After a slow first five months, I'm back to blogging in earnest. In the forthcoming few months I plan to keep on tracking the blooming of wildflowers, the activities of bugs and reptiles and any other critters I'm quick enough or lucky enough to photograph, and to comment on ecological relationships. Since there is an increasing sense of ecological crisis among many people and more vigorous denial of such on the part of others, I will inevitably comment on the social and political dimensions of survival as I see them.
I am still an adjunct instructor in the English Department at Feather River College, but time permitting, I am available for hire as a nature guide in the region in and around Plumas County. A brochure describing my usual kinds of natural history adventures is in development. Email me c/o firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and a statement of interests, and I'll send you a rough draft.
I have been teaching since 1965 and have recently joined the English Department as an Associate Faculty member at Feather River College. Recently taught Nature Literature in America and am currently teaching Interpersonal Communication and Basic Reading and Writing.
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 Chrysanthemumleucanthemum, 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.