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.
On yesterday's hike to Gilson Creek and points beyond, we made several unexpected discoveries. The plant pictured in these first two photos is American Brooklime, known scientifically as Veronica americana. When we first spotted it in the sand at the edge of Spanish Creek, I thought I knew what it was, but was a little rusty on the precise name. Not Hiker's Gentian, not Monument Plant, but what? I took a few photos as did my hiking companion, figuring we'd do the research after the hike. I had been sharing my point of view about the ramifications of responding to a plant aesthetically vs. scientifically. Or, to put it another way, factually vs. emotionally. I believe that these different perspectives can lead to different kinds of knowledge and experiences, and that the best result would be to remove the "vs." and be able to comfortably float between or combine the best of one's knowledge base and reasoning ability with an aesthetic appreciation, or, what some people might choose to call spiritual. I had mentioned earlier my fascination with etymologies and my love of words like Scrophulariaceae, a plant family whose name I get a kick out of pronouncing - probably second only to Aristolochiaceae, which has 8 syllables, one more than Scroph....
So, a few hours after the hike, I got a kick out of an email from my hiking companion who had figured out that the plant was American Brooklime, and we had been staring at it on a page of our field guides without actually seeing it. She was happy to point out that it was in the family Scrophulariaceae. This sort of jogged my memory, so a while later I discovered that I had first encountered this plant and identified it some six years ago and posted it on this blog on August 13, 2011. After doing a little more online checking, I found that some of the botanical police had moved this plant to another family, the Plantaginaceae. Some sources have retained the scientific name of Veronica americana and simply placed it in another family.
[To be continued this afternoon....]
The Blue Elderberry is in the Honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, another 7-syllable family name that is fun to pronounce. This one has been surviving just inside the green gate entry to Oakland Camp. It has withstood harsh weather and aggressive weed-eaters. Two summers ago I thought it was dead. But, it's back and is now bearing thousands of berries. So, why is it here? Nothing unusual to say about it at this time. However, on the way into camp, about a half-mile before said green gate, there's a culvert where Berry Creek passes beneath the pavement on its way to Spanish Creek. On the east side of the culvert and five or six feet beneath the pavement is a large shrub I've been looking at but failing to identify for at least five or six years. When I first saw it, I might have carelessly passed it off as a species of Elderberry. It has pinnately compound leaves, for instance. Over the years I gradually came to realize thee are only two species of Elderberry around here and this new shrub was clearly neither. I also noticed that as robust as this shrub gets by midsummer, it never gets woody stems, and it dies back completely by winter. Hut, I didn't see it in any of my easy-to-use field guides, and I've been too lazy to look beyond. Enter, my hiking companion. She took photos, which I failed to do - still not curious enough, I guess - and found that this plant is not in my field guides, but on CalFlora and other plant ID sites, and is variously known as California Spikenard and Elk Clover (although it is not even close to being a true clover) with a scientific name of Aralia californica. It's in the family Araliaceae, the Ginseng family. As you might guess from that factoid, it is known for medicinal properties. I invite the curious reader search any of the names I've associated with this plant and enjoy the botanical wanderings as I have.
Last, but not least, a beautiful find adjacent to the mouth of Gilson Creek, the Scarlet Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis. This looks superficially like California Fuschia, so I did a bit of web searching. So, here we go again. While my field guides place it in the Scrophulariaceae, I discovered that some now place it in the family Phrynaceae, and some have even changed the plants of the genus Mimulas to the genus Erythranthe. So , if you enjoy these wanderings you can now call this beautiful plant Erythranthe cardinalis. You might also enjoy finding online images of California Fuschia and comparing them to this head-on view (below) of the Monkeyflower.
Next up: a few more interesting plants seen on this hike, a few animals. and some great railroad graffiti.