Archive for the ‘wildflowers’ Category

The red stain of near disaster

Blackberry cane

Blackberry cane

Whenever I see old blackberry canes, dark red as the stain of their summer juice, I remember blackberrying in England when my son was small, and a dark red guilt sweeps over me. I described our expedition in a letter to parents:

8 Oct 1965
We went blackberrying on St. Ann’s Hill, not far from here. Got a lovely lot—have been busy making jelly, pies, etc. David had a wonderful time—it was so sweet to see the solemn single-mindedness with which he set about collecting his berries—and he didn’t eat a single one until Tony offered him a handful—to comfort him when he tumbled down a slope into a patch of brambles.

Modern American parents would probably be horrified at how lackadaisical we young mothers in England were about supervising our children’s play. Once the daddies were gone to work, our little close of twenty-eight row houses was almost completely free of traffic. The kids, twenty of them under school age, ran in and out of each others’ houses and romped together across the grassy front yards.

The Monday after our blackberrying expedition, I went out to gather up two-year-old David for lunch. I found him and his little friend  in a still-rough corner between the housing blocks. His mouth was stained red. “I picking blackberries, Mummy,” he announced cheerfully. I took one look at the berry-laden plant, then rushed back to the house. My Oxford Book of Wild Flowers confirmed my guess: Deadly Nightshade.

While Tony, who had come home from work for lunch, went to tell the mother of the other child what had happened, I tried everything I knew of to make our baby throw up. Nothing worked. We called an ambulance. Since I was within a week or two of giving birth to our second child, a neighbor, seeing the ambulance, came over to wish us well. I am still grateful that when she learned the story, she called the police, and still guilty it hadn’t occurred to me that other children might be involved. Some days later I wrote to parents:

Nicholson drawing

Watercolor illustration by Barbara Nicholson in The Oxford Book of Wildflowers, Oxford University Press, 1960. Shown are: Comfrey, Common Mallow, Musk Mallow, Deadly Nightshade, Duke Of Argyll’s Tea Plant, and Woody Nightshade.

13 Oct. 1965
The police organised all the rest of the kids in the close whose parents couldn’t prove they were somewhere else that morning into another convoy of ambulances for a mass stomach pumping session. About a dozen altogether involved, of which four (including David) were confirmed cases, though they decided to keep the whole lot overnight for observation, just in case.

Meanwhile the newspapers had got hold of the story. We refused to see them at the hospital, but when we got home about 7:00—completely exhausted, & having had nothing to eat since breakfast—we were invaded by a posse of reporters. A highly garbled & exaggerated account appeared the next day. I suppose it’s not every day one makes the front page of the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, & the BBC News, but I shouldn’t care for the honour to happen again.

Anyway, the story ended well—all the kids were discharged the next morning, with none but the hospital staff any the worse for wear—in fact the sister-in-charge of the children’s ward where the confirmed cases were confessed that she hadn’t known that four such tiny boys could get so involved in riots and punch-ups all up and down the ward, and they were very pleased to see the back of them.

A cool way to help restore a forest

valley fire flames

Valley Fire image from http://abc7news.com

In neighboring Lake County this past summer, wildfire destroyed 76,000 acres of forest (about seven million trees) and nearly 2000 homes, businesses and other structures. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens has stepped up with their Lake County Giving Project. One component of the project encouraged people to purchase potted trees and other plants for their holiday decorations, then bring them back to be donated to Lake County residents rebuilding their homes.

valleyfire satellite

Zoomed-in false-color shortwave infrared satellite image showing the Valley Fire burn scar near Middletown, California on September 20, 2015. Burned areas appear orange or dark red. (NASA Earth Observatory)

The other component of the Giving Project is seed balls. With advice on plant species from the USDA Resource Restoration Project and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wild Jules is crafting seed balls of wild grasses, perennials, and annual wildflowers  for habitat restoration in the fire-ravaged areas.  According to the Wild Jules website, “Individual varieties of seed are proportionately mixed with red clay and compost to provide a self contained method of spreading native varieties. The ball protects the seed from birds and rodents. The seed cannot dry out or blow away. The best part is, you can cast these ‘jules’ (jewels) out on top of the soil any time of year. The seed within the clay balls will wait patiently to germinate until adequate water is applied by way of rain or irrigation.”

Seed ball

A Wild Jules seed ball. The balls being prepared for Lake County habitat restoration  are a little more flattened so that they stay put on steep hillsides.

Tony and I were intrigued enough to stop by the Garden Store to donate a few dollars to the seed ball purchase fund.

Julie Kelly, founder of Wild Jules, says: “It’ll take many years but every bit counts. The perennials won’t bloom this year, but the annuals will. They will help feed foraging insects and birds and lift the spirits of the folks so terribly impacted.”

Tidy Tips

Tidy Tips from Wild Jules

 

Blennosperma

In this unseasonably gorgeous January weather, I started thinking about wildflowers. This morning I took a walk at Glass Beach to look for Blennosperma. Sure enough, they’re up. Not yet the carpet of gold,  but a few bright yellow stars dot the green of our  coastal prairie, the uplifted strip of land at the edge of the cliffs. Like many of the California wildflowers we amateur flower seekers call “little yellow jobs,” the Blennosperma flower is daisy-like and shiny. Our variety, Blennosperma nanum var. robustum,  is on the Endangered Species list. It grows only on the Glass Beach Headlands and at Point Reyes.

Glass Beach, now part of MacKerricher State Park, is a popular place to walk. There is talk of putting a cycling trail through it. Seeing those early flowers, I realize again that we’re in danger of loving this place to death. I try to be careful where I walk.

Where the flowers are

It is one thing to know as a fact that high rainfall tallies in California’s rainy season result in more spring wildflowers. It is quite another thing to feel with your whole being that exuberant burst of fecundity.

At MacKerricher State Park this morning the air is misty and the sea is calm. Out by Laguna Point, swathes of Goldfields (Lasthenia chrysotoma) dazzle the eye. Up close, I see that among the Goldfields are patches of Purple Butter & Eggs (Triphysaria eriantha ssp. rosea) whose complementary color makes the gold even more eye-popping. Scattered among them are California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica). Not the orange poppies we coast dwellers snobbishly refer to as freeway poppies, but our own coastal variety, the leaves more fleshy to resist the salt wind, the flowers a prettier yellow.

South along the headlands trail, I know a place where Coast Delphinium (Delphinium decorum) grows. Never more than a foot high, each plant has a head of deep blue flowers that glow with intensity. This year they are magnificent. As I crouch to admire, I remember renewing their acquaintance in previous springs.

This is the way an immigrant learns to belong: to come back and back to a place, to remember its varied moods, to remember where the flowers are.

Joyful for Salamanders

A Sunday afternoon walk with friends up Fern Canyon in Van Damme State Park. The creek is running fast and high, the trail is squelchy. Signs of early spring growth: stream violets, trilliums and redwood sorrel in flower, green tips to the elderberry and salmonberry. Downed wood from last week’s storm.

Wendy and I, who have lagged behind,  notice a young woman squatting by a log at the side of the trail. She rolls it over.

“Found anything interesting?” Wendy asks.

“Salamanders,” says a young man at my elbow. “Six different species so far.” He holds out a cupped hand. “Ensatina eschsoltzi.” His voice floods with love for the bulbous creature on his palm, shiny gray-brown above, with pale orange underparts.

“Here’s a lovely big Slender,” calls a girl at another chunk of log. Everyone crowds around to admire her tightly curled prize.

The quartet of young people are biology students from UC Davis. “Only I had to stop out,” says the young man. “Funding ran out. But I’ll be back by summer.”

The Fern Canyon trail is blocked a mile or two up by downed trees not yet cleared. The trailhead restrooms are closed for lack of state funding. We could feel discouraged and depressed about California’s economic chaos. But the enthusiasm of these young people we met, their joy in their quest for knowledge, gives reason for hope.

Spring Slinks In

Here on the Mendocino Coast, where winters are mild and rainy, now is the time to look for the first wildflower, Scoliopus bigelovii, commonly known as Slink Pod. The shady bank down by our creek, where I usually see them, was littered today with debris where the top of an old  fir had fallen, but there was still one plant unsmushed by the crash, a new bud opening, and spent flower heads already slinking off to find new earth for their seeds.

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