Sunday, February 19, 2017

Local natives for the upper north slope project: Hooker's Fairy Bells, Prosartes Hookeri

The modest flowers of Hooker's fairy bells, Prosartes hookeri,
in May

I'm excited right now to have Hooker's fairy bell seedlings, grown from local seed, in my greenhouse! This is the first time they have germinated for me!

These pleasant plants grow in the shade. These were happy in a fairly dry edge-of-woods location, and they also like damper shade.

I hope they'll be great for my north slope's drier section.

This plant grows up and down the American west coast mostly in dampish woodland areas but also in dry oak woodlands. I found a nice page, for example, from British Columbia.

Modest flower and a modest plant, too. Low growing,
with a pleasant symmetry.

It disappears sometime after it's done fruiting.
When nobody is looking.
To botanists, this plant is known now and henceforth (until the next genetic tests and reshufflings!) as Prosartes hookeri. (Genus Prosartes = "fastened" - referring to how fruits are attached.)

Some of you may remember it as Disporum hookeri (genus Disporum, dis = two spora = seed).

It's named after Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of those far ranging Victorian British botanists of giant stature. But who gave it the name, I'm not sure.

Here are unripe fruits, at the end of July.
One to three fruits per bunch.

Golden ripe! This is also end of July.
You can see why drops of gold is another
common name for Prosartes hookeri.
But I've seen them be quite red too. Not sure why.

Seed processing. (This was a prior year's unsuccessful batch.)
You have to smoosh the fleshy fruit off the seed. 
Soaking for a few days helps. This year's seeds were plumper.

These seeds, according to Seed Propagation of Native California Plants, require two to three months cold stratification: putting them in a moist mix in a plastic bag in the fridge. I put the bags inside a plastic container as well, so as to feel a little bit hygienic!

Check them a little bit more often than I did. It's fine if they germinate in the fridge, then you know they're raring to go. These were maybe a bit far along but they did fine.

Can you see the seed root??
I checked in October, nothing.
I waited another month before checking -
Too long!

That's quite a root.

Prosartes hookeri, Hooker's fairy bells!
Seedlings at least. Now to see if I can keep them healthy

I'm hoping to grow maybe sixteen plants, if I'm lucky! To add to the mix on the north slope, that I hope will all  naturalize and come back year after year, at least in some combination!

As you may know, we've had just a little bit of rain in our region lately (February 2017). Roads have collapsed, hills have slid. And are still sliding. It's a mess. Down south right now is even worse. I'm sorry for everyone who has suffered. And I'm glad that the little seedlings are under a roof.

I'm sure that the sun will return and we'll cheer up -- and these little plants will grow apace. Now I'm wondering if I should plant them while they're still pretty small in spring, or grow them on and plant in fall. I'll just hedge my bets.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Local natives for the upper north slope project: California harebell and canyon larkspur

This post is the first of a few about some local native plants I'm growing for the shadier north facing slope of our property, just below our house. The upper part of the slope, to be specific. The lower part is a weed abatement project at best, right now.

Our home is located on a ridge about 960 feet up and about 6 miles inland from Santa Cruz, California, and my hobby is to gather seed and grow local wild natives for my garden.*

The Great Upper North Slope Project!
The part of the slope that's above the path.
(Which is fast disappearing under miner's lettuce.)

This picture was taken at the shady end of that north slope.
Flags are to remind me where I planted something. Their color means nothing.
At some point I should probably coppice the toyons.

Closer view of one section planted last year with sedges above
and Heuchera micrantha below.

Another section of upper north slope with western colombine
and hedge nettle (which is a mint)

Last spring and summer I found some some lovely "new" local wildflowers along my happy-seed-collecting trail!* The part that runs downslope from us along a shady, creek-side road.

The two new plants I'll talk about today are California harebell and canyon larkspur. They are pretty but modest plants. Not the kind you'll find in a nursery. I first noticed them last summer. Was 2016 just a really good year for them? I don't know a lot about how they grow. I think they may die back after flowering - I look forward to learning.

I'm thrilled that the seeds are sprouting. Things could go wrong; it's early days. But if it doesn't work this year, I know where to find them next year and try again.

Asyneuma prenanthoides, California harebell

California harebell is sweet and delicate and blooms in early summer. Calflora indicates that it's common in our county and up the coast and also in Yosemite and other places on the far side of the hot middle of California. It's also found in Oregon.

Its Latin name sounds like something you might dread hearing in a doctor's office, don't you think? FYI the name's derivation (per Dave's Garden botanary) is as follows:
Asyneuma: "From the Greek a (without), syn (together), and Phyteuma (a genus); refers to the lacking of the joined corolla lobes during flowering."
prenanthoides: "Resembles Prenanthes, genus name from the Greek prenes (face downwards) and anthos (flower), referring to flower's drooping habit."

Asyneuma prenanthoides, California harebell
close-up of flowers, which bloom in June and July.

A sweet and modest sprawler, with soft leaves you can just tell
don't like strong sun or dry microclimates.

You can see the seed pods grow behind the flower.
I was never sure I got one at the right stage of ripeness.
I left them to continue to ripen indoors before looking for seeds.
The seeds are tiny tiny tiny and dark.

And here are tiny seedlings!

Delphinium nudicaule, canyon larkspur

The Las Pilitas nursery page on this little red jewel gives me hope that it will find a happy home on the drier areas of the north slope behind our home and provide nectar for hummingbirds from flowers that bloom from May to June. It might die back after that, I don't know. But it is a perennial, so its return can be a happy suprise each year. Calflora says it grows along the coast and northern parts of California (and in Oregon) and in "Chaparral, Foothill Woodland, Mixed Evergreen Forest, Yellow Pine Forest" habitats at lower elevations. Good - plants that like dry conditions are easier for me to find places for!

Delphinium nudicaule, canyon larkspur
It is POISONOUS according to Calflora.
Wikipedia also adds that the root was used as a narcotic medicine
by the Yuki tribe in Mendocino

This is a much drier slope as you can see. 

Lovely seed pods! Or fruits. I wish I had the right words! Oh - an aggregate of follicles.
They're similar to those of Aquilegia formosa, Western columbine.
They are both in the buttercup plant family, Ranunculaceae.

And here are the seedlings!
Delphinium nudicaule! Canyon larkspur
Little red gems!

Much more to talk about!
Here's a photo of the greenhouse February 5th.

(*If you gather seed, please don't gather from public lands such as state parks etc, or from private lands without permission. Take no more than 10%, and take from different plants - or not at all if there are only a few plants.)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rainy day in the greenhouse -- harvesting Clarkia rubicunda seeds

Today's post is rather drab, having to do with dead plants and seeds. It does have a video in it though.

So let me pull in a bit of color and remind you how glorious are the blossoms of Clarkia rubicunda, a lovely annual native California beauty!

Clarkia rubicunda, ruby chalice clarkia.
Locally native in Santa Cruz County (and elsewhere).

Clarkia rubicunda, ruby chalice clarkia.
Masses of it!!

Oh the rain is wonderful! And what better way to spend a rainy day than grubbing about in the greenhouse, while torrents of rain cascade down the roof and you are cosy and dry inside, cleaning seeds and listening to a very BBC podcast on The Gin Craze in 18th century England.

Here's a short and very unprofessional video I took of me stomping on dried Clarkia rubicunda plants to spring open the long seed capsules and release seeds, and then sieving the chaff out of them.

And here are some redundant photos in case video doesn't work for you or you want to linger on each step.

I harvested plants when dried out. Kept them dry (for a rainy day!)
Stomped in small batches, in a big bucket

Stomping springs open the long seed capsules and releases...

Billions and Billions ...

And billions and billions of seeds!
Well, a heck of a lot anyway.
This is how they look after a few siftings to get rid of most of the chaffy stuff.
It's very soothing to sift seeds.
Then it gets INCREASINGLY frustrating cos you'll never EVER
get rid of all the chaff.
Not unless you do other things which I don't.
Like use blowers and suchlike apparatus.
Sometimes I winnow though.
But not in the rain :-D

See what I mean about this post getting colorless? -- Here's another hint of how lovely ruby chalice clarkia is in June and July - and beyond!

I can't wait to seed bomb our road!!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Matilija poppy propagation - and happy coincidences

First - photos!

Fried egg plant, AKA matilija poppy, AKA Romneya coulteri

Surprised there were no bees in this photo - they swarm on these flowers.

Here you can see immature seed pods.

Matilija poppy is a perennial growing to six or more feet tall!
I chop mine down every year, but you don't have to.
They can spread where happy, by roots.
Mine are merely cheerful, I guess!

This morning on our local CNPS chapter's page on FaceBook I was happy to see that one of our group members had posted a link to this month's newsletter from Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden.

The Regional Parks Botanic Garden is a California native garden within Tilden Regional Park -- and you must go see it if you are in striking distance of Berkeley!

The main article is about the strange and wonderful strategies plants have evolved to prevent germination of their seeds until the time is right. Do read the article - it's by Susan Ashley, and it's great!

One thing I didn't know is that when some plants - such as matilija poppy - drop their seeds - the seeds still have to ripen and mature. Kinda like little kangaroo babies in Mother Nature's pouch.

Another is that fire-followers don't necessarily require heat to break seed dormancy. Some only require the chemicals in smoke. Such is also the case with matilija poppy.

And funny thing is -- well it was funny to me -- that just yesterday I was handling seeds of said matilija poppy. Here's my FaceBook group comment: ...

You won't believe this but just yesterday I was weeding near some Romneya coulteri and my grandkids were "helping." We were having a grand time, though not many weeds were biting the dust. Then my 5 year old granddaughter found a seedhead of the Matilija poppy - she looked at the bizarre object for a while - then tossed it away as too creepy!  
Delighted, I picked it back up and told her what it was and we emptied seeds out into her little hand. I told her about the seeds needing fire to germinate - we put six seeds (all the ones that survived being in a jiggly 5 year old's hand!) in a pot and put some oak wood ash on top -- we'd had a fire on Thanksgiving in one of those metal fire containing things -- and put it in the greenhouse!  
Now I've learned from that article that germination requires cold dormancy and that the seeds are immature when shed. Also they need the smoke chemical but not the heat. So I'll move it to an outdoor location and see what happens come spring. We're all excited at our little experiment - and I'm so happy to have read more in this article - thanks!!

The experiment! I moved the pot out of the greenhouse after reading that the seeds
require cold as well as smoke chemicals to break dormancy.

I went down this morning to the brush pile to find pods from old growth I'd cut back. They are a bit musty to be sure. The article I linked to at the top has some more splendid photos. But these are mine anyway!

I love how they decay to these bird-cage like basket skeletons!

And how the bit at the top, which you can see when the flower is still present, remains.

And btw if you are a native plant lover living in Santa Cruz County California or are just interested in its native flora - you are welcome to join our chapter's fb group. It's a small group as yet, but the more the merrier. We are just one of a few FB groups devoted to nature in Santa Cruz County - they are all great - and a good place to ask for IDs on things mysterious and natural.

I bet your county or region has such local groups too, a natural history or fungus or native plant or bird or -- etc. etc. -- group you will enjoy, if you use FaceBook. Good to know it isn't all fake news and cute babies!

Speaking of which... I wasn't taking pictures as we were weeding yesterday - so here are some gratuitous photos of my happy, messy, nature-loving grandkids from earlier this year.

Kids in nature - my granddaughter finds a banana slug in the garden.

Not sure what has captured my grandson's eye here. He loves all kinds of bugs.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The joy of small projects

Note: Blogger tells me you can now access this blog using the secure URL: Now on to the post...

This could be the start of something -- small.

Of the three acres we live on, which straddle a ridge near the coast in Central California, about an acre and a half was disturbed before we got here.

It is my goal to remove the weeds that have opportunistically colonized that disturbed land, encourage any local natives that have survived, and add more (propagated from seed gathered within about a mile or so). And also plant some other eye-pleasing, non-invasive, non-hybridizing garden plants that are beneficial to human and beast.

My vision is of a self-sustaining, low-maintenance and beautiful wild garden through which I will wander like the poet Mary Oliver, notebook in hand, now and then resting in one of the artfully placed and comfortable seating niches, which of course are replete with sculptures, twisted driftwood, and thrift-store wonders that all look amazing together. There I'll write masterpieces and relax, surrounded by the sounds of wildlife enjoying their ecosystem services, punctuated perhaps by the occasional tinkling of teacups and enlightened laughter as my friends join me to admire everything I've done.

My current reality is, of course, quite a bit different.

Oxalis pes-caprae - aka Bermuda buttercup or sour grass -
making its annual resurgence.
Along with legions of other ecosystem-disrupting weeds.
-- Is there less this year? Am I making any headway? --
You know I had to look for a while to find a big cluster for this photo.

The alien grasses in the huge swathe of north-facing land I haven't yet "gotten to".
 Lush and green. And pretty, it must be said.
Look. There's even a seating area!
And a focal point! (Plastic bag full of weed seeds.)
But there is lots of potential here, you have to admit!

I'm in total overwhelm as I contemplate all the work I have yet to do before my miraculous mirage can manifest in all its magnificence. Which of course, it never can.

But I have found a remedy! Or at least a palliative: while in such a state of suffering, completing a small project brings cheer to the soul. The project I have undertaken is to plant a tiny pie-slice of slope between our road and our driveway, as shown in the photo below. Doesn't it look lovely and rainy? Ahhhh!

I've planted the groin between the road on the left and the driveway on the right.
It's an area that doesn't get much sun, but still more than you might think.
In summer it does get mid-morning - midday sun.

I've wanted to do this for a long time but have been held back for two reasons. One, there is no soil there. It's mostly gravel and clay. And two, this area lies far from a water source. I did try irrigating and planting it many years ago, with less than satisfactory results. Rodents chewed through the tubing, and -- like I said. No soil.

Then suddenly I had a flash of brilliant insight (AKA a "duh" moment): just add soil! Build a little wall along the road and fill in behind it with planting mix along with some native soil from an area where there is plenty (to bring in some microbes and fungus etc).

Here are two sets of three photos showing before, during, and after completion of the project.

Well I say completion but I'm sure I'll be twiddling with it some more.

Set 1:

BTW some time ago I  put some rocks at the pointy end just because vehicles, dogs etc, kept running over it.

Actually I had to stop for a few days because I tweaked a muscle or two in my neck/shoulder from moving the stones.

Like the teapot? It represents all those little artistic touches I see others do so -- artistically.
Hm... I've got those Dudleya-planted garden boots...
They could potentially be placed just so.
If only I knew what "so" looked like.

Set 2

Notice the bank on the other side of the driveway? I also planted some Dudleya lanceolata there too.
Thus does one small project spawn others!

(FYI here are some of the lance-leaf dudleya planted on that near-vertical bank
on the other side of the driveway.)

Like my garden gnome?
(Yes, he is looking at his smart phone.)

Astute viewers will notice some interesting wild locals growing to the left...
...of which more later in this post.

I planted whatever came to hand in my shade house.  Now that there are things are planted there, I'm motivated to take care of irrigation, one way or another. Here's the plant list - a typical cohort of local natives I can grow:

  • Woodland brome -- Bromus laevipes
  • Rush -- Juncus patens (or similar species)
  • Fernald's iris -- Iris fernaldii
  • Sedge -- Carex sp.
  • Alum root -- Heuchera micrantha
  • Lance-leaf dudleya -- Dudleya lanceolata
  • California fuchsia -- Epilobium canum
  • Dog violet -- Viola adunca

Of these I have not before planted woodland brome or dog violet. The brome seeds I gathered locally and grew in the greenhouse.

I like woodland brome. Its inflorescence has a pretty drooping curve to it. I'm going to plant it a lot! It  is prettier than the other common brome, California brome grass - Bromus carinatus, which I like OK, but it's just not that "garden-pretty."

One clump of dog viola has been growing in the pool garden since before we got here. Dog viola is a native that's common in the west, and it could have just grown there. Or it could be a look-alike species someone planted. I grew some more from its seed anyway. Many violet species are native to Santa Cruz county. I've tried with two that grow within a mile of here - two-eyed violet, Viola ocellata and redwood violet, Viola sempervirens. No luck so far. Always something still to be achieved when you're a gardener!

Here are a few closer-up photos of the planted species. I hope in six months or a year from now I'll be able to show you how these babies have grown up.

Woodland brome, rushes, and in the foreground, California wild fuchsia.
With also an opportunistic, and likely doomed, toyon that just appeared there.

Rushes behind, young Fernald's iris in front.

Alum root (like a coral bells) and unknown species of sedge (Carex).
I'll probably plant more sedges as they mature in the greenhouse.

Lance-leaf Dudleya. Some are as big as dinner plates!
This is my first year growiong these lovelies.
I'm looking forward to seeing how they do in the longer term.

Just to the left of the planted section, three young shrubs/trees have sprouted: a toyon (see photo above featuring the California wild fuchsia), a madrone, and a wart-leaf ceanothus. I'm not sure if any of them will survive. Some small oaks are growing nearby too, likely coast live oak, or a hybrid of coast live oak and some kind of scrub oak perhaps. On this steep slope, I'm not sure if any of them are viable where their seeds have sprouted.

Oh madrone! You won't be able to grow big here!
Can I bonsai this madrone in place? I fear not.

Sweet little wart-leaf ceanothus! Will there be room for you?
Can I prune you to be small?
There is a large leggy one close by to the left of this planting. 

Oh and there is this lavender bush lupine.
It's an offspring of one I planted there some years ago.

I love how the plantings integrate with natives already there, and how the weeding makes room for the local natives to grow. Encouraging signs to fortify me for the months of weeding I've got ahead of me!