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.


Adlibby said...


Pricilla said...

Our osprey have just come back so I know Spring is on the way.

Such a beautiful way to educate us.
thank you

Doris Sturm said...

Same here, Julia - I wait for some of my favorites all year long and then they don't stay long enough. I love to observe nature in all dimensions like you. I wish I had my camera with me the other day when I observed this beautiful dung beetle roll around his "treasure." Aren't critters just too fascinating? Who needs out of space aliens? We've got them living right here amongst us...just look at the underwater world - life's so amazing and yet we only get a few years on this earth when there's so much to discover. Not fair!
Have a wonderful weekend and thanks so much for your lovely photos. As always, I enjoy my visits with you.
Doris :-)

Julie Harward said...

Very interesting lesson...does the clover smell sweet? The rapture looks as big as an eagle! Really, I enjoyed it..I love nature and seeing all the things that grow on the earth! Come say hi :D

The Mind of a Mom said...

I love the owl's clover. I think that might be what my neighbor has that I think is so pretty and Lily will always stop to sniff :o)

Holly, the Old Western Gal said...

FORGET THE KIDDIE STORIES. If you don't start writing books for adults (NO HUN, NOT ADULT BOOKS although I'm sure you'd have wonderful plots), I will scream!!! Botany books that are also wonderful commentaries on human life!!! Your turn of phrase, amazing! GET BUSY WRITING PLEASE!!!

Suzi said...

Nice. Looks like you had a nice few days away, even if it was work related.

Leigh said...

Julia, I LOVE that picture of the ladybug!! So gorgeous!

Ratty said...

This is a fun trip through all of these flowers and then the animals. That third picture is stunning.

ga.farmwoman said...

Wow Julia! I loved seeing all the beautiful flowers and shrubs. Most are so different than the ones we have here in Ga.
The osprey picture was awesome.

You really got some great shots.
Yes, those are Martin Gourds we have hanging behind the garden. The Purple Martins do a good job of keeping the crows from eating up our garden seeds every year.
They also put on the best air show!

Have a great day.

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

Wow, what beautiful photos. I love the owls clover and the ladybug.

Frogs in my formula said...

As always, beautiful pictures. Your One tree hill comment made me laugh out loud.

Sharkbytes said...

Well... not a plant in the bunch that I know! We have a Castilleja, but it's the orange one, coccinea. It's stunning too.

I did get the Solanaceae family right on your little guessing game, though.

theUngourmet said...

I loved seeing all of this beauty! I've been taking quite a few pics of plants and flowers lately too. I only wish I knew all of the scientific names for them. The shots of the osprey are so great too!

San-Dee said...

I am so JEALOUS. I want to be back in CA right now. I would even take the rain in the north--oh,m please, please, transfer us back to the west coast!

Maura @ Lilac Lane Cottage said...

Hello Julia! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment on my was nice to 'see' you again! You live an interesting life...what a wonderful job you have. That's a job I would have loved...being outside in the fresh air getting to see the beauty of nature. And you're an Apron Goddess to boot...VERY interesting life indeed! I hope you have a wonderful Tuesday....take care and I hope I 'see' you again. Maura:)

IanH said...

Julia, even though we have only been on our acreage for 7 years, I have noticed that each week some new plant emerges, flowers and then is gone, ready for the next one to appear. Great photos! Have you ever considered writing a book, with pictures? Thanks for the post.

Jenny said...

Love the photos and comments! I always learn things when I read your blog! :)

Life Ramblings said...

those are some interesting observations. the ladybug is just so gorgeous.

Grand Pooba said...

You have the best. job. ever.

(gorgeous pics btw)

Captain Dumbass said...

Fantastic pics, and thanks for the high school flashbacks.

blueviolet said...

You have such a cool job! You must love it being able to pay such attention to the wonderful living things around us. I'm so glad you share it!

Doris Sturm said...

Hi Julia,

Since you're the only Botanist I know, I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions concerning identifying two plants on my other bloggie friend's post?

I told her I'd ask you!
thanks a lot and I hope everyone's doing well.
Doris :-)

Aunt Spicy said...

This is why I love you blog. I lived in California most of my life, but have learned far more reading your blog about the land that I adore!

Mel said...

Oooooo I'm jealous. Very few flowers out here and since it is supposed to freeze the next several nights, I don't expect to see much spring beauty (or many "spring beauties") for awhile. Thanks for sharing your pretty pictures.

Carol said...

What a gorgeous landscape Julia! Every photo takes us into its magical simplicity. I love your writing too! Those raptors must be edgy from living on the high wires... great shots... from the mighty Osprey to the little Lady Bug... wonderful post! You asked about the Pileated dance speed... well it was done in a casual timing ... I stood and watched for ten minutes at least and took over one hundred photos. They repeated the same movements over and again. You must see pretty amazing happenings there too. It looks as though we are both very blessed!

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 ...