For the first time ever…

My blog has been dormant since early this year. During this period my husband went through four shoulder surgeries, and is now facing spine surgery. In a later post I’ll describe parts of all this which may be useful to others. But for now I am going to ease back into blogging with a short simple post.

As an older adult, I feel it’s not too often I do something for the first time ever. But Friday, while pursuing the sedentary pleasure of reading in the shade on our deck, I got to sit in the shade of trees I helped plant! And it felt good.

Over the years I have planted trees here and there, even sprouted acorns and popped them in the ground, knowing I would not be around to admire them when they got really big. I remember thinking once that I hoped someone somewhere was planting trees for me. Of course it’s true, “someone else” (including a host of squirrels, bluejays, and other animals which transport and hide seeds) has planted all the trees we gaze upon, eat the fruits of, and climb. But now, thanks to fast-growing seedlings from our two old birch trees, I sat in shade my husband and I had planted. It really did feel different, quite satisfying.

Birches make lots of little seeds which glide on the wind, sprouting wherever they encounter a moist spot. The slender trees now shading me started as little guys that I potted up to adorn the front deck; after a few years they outgrew their pots and were planted as a group. They’re prettier that way, and because the nature of birches, it takes several to make a sizable area of dappled shade.

Birches IMG 2160

We also have planted our own aspen grove, five that we bought in big pots, and they are doing well. Our hot dry summers and fast-draining soil (that’s a flattering term for it) aren’t ideal for either aspens or birch so I water them once or twice a week in the summer, and that seems to be enough.

Aspens IMG 2164

I always marvel when I see houses without any trees: no shade, no windbreak, no fruit, none of the other comforts that trees offer us.

If your surroundings are lacking in trees, don’t wait for Arbor Day next spring. Plant some this fall and they’ll be ready to grow in spring. Get some advice on what does well in your region (use natives as much as you can) and what fits your needs with regard to questions such as year-round shade or not, growth rate & eventual size, likes to be in a lawn or not, species that provide food for birds or butterflies, blooms or fall color, amount of leaves and seeds to be raked if that is an issue, and so on.

Look for nursery sales as they pare back their holdings before winter; you can get some good deals. Or, just start your own. Some trees are pretty easy to grow though you’ll wait longer to sit in their shade, of course. Willow cuttings will grow readily if they get water; acorns can just be pushed into the ground and some will grow. There’s an inspiring short tale (The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giono) about a shepherd who over many years revivified a desolate area by planting acorns each day as he followed his sheep. It’s fiction, but full of truth. Tree roots help stop erosion, their leaves cause the rain to fall more gently promoting absorption by the soil, their shade cools streams for wildlife and shelters other seedlings, their flowers, leaves, and seeds are food for many animals, and their presence gives birds, insects, and mammals places to live, breed, and hunt.

Trees in fall color, surrounding Monticello

As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I never before knew the full value of trees. My house is entirely embossomed [embosomed] in high plane-trees, with good grass below; and under them I breakfast, dine, write, read, and receive my company. What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown. “ (in a letter to Martha Jefferson Randolph, July 7, 1793).

Two months before his death, at the age of eighty-three, he designed an arboretum for the University of Virginia. Such an epilogue to years of planting at Monticello was perhaps inspired by Jefferson’s own adage: “Too old to plant trees for my own gratification I shall do it for posterity.” (This and more about Jefferson and his tree-planting here; the aerial photo is of Monticello.)

6 things you should know when planting a tree, from Arbor Day Foundation

To which I add: Leave the soil at the bottom (that will be beneath the root ball) undisturbed to avoid settling. If the tree is bare-root, gently spread out the roots over a cone of soil. Don’t stake unless really necessary, for instance when planting on a slope. Finally, water it in, and water regularly for the first couple of years or more depending on your weather. More tips here.

Siskiyou wildflowers – 4/10/11

The wildflower season is beginning here, during a strange spring with early warmth and late snows, but truth be told the first wild flower to bloom at our place was back in February, and it was this one:

Dandelion Taraxacum officinale

Look familiar? It’s the much-maligned dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. If it weren’t such an invasive and persistent plant, we would find the flowers quite attractive: they’re numerous, vivid yellow against a basal rosette of dark green leaves, and have an attractive seedhead. The seeds exemplify a smart strategy too, in that they don’t require pollination to develop. You may have noticed this when looking into a container where you have discarded dandelion flowers or plants that you uprooted. The buds—even if not open when the plant was pulled—often go on to open and develop seeds via a process called apomixis. The seeds will be viable.

The first two showy blooms of what we usually call wildflowers began a couple of weeks ago with Henderson’s Shooting Star, Dodecatheon hendersonii

Henderson’s Shooting Star, Dodecatheon hendersonii

and the Trout Lily or Fawn Lily, Erythronium hendersonii.

Erythronium hendersonii flower underside

It is a good year for the erythronium, with many having 2 or even 3 flowers, and both leaves and flowers often larger than we’ve seen them in the past.

Erythronium hendersonii, flowers and leaves

The darkly mottled leaves give these plants their common names of Fawn Lily or Trout Lily, and I find them quite beautiful though hard to photograph. The surface is never quite in focus; perhaps there’s a covering of microscopic hairs that interfere with my camera’s auto-focus function.

Erythronium hendersonii, leaf

Individual Trout Lily blooms have a short life; in a week they’re fading and withering. But we will be able to find them for a few weeks longer as they bloom at higher elevations or in shadier spots. Mixed sun and shade seems to be their preference.

This plant on a steep sunny slope in scree has, I think, been the “victim” of aggressive wildfire fuel reduction efforts about a month ago that removed most shrubs and small trees and caused decomposed rock from above to come down the slope. Few plants of any sort appeared through the scree, and I’d be surprised if the several erythroniums I saw today are there next spring.

Erythronium hendersonii in scree

A plant with four buds, more than we have ever seen before.

Erythronium buds 5687

Both of these native wildflowers are named for “The Grand Old Man of Northwest Botany“, Louis F. Henderson (1853-1942). You can read more about him here, and even see a photo of him with a smile on his face. Nineteenth-century scientists maintained grim demeanors for their portraits (perhaps just conforming to the expectations of their time, but of the people I see on television these days the ones who look truly happy are mostly field scientists like geologists, palaeontologists, and botanists. Cosmologists and astronomical scientists also look cheerful and absorbed in their future work. Zoologists generally look concerned, as they’re usually asked to talk about how the creatures they’ve studied are threatened by human activities.

Previous posts (2009, 2010) about E. hendersonii.

More about hydraulic mining, including some corrections

In an earlier post, about a walk along the Gin LinTrail, an area still scarred by hydraulic mining, I made errors that have been pointed out to me by a commenter on that post. I’ve made brief corrections to parts of my text in the original post, but will sort things out at more length here. On a couple of points, one trivial and the other important, I do differ with the commenter.

One error arose from my ignorance of the geological nature of the area where the hydraulic mining was done and the source of the gold. The commenter’s reference to Tertiary gravel deposits being the location of the gold was new to me, so I looked it up and learned a lot about the Northern California (and, I assume, extreme southern Oregon) hydraulic gold-mining industry.

The gold mined by hydraulic mining in Northern California was found accumulated in ancient “riverbed deposits, now elevated above modern rivers”. These deposits are 40 million years old, or older. So the hydraulickers, as they were sometimes called, were following a very old plane of deposited material across a large area which has since been raised, and also cut into, by modern geological forces such as uplift and water flow. The map below, from the UCSB Dept. of Geography, shows the location of those ancient rivers and their modern counterparts in one region of Northern California.

Map of ancient Northern California rivers which deposited gold and were mined by hydraulic miners.

”Pay streaks”, some ado about a phrase

With regard to the term “pay streaks”, of which the commenter said “A pay streak is a modern term used to describe a gold deposit that has formed in an existing waterway”, this term does in fact date back to the days of hydraulic mining and was used as I used it. For example, here is a passage from Hydraulic and placer mining by Eugene Benjamin Wilson (Wiley, 1918), page 8 (Google Books):

Pay Streak Quotation.jpg

It is easy to see how confusion may have arisen about this term’s early use, because of the change in meaning of another word: “placer”. Like other writers of his time and before, Wilson’s definition of “placer” is much more inclusive than what seems to be common usage today. We think of placer as meaning something deposited recently (in geological terms)

Placer definition.jpg

But Wilson and others of his era used it to refer not only to deposits in current rivers, but also to those made millions of years ago on riverbeds now under many feet of overburden.

placer quotation.jpg

(above, from Wilson page 11; below, from page 9) and

ancient&modern placers.jpg

His use of the the term “pay streaks” is in the half of his book about placer mining. For him, hydraulic mining is a method and placer describes a type of gold deposit including both recent and ancient riverbeds.

placer & hydraulic.jpg

(Wilson, page 152)

Another authoritative writer, Waldemar Lindgren, used “placer” in the same way (and “pay streak” also). In 1911 the U.S. Geological Survey published his opus, The Tertiary Gravels of the Sierra Nevada of California, as no. 73 in its series of Professional Papers. He says,

The occurrence of gold in paying quantities in the Tertiary gravels of the Sierra Nevada is limited almost entirely to the gravels in which quartz and metamorphic rocks form the principal components. …

DISTRIBUTION OF THE GOLD IN THE GRAVELS

It has become almost an axiom among miners that the gold is concentrated on the bedrock and all efforts in placer mining are generally directed toward finding the bedrock in order to pursue mining operations there. It is well known to all drift miners, however, that the gold is not equally distributed on the bedrock in the channels. The richest part forms a streak of irregular width referred to in the English colonies as the “run of gold” and in the United States as the “pay streak” or “pay lead.”
(Lindgren, p. 65-66)

Environmental effects of hydraulic mining

I blamed hydraulic mining for the unvegetated areas we saw along the Gin Lin Trail. The commenter blamed it upon poor soil in the areas of these ancient rivers, which he said was typical and something he has often observed. He said, “the deeper they were worked, the better the vegetation has recovered”.

The best description I found, in researching the revegetation of hydraulic mining sites, was this by Randall Rohe:

quote Rohe.jpg

(Source: Green versus gold: sources in California’s environmental history, by Carolyn Merchant. From the chapter by Randall Rohe, “Mining’s Impact on the land”, p. 128. Google books.)

So, all things being equal, the bottoms of hydraulic mining pits are most likely to revegetate quickly, while the slopes may remain bare for decades or centuries. However in some places the mining may result in contaminating the pit-bottom with minerals that are toxic to plants, such as seems to be the case here.

malakoff-diggins-pond-3.jpg

The photo above shows a pool of water devoid of any plants in or around it other than algae, in the area of the Malakoff Diggins—California’s largest hydraulic mine. (Source. Following photos are also of Malakoff Diggins.)

diggins-creekSM.jpg

Source.

Minerals exposed by hydraulic mining can leach out and, if toxic, make plant growth impossible. Here is a view of what appears to be an exposed peak of some mineral:

majestic-cliffsSM.jpg

Source.
The steep slopes in themselves, of course, also resist plant growth.

Malakoff UCSB.jpg

Source.

As far as the differences in soil quality, comparing ground above the ancient riverbeds (which would probably be what’s on the top area of the cliffs shown) versus that exposed by water cannons like this

monitor-in-digginsSM.jpg

Source.

who can say? Are the bottoms of mining pits often more lushly vegetated because water collects there (as long as no toxic minerals accumulate)? Do different species, of different habits, grow in the pits as opposed to at the tops, and so growth appears different? My guess would be that it varies greatly according to specific location. Perhaps someone can point me to comparative photos or soil studies.

For the people downstream of these mines, the major consideration was what it did to their own locale. All the material washed away by the powerful streams of water—strong enough to hold a fifty-pound boulder in the air—went downstream sooner or later. Often the debris included boulders, cobbles, gravel, as well as finer material.

“The historian Hubert Howe Bancroft stated that an eight-inch Monitor [patented nozzle] could throw 185,000 cubic feet of water in an hour with a velocity of 150 feet per second.” (Source)

“A conservative estimate places the amount of debris dumped into tributaries of the Sacramento at 1.3 billion cubic yards.” (p. 132, article by Rohe in Green versus Gold previously cited). The total amount of material removed to build the Panama Canal (including both the French and the American work) was 268,000,000 cubic yards: only one-fifth the amount that was sent down the tributaries of the Sacramento.

The massive volume of debris that resulted from hydraulic mining clogged streams and rivers from the foothill outlets to the mouth of San Francisco Bay, obstructing navigable rivers and reducing their ability to carry flood waters. The lighter silt and sands, the “slickins”, spread over the river-side farms of the Sacramento Valley and ruined many farmers. These downstream impacts of the industry eventually brought on a series of local, then federal, lawsuits, and a series of debates in the California Legislature on how (or if) the problem would be solved. The end of debate came in 1884, when federal circuit judge Lorenzo Sawyer issued an injunction against the industry discharging its debris.

Source.

Many of the streams are turned out of their original channels, either directly for mining purposes, or in consequence of the great masses of soil and gravel that come down from the gold-washing above. Thousands of acres of fine land along their banks are ruined forever by the deposits of this character. A farmer may have his whole estate turned into a barren waste by a flood of sand and gravel from some hydraulic mining up stream; more, if a fine orchard or garden stands in the way of the working of a rich gulch or bank, orchard or garden must go. Then the tornout, dug- out, washed to pieces and then washed over side- hills, masses that have been or are being subjected to the hydraulics of the miners, are the very devil’s chaos indeed. The country is full of them among the mining districts of the Sierra Nevada, and they are truly a terrible blot upon the face of Nature. (Samuel Bowles, 1868.

It raised the level of rivers in some cases above the level of nearby towns, changed river-courses, silted up fish spawning gravels, reduced open water areas and increased tidal flats in San Francisco Bay and environs, and led to increasingly serious floods.

An invisible hazard accompanied the debris and silt-laden water: mercury. The gold-bearing material was sent down thousands of feet of sluices which were lined with mercury in order to snag particles of gold as they tumbled through. Mercury is very persistent in the environment. An estimated 2500 – 10,000 metric tons (2755 to 11,000 tons) entered the Bay. “Currently San Francisco Bay is listed under Clean Water Act Section 303(d) as impaired for mercury contamination, and many Bay-caught sport fish exceed the EPA human health criterion of 0.3 mg methylmercury/kg fish tissue” (Source). About 261 million cubic yards of sediment still remain in the northern part of San Francisco Bay.

When all is said and done

I went past the subject of the original commentator’s remarks (about seeing better vegetation in the bottoms of mining pits than on the presumably undisturbed top ground), to recapitulate some of the horrors of hydraulic mining, and that was not so I could bash him with matters not part of our differences, but because we must still fight against similarly great environmental damage from other mining practices. Strip mining, destruction of mountain tops, chemical “fracking” of strata to get at natural gas deposits, the list goes on and on.

Close to home, hydraulic mining’s little brother has come to visit. The recent moratorium on dredging in California has sent hundreds of miners with gas-powered dredges up to Southern Oregon, to suck up the banks and bottoms of streams in a small scale version of hydraulic mining. Small scale, but then our rivers and creeks are smaller too. The damage to the “stream banks and nursery gravels”, as one local gold panner wrote, is severe. “If you did a bio-survey of say, one cubic foot of stream gravel passed through a internal combustion driven pump, the numbers of ruptured organisms and caddis-fly eggs, water-beetle eggs, dragonfly larva, newt and salamander eggs would stagger one’s imagination. Just check a sluiced site for life forms sometime; see if you can find any. …The dredger’s assertion that their comparative damage is lesser than that of the major extractors doesn’t mitigate their injury.” (Pers. comm., Dan Barker, 2010).

The Armenian Cucumber Martini

What with too many gophers and not enough bees, our vegetable garden is not as abundant as we’d hoped. Even the several varieties of summer squash, which usually can be counted on to produce more than the most ardent squash lover can eat, aren’t setting much fruit.

Deciding to drown our horticultural sorrows we needed a garnish for the martinis. Something different…there, on the counter! An Armenian cucumber. It’s in the same family as the squash but is setting fruit much better. They’re slender, pale green, and curl into a circle. Let’s give it a try.

ArmenianCucumberMartini1.jpg

Into the glass goes a slice.

ArmenianCucumberMartini3b.jpg

Verdict by the resident Martini expert? “Cool and refreshing. I think I like that better than olives!”

ArmenianCucumberMartini5.jpg

We’ve also enjoyed these cucumbers sliced up in soups. Turns out, though, that while they look and taste like cukes they’re technically melons, Cucumis melo var. flexuosus. True cucumbers are Cucumis sativus.

Siskiyou Wildflowers: Mt. Ashland in July, part 2

So many flowers!

We’ve made two trips to Mt. Ashland (Southern Oregon), on July 22 and 31, along a gravel/dirt forest road noted for wildflowers, and it was a new experience: instead of marvelling at a single flower or small patch of flowers, we saw slopes red with Indian Paintbrush or Scarlet Gilia, places with a dozen different flowers blooming in a 50 foot stretch. On gentle slopes where the snow has recently melted, plants grow so thickly it’s hard to see which leaves belong to which flowers. This is Forest Road 20, for those who might want to visit, and it’s the continuation of the main paved road that goes to the Mt. Ashland ski area. Just keep going, and the road soon turns to gravel and there are meadows of wildflowers on each side. A few miles later the road winds into a drier area with few but choice species, such as various penstemons as well as paintbrush, gilia, eriogonum, and many more. For us novices, identifying what we’ve seen and photographed has been a challenge.

Here are some of the plants we’ve seen on these two trips. Others were included in the earlier “Part 1” post. [Our identifications are the best we have been able to do, but shouldn’t be considered authoritative.]

Castilleja species along a seep.jpg

Castilleja (Paintbrush) along a trickle of water. Not sure of the species, but it doesn’t have the wavy leaves of C. applegatei.

Tiny wildflowers like this one are easy to overlook, hard to identify. For scale, that large pink object on the left is part of my finger. The entire plant was only two or three inches tall, and was growing in a wet sandy area.

Mystery tiny pink flower.jpg

Lilium pardalinum, Veratrum californicum (foliage), .jpg

The striking yellow lilies above are Leopard Lilies (Lilium pardalinum), native to Oregon and California. The spires of white flowers are White Schoenolirion or White Rush-lily (Hastingsia alba; also called Schoenolirion album).

[Etymological note: pardalinum is an adjective from the Greek pardalis, female leopard (meaning spotted like a leopard); Hastingsia after Serranus Clinton Hastings (1814-1893), first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, who helped publish The Botany of the Pacific Coast edited by Asa Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker and J. D. Whitney; album and alba are from the Latin albus (white); Schoenolirion from the Greek schoinos (a rush), + lirion (lily).]

Lilium pardalinum, Leopard Lily CLOSE.jpg

The White Rush-lily is in the lily family; it grows from a bulb, and has the flat strap-like leaves characteristic of many lilies. The mixed species of plants were so dense in some places on Mt. Ashland that it was hard even to find the foliage of a particular species, much less photograph it, but the picture below shows a big area where White Rush-lily alone grew.

Hastingsia alba, foliage.jpg

Aster family purple, and yarrow.jpg

A purple flower in the aster family, but which one? In the background is Achillea millefolium, Common Yarrow.

Out of the ordinary Owl’s Clover

Next is an unusual flower, Toothed Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus). Owl’s Clovers are in the Snapdragon family along with Paintbrushes (Castilleja genus), Foxgloves, and Penstemons (Beardtongues). Because it is so remarkable, I’m going to include pictures of it from several points of view. From above, looking down on the upright flower.

Owl'sCloverTopView1.jpg

Below, another top view of a rather different-looking individual, missing some of its parts or having developed differently.

Owl'sCloverTopView2.jpg

Two views from the side.

Owl'sClover.jpg

Owl'sClover2.jpg

Owl’s Clovers are not just unusual in appearance, but also in their natural history. They are annuals, and

if the first roots emerging from a germinating Owl Clover seed find themselves near the roots of a neighboring plant of a different species, such as prairie lupine, it will initiate structural connections called haustoria. These are modified roots capable of causing infection in the host plant.

The haustoria invade, literally grow into, the inner tissues of the host lupine’s roots. The Owl Clover haustoria are triggered into formation when the lupine itself exudes chemicals from its roots; that is, the lupine chemically signals its presence to the Owl Clover. The haustoria connections are all completed and in place within a few hours! With functional haustoria in place, Owl Clover’s growth is accelerated. The Owl Clover gains water, minerals and energy from the host plant. Being an annual, Owl Clover has a relatively small root system, so getting extra food really helps its growth rate. This host-parasite relationship is called heterotrophy, the opposite of autotrophy [self-sustaining by photosynthesis]. Being semi-parasitic [capable of both parasitism and if necessary autotrophy], Owl Clover may engage in both at the same time.

Owl Clover, when functioning as a parasite, also takes in toxic chemicals the host plant produces; lupines have alkaloids (remember, plants like lupines are poisonous to livestock). These toxic chemicals are distributed into the Owl Clover’s stem and leaf tissues. The consequences? The presence of the poisonous alkaloids, botanists have learned, reduces the level of feeding (herbivory) by butterfly and moth larvae that favor Owl Clover leaves for their growth and development. Larvae feeding is hindered by the presence of the poisons, and the Owl Clover retains more of its leaf tissue for photosynthesis, an obvious benefit. Butterfly and moth larvae need alternative leaves to eat, but that’s impossible since mature butterflies and moths lay their eggs on developing Owl Clover plants not knowing if the leaves are toxic or not. Larvae, it’s assumed, survive better, and develop to maturity by feeding on Owl Clovers that are not parasitizing a lupine or other toxic host plant.

There’s one remaining piece of this interesting relationship to be told: studies suggest that Owl Clover’s flower nectar is not contaminated by the toxic alkaloids. Perhaps the alkaloids are detoxified by some means before reaching the nectar glands. Why is this important? Visiting pollinators, such as hummingbirds or bumble bees, can harvest the Owl Clover’s nectar reward without suffering ill effects. [Source article by Jim Habeck, professor emeritus of botany at the University of Montana]

Representations of the seeds and seed-pods of wildflowers seem hard to find; after the colorful floral show is over, the photographers lose interest just as the pollinating bees and hawkmoths do. But in my Owl’s Clover wanderings I came across photos here of the seeds and pods of two species. Looking at the flowers, I wouldn’t have expected this:

Orthocarpus purpurascens SEED POD.jpg

Seeds and seedpod of Purple Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus purpurascens, also called Castilleja exserta). Not the species we saw, but it has a similar flower so probably the seedpods are similar.

[Etymological note: Orthocarpus, from the Greek ortho (straight, upright) + carp- (fruit, seed); cuspidatus, from the Latin cuspis (lance, point); purpurescens, becoming purple, from the Latin purpura (purple); Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; exserta, from the Latin exsertus, past participle of exserere (to thrust out, from ex- + serere to join).]

Wavy-leaf Paintbrush and hand signals

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf Paintbrush.jpg

This, I think, is Wavy-leaf Paintbrush (Castilleja applegatei)

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf PaintbrushLEAVES.jpg

Here are the wavy-edged 3-lobed leaves. Some leaves are single, not lobed.

And this is my hand signal to tell myself that the flower felt “sticky”! I have found I have trouble remembering these things days later when I am looking over 300 photos, sometimes of more than one species of the same genus. Now which one had the sticky flowers? It’s characteristic of some Paintbrushes and not others, so knowing helps to identify these tricky guys.

Another difficulty was that if two similar species were photographed one after the other I couldn’t be sure where the first one ended, in the series of photos. Now when I finish photographing one species I take a “spacer” photo of my foot in its red sandal. Sounds odd but seems to be helping.

[Etymological note: Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; applegatei, named after Elmer Applegate (1867-1949), a student of the flora of Oregon best known for his monograph of trout lilies (Erythronium).]

Thistle, Buckwheat, Roses and more

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle CLOSE.jpg

Above is a close-up of the center of a flat-growing thistle, called Elk Thistle (Cirsium scariosum). All our other local thistles send up tall stems defended with spiky leaves and ending in one or more flowers, but this one grows and flowers at a height of just 2 or 3 inches. The plants we saw were up to a foot in diameter.

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle.jpg

[Etymological note: Cirsium from the Greek kirsion (a kind of thistle) in turn from kirsos (a swollen vein or welt) because thistles were often used as a remedy against such things; scariosum from “New Latin” (=concocted by moderns) scariosus c. 1806, origin uncertain (dry and membranous in texture, chaffy, brown).]

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat.jpg

Sulphur-flower Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). The genus Eriogonum is in the same family (Polygonaceae) as the field crop buckwheat, and the seeds of some species are important for wildlife. The name ‘buckwheat’ or ‘beech wheat’ comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree, and the fact that it is used like wheat [Wikipedia].

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Eriogonum, from the Greek erion (wool) and gony (knee or joint), so called because the jointed stems are covered with hair; umbellatum, from the Latin umbella (sunshade), diminutive of umbra (shadow), and refers to the arrangement of the flowers which arise in a head from a central point, i.e. bearing an umbel.] Now that I know this odd bit about the meaning of Eriogonum, I’ll be looking for those “hairy knees” on wild buckwheat plants in future.

Rosa woodsii, Woods' rose.jpg

Small patches of these vivid pink roses were blooming in areas of loose dry soil, and the plants were only a few inches tall. I think it’s Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii).

[Etymological note: Rosa, from the Latin rosa (rose), in turn derived from the Greek rhodon (rose); woodsii, after American botanist Alphonso Wood (1810-1881).]

Penstemon azureus, azure penstemon.jpg

We think this Penstemon is Azure Penstemon (Penstemon azureus). At their peak the flowers must have been glorious.

Penstemon azureus, Azure penstemon, LEAF.jpg

The broadly oval leaves are distinctive, and seem to clasp the stem as described for this species.

[Etymological note: Penstemon from Greek penta- (five) + Greek stēmōn (thread, here meaning stamen); azureus (of a deep blue color) from Arabic via Old French azaward which developed from Arabic lāzaward, from Persian lāzhuward, of obscure origin—in Old French the initial ‘l’ was dropped from the word proper and turned into the definite article “le” as if it were French: l’azaward].]

Here is a beautiful penstemon we are not able to identify.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 FLOWERS.jpg

Penstemon, unknown species 1 CLOSE.jpg

The difference in flower color between these two pictures is due to light conditions; the one taken in full sunlight is actually a bit washed out compared to how the colors appeared to my eye, and the one taken in shade is more accurate.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 LEAF.jpg

The buds and long narrow leaves of this penstemon.

A second unidentified penstemon.

Penstemon unknown species,#2 CLOSE .jpg

The leaves are quite different from the first unidentified one.
Penstemon unknown species,#2 .jpg

We saw many more flowers on these two trips, but I’ll stop with this one, Western Blue Flax or Prairie Flax (Linum lewisii, also called Linum perenne var. lewisii).

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax2.jpg

Western Blue Flax is very similar to the European Flax plant from which linen is made; indeed, some consider the two a single species, Linum perenne. Native American peoples used flax fiber for cordage and string, as well as for mats, snowshoes, fishing nets and baskets.

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Linum from Latin linum (flax, linen); lewisii, for Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806; perenne from Latin perennis (lasting through the year or years) from per- (through) + annus (year), botanical sense of “Remaining alive through a number of years”.]

Mt. Ashland flower scene.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland, July.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland.

Algae poses threat to humans as well as animals

Health departments have been trying to inform swimmers and pet owners that they should avoid water with visible algae, since ingesting it can cause severe and sudden illness including convulsions or even death. In our state, three dogs died last year after swimming at a reservoir. One died before his owner could even get him to the car, another died on the way to the vet.

Now, a recent report in the ProMED health tracking network calls our attention to human risks that don’t involved either entering or drinking the algae-contaminated water.

One man, whose dog died after a swim in the lake, was hospitalized last week [week of 19 Jul 2010] after he gave the dog a bath. Within days, the 43-year-old man began having trouble walking and lost
feeling in his arms and feet.

“We weren’t swimming in the lake because it’s disgusting,” said the
victim’s wife, whose husband, is still having trouble with memory loss and fatigue. “Our dog was just covered in that sludge, and my husband washed him.” Washington Examiner, July 30, 2010.

According to one doctor treating the Ohio man, his neurological problems may be permanent. But he’s better off than his dog, who died despite having the algae washed off.

The algae are in the “blue-green algae” family, and are actually not algae but photosynthesizing bacteria, called cyanobacteria. Blooms, or overgrowths, in bodies of water (fresh or saltwater) are encouraged by temperature change and increases in nutrients, often from agricultural runoff into the water. The cyanobacteria, like some algae, make toxins harmful to fish and mammals. Humans have been aware of this mostly through being poisoned by eating shellfish, which concentrate the toxins. The familiar warnings about “red tides” and issuance of “shellfish advisories” result from these conditions.

While it has been known that skin contact with toxic algae could produce illness in humans, the severe results from relatively small exposure—simply washing an algae-slimed dog—seem to be worse than expected.

The lake in Ohio is Grand Lake St. Marys; it’s the largest inland lake in the state by area, but is extremely shallow, with an average depth of only 5 to 7 feet. This shallow lake warms up more, and doesn’t dilute the runoff of agricultural fertilizer and livestock waste as much as if it held more water. Recent algae blooms have killed so many catfish that crews were shovelling up the dead fish. With the lake surrounded by warning signs, the area’s $160 million tourism industry has declined, and a boat race that draws about 30,000 people in late August each year has been cancelled.

Some algae are harmless, but there are many different algae or bacteria that can produce dangerous levels of toxins when they bloom. Some are more harmful than others but it’s foolish to take chances: keep yourself, and children and pets, well away from any water that has a visible algae presence. This can be greenish, reddish, or other colors. Or it can appear as just cloudiness or discoloration in the water, as foam or scum floating on top, as mats on the bottom, or actual filaments or pellets. And don’t let kids or pets wander to areas of a river, stream, or lake that you have not closely checked.

Algae by rocks.jpg

Source.

An Ohio factsheet sums up the methods of exposure, and known symptoms:

Skin contact: Contact with the skin may cause rashes, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits).

Breathing of water droplets: Breathing aerosolizing (suspended water droplets-mist) from the lake water-related recreational activities and/or lawn irrigation can cause runny eyes and noses, a sore throat, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.

Swallowing water: Swallowing HAB-contaminated water can cause:
◦ Acute (immediate), severe diarrhea and vomiting
◦ Liver toxicity (abnormal liver function, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting)
◦ Kidney toxicity
◦ Neurotoxicity (weakness, salivation, tingly fingers, numbness, dizziness, difficulties breathing, death)   Source.

Splashing of water in eyes, or inhaling droplets of contaminated water, can get the toxin into your system. One of the toxins from cyanobacteria, Saxitoxin is “reportedly one of the most toxic, non-protein substances known. It is known that the LD50 (median lethal dose) in mice is 8 micrograms/kilogram. Based on
a human weighing approx. 70 kg (154 lb), a lethal dose would be a
single dose of 0.2 mg.” [Source, ProMED report.]

How much is two-tenths of a milligram? There are a thousand milligrams in a gram, and a dime or a paper clip each weigh about 1 gram. So an amount of toxin weighing the same as two ten-thousandths of a paper clip may be lethal.

Algae,feet in water.jpg

Source.

These “Harmful Algal Blooms” can occur in large or small bodies of water; often, but not always, they are in areas where the waterflow is slow (near shore) or nonexistent (stagnant). Small pools or puddles separate from the main body of water can contain algal growth. Even in tiny amounts the toxins can have devastating and sudden effects of humans or animals.

Eating fish or shellfish from contaminated waters is dangerous too. Cooking does NOT render toxins safe.

Algal blooms can be very transient, appearing and disappearing in a matter of days to weeks. If you spot a possible instance and there are no warning signs, it may not have been found yet. Stay away from the water and call your local or state health department so they can track outbreaks, and put up signs.

For the state of Oregon, current advisories can be found online here. The HAB team can be reached by email at Hab.health@state.or.us, by phone: 971-673-0440; Toll Free: 877-290-6767; or by fax: 971-673-0457. Other states should have similar programs; your city or county health department ought to be able to tell you more.

Why are these toxic algae blooms becoming more common?

The short answer is, better growing conditions for algae. They thrive in warm water, and temperatures are going up. Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from human activities pour into streams, lakes, rivers, and the ocean, and act like Miracle-Gro for the algae. Sources include runoff from fields treated with fertilizer or manure, spraying partially treated sewage sludge, sewage overflows, and runoff from pastures.

What can be done?

Rising temperatures, that’s a big one. Let’s just look at eutrophication or over-nutrification of water, since that’s something where local efforts can have relatively immediate local effects. Obviously, better treatment of sewage (including livestock waste) and reduced use of fertilizers (in agriculture, on golf courses, in parks, and in our own personal yards) are important steps to work on. On July 1st, 16 states will begin enforcing laws that require dishwasher detergents to be almost phosphate-free. That’s a small but significant improvement; the legislator who introduced the bill into the Pennsylvania legislature estimated that 7% to 12% of the phosphorus entering sewage plants came from automatic dishwashing detergents. New guidelines from the federal Clean Water Act to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus have provided more impetus to these particular efforts.

Not so obvious steps:

At least one study found that use of organic fertilizers led to less nitrogen runoff than use of chemical fertilizers.

Remediation of areas where nitrogen is stored in soil, from decades of deposition by one means or another, is possible but expensive and slow.

And years of research is showing us, surprise surprise, that intact aquatic communities slow the trickle-down of nutrient pollution (from, say, creeks to streams to rivers to a lake) and seem to enable a body of water to better resist eutrophication. Dr. David Schindler (Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta) has studied the problem for decades including 37 years of work on Lake 227, a small pristine lake in the Experimental Lakes region of northern Ontario. He says, for example, that overexploitation of piscivorous (fish-eating) fish seems to increase the effects of eutrophication. (His earlier work energized the campaign to reduce phosphorus pollution.)

A study along the Georgia coast suggests that tidal marsh soils protect aquatic ecosystems from eutrophication, caused by the accumulation of nutrients. And they sequester large amounts of carbon, helping us slow down climate change. I would expect similar results with regard to freshwater wetlands and marshes. When I was a zookeeper I worked with mechanical incubators for bird eggs, none of which was as reliable as one of those “bird-brained” hens of whatever species. We are told that the appropriate native herbivores—bison, wildebeest, and so on—produce more meat per acre and do less damage than introduced species like cattle. And now we’re coming around to seeing that oldmothernature is better at water purification than we are, if we leave existing systems intact (but we never do).

Salt Marsh.jpg

Salt Marsh near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; more good photos of this marsh here.

Siskiyou Wildflowers: Mt. Ashland in July, part 1

On July 22nd we left our usual nearby wildflower haunts and headed to Mt. Ashland, drawn by a brochure given us by the local ranger station. It’s called Wildflowers of Mount Ashland and the Siskiyou Crest from Mount Ashland to Cow Creek Glade, and shows small photos of 82 different flowers that may be found along Forest Road 20. There’s also concise information about each one as to wet/dry/shade habitat, location on the road, and height. The Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon produced this, and did a great job. We’ll be joining, to support such efforts.

The day on the mountain was perfect: we left behind the valley where the temperature was headed for 100°, for an airy sunny breezy place from which Mt. Shasta was visible.

Mt. Shasta.jpg

There were still a few areas of snow, and meadows moist from springs and snowmelt.

A small seep of water flows down this crease in the land, with plants most dense where the ground levels out a bit.

Water seep line.jpg

Habitats vary from dry and rocky to wet at this time of year. Peak flowering time is July and August. We saw many wildflowers—not all 82, but we’ll go back in a couple of weeks and see what else has appeared. Here’s a first installment of what we saw.

Ipomopsis aggregata, Scarlet Gilia #  - 06.jpg

The most numerous species we saw was Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata). There were isolated plants, there were swathes of red. It was hard to believe something so bright and beautiful could be so abundant. [Etymological note: Ipomopsis is said to be from a Greek root meaning “striking in appearance,” but no one seems to be able to substantiate it; the species name means “flocking together,” or growing in groups, clustered, from Latin gregis (a flock) and the suffix -gate from agere (to set in motion, to drive, to lead).

Ipomopsis aggregata, Scarlet Gilia en masse.jpg

Ipomopsis aggregata, Scarlet Gilia CLOSE.jpg

Below is a yellow paintbrush, called Cobwebby Paintbrush, (Castilleja arachnoidea). Its leaves are narrow—the wide tapering hairy leaves belong to another plant that grew close in among the Castilleja. [Etymological note: named for Professor Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), a Spanish botanist and instructor of botany at Cadiz, Spain; from Greek arachnes (spider), arachnion (spider web), like a spider’s web.]

Castilleja arachnoidea.jpg

Another Castilleja sp., but which one? Wavy-leaf Paintbrush (C. applegatei) was pictured in our guide to Mt. Ashland, but this plant did not have the distinctive wavy leaves.

Castilleja Sp. A.jpg

The next two photos show a small plant called Pussy Paws, for the soft fuzzy flowerheads(Calyptridium umbellatum). The second one pictured is the pink variety. [Etymological note: from the Greek kaluptra (a cap or covering) because of the way the petals close over the fruit; umbellatum meaning “having an umbel”, botanical term for a cluster of flowers with stalks of nearly equal length which spring from about the same point, like the ribs of an umbrella, and derived from Latin diminutive of umbra (shadow).]

Calyptridium umbellatum, Pussy Paws .jpg

Calyptridium umbellatum, Pussy PawsPINK.jpg

Two orchids were prize finds, in shady spots. Both are Uncommon, according to Turner. First the oddly named Short-spurred Rein Orchid (Piperia unalascensis). Living in the Pacific Northwest, even in a dry part of it, one wants to call this a “Rain” orchid, but all sources agree it is “Rein”. One writer alleges that it’s so named for the strap-like lower lip on each tiny flower, but I don’t really see it. [Etymological note: named after Charles Vancouver Piper (1867-1926), an agronomist with the US Department of Agriculture and an expert on Pacific Northwest flora; species name refers to Aleutian Islands (Unalaska) where species was first found. The Unangan people, who were the first to inhabit the island of Unalaska, named it “Ounalashka” meaning ‘Near the Peninsula’, according to Wikipedia. ]

Piperia unalascensis, Short-spurred Rein Orchid CLOSE.jpg

Below, not in very good focus, is the entire plant next to an Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja), species unknown.

Piperia unalascensis, Short-spurred Rein Orchid .jpg

The White Bog Orchid (Platanthera leucostachys) below It’s also called the Sierra Bog Orchid. The palmate leaf and thick stalk on the right belong to a lupine. [Etymological note: from the Greek “platanos” (broad or flat), and Greek anther (from Greek anthera, feminine of antheros (flowery) from anthos (flower), here anther is the botanical term, referring to the upper part of the stamen, containing pollen; species name from the Greek leukos (white) and Greek stachus (ear of grain or a spike) in reference to the spike-like form of the flowers.]

White bog orchid, Platanthera leucostachys   - 1.jpg

White bog orchid, Platanthera leucostachys CLOSE.jpg

Orange Agoseris (Agoseris aurantiaca), bright as the sun. [Etymological note: Agoseris was the Greek name for a related plant “goat chicory” and the word is usually seen as deriving from derived from Greek aix (goat) and seris (chicory). Some members of the Agoseris genus have woolly stems or leaves, possibly relating to the “goat” connexion. Species name aurantiaca from the Latin (orange, orange-yellow or orange-red), ultimately from aurum (gold, the metal).]

Agoseris aurantiaca, Orange AgoserisCLOSE.jpg

Several delphiniums were spotted, but not yet identified. Here’s one.

Delphinium A- 2.jpg

Its leaf is small and three-lobed.

Delphinium A- 2LEAF.jpg

There are lots of yellow daisy-like flowers in the world, but not all have the tenacity of this one which seems to spring from the dry rock. It is Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). [Etymological note: from the Greek erion (wool), phyllum (leaves); species name from the Latin lanatus, (woolly). Very very woolly!]

Eriophyllum lanatum, Oregon Sunshine  - 1.jpg

Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) is another bright-flowered plant that does well in dry and disturbed soils. That trait may account for the common English name, supposedly derived from growing at the foot of walls in Europe. I suppose they’re rather like the hollyhocks you see springing up in the hard dry soil in front of abandoned sheds or at the edges of alleys. [Etymological note: from the Greek eryomai (to help or save) because some of the species supposedly had a medicinal value ; species name from Latin capitātus (having a head) from capit-, (head), refers to the way the flowers form in a head-like cluster.]

Erysimum capitatum, Western Wallflower # 2.jpg

It’s in the Mustard Family, a group called Cruciferae meaning “cross-shaped”, referring to the arrangement of the flower petals.

Erysimum capitatum, Western Wallflower.jpg

More soon!