Friday, May 31, 2013

ASD (Attention Surplus Disorder)

Well, maybe there's no such thing as ASD, but I felt like I had it today.  Trying to catch up on editing and posting photos and stories from this past week's outings, but every time I step out of my car, I see something that begs to be recorded.  The latest was this Lemmon's Catchfly, a beautiful, delicate flower in the shady woods.  No bright colors, so it blended in well with the surrounding wild grasses and the much larger Trail Plant. 
One of the most noticeable features is the united sepals surrounding the base of the flower, typical of the Pink family, Caryophyllaceae.  That always reminds me of the place you stab with a pin on your high school prom carnation.  Same family.
On my next blog, if I can stay focused, I'll continue to post the photos and story of our Wednesday outing to Grass Valley.

Below Williams Loop

 I'm trying to catch up.  So many new species begin to bloom each day at this time of year that I find myself wanting to take several camera outings each day and have trouble saving time to download and edit the resulting photos.  Today's group were taken last Tuesday on the same trip that gave me the recently-posted group of Larkspur photos.  They were mostly taken along a short service road about a mile downstream from the pond inside Williams Loop.  This road leaves Highway 70 near the bottom of a steep grade, the one that is usually icy in the winter.  One must be careful in slowing to exit as large vehicles come barreling down the grade at speeds above the posted limit.

My great find on this side road was the first abundance of the Goldenrod Crab Spider that I've seen this year.  The top photo is of a female, pretty-well camouflaged in the petals of a daisy.  At this time of year, where there is one there will be others.  So I inspected every daisy in a fairly large patch.
 The next exciting find was the first male of the species that I've ever seen.  As typical for spiders, the male is much smaller than the female.  This one was on a neighboring flower to the female in the top photo.  I wondered if they were about to meet.  I figured they probably hadn't met yet or they would have mated and the female would have eaten the male.
 It was a cool and damp afternoon, so I figured there could be more bugs hiding beneath the petals of the daisies.  Sure enough, the first one I turned over had a female underneath.
 Along the road cuts in this area there was lots of freshly-blooming Paintbrush.  The red literally glowed.  Hard to keep my eyes on the road.
 On some of the same road cuts there were patches of Buckwheat of which there are several local species.  And below is a close-up.
 Another new bloomer on the road cuts is the Purple Milkweed or Heart-leaved Milkweed.  This has one of the most elegant blossoms I know of.  Every year I find myself taking more photos of it in hopes of getting better ones each time.
 All three plant species featured here today play host to a great variety of insects and spiders.  And the season for these little ecosystems is just beginning.  I think maybe this coming week all five local species of milkweeds will be blooming.  I'll be looking.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Aesthetics vs. Information; Can information be beautiful?

 On a rainy Monday, I headed out to Greenhorn Ranch, around 15 miles East of Quincy, to do an errand.  I brought my camera just in case there was a break in the rain and I saw something beautiful.  The right hand side of the road leading into the ranch is pretty much solid forest, but I thought I spotted a small meadow maybe 100 feet into the trees.  I decided I needed to investigate on my way back out.  I remembered a large California Incense Cedar at the roadside marked the spot.  When I stopped by the cedar, sure enough there appeared to be a meadow around 1/4 acre in size below the road around 100 feet into the trees.  The meadow had a very light blueish color overriding the green grass.  It was a puzzle.  Maybe a dense patch of a new flower.  As I scrambled down the embankment, I was stopped in my tracks by a beautiful patch of Lupines that had captured raindrops in their leaflets.  These never cease to amaze me as photo subjects.  At this point I was beginning to see that indeed there was some kind of flower more or less evenly spaced all through the meadow.
 When I got closer, it was obvious that the flower was a larkspur.  Most of them were white, and I didn't know of a white larkspur around these parts.  I knew I'd have to research it when I got home.
 My son and I roamed around the meadow and discovered they weren't all white.  Some of the mostly white ones had blue on their spurs. Others were solid blue, which is what I'd expect of Larkspurs in this area, and some were a kind of red wine color.  
 Some of the plants had more than one color of blossom.
 I began to think that maybe this was an escaped bunch of flowers cultivated by CalTrans for planting on road cuts and median strips.  If Luther Burbank had a hand in it, there could be many colors and sizes, all posing as Larkspurs.
 At this point, my strongest feeling was the aesthetics of Larkspurs and the setting.  As I hiked back toward the car, again I was taken aback by the beauty of dew drops captured in the leaflets of the Lupines.

 Then, one more strong impression was made by a very large stump on which some young thistles
 and a patch of grass had staked a claim.  On the way home, I made a stop at Williams Loop, and the photos I took there will be on my next post.  But first, the research on the Larkspur. 
The scientific name of the Larkspurs is Delphinium, and there are many different species.  Some people and field guides use Delphinium as the common name rather than Larkspur.  I found it interesting that two of my field guides list both Larkspur and Delphinium in the index, but another one doesn't list Larkspur at all and uses Delphinium as both the common and the technical name.  What's in a name? as the Bard said.  It turns out I couldn't any white species that live around here, just blue and the red one, Delphinium nudicaule, that has been featured here recently.  So, I still have a mystery on my hands, as far as the identification of these Larkspurs is concerned.  When it comes to getting excited about information, I'll never forget the time I first discovered that Larkspurs are in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.  Now that's weird!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Morning Around Oakland Camp

On Saturday morning I decided to check out the Southern End of the Keddie Cascade Trail that begins by the bridge over the Oakland Camp Road.  On the way, I made a brief stop in the woods about a half mile north of the Feather River College turnoff on Highway 70.  There were quite a few freshly blooming Hartweg's Iris, Iris hartwegii.  Hartweg was a German botanist who did a lot of collecting in Central and South America as well as in California.  A fitting tribute.
The Mule's Ears, Wyethia mollis, are blooming everywhere around Quincy, and caught my about this one was the shed skin of a Cicada.
When I got to the trailhead, I parked by the swimming hole and headed up the dirt road that is the first part of the trail.  Almost immediately I noticed that the American Dogwood, Cornus sericea, was abundant and was having lots of butterfly and beetle visitors.
This Convergent Ladybird Beetle stood out like a beacon on a cluster of Deerbrush buds.
The first grassy area I came to, around 1/4 mile from my parking spot, had lots of blooming Death Camus, a lily, Zigadenus venenosus. 
The Sulfur-flowered Pea, Lathyrus sulfureus, was abundant and attracting lots of bees.
An impressive fly paying a visit to the blossom of Sticky Cinquefoil, Potentilla glandulosa.
A small, brown beetle I haven't identified, was gathering in great numbers on the Arnica, and this is the first time I've seen beetles actually consuming the plant.  The area seemed exceedingly dry for so early in summer - actually, it's not quite summer yet - so I expect there's a war of survival going on among lots of species.
As I headed back to my car I met a couple of ladies from Quincy who were interested in what I was doing, so I offered to show them the spot where the Mountain Lady's Slippers were blooming, or so I hoped.  They began to bloom a couple of weeks ago, and I hope they'll last at least until Art Camp begins in mid-June.  They still looked fresh, as did the nearby Spotted Coralroot, Caralorhiza maculata.
Sometime this week, I'll head back this way again and hope to find the remaining species of Milkweeds blooming.  I've already posted photos of the Purple Milkweed flowering and the Narrow-leaf Milkweed with lots of buds.  On this particular day, the Indian Hemp, Spreading Dogbane, and Showy Milkweed were all in buds and should be blooming soon.

May 21-22 Flower Watching

 I shouldn't be surprised, but when I looked over my notes I realized that virtually all of today's plants are non-natives.  What the older field guides call aliens and often also invasive.  Even though non-natives can upset the local ecology, I think the term is invoked mostly by people with agricultural (that is, profitability) interests.  I like the variety of roadside flora.  Beginning with the Yellow Salsify (above), also known as Goat's Beard, Tragopogon dubius, I think of ecological relationships.  This is one plant that attracts aphids, and I've seen very large "herds" of them on Salsify being tended to by ants playing the role of cowboys.  In fact, sometimes the aphids are dubbed "ant cows."  The aphids seldom seem to be damaging the plant.  Some sort of equilibrium must have been established.  I've seen the same sorts of gatherings on Sagebrush and even Red Fir trees.
Another non-native that most people enjoy seeing along roadsides is the Bachelor's Buttons, Centaurea cyanus.  Many varieties of this plant have been cultivated and planted for landscaping, but the ones on the roadsides are mostly blue with a few white and purple, and very few mottled.  This happens to be the same genus as Star Thistle which is not so well-loved.
Here's the white variety of Bachelor's Buttons.
Yet another non-native is Pineapple Weed, Matricaria matricarioides.  This one is sometimes called Chamomile and is used for tea.  It's in the sunflower family but has no ray flowers, just disc flowers, so the flower clusters resemble the central portion of a daisy.
The English Plantain, Plantago lanceolata, is rather nondescript if viewed from a distance, but can be a quite attractive photo subject from close up with side lighting.
The above plant is called Indian Licorice by one of my Maidu friends, and I can tell it's in the carrot family, but I haven't been able to identify it by scientific name.  So, I don't know if it' a native or non-native.  Working on it.
One of my favorite roadside attractions is large patches of the non-native and invasive Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum.  I've seen roadside patches of an acre or more.  The many bees it attracts seem to pay so much attention to their clover feast that I can crawl around with my camera and not get stung.
The standard Daisy, variously called Ox-eye Daisy, Shasta Daisy, and other names depending on local bias, is also a non-native.  Around 100 years ago Luther Burbank developed some varieties and it is now a popular garden plant.  Once scientifically named Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, some botanists now recognize the genus Leucanthemum because they differ significantly from other Chrysanthemums.  The one above is being visited by the Common Checkered Clerid beetle, and the one below by the Dimorphic Flower Longhorn beetle.  In the latter case, the beetle shown is a female and the male of the species is only half as big and is entirely black.   For those interested, there are some dramatic photos of this species mating easy to find on the www.
Now I come to two natives.  The Gum Plant, Grindelia nana, was blooming in the Feather River Canyon down by Jarbo Gap a few days ago, and might be blooming now around Quincy.  An intriguing plant, the flower heads in the bud stage are surrounded by re-curved hooks and are rather sticky.  When the buds open slightly, there's a wad of white gum-like substance covering the petals.  Then the petals gradually emerge through the gum.  I've always found a plant sporting several stages of flower development, like the ones below, to be an in interesting photo subject.
The Gum Plant attracts an interesting variety of insects and spiders, like the unidentified butterfly below.  Soon, they'll be hosting my favorite Goldenrod Crab Spider.
Another popular native is the Bush Monkeyflower, Mimulus aurantiacus.  Here I show a view of a whole plant...
...then a close-up of a flower.  For a long while, the genus Mimulus was in the Family Scrophulariaceae or Snapdragon family, but some botanists now place it in the Phrymaceae and even change the genus to Diplacus.  Let's just settle for Bush Monkeyflower.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Last Friday's Outing, Part 3

 The Arnica, like their cousins the Ox-Eye Daisies, tend to grow in large numbers along roadsides and are enjoyed by most people while driving by at 55.  Both of these species attract a wide variety of attractive insects, a few examples of which are among these photos.  I highly recommend getting out of the car and walking around among the Daisies and the Arnicas.  Be patient and move slowly and you'll probably discover insects so beautiful that you'll imagine you're in the Rain Forest.
 I don't know the name of this brown beetle, but it is not especially shy and is very passive.  I've let them crawl on my hand without incident.
 The Common Checkered Clerid beetle, one of the most beautiful around here, is landing on just about every species of flower that's blooming.  I'm finding them on Daisies, Milkweeds, Gilia, and others.
 When there's enough pollen and nectar to go around, you'll often find two or more different species landing together and enjoying the feast.
 This Checkerspot Butterfly has landed on a Blue Gilia and stood still long enough for a decent shot.
 Finally, a couple of photos of Yerba Santa.  The individual blossoms are quite beautiful, the the overall plant and foliage look rather emaciated, probably due to the dry conditions.  On a trip down Feather River Canyon yesterday, I saw lots of very lush Yerba Santa plants with crowded clusters of purplish blooms.  Worth a drive just for those.