house growing up is that we had very few of these things in large numbers, though they were around. The main reason they were kept in check was because we had lots of Bantay Chickens running around loose everywhere and they picked and scratched through the mulch and cleaned up all they could find. Sadly, many home owners can't have these within the city limits anymore and therefore if possible, attracting wildlife birds to the neighborhood that to love scratch and pick under the landscape can be a better and more fun alternative.

Now, while it's true that these ground loving birds here referenced live where I use to live, clearly there are other parts of the earth where these readers have observed specific species that love scratching through the mulch under trees and shrubs native to your area. By all means please encourage them. There are preventative measures for ridding of nasty pests or at the very least cutting down the numbers of pests you will face in your organic gardening or landscape project. Plus as an added bonus, their fun to watch and listen to. Please share with us here your own native ground bird stories.
Further Update here:
The Top 10 Best Birds for Your Garden
Find out how to attract these helpful birds—and why.
Bluebirds, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Native Sparrows, Nighthawks, Phoebes,  Swallows, Vireos, Woodpeckers, Wrens

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Death Valley Desert Pupfish News

Pupfish, Downfish: Subterranean Tsunami Caused by 7.4 Earthquake in Oaxaca, Mexico Gives Vertical Shakes to the Water-Hole Home of Endangered Fishes 
Watch never-captured footage of a seismic wave rocking the whole pool at Nevada's famed Devils Hole. 
 But the above isn't exactly the first time this has happened. Back in April 4, 2010 there was an Earthquake located in magnitude 7.2 El Mayor - Cucapah Mexico earthquake. in Baja California. The result was a never before recorded video of the event, but fortunately the University of Arizona caught it on tape as it happened. 

Here is a link to those events of 2010: 
 'Tsunami' Video Sheds Light On Struggling Pupfish ScienceDaily (May 11, 2010)

I hate the idea of anything happening to these little endangered Desert Pupfish, but the seismic phenomena is really Kool!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wildlife Gardening/Landscaping (Toyon)

Photo by Joyce Docent

California Holly (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

This is another one of those interesting plants and easy to grow if you want a low maintenance. It's also a perfect wildlife attracting plant for your landscape. Unlike some other Hollys which are inedible to us and perhaps toxic to kids, this one is a safe choice and there are some recipes out there on the Internet for making jams and I've personally used them as a snack with brown sugar in the oven. Birds are the first wildlife that come to mind like Blue ScrubJays, American Robins, Mockingbirds and even Cedar Waxwings. In fact the very first time I ever saw or even knew Cedar Waxwings were even in California was when I was at work on a coffee break and a hedge row of California Holly which looked more like small trees than shrubs, had three of them feeding on the berries which hang on the shrub till well into late winter. It was really exciting to observe them actually living there.

Photo by Lorcan Keating

Photo by Jay Thesken

Photo by JR Crompton
Not to be overlooked is this shrub's potential ability at attracting beneficial insects which also help out in the landscape maintenance and which eventually leads to natural pest control. If I remember correctly, these flowers didn't come out until late spring or early summer, which was great. Most of your Lavendar Plants  flower in summer as well and attract beneficial like predatory wasps which target worms, grubs or caterpillars which make a meal of your landscape where you don't want them. In this way they have the same beneficial function besides beauty as the California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) I mentioned in an earlier post last week.

Some of the other important colour the flower blooms bring to your garden are the Monarch and Swallowtail Butterflies.

This is also another plant I have found near Native American archeological site where you find evidence of their past presence by those Metate Gringing Holes drilled into hard granite rock slabs or boulders where they crushed Acorns and other grains or seeds into flour for baking bread. There are a great many plants that I use to identify for actually finding archeological sites. The Native Americans name for California Holly is actually 'Toyon' which is also used today by gardeners, landscapers and Native Plant Nurseries. Other associated plants and shrubs of note when looking for these Indian Kitichen sites are the native Prickly Pear Cactus and Mexican Elderberry. It could be said and there appears to be evidence that these plants were deliberately planted by the natives themselves as a convenient part of their pantry, since almost every site I've ever visited or discovered had all these plants present.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hydraulic Engineering of All Forest Ecosystems

Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution!

"Earth's Internat Blog Dawson's Lab

The above animated illustration is something similar to the one that comes from Todd Dawson's website which I have already written about on my other blog where I profile a post on the man and some of his amazing research finding.
"Earth's Internet"
Clearly the average adult as well as young students need illustrative animations to allow otherwise difficult natural phenomena to be illustrated in terms they can graps and relate to in every day life. Hopefully we'll attempt to entertain with models that go well beyond that of mere 'eye candy'.

Todd Dawson is known for his work regarding a natural phenomena which occurs in forest soils healthy ecology called "Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution" where a specific key mature foundational older growth trees in any ecosystem has the ability to sink roots down to depths of water table or where large amounts of moisture are located in the subsoil and lift this water from deep subsurface levels in the earth and pull it upwards through their large vertical tap roots then proceed to redistribute along a plumbing grid horizontally which in turn releases moisture into a mycorrhizal Fungal network which itself is connected to other shallow rooted plants who in turn receive the benefits of being a signed up customer to this elaborately constructed Water Co.  
What we gardeners can learn from the natural world helps us when constructing our own Landscaping layout when it's in the planning stages.  Take a look at this video done by another researcher named Suzanne W. Simard Professor Department of Forest Sciences  of the University of British Columbia who created this video explaining how interconnected plants are in a forest.

Suzanne W. Simard Professor Department of Forest Sciences

I love her honest intelligent approach to this observation of just how underground networks are really incredibly complex and defy the conventional modern day Darwinian outlook which actually shackles researchers from going farther to consider if there maybe is something more brilliant about the constructs of any forested ecosystem. Thus far, conventional Agriculture, Forestry, Landscping, and so forth have steadily ruined this planet and many such as Professor Suzanne Simard are opening their long held viewpoints to something more being here. Clearly the Science Based techonolgies of the so-called "Green Revolution" from the early 1950s where chemicals and the Big Scientific Based Industrial Bohemoths that manufacture them were some of the worst ideas created by conventional scientific understanding.  Many modern day researchers are saying, hey wait a minute, this is how nature really functions, maybe instead of boasting about how we can improve on it, we show rather replicate it and work with it, not against it. 

"These plants are really not individuals in the sense that Darwin thought they were individuals competing for survival of the fittest, in fact they're interacting with each other trying to help each other survive."
I actually take a close and a more in depth look into the technicalities of how Earth's underground Mycorrhizal Network actually functions, should be respected by us and replicated in and around our personal environments and beyond. 

This is what I'm trying to get across to planners of incredible landscapes. To the modern home gardeners who want an organic approach that allows them choices that Industrial agriculture does not. Whether you are a hobby gardener or professional landscaper, taking the mycorrhizal networked grid into consideration will go along way in making a healthy success of your project without ever having to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. That blog there addresses subject matters a little deeper than here. So enjoy the tutorial on "Earth's Internet"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Attracting Beneficial Insects With Beautiful Landscape

photo by Garden Coach
California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) 
When ever I plan a landscape, it's almost always with natives to the area and for the purpose of helping out the native wildlife in the process. While I certainly want an appealing eye candy pleasing to the senses look, I also want to provide food sources, housing habitat and other foraging and cover components for which numerous critters can compliment and actually take care of your landscape or garden for you. Here's a picture of one from my old property in the Mountains above Anza , California. First this variety of Cal-Coffeeberry is listed as 'Mount San Bruno' or even another one which is a little bigger and known for producing a lot of beautiful berries is 'eve case'. This variety is known for being a low grower and remains small in form. The one in the picture below under a Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreya) is approximately 24 years old. Not bad for a little shrub. It has a bigger brother high up on that same bank, though I'm not sure you'll notice it.

image: Mine
I chose this shrub and it's larger variety at the top for the obvious reasons. It's evergreen and from it's appearance at the top photo, you'll notice it has the characteristic berries which ripen unevenly throughout the season giving variety of colouring with gold, green, red and purple. Any shrub in the backcountry of Southern California helps out the ground loving birds like Quail, California Thrashers, California Towhee, Hermit Thrush and Even the common Scrub Jay. The Scrub Jays apparently love the berries. I didn't realize that at first, though I had seen them in the bush. It was one spring when everything was blooming that I notice under a couple of my Manzanitas that there were multiple Coffeeberry Seedlings which had germinated under the dander(or mulch layer) of those Manzanitas. I thought to myself, 'how kool', but before I could transplant any of them, the pathogen which causes damping off kept the understory of the Manzanita weed free and they all died at the root collar. No matter, it was an interesting and educational experience none the less. 

When planting your natives no matter where you are, take into consideration the "Earth's Internet" (mycorrhizal networked associations)  which will allow your plants to benefit from the mycorrhizae grid network. I have never planted these past two decades a native or any other ornamental plant without first providing an inoculent of endo-mycorrhizae inoculent into the mix. I also never amend the soil. It's not necessary. Simply apply a generous layer of compost or mulch around the plant's immediate perimeter. This prevents water loss and weed control for the young plant. also, when you visit the Nursery, resist the temptation to purchase a 5 gallon over a one gallon plant just because you want instant landscape. I understand the impatience, I fight it all the time as well. But a small one gallon will eventually out perform in my experience.

One pleasant surprise I wasn't counting on at all, were all of the insects for which those not so showy flowers(as you can see from the top pic) were attracting, specifically in the Gnat, fly, bee, wasp, mosquito, beetle and some butterfly families to what are not at all again a showy flower. What I did notice was a sticky substance around the leaves of the flower cluster which for the most part are a dull inconspicuous green. Nothing at all fancy or attractive about them. Well not to a human anyway.  There must have been some type of aroma or fragrance given off by the plant that drove those critters nuts because they were climbing and fumbling all over themselves to get a turn at the feeding trough. I couldn't smell it though. What was unusual was to see the phenomenal numbers and the variety of insects that didn't seem to normally hang out together, let alone climb all over each other in such masses. One bright spot I noticed were the numerous tiny parasitic wasps, not the usual giant mud wasps, paper wasps or ground dwelling Yellow Jackets we all flee from (they were there also of course) , but it was those tiny fellows, the ones that lay eggs on the backs of grubs, worms or caterpillars and keep their numbers from decimating your vegetable gardens. Here's an example of the type I'm referring to.

Okay, you get the picture now, but this next photo below is what they can do for your garden. 

As everyone knows, Tomato Hornworms can be devastating to any garden if left unchecked. On that note I have seen where commercial agricultural ventures like Vineyards are now planting rows of Lavender Plants to allow for pollination and food sources for these beneficial insects during the summer months and it's working. Several Vineyards in  Northern California have reported not having to use pesticides anymore.

The bottom line is, when planning for garden or landscape, remember such plants as California Coffeeberry which is a native. There are surely other ecosystems and plants that work equally well in other states or even countries of the world. Where ever you live, be observant of the nature around you when you're out walking and ask questions of local experts or nurserymen. Ask friends or nieghbours who you know for sure are adept and prolific at greenthumb gardening. I'm sure with the info available these days, they most assuredly are up to scratch on the latest organic methods. BTW, for your information, that photo above right is a commercial Vineyard whose owners planted Lavender which flower all summer long and attract beneficial parasitic wasps which allows them to not have to spray pesticides. Even some commercial growers are getting in on the Biomimicy game and saving not only money, but building a better and healthier product in the process.