Friday, April 23, 2010

Being a Botanist I Only Get To See Some of My Friends Annually

One of the hazards of being a botanist is only being able to see some of the plants I love once a year. They show up, have a big party and then crumple into the dirt, expired. The annuals are like parting rock stars of the plant world. They get all pretty with fancy make up, party 24 hrs a day, then crash into oblivion, phoenix like.

Look at these little beautiful herbaceous annuals below.

These are owl's clover (Castilleja densiflora) and goldfields (Lasthenia californica) which were laid like a pink carpet just for me among the rabbit brush scrub community I was surveying.

So, I was doing work HERE and HERE again. The grand mountain views were eclipsed by the plant life that was blooming. This region is the intersection of several ecological regions including the Mojave, Sonora and Great Basin habitat types, thus it makes for interesting botanizing.

The iconic figure of loneliness, the spiky spot of shade in the distant horizon, those large lilies called the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) were blooming. I heard U2 in the background while canvasing the ground surveying the project area for my target species.

One tree hill?

Then I spotted a fascinating shrub that appealed to my senses of wonder. At first glance there is nothing, just a blur of green touched with white. Then upon closer inspection I saw the hundreds of flowers born upon the armored stems. They were colored a lovely creamy-white with pointed, recurved petals. What family does this lovely shrub belong to?

The Solanaceae, otherwise known as the tomato family! Yep, it's cousin to the garden variety tomato. It's called peach thorn (Lycium cooperi). And no I don't know why somebody had to put a "peach" in it's name to make thing confusing.

Here's another closely related species called Anderson thornbush (Lycium andersonii) that was in the same vicinity as the first. It is diffentiated by the smaller, more narrow flower tubes and more delicate leaves.

Then I only found one location with this perennial flowering plant called wooly-fruited desert parsley (Lomatium dasycarpum spp. tomentosum). It's in the carrot family. Can you tell by the umbel (flower formation) at the top colored yellow? That trait is the main similarity between the members of the Apiaceae.

I love the many times divided leaves. So delicate and fine. They almost resemble baby hands getting ready to stretch and open wide, to reach at some ungraspable object.

Then my attention not being entirely devoted to those things on the ground, I heard a call and spotted a large winged creature on a near by powerline. There was a sticknest carefully constructed and guarded by two large raptors. Dad is sitting on the power pole to the right.

Dad called a warning yelling, "Beep, beep, beep, beep," like some strange back up alarm when I got within 400 feet of their nest. He did NOT like me near his woman and nest. He was down right pissed off and grumpy with me in HIS area.

Do you know what kind of raptor he is?

Yep, he's an osprey. They hunt at a very large lake and river nearby. Frankly, I was a little surprised to see them nest as far away from the water as they they were located. I left them in peace and quickly completed my plant surveys in their area without any harm done.

They sure were nervous, jumpy raptors though. I've monitored other hawk nests during construction with tractors working within 100 feet of the nest tree and they could have cared less about the action. These osprey were pitching a hissy fit just at the sight of a human nearby.

And finally, back to the ground where I saw some large native ladybugs doing their thing. They were hunting for bugs in a dried up wetland. Crawling over huge clods of dirt the size of mountains in proportion to their body size.

Just another day observing the mighty colorful, the mighty fliers and the mighty small in the world of Our Simple Life.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Biking Botany! How Do These Go Together?

Today we went on a little bike ride and I got a chance to do a wee little bit of botanizing in between making sure Ella did not crash on her bike. Yes I said BIKE! Daddy put training wheels on her brother's old 12 inch wheel bike and Ella was hot to trot!

She just looks so tiny on that bike. It cracks me up. Ella was a super trouper.

And NO, I did not accomplish my mission of ensuring my daughter did not crash. I had one cringe, "Oh crap," moment during the ride when my baby girl had a super "woman" style, over-the-handle-bars crash and got up with tears streaming down her face to tell me, "We have to keep biking, Mom. I need to get back on my bike." Yes, she really said that.

Wyatt being the veteran bike rider with two full years under his belt knew the course and kept pace with Dad for most of the ride. Except when "Mom" made him stop for a gratuitous photograph.

I told him to look at the hills since they are beautiful. See the picture below.

Then with Dad he tackled the trail in style. That is of course with his Dad riding wheelies for large sections of the trip. He actually can ride along like that for minutes at a time. He's got some kind of balance. . . When he was in Jr. High he told me that the police pulled him over and gave him a ticket. A ticket for riding a wheelie down the street. The nerve of the police!

Ella says, "Dad's can put on helmets too."

Now for the botany on this trail, well, I must admit it is not that great. It's mostly weeds with a few native trees. But I thought some of the more obscure flowers might be interesting to photograph. Those flowers that are not often recognized as "flowers" because they lack showy pedals and are green.

First, here is a black walnut (Juglans hindsii) inflorescence. It's the dangling green thing from the bottom of the branch. They are called catkins and on this plant they consist of only flowers with male parts. The female flowers are in a separate flower on the tree.

Then there is the yellowish cream-colored flowers pictured here. If you know what plant this is you get a gold star and won't ever come down with strange unexplainable rashes on your body.

Yeah, it's poison oak . . . One of my botany professors once told me, "Who cares about poison oak. There may be more then one species of Toxicodendron, but who the heck wants to study THAT?" I must admit I can see his point.

I saw a few of my favorite weeds blooming too. This is fumatory (Fumaria capreolata) below. It's a weed from Europe. Like a bunch of us . . . But has a few physically redeeming qualities like dainty flowers born upon slender delicate stems. Now, I am questioning why I think dainty and delicate is a redeeming quality. Drat!

And finally, I saw a giant composite called Tragopogon porrifolius, otherwise known as purple salsify. I love the enormous globe-like dandelion's heads that appear after the seeds are germinated. The flower is pretty too in it's own spiky, alien-looking way.

Next time I have treat in botany with photos from a very special site that is home to several federally endangered herbaceous plant species. It was like botanical fireworks this weekend!! Really good plants in perfect bloom!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Don't Know Why These Things Surprise Me Anymore.

Today I went out to give the chickens some table scraps. I normally don't make this level of effort for them, sadly, but today I had some special kiwi fruit I thought the pack of voracious chickens would enjoy pecking.

I decided I'd better check on the broody hen too. She's a buff orphington who decided she wanted to sit in her box and self induce a psychotic trance. We were in the habit of kicking her out of the box and making her go walk and play and socialize, but she was always found back in her hiding place again and again and again.

So instead of fighting her nature, SIL Suzi put a few eggs under her hoping for the best.

It seems like ages ago when this little experiment began. Actually it seems like over a month, but apparently I was wrong.

I went into the coop and looked at the hen who was in her normal state. That is a state with glazed eyeballs that stare into thin air.

BUT then I reached under her to see if the eggs were still there and BAM! There was a little black chick nestled all snuggy under her warm feathers. It takes about 21 days for chick eggs to hatch. So, I obviously have no sense of time.

I gently grabbed the little fuzz ball to see it more closely and I took the glamor shot with "Mom."

Now the real questions can begin. Like maternity questions. Not that this hen cares one little bit.

However, since the flock is composed of several kinds of hens this chick could be a barred-rock-Danish, or a Americauna-Danish, or a Orphington-Danish, or a Rhode Island-Danish...

But on one thing we are sure. It is with certainty that the father is. . . Mr. D.

Then looking again at this picture I wonder about one thing . . .

Was the mom the cat????
(Look in picture on left side)

OK, that was really bad. Just smack me now. I really deserve it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Buzzy Bees, Curious Cats, Gardening Mamma's, and the CatBoy.

Spring has found it's way to our home and the insects are bursting with enthusiasm for yummy pollen. There's nothing like fresh flowers and warm temperatures to make the bees giddy with excitement. They have been harvesting furiously at our buck brush (Ceanothus sp.) for the past two weeks. They just can't help themselves.

Meanwhile, Bingo has been making the rounds on our property checking out those things which require investigation. He decided he wants to be a driver, but I told him he can't get his license until he's 16. I guess that means next year in cat years. . .

There was a sticky break peddle which Bingo wanted to wrench on. He's also an aspiring mechanic. That cat thinks he can do anything.

Progress on Bingo's Book is steady. I just got InDesign by Adobe so I can "properly" set the text on the pages. I had no idea that the fonts in Photoshop Elements are not the same quality as the fonts you buy for InDesign. And that you have to buy individual fonts... The things I have learned in the past few weeks about the font in print make me blink my eyes really slowly. I can hardly believe all the details. After I get the text on the pages using InDesign, I can send off the files to the printer next week. Scary!!!

But in the outside world, I've been working on our little planter box garden. I love using the raised bed since I can sit on the edge and pull weeds. Sitting on the ground is not my favorite.

So after hand rototilling two tractor buckets of composted manure and smoothing out all the bumps, we planted radishes, carrots, broccoli, squash and snap peas. All the seeds are peeking from the earth with their first baby leaves.

While I was busy making my lower back sore, Ella waited patiently to plant her petunias.

And in Wyatt's world he was busy pretending he was a cat. And basically scaring the the real cats, making them run for their lives.

But he always tries to make amends in his own special way. Lucky-cat is very patient and obliging.

And that's all for now at Our Simple Life.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter to Everyone!!

We colored a few eggs today so the Easter Bunny would have less work to do.

Ella is my Mini-Me Missy Apron Goddess who can pull off the camouflage sweatshirt with the tan leaf print apron while coloring earth tone eggs. She's got it all together at the wise age of three.

I love that the brown eggs our hens lay don't color like normal eggs. They take on pretty natural-looking shades of color. We added oil to the dye to get the mottled look.

Eat some chocolate for me!!! And have a hoppin' happy Easter!

The Day the Swallows Came Home

The tree swallows are here already.  They arrived January 30 much to my dismay.  Swooping and calling and chirping their merry song over my ...