Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Is it safe to plant & water California Natives Plants in Summer ?

Suddenly all the traditional Taboos jump out all at once
Photo credit:

Ceanothus Celestial Blue 
This Bert Wilson photo above of Ceanothus comes from an article written about the challenges of Summer Watering Native California Plants. It was posted on the California Native Plant Society Facebook page for discussion. But as one regular commenter to those pages admitted:
 Roger Klemm: "I find this article frustratingly vague, to the point of being at best just plain useless. I mean, in one paragraph they say that new native plants will need water for the first couple of summers, and in the next one they say, without qualification, that "Summer watering kills most natives". Make up your minds, people!"
Of course Roger is correct. The article was vague, very prone to giving only those glittering generalities for nothing more than entertainment value, not at all specific about the serious challenges gardeners face in the real world with Natives and I found it very uninformative as to giving the reader the real intelligent reasons why such a practice could be harmful. Now to be truthful here, I do plant many natives during the heat of summer, but you have to know which ones will let you get away with it. Most California Natives are engineered and adapted to a wet rainy season followed by the longer dry season. The exception of course to that rule are those higher elevation plant ecosystems which may get the hit and miss of the Monsoonal Thunderstorms in July/August. I have always found Manzanitas and Ceanothus to be the biggest challenges because they are so sensitive to watering at the wrong time. More so than others. Many other delicate natives can be planted during summertime, but need the shade anyway.
One of the worst things people can do is attempt to grow and maintain natives the way they do those exotic non-natives they've purchased over the years at the local conventional retail Nurseries. I must say however, that many exotics don't even do well in that regard with conventional or traditional landscape care. Believe it or not many of the techniques you will learn with maintaining and growing the Natives, can also be incorporated and practiced with the exotics whether they have similar requirements or not. Drip irrigation while appearing seemingly simple and logical, doesn't always work with native or exotics. Some plants yes, but for me most are a no. I hate the maintenance part where you have to check the emitters regularly because the lousy mineral laden water you receive from the local water authority or even backcountry well will regularly create calcium or iron buildup which clogs the tiny pore openings. Also, such a system makes the plants dependent and hinders their maturity for establishing a foundation to take care of themselves when you as the parent/guardian aren't around. Yes, I often make comparison with landscaping & good or bad parental care. Some gardeners have this parental nurturing syndrome, even when they know better. The dripline above is at my mother's place, but the emitters haven't worked in ages. They are there because of other already existing conventional features around the perimeter like Rose Bushes, for which only a couple now remain. Of course you'll notice I am attempting to establish a newly planted Mama Bear Manzanita which I purchased on my last trip to Las Pilitas Nursery in Escondido. 'Mama Bear' is a hybrid manzanita between Arctostaphylos stanfordiana bakeri 'Louis Edmunds'(now Arctostaphylos bakeri ssp. bakeri) and Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Sentinel'. So it's an experiment of sorts for me, just like my successful 5 foot Island Manzanita shrub on the opposite side of the driveway in the photo above. 
So what is it exactly that happens if you do water in Summer ? 
This is the part that no one gets, understands or are ever really told the reasons why you need to be careful with summertime watering. And you deserve an explanation. The tendency and motive behind summer watering is rescuing and helping the plant, when in fact it can be quite the opposite. Ceanothus and Manzanita are the most susceptible to the problems and issues that come from over watering and water at the wrong time. For example, I made a mistake at my Mum's place on my last visit. Temps were already like middle of the summer time temps which were 100+. She hadn't watered in Winter deeply to compensate for the lousy rainy season which really hadn't shown up this year. There was no spring growth because lack of winter rains did not trigger it this year. I deeply watered slowly however, hoping to provide that deep underground moisture which most chaparral live on the rest of the dry year. Unfortunately my well meaning thorough deep soaking three weeks later triggered new flush of growth on all outer stems. The result another three weeks after this bud break was an attack from some sort of pathogen on the new delicate foliage. Maaannn, I knew better too, but what can you do. Now I realize nobody will believe this, but generally it's the same thing that happens to many plants [not just natives] in all Southern California gardens and landscapes, where people have been trained to fertilizer and over watering causing these continual spurts of newer growth throughout the year which is attacked from various directions by many different unrelated enemies. What happens underground is a given, soil pathogens. For natives, the soil pathogens which attack roots are mostly dormant in winter, but very much alive and active during the warmer hotter times of year. That's also why germination & seedling success is much better during the cooler wetter months of the year, not just because of the abundance of water availability, but because enemies are sleeping. But when you water during the hotter months, these pathogens are stimulated to do what pathogens do. But mostly it's the above ground foliage conditions I worry about. Gardeners [who are humans with emotions] can feel sorry for plants and feel the need to rescue or help them along. They believe it a kindness to water during extreme temperature days. Why ? Because that's what you'd want if you were suffering. The nature of Humans to respond to what appears to be a stress situation for helping plants in hot weather is usually an emotional one. Not that this is bad, but sometimes emotions get in the way of reason and logic. For example let me illustrate it this way. Advertisers understand the power of manipulating emotions to make a sale and get you to purchase their product. Take the Pet food industry. They market a canned Pet food not based on nutrition, flavour etc that your pet would like, but on something you would like to eat because it has eye appeal, not for your pet, but you. Pets mostly go by smell and don't necessarily care about the looks of the meal. [seriously people, you've seen some of the crap your pet drug home and has eaten in the past] But if it looks like hamburger or steak, then the advertiser has you hooked and you'll buy it. If they based the commercial on what a pet would actually eat, you'd never buy it. Hence we tend to do things to and for our plants because we tend to see and imagine them suffering in 100+ (40C) heat. But now stop here and ponder for a moment something else stupid that I did once! Once upon a time on my property in Anza California, I cared so much for a small Parry Pinyon seedling I discovered under a Redshank Chaparral, that I decided to rescue and help it along. It was hot out and I wanted the tree to grow taller and succeed as a tree. So I watered it & deeply. A couple days later the little once healthy pine seedling was brown, bent over and dead. *shock* Pathogens were stimulated by the water, coupled with the heat and took charge. Had I left it in it's drought dormancy maintenance mode, it would probably be 5 or 6 foot high to this day. Now let's get to above ground foliage and what happens there and look at a few things which create soft delicate succulent foliage in summer and why that's a bad thing. 

Photo Mine: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

As I stated before, I worry more about creating conditions in my urban landscape which will cause a flush of succulent delicate growth at the branch tips [tree or shrub] and that's a bad thing in the summertime. Why ? Because every active sucking insect in the world during the hot summer months finds such plants to be like candy. Besides insects, Fungus, Mildews and any number of other blight love to zero in and take full advantage of such conditions on the plants as well. So now do you understand why natives at that time of year are hardened off foliage-wise and in nothing more than maintenance mode ? Nothing wrong with that and if you understand how to maintain that type of landscape, your trimming, clipping and pruning chores will be less as well. I've seen SDG&E [Utility Co in San Diego] hire Davey Tree or Asplund to come clear out their telephone/electrical lines of tree foliage and unfortunately these guys are generally hack jobbers. Their workmanship and artistry is pathetic, as the photo of the Monterey Cypress above illustrates. In fact, this pathetic tree treatment can be seen all over California. We had Davey Tree tear up so much foliage off a giant Shamel Ash we had at one of our properties I maintained, that tree which had a massive trunk and impressive root infrastructure was triggered into responding with a flush of rapid growth and lots of it. The reason was this tree's giant root system which was tapped into the water table just 10 foot below the soil surface was going to provide it with all the water and nutrients it could handle to repair the damage done by Davey Tree. As a result powdery mildew and aphids came out of the woodwork during this hot summertime of the year. But you need to know, it works that way with everything, not just natives. It's just another reason to understand why summer watering can be dangerous to your Native Plant's health if you over do it on a regular basis. 

Jerry Coleby Williams: Sustainable Gardening in our Continually Surprising Climate

What further exacerbates this pest problem in our landscapes & gardens for the natural world is the old traditional way in dealing with these imbalances in the landscape through use of more chemicals to attack and kill the problem. You know, those pest killing chemicals besides the other chemical fertilizers, root stimulators, soil conditioners, etc you use all the time ? People who buy into this horribly flawed science-based educational program as put out there by Industrial Chemical Corporations, whose ongoing propaganda preaches, if something is bad for your plants, kill it with chemicals. Has anyone ever heard Industrial Science ever say, first find the imbalance within your landscape, garden or Farm and only then make the necessary corrections through a holistic approach by just the right community planting for your area, perhaps inserting native flowering plants which attract natural predators to deal with presence of pests in the landscape or garden ? No of course not and this is because such education dooms their obscene profit pursuing business model. Industrial science is at odds with other Nature discovery sciences which deal with more environmental friendly ecologically sound approaches. That is unacceptable to them and they have the political power and money to back up their version of truth. They even have many of the well know Sciency Celebs defending their side and who wouldn't believe them ? 
Planting Native plants in Summertime when it's 90F+ (40C) ???

Photo Mine (2014)

On the subject of actually planting in 100+ degree heat, I actually have no problem with planting natives in full blown summertime heat even when those awful temps are incredibly high, but I don't necessarily recommend it unless you know exactly what to do. These plants in the photo above were planted in such heat over 8 years ago and actually, I have no irrigation whatsoever established to them. If necessary, I do it by hand once a year when I come to visit. Most people have a hard time believing this when I show them the photos. So at best I slow irrigate deeply with garden hose when I come to visit. Before I leave I give orders to leave them hands off. However, this should really only be done in winter. Again, remember my mistake this year which I related above. The idea is to replicate winter rains [if they are a no show] re-energizing subsoil water stores as they would happen in Nature. The ONLY feeding is done with applying fresh surface mulch for decor as well as nutrients. Shredded redwood is my favourite. Mycorrhizal - MycoApply application is a must. 

I also love to compare raising plants to raising kids when it comes to planting, raising and establishing them. IF you are in any way a responsible parent, then you want your kids to have a good foundation for success later on in their adult life. If you pay their way to every event without ever letting them work for something, they will never learn responsibility on their own & they'll cling to your apron strings for life. Plants will also do that if you over baby and spoil them. Babying them with water through drip irrigation where you've provided reliable water availability all the time does this with natives and shortens their lifespan. It does not encourage natives to go down deep in developing their own structuring of their root system deeply within the earth and that for me is the ultimate goal to strive for. I've already written about what the good healthy science has discovered about a plant's ability to sniff out water, even far away and send roots down or over in that direction.
Water provides a Hydropatterning Blueprint for Rooting Architecture & "Infrastructure"  

Manzanita Root off Hwy 74
As I stated previously, it does NOT matter that you understand the technicalities of just how the science of it all works. Just simply knowing that plants will find the water is all you need to know and should influence just how you adjust or develop an irrigation system accordingly. Before laying out your native plant landscape, make sure you design the deep pipe irrigation within the hardscape at the very beginning. Of course in such a system you will be watering in between your plants at about three of four feet deep in the soil by means of the deep pipe system. You can life-support your plants during that first year by periodically watering around the areas planted at the surface, thereafter tapering off until it is unnecessary. All the while, you also should be deep irrigating to get that subsoil damp and developing a good water storage capacity. Water inside the earth itself is the best place to store it and train plants to look for it on their own. After the first year you shouldn't have to surface irrigate at all unless there is a real dire need. Even deep irrigation can be overdone. I love a manual system, but I realize many want things on automatic. One of the other problems I dislike with automatic irrigation is people will have it on a daily timer or every other day regimen. It's way too much and is a waste of water and money. Your goal should be to eventually deep water maybe once a month especially during the drier times of the year or not at all it the system you've developed has worked out perfectly. The photo above is of a Manzanita and Redshank root 20 foot below the surface in an un-natural erosion cut from a diverted stream by CalTrans. The soil is not idea garden soil, but decomposed granite and other fractured stone. This should clearly illustrate the power native shrubs and trees have in punching through impossible situations which allows their successful survival for decades.

Back to training kids. The photo at right here is a 'Pozo Blue' Sage I purchased this past June 2014 at Las Pilitas Nursery in Escondido. Many Nursery grown plants can be a couple of years old and therefore may be on a time clock to produce flowers and seed. In other words I view this as having sex resulting in kids. I don't want my kids having sex and babies in their youth. They are neither old nor mature enough to handle this responsibility and will end up in life loosing if they don't know how to support themselves, let alone having kids. They need to learn to take responsibility and care for themselves by learning to work at making a successful living with no dependency on others. Plants are the same way. I don't allow my new plants to flower or produce seed that first year. I know this goes against all conventional emotion & desire, but what else it new ? By nature everyone wants that instant colour in their landscape. But please, resist the mothering temptation, use tough love. Keep in mind that over doing it on the mothering side isn't true love either. I want my plants to concentrate their productive powers and energies into structuring a healthy root system for their later adult life self support. I have no intention of babying and/or allowing them to stay on parental welfare program for the rest of their life or mine. It doesn't work in real life for human beings so why would you think it's okay for your garden or landscape ? Hence, keep cutting off the flowers and seeds pods or berries. I know, it seems so unkind, but your plants will thank you much later in life for showing them tough love this way by their producing a lush healthy beautiful flowering display in your landscape for the rest of your life.

Planting tips in extreme heat & the Gallery below

Photo Mine

Island Man
zanita 'Canyon Sparkles' (Arctostaphylos insularis)
I planted one of these before I left over 8 years ago. I have written about this previously from last year when I photographed this Manzanita next to the 'Pozo Blue' Sage I also planted at the same time. Both doing very well and also planted when it was 100+ degrees fahrenheit. These newer plants above and below were also planted at 100+ degrees which is what the temps where when I came back for a visit out here from Sweden. These plants in the gallery here would be to the right of the larger ones in my photo above and from the article I wrote last year 2013. All mum's roses and other conventional exotics are dying or dead along that south wall/fence and these Natives will replace them thus adding a beautiful living green screen to the fence line to the south. Below is last years article:
"Canyon Sparkles" Manzanita (Arctostaphylos insularis) 

Photo Mine

California Coffeeberry 'San Bruno'

The California Coffeeberry is one of my favourites. The variety I purchase at native plant nurseries is of the type and variety I wrote about with Palo Colorado Canyon in Big Sur which I visited and wrote about a month ago. The natives up and around Anza where I lived for over 20+ years are of a gray olive green by comparison. The Coffeeberry I planted at my mother's place during the 100+ degree heat is a dwarf type variety which will not get as big as the other common ones I planted up in Anza. In fact the one here to the right is a 'San Bruno' Coffeeberry which I planted in 1987. After the late 1980s, we never ever watered it other than winter rains and hit and miss summer monsoons. This photograph was taken in 2011 when my wife and I visited and was still healthy and vigorous when I saw it a couple months ago. It was planted next to the Jeffrey Pine at around the same time. Above both the Jeffrey & San Bruno I had plant to two Ceanothus 'Concha' which is a beautiful hybrid. Decades later they declined as they were overwhelmed by the Torrey Pines which towered above them and were taken out. Even they were never ever watered beyond the first year. Still, San Bruno is an excellent choice. Notice the size after all these years has not gone beyond it's purposed location ? Proper upbringing and no free watering helps.

Photo Mine:

Sunset Manzanita (Arctostaphylos)
I've never planted a Sunset Manzanita before, so I thought I'd take a chance here along the south wall & driveway.

Photo Mine:

Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens)

When I first planted this tiny Screwbean Mesquite, it was below the top of the decorative concrete watering well. This is one month later just before I left. It was watered deeply when originally planted and there after once a week. I also heavily inoculated it with a mycorrhizal blended mix from MycoApply. BTW, the decorative border is temporary, it will be removed later when I return. The temperature outside and that whole week when I planted this was over 100+ Fahrenheit. No problem for a heat loving plant, but also a killer if none done right. I never broke up the root ball, which wasn't very extensive anyway. And as always purchase ONLY one gallon plants, they will surpass anything larger and more expensive you purchase. The Engelmann Oak I planted to the left and out of the above photo has grown over a meter in height from it's original 7 inches at time of planting. More on that in another post on artificial staking which replicates what chaparral does in the wild. Again, Engelmann Oak + no irrigation = one meter height.
Further Tip which is Imperative
Okay okay, I know, what gives, it can't be that simple. You're correct, time of day is important. Everything that gets planted in any landscape is on life-support. So the time of day during a heat wave [which admittedly should be avoided] should be late late afternoon or early evening after the Sun goes down over the horizon. I do this because it allows the plants a measure of several hours possible root shock & foliage recovery over night. Below here is my brother and I doing this after the Sun went down up in Ranchita California. We planted four Pozo Blue Sages and four California Holly shrubs. ALL were 1 gallon plants. Trust me on this, you will get instant mature landscape the following year. 

Photo Mine
After the Sun goes down, planting time starts. My brother lives out in the sticks of Ranchita so to speak, so any elaborate irrigation system is un-necessary, although the former owners did put some up on this hill above his house. The pool above is basically pond water, no chlorine. He doesn't use it much anyway. So while visiting I took five gallon buckets of water from this pool up to the hill for watering some plants.

Photo Mine

All your preparation can be done during the heat of day with sun shining. Planning the layout and positioning of where each plant will go. Actually digging each hole and deep soaking them with water long before actual planting takes place which goes quickly. Notice that seemingly sterile mineral appearance of this decomposed granite ? Perfect! Mycorrhizae will help fix that along with other mechanism from the surrounding wildscape.

Photo Mine
Aside from final planting hole size modifications and plant placement in the hole, inoculation is a must. Sometimes I'll even poke a couple of holes in the actual root ball and pour a small amount of MycoApply spore powder in the two 3 inch deep holes in the root ball itself for extra measure. And for all the "You don't have to inoculate because microbes are everywhere in the air" folks, nothing is as it seems. I wrote a piece about our adventure when leaving Ranchita the next day via Julian and Inspiration Viewpoint where I found the Pisolithus tinctorius truffles within the chaparral.
What happens to Earth's Mycorrhizal Community when their Hosts fail above ground ? 

image: Symbio
Yes, when the truffle is disturbed or crushed, clouds of mocha chocolate brown spores are released or be set free into the atmosphere. They will then be poofed into the air to fall randomly anywhere, later to be percolated along with water into the soil. Their spores are tiny enough to move with water through & in between soil particles. But unlike many other similar truffle spores, endo-mycorrhizal propagules don't do that, they are to large to move on their own to other physical locations without help. Even if they could poof and blow in the wind, there is no guarantee they'll find a target host plant root. That's why mechanical movement by insects or animals like those evil pocket gophers [who presumably have no other purpose than making gardener's lives miserable] actually can facilitate propagule movement through their feeding and tunnel construction movements. BTW, Etco Micorrhizas also can move around this way. PT Mycorrhizal truffles grow and mature unevenly, with part of the truffle becoming ripe at one end containing the important spore powder, while at the complete other end they are still growing white edible flesh which attracts insects and animals like squirrels. I've actually found some in this half cured condition where SowBugs, Rollie Pollies and even earwigs are feeding on the mix of fresh and dried truffle. Anything, even animals, dining on such a half baked truffle will also mechanically spread spores by means of physical contact. MycoApply has a biodiverse blend of mycorrhizas which is what you want for complete success. 

Photo Mine
In my experience it is also imperative to provide a good healthy clean mulch of shredded bark [not chipped, but you can use it] around your newer plantings. I also apply a thin new layer each year thereafter not only for looks and soil moisture retention, but also as the mycorrhizae breaks it down these nutrient will be fed to your landscape. Also imperative with remote plantings, it is important to provide a measure of protection against desperate hungry critters for lush succulent well hydrated plant growth. You can't blame them, and it's especially worse during this time of climate change and drought out there in California. There are no shortages of dead and dying chaparral branches out there in the wildlands. We cut and dragged back several old dead Scrub Oak and Sugarbush branches. We broke them apart into smaller branchlets and place them into the soil around the plantings. Without this, ground squirrels and jack rabbits would have a Smörgåsborg field day. It should also be noted that another danger does exist with summer watering and that's attracting those pocket gophers who are also desperate. The hill above my brother's house has lots of older spring time gopher exploratory mounds in the area so the danger is always present. 

At my mother's place, this is exactly what happened before I left. I chose the most prized perfect looking Engelmann Oak from Las Pilitas Nursery to plant outside of my Mother's kitchen window which is on the south side of the house with no shade. Heat is a major afternoon problem in that kitchen. It was a one gallon, but had beautiful large leaves along with thick healthy central leader and stem, everything I wanted. It was about 8 inches in height and had exploded forth with new healthy vigorous shoots which rapidly put on another 8 inches during my stay. Every care in the world was done to ensure success. Until two days before my flight back to Sweden, a pocket gopher [it was huge too] took the entire tree and sucked it down into it's hole with only the top stem with new leaves poking through the soil surface. I literally almost went crazy. That little mechanical devise to the left here was used successfully to rectify the situation. It didn't bring the tree back, but I sure felt better. Oh I know, how could I possibly feel that way about a poor little critter who was just desperately hungry under such dire drought conditions ? I could your conscience justify doing that ? Easy, I don't like or use science-based chemical poisons, so I opt for the artificial Rattlesnake approach. Rattlesnake ? Yes, look closely at those two artificial fangs, they work perfectly and replicate exactly what happens in Nature. There is not much more to say or advise, except always replicate Nature. Learning this doesn't happen over night. Learn to develop intuitive skills of observation in what a plant looks like under stress and proceed carefully. That doesn't happen over night either. Below are some websites of interest. The first one is simple and from Washington State University which gives a simply easily to follow and understand  illustrated picture show of how the underground soil microbes work and function. It doesn't have much intellect speak which usually makes such reading boring, but enough science terms to make it interesting. The second site is a page from someone's Flickr account for plant pest damage identification. It's interesting:
Further important reading of interest
Hidden Half controls SUSTAINABLE Plant PRODUCTIVITY and Ecosystem Resilience in the Face of Climate Change
Flickr photos: Plant Pests and Diseases Group

Photo is Mine, but it's Bert Wilson inspired
Anyone who knows Bert Wilson of Las Pilitas California Native Plant Nursery knows that Pozo Blue Sage and the Hummingbirds just go together perfectly in Nature photography. This Sage is a magnet for Hummingbirds and unfortunately my niece's cat also knows that as well. This is the same sage in the photo midway down my post here next to the Island Manzanita with Pepper Drive Elementary School in the background.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How do ecosystems regenerate when Fire is absent ? Aw, the possibilities!

It's so simple, even the Bishop of Aquilegia gets it!

"The Bishop of Aquilegia"
Okay you have to admit, Chaparral Biologist, Richard Halsey, does bare a striking similarity to British actor John Wood who played the evil Bishop of Aquila in the film "Ladyhawke" which also starred Rutger Hauer & Michelle Pfeiffer. One of Richard's recreational pursuits is playing roles from Medieval times with friends, so the fictional photo above actually kinda works in a rather unusual sort of way. But during Halsey's career, he also has waged a holy war of sorts with those whose conventional take on managing Nature has hurt it more than preserved it. So now that I have your attention, there is the not so simple matter of Fire Ecology again and how ecosystems function with and without the presence of fire. As many may know, Sweden is presently having it's worst wildfire on record. Temperatures have been the warmest up north closer to the Arctic Circle. The fire is said to flare up again huge because of warmer temps and higher winds coming back again. For a time it got cooler with moisture & winds calmed. An odd twist is that on the News Reports here the fire is said to be burning underground in places where I would imagine there are large build ups of peat. Not uncommon in northern Boreal forests. But they have been dangerous as people can fall into these holes which are created, and it's tough to fight an underground fire. Thus far there have been many articles and the 2014 fire already has it's own Wikipedia page her: (2014 Västmanland Wildfire) . But in all of this there are individuals who are proclaiming themselves as experts in fire ecology who are insisting how natural all of this is for Boreal Forest environments. While there can be fires anywhere, this event is unnatural. BTW, this one particular guy also says global climate change has zero to do with this increase of intensity. But then he also follows UFOs too.
Whatever! Now back to fire ecology and the question about just how do various plant communities proceed without fire ? If you believe half of the fire ecology myths out there, the world's plant kingdom cannot survive without the intervention of creative powers of wildfire. I don't want to rehash all the ideological takes the usual Soothsayers out there publish, but I'm more interested in evidence of how forests and other plant communities make it successfully without fire. On that note I also believe there are better practical applications which can be had from learning just how these ecosystem really function for practical purpose of replication in the field of habitat restoration. Even speaking about this subject at all is a form of blasphemy to the Scientific Orthodoxy which appoints itself as keeper of Flame when it comes to everything Forestry. You all know how many of the fables go, "without fire some plants are doomed and cannot germinate to proceed on with life". While numerous plants certainly do have built-in programs for a massive scale rehab response to wildfire habitat destruction, this is NOT the only strategy Nature employs. Take a view of this great video below of Biologist Richard Halsey investigating just how San Diego county's Mission Manzanita proceeds with germination without the help of fire. 

image USGS , Grizzly eating Limber Pine Nuts
Well well well, so Mission Manzanita seedlings didn't need fire to germinate ? Equally puzzling is how they can germinate during such a time as the present drought. But his last comment on possible food consumption by California Grizzly Bears is more than likely not so far fetched. Grizzlies in Yellowstone make a meal of Whitebark Pinecones, otherwise known by many as the Limber Pine.  Closest Limber Pine populations I personally know of in Southern California are on Santa Rosa Mountains above Palm Desert. Most all Bears forage lots of seeds, nuts and berries for food in the wild. So those folks who have a true genuine interest in actual ecology should wonder and ponder just exactly what it is that is missing when these large foraging animals disappear from ecosystems. For example, in Fire Ecology lore, there is a fire label created to describe a variety of trees which seemingly refuse to release their seeds unless wildfire bulls it's way through. These ecosystems as labeled as a closed cone forest systems. The trees which fall into this human created list are Cypress, Knobcone Pines, Sequoia, etc. But often times such lists are used by those who are intent on profiting off a forest system where more desirable trees like Ponderosa and other Timber valuable trees are wanted. The use of fire in a so-called controlled or prescribed burn are said necessary for such closed cone trees to regenerate, but the reality they often simply want land clearance for other more Timber salable trees to be planted and maintained for future harvest. One could ponder about fascinating trees like the Knobcone and if large animals like Grizzly or even giant Ground Sloths with their large claws didn't forage through such groves releasing cones for nuts, with some of the seed being scattered in the wind only to catch attention of ever watchful Scrubjays or other birds to snatch up and quickly hide away as many seeds as possible. Forgetting all the hiding places which allows some seeds to successfully germinate and reach for the sky in a slow movement of forest creation independent of the often Fire Ecology ONLY scenario we are mostly spoon fed as the ONLY fact. We'll never truly know the exact truth of the matter about what effect they had on the landscape since humans for the most part caused them to go extinct from their former range. But such giant vegetarians as the Sloths could well have had a great impact as did the Grizzlies. Pine Nuts were clearly a large part of their diet as fossilized or mummified Sloth poop has revealed. (source) But again, these animals are long gone and cannot be studied other than a few clues left behind to fuel anyone's imagination and speculative assumptions, even mine. But below is something I can relate to as far as a living example of forest regeneration without the fire dogma. 
~Momentary observation & opinion about Manzanita 
Okay, I'm not really interested in pursuing Manzanita and Fire Ecology at this time, except to say that in my experience with the outdoors, I have seen many  situations other than the occurrence of fire as being the reason for Manzanita seed germinating out in the wild without human interference. Living up in the San Jacinto Mountains for almost 20+ years, where ever I went I found Manzanita germinating from seed in any numerous of situation which didn't require fire. Mostly land clearing, or road building which provided loose soil bank access for the new seedlings to grow. In many methodical chaparral clearing by hand which created open spaces, I found that both Manzanita and Sugarbush would appear.

So when I first became curious about written sources which So when I first became curious about written sources which insisted germination ONLY happens after fire & a generally ignorant public parroting this all over the Internet championing the need for regular wildfire as a good thing, it all made me step back and take pause to review what I saw. Not that I questioned what I saw [that was for a fact real], but I started looking for other reasons why this would occur. As our Chaparral Biologist Rick Halsey mentioned above in the video, perhaps California Grizzly Bears did eat Mission Manzanita Berries. Not out of the realm of possibility because many bears and other animals do this anyway as my reference above to the Coyote scat loaded with Manzanita Berries which I found on the South Fork Trail of the San Jacinto Riverproved. In fact just a few feet away was a young Bigberry Manzanita Seedling pushing up through a Chamise or Greasewood shrub on the same trail. Now, onto Cypress seed germination!
~This Mystic insistence on Fire & Cypress Seed Germination
Take this large mature Arizona Cypress at my friend's place in Anza California for example. As you can see it has almost all of the branches from it's youth stretching all the way to the ground. Beautiful healthy tree and yet, would you believe it's propagating itself all over this property as far as a tiny cypress seed can drift in the wind ? Now considering some of the stories we are treated with regard to Cypress forests needing FIRE to open up their tough resinous closed cones, one wonders why there are so many examples of seed germination and sapling successes everywhere when fire doesn't occur. Oddly enough I found the fire myth to be untrue all around my friend's place. Several one, two and three years old seedlings were everywhere. But first, here is what one official US Forest Service database has to say about Arizona Cypress regeneration:

"The Serotinous*(see footnote) cones of Arizona cypress persist on the tree for years. When opened by the heat of a fire, the seeds fall on the exposed mineral soil, producing thickets of seedlings."

Image Mine
Both photos here above and below where the seedlings are shown emerging and healthy are around and near a continual flow of irrigation dripline for the large Hybrid Cottonwood trees which are half dead anyway. Most of these hybrids are in major decline throughout Anza anyway, but my friend waters his just the same. The point however being is not that the constant and dependable source of water is helping these trees to germinate, but that the seeds are available all around the area without the mystic need of fire to release them from those serotinous cones which many an ideologue out there dogmatically insist are dependent on fire for mechanical release. To their credit, the source did say that cones will open if detached from trees or if tree dies. But there is no indication of that here with that large Arizona Cypress. In any event, no fire, no heat, no smoke, etc. So what's happened ?

Image Mine
The bottom image here is of an Arizona Cypress seedling that is the furthest away from the parent tree in the picture above and has no drip irrigation helping it along. It is approximately some 25 meters from the tree and volunteered on it's own near this ranch's junk pile near some sheds and other out buildings and I must say it's on the western side of the parent tree which would make the western prevailing winds a preventative obstacle to the direction of seed drift. Unless of course hot drying Santa Ana Winds from the northeast are the answer here for not only wind direction from east to west, but also influencing a softening of the resin mechanisms on some exposed cones and release of some seed. Hmmm, again, pondering the possibilities. I'm mean it is Anza and that allows for lots of day dreaming and meditation. *smile*

Image Mine
Of course the same fire ecology lore is also often insisted upon when describing Tecate Cypress in and around San Diego County. Take note of what is said by the same official US Forest Service source:
"Tecate cypress is a fire-adapted, fire-dependent species.  It exhibits adaptations that indicate "strict dependence on fires of a particular frequency".  These adaptations include serotinous cones * see footnote, resinous foliage that is highly flammable when dry, thin bark, and a mixed chaparral habitat that ensures heavy fuels and a fuel ladder into the canopy when trees are at their reproductive peak (age 40+ years)."

Artist Thom Sawyer
Again, take note of the insistence that fire is imperative to the Tecate Cypress' survival & spread. Also, note the reference to these trees almost seeming to struggle for life as a result of living within the heavily mixed chaparral plant community ? The reference once again to this plant community which they always without fail associate the terminology of "heavy fuel loads". Is there no one working for the Department of Forestry who are capable of writing a better well rounded explanation of the entire plant community mutually helping each other through a normal plant succession sequence of events, without demonizing one group in favour of another ? The very reason the Cypress survive to successful maturity is because of the far deeper rooted chaparral plant community. Tecate Cypress are well known for being very shallow rooted in youth and putting on more top growth than rooting infrastructure. The Chaparral also act as an important natural tree staking mechanism and wind protection blind. Anyone who has ever tried growing these trees for the landscape understands the challenges of staking and wind protection to keep them from blowing over when young. Trust me I've done it prior to moving to Sweden. Lost all but one tree to wind fall. They simply put on too much top growth which out paces underground root structure. Chaparral can and does regulate their performance. So there is far more going on here than mere water and nutrient support. It just strikes me though that when people, especially Forest experts who are supposed to know better, demonize a specific plant community in favour of a more desirable Forest setting, they are condemning the exact plant community that kick starts and regulates an entire process for gradual plant community succession towards eventual forest development.
"Before this age, the biomass of the community is lower, and there is considerably less dead material in and under the canopy. At about age 40 years, the cypress begin completely overtopping the shrub species, limiting the availability of light to the shrubs. This period, when the base of the cypress canopy is at about the same level as the top of the shrub canopy, is the time of greatest flammability in the stand. At 80 postfire years, stand flammability may decrease because a closed-canopy stand of Tecate cypress, almost devoid of an understory, develops."
The description below here of just how the Tecate Cypress ecosystem operates is also inaccurate. I never really truly started to pay close attention to the Fire Ecology literature until the late 1990s and only then did I question it because of my two previous decades experience of seeing the exact opposite of what they dogmatically insist happens. Every single time I went into the Tecate Cypress bush, I always observed Seedlings, but thought nothing of it as extraordinary. The same fact exists regarding other seedling occurrences like Pines and Oaks were normal and nothing seemed out of the ordinary with Tecate Cypress seedlings growing within the Chaparral plant community itself. I also often found numerous dead seedlings, but that was due to the damping off mentioned below. That's okay because pathogens which cause damping off are necessary for keeping the balance, otherwise we'd have no healthy old growth forest if every single tree survived to live. We'd have only stunted trees looking more like thick weeds than mature stands of a woodland. What their presence indicated ultimately is that no FIRE was required, and there are important reasons for this which I'll deal with at the end.
"Cypress seeds require bare mineral soil for germination and establishment. Seedling mortality is high on shaded sites with abundant litter because of damping-off fungi. Seedlings are sensitive to excessive moisture."
Image Mine
Mature Tecate Cypress Forest Groves on Guatay Mountain as seen 
from Old US Hwy 80 halfway between Cuyamaca 79 turn off and town site of Guatay.

I didn't have the time and patience at the end of my two month visit to San Diego County to climb partly up Guatay Mountain through Bush Whacking to old growth Tecate Cypress Forest to photo shoot examples of seedling germination & growth within the old growth Chaparral here. But of all places in San Diego County, this is the spot to prove the mysterious not supposed to happen phenomena in Nature which doesn't happen without fire. The reason this is the best place is because this specific mountain has not burned in a few hundred years according to all the local legends. The other odd thing one would find here crawling through the bush is not only living and dead seedlings, but also trees of many different ages over long periods of time. As Fore Ecology logic would tells us, all Tecate Cypress trees should be of almost same identical age when the sprout after the fire to an area a few hundred years ago. The presences of many sizes over several decades would seem to debunk this religious dogma also. BTW, this photo is along Old Hwy US 80 between the Hwy 79 junction to Cuyamaca and Julian in the west and downtown community of Guatay to the east. There always was a trail from this spot up to the first trees and the last time I visited in 2002, someone had made clean neat cuts along the trail to make it easier to follow. The only other easy location to view constant year after year germination of Tecate Cypress was at Wildcat Spring along the western face of Cuyamaca Peak on Boulder Creek Road, but that is no doubt gone after the 2003 Cedar Fire. I had wanted to see what has become of the trees and regeneration there, but again no time and that rental in the photo would not have made the journey. Another area which also is gone is an area west of Alpine California called Peutz Valley. Years ago many new adventurous rural property owners purchased some native plants back in the 1970s when they started becoming the rage. Back then I believe even LA Moran in Davis California was growing and providing them for folks who wanted to practice backcountry conservation on their land. Some purchased and planted Tecate Cypress as windbreaks or privacy screens. Several years later I read an article that some folks began noticing them naturalizing out there in the native Chaparral away from the properties which the originals were planted. Wow, so I did that happen minus Fire ? That was the first thing I wondered, since I had heard an early rumor fire was necessary. Okay, here are some other recent scenarios I have come across. Amazing how you can still discover some new things that were always right under your nose all alone.
Photo Mine

Carmel Highlands viewpoint just south of Carmel Highlands General Store on Cabrillo Hwy along California coast

Most of you will recognize this area which is near Monterey & Carmel by the Sea in California along Hwy 1 or the Cabrillo Highway and it's poster namesake the Monterey Cypress. My wife and I drove down Ocean Avenue in downtown Carmel all the way to the Ocean. Admittedly I was impatient because I was thinking of time constraints for making our way to Morro Bay by early evening and at the same time stopping and lingering at numerous locations we wanted to see along the way and avoiding any possible traffic delays. But I'm glad she forced me to go back to Carmel and here is why. While taking photographs of Monterey Cypress, I noticed a all to familiar insect anomaly I had been concerned with on my own Tecate Cypress back at my old property in Anza California over a decade ago. Have any of you ever seen anything like this on either Cypress or Junipers before ? I had and this little insect caused this unsightly cosmetic anomaly on my Tecate Cypress trees, of which there is only one left on my old property right on Burnt Valley Road. The insect is called a Twig Pruner or another name of a similar insect which attacks branch tips on Cypress and Junipers is Twig Girdler. One is a caterpillar and the other a tiny beetle. More on that below. About all I thought was how similar this was to my tree in Anza and that is where I would have left it had I not scene this next scene below.

Photo Mine

Monterey Cypress with Twig Pruner damage 

Tecate Cypress - Burnt Valley Rd, Anza
Wow, suddenly all sorts of light bulbs turned on. Could this insect phenomena be responsible for the release of Cypress seeds everywhere which when blown by gentle breezes or high wind storms the tiny little seeds which create pioneering opportunities for further Tecate Cypress spread deeper into untouched virgin old growth Chaparral regions without the need for wildfire ? Again, wow, this is so kool. Previously when up on Guatay Mountain, and when inside and underneath the canopy of the old growth Tecate Cypress forest, I heard and saw a little brown/grey bird [never really identified what bird] over head in mature Tecate Cypress actually pecking at the cones. Hence it was easy to assume that this was a possible source of cone opening and seed release which explained the seedlings everywhere in the old growth chaparral. I still believe in that possibility, but now, here's a new worldview shaking wrinkle in the scriptural text of the sacred Fire Ecology bible. Ed Komarek are you reading this ? Yes, I'm a heretic. Prone to writing all sorts of blasphemous apostate ideas against the holy writings of Fire Ecology. Sorry, I don't mean to poke fun, okay, well yes I maybe do, but only in the sense of re-education and clearer understanding which sheds brighter light on a subject that just might just help & improve habitat restoration techniques for greater successes in the field [or urban landscape]. This year my wife and I spoke with my former French neighbour who now lives in Saunders old Geodesic Dome house across the street from my old property and this Tecate Cypress you see above right. He mentioned that he paid attention to that insect twig pruning damage and at one point thought the tree was a goner a couple years back. But oddly enough, even during this drought, that tree's foliage has actually sprang back with a vengeance and looks fuller and lusher than ever before. Interestingly, when I planted this tree as a seedling, it grew fast and trunk and branches very thin and leggy. But these little critters seemed to plague it so. But my response was never to locate some science-based chemical pesticide to kill and obliterate whatever was causing the twig end loss. If it died it died.  But what I did later notice is that the insects caused the tree to constantly re-sprout in newer areas of it's branches where it actually resulted in a more thicker dense foliage than it previously did. Sometimes I wonder if their are other things going on under the ground creating the same scenario. Hmmm ?

Photos courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Southwestern Region
The photo above is EXACTLY what I always found on my Tecate Cypress up in Anza. At the point of twig break, there was always this little tiny tube. Also a few down in El Cajon which I planted at Starlight Mobile Home Park, but not many. While some of these insect are often a caterpillar or worm inside the pithy region in the center of the twig, the precise little guy I always found when I split the center of the dead or dying twig looking for the little critter responsible for the die back, was similar to this little guy picture at the left here. This isn't the exact insect, but body plan is pretty much identical and the ones I found were always without fail the size of a Flax Seed if anyone knows what that is. In many ways it looked very much like a weevil and almost everyone has seen those. Still, I'll try and correct this if someone can pinpoint exactly what I am describing. But this is as close as I can come for the moment. I have a reference below here of the Juniper Twig Pruner which is a native to the southwest and they have a few more photographs which very much tell the same story. 
New Mexico State University: "Juniper twig pruner (Styloxus bicolor)"
Ultimately, irrespective of the actual identification of this insect, beetle/weevil, the after effects are interesting and revealing of some incredible possibilities never before written about that I can find. I only question things for which I have experience with which don't jive with the flawed conventional beliefs found inside official textbooks on this subject of fire ecology. In many of the same official fire ecology and Forestry archives, they also mention Giant Redwood trees and how fire suppression has hurt these magnificent Redwood Groves and the majestic trees within. Actually that's another fable. Around the internet recently people have been publishing a series of 15 historical photos which have gone viral, you see them everywhere. Take a look at both and the description I'll quote word for word below.

Image: Humbolt State University
"California lumberjacks work on Redwoods.  Thousands of tree rings in these ancient trees - each over 1000+ years old or even much older...such a shame...irreplaceable giants. National park treasures all gone but a few? What kind of men would do such a thing for over 100 years - destroy something they cannot ever fix or replace for 2000 years? It is an evergreen, long-lived, monoecious tree living 1200?1800 years or more. An estimated 95% or more of the original old-growth redwood forest has been cut. In 1850, old-growth redwood forest covered more than 2,000,000 acres...down to 8,100 acres by 1968, by which time nearly 90% of the original redwood trees had been logged."

Image: Humbolt State University

Fire suppression has hurt old growth Redwood Forests, human corporate greed has done that. Did you notice what was said about the cause for the reduction and decline of old growth redwood forests ? Here it is again: An estimated 95% or more of the original old-growth redwood forest has been cut. While it's true that fire can open cones as we all know, given ancient Redwood Trees age over countless thousands of years, wouldn't it be reasonable to believe other factors also may have spread young newly germinated Redwood Trees across the landscape ? Douglas Squirrels and other wildlife are great candidates. Given the lief of these once pristine Redwood Forests and the Fossil records which show just how extensive many types of Redwoods once were over 1000s upon 1000s of millennia, it's reasonable to assume more than fire has had a play in their survival and development, especially given the fact that most ancient forests were so wet. The moment you hear someone dogmatically insisting such and such is the only way things happen, it's a cue for they don't have all the facts and wouldn't want them anyway, even if they do exist at all. Here is a great link for those interested in some historical research on Redwood ecology. Though it's title enlists fire ecology, it's got other clues which should lead one to understand that not all knowledge is presently etched in stone.

Just when we all get told most everything on earth has pretty much been found and discovered, we get amazing surprises even still which should be no real surprise at all. Given the sad state of affairs we are presently experiencing on our planet with regard the Earth's poor health, clearly Science doesn't know everything after all. Yes it's nice and wonderful when science self-corrects, but it means zero if no practical application is made from the newer findings. When outside business interests try and squelch such observations as little account, those entities need serious removal. Seriously now, think about that. Finally, I'm not saying fire never happens or is not part of the natural landscape. Clearly it's been around since the beginning of time. It can also be used responsibly as a restoration tool if for the proper motives. But the problem lays with those who have motives of disinformation comes to the surface. I'm presently reading an account of a fire ecologists who insist Global Warming has nothing to do with increases in fire and that Sweden and other remote Boreal forests are wildfire adapted. Funny, I, nor anyone else here have ever experienced that. Right now the News reports are that this megafire in Sweden won't totally burn out until winter, that's because it's moving and burning under the ground. For those who are not familiar with Boreal Forest environments and peat ecosystems, there is a tremendous amount of organic matter in these systems and these mosses lichens and deep peat layers have dried out and burn easily. Again, commercial ambitions under the cloak of Fire Ecology are a major reason for our Natural World's decline and we're running out of healthy forests. No amount of genetic engineering by SweTree or ArborGen are going to save anything here.
"Make sure all your words are soft and sweet, you may have to come back one day to them eat"  
Serotinous is an ecological adaptation exhibited by some seed plants, in which seed release occurs in response to an environmental trigger, rather than spontaneously at seed maturation. The most common and best studied trigger is fire, and the term serotiny is often used to refer to this specific case.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What happens to Earth's Mycorrhizal Community when their Hosts fail above ground ?

"You don't have to inoculate because spores are  found everywhere in the Air."  Oh but I beg to differ, yes it does matter!
image: John Upton
It's almost impossible to believe that mycorrhizal Fungi themselves are in danger of massive deterioration and possibly extinction in some areas of the Earth, especially when the prevailing faith affirmation is that "Fungal spores are just everywhere in the air". In other words, don't worry, it'll be fine. I often hear this [mainly by native plant nursery experts who are supposed to be in the know] when I reveal to them that I always inoculate even when I suspect microbial life in the ground is healthy. I just refuse to not take a chance, and besides, there are some species of fungi which are superior in starting a plant out successfully than others do. I'm not trying to be cute here, but there's more to the story. Like everything else, Micro-organisms are not immune to human idiocy. So no it's not invincible as we once thought, or at least not anymore. Does it stand to reason that if plant life above the ground earth wide is suffering and in severe cases failing, that the conditions underground, just possibly the microbial community isn't doing so hot as well ? More and more there is scientific evidence that this just may be the case. It's always been a given that for the most part, where ever in the world's cities , Humans use massive amounts of science-based chemical Fertilizer solutions and other deep tilling practices have been employed, the microbial community is either limited or entirely gone. Further, when areas of an agricultural landscape are plowed up near the surface, this will often kill off the mycorrhizal network, and made even worse with the chemical fertilizer applications. In the post I did on the habitat restoration project at Thousand Palms oasis where it was necessary to physically remove Tamarisk trees, two types of method were employed in the removal and as noted, there were two stark contrasts in results of plant community response.
"Most areas were cut by hand, thereby selectively cutting out the tamarisk while leaving the native shrubs unharmed. Only a 7.5 acre (3 ha) section that was heavily infested (> 95%) was cleared using a bulldozer." 
"In the 7.5 acres (3 ha) that was bulldozed, natives established much more slowly than in the hand-cleared areas." 
(Source) "A Success Story Tamarisk Control at Coachella Valley Preserve, Southern California" 
Did you notice that the method in which the crews hand removed the invasive vegetation, but left the other native shrubs intact ? These regions were reported to have recovered faster. The Bulldozed land which was stripped entirely and replanted recovered far more slowly. This method is often employed by the US Forest Service in replanting Timber species Pine trees and success is much slower than leaving some chaparral intact. While they make no mention of the mycorrhizal grid, no doubt this was obliterated at the Bulldozed location at the time of disking and scraping. I also found this in my own case where I always hand removed only a handful of chaparral when planting trees and leaving much of the ecosystem intact. But something else is going on now that is causing the mycorrhizal network to fail in many areas. The really scary thing now is that this disappearance phenomena may also be happening in many of the Earth's wildland areas and not limited to those regions disrupted by Humans. But why is this ? 
Major Groundwater Deficit Out West Might Hold Some Clues
image: Earth Observatory - NASA
The people at NASA came out with a map just a couple of days ago referencing groundwater deficits especially out in the western states. Here is what they said:
"Long-term drought and aggressive seasonal wildfires have consumed property, lives, and farmland in the American West. The dry weather and blazes are battering regional economies and putting residents and agricultural businesses in several states on a path toward water restrictions. At least part of this story of water woes lies underground."
"The map above combines data from the satellites of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) with other satellite and ground-based measurements to model the relative amount of water stored in underground aquifers in the continental United States. The wetness, or water content, is a depiction of the amount of groundwater on July 7, 2014, compared to the average from 1948 to 2009. Areas shown in blue have more abundant groundwater for this time of year than comparable weeks over the long-term, while shades of red depict deficits compared to this time of year." 
Many Native wildland Plant Communities are in major decline or out right dying, Why is this ?

Anza Valley viewed north @ Thomas Mountain off
Mitchell Rd & east of Kirby Rd next to Agri-Empire Well (2014)
The photograph above was taken in a northerly direction from a commercial well head owned by Agri-Empire just north of the dirt road part of Mitchell Road and east of Kirby Road. What caught my attention here, and this had been seen elsewhere, the Parry Pinyon Pines are failing all over the place. Believe it or not I actually wrote about what was going to happen back in early 2013 before I came over that Spring. I already was aware of Parry Pinyon's decline and some of the efforts to help save these trees within the San Jacinto Mountain range. The account from the Press Enterprise falsely cursed and demonized Chaparral as hindering the successful life of Parry Pinyon. But the efforts of their chaparral clearing programs were less than successful, especially given the lack of knowledge by well meaning people who were in a position of authority to have known better how specific ecosystems [like Pinyon/Juniper woodlands] actually work. The leadership should have known better:
Little Did I Know at the Time, Parry Pinyon was only the Beginning! 
Any Pinyon and especially the Parry Pinyon,  has always been one tough tree. But like other living things, this tree also has limits as to what it will endure. Historically they have always germinated newer trees with great ease, especially on a steep southern facing slopes of Thomas Mountain to the Anza Valley floor which is dominated by Chamise or otherwise known as Greasewood. Not many trees would tolerate such a habitat. These trees in this area for example have always produced 1000s of pine nuts per year and it could be observed that 100s of seedlings emerged successfully after germination over Winter, whether they made it through the first year or not. The above photo isn't the best close up shot I could get, but I had a delicate Rental Car that was never made for the offroad. From a distance however you could see numerous skeletal outlines of the Parry Pinyon tree silhouettes. Many Pine trees will normally shed leaves or needles from oldest years to the newest during times of drought stress. Most of the pines at my old place still contain needles which go back 5 or 6 years, but many of these Parry Pinyon trees had only two years worth of needles which reveals their present drought stressed struggle for life. Some were outright dead which can be seen from a drive along Hwy 371 leaving Anza Valley heading to Paradise Corners. This unfortunate observation is just not normal, especially for these Pinyons up there around Anza. Of course all the Coulter and Jeffrey Pine are being effected as well. That entire southern face of the eastern end of the Thomas Mountain chain had always attracted my attention because the trees always stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding Chaparral plants. Now you can't even tell the difference. But one wonders what has happened to the mycorrhizal fungi community under the ground which normally is the foundational support of the above ground ecosystem. Why isn't it not up to the task of it's assigned  job ? Let's see how it works when all pistons are firing.

The foundation of every single ecosystem on Earth is the fungi community. Depending on the system, the variety of plants and animals living within that system are determined by the health of the microbial system of the fungi along with the right kind of beneficial bacteria. The foliage mechanisms of all plants that are above the ground act as factories which produce energy from the sun, manufacture food and allow the plant to reproduce. The mycorrhizal community under the ground draw off the nutrition the plant manufactures in the form of simple sugars or carbohydrates which the fungi are incapable of producing on their own. Obviously the Fungi provide generous amounts of raw materials in the form of water and nutrients in exchange for the food the trees and shrubs generously provide. An important factor in all of this working together and cooperation is available moisture which provide the major support in this cooperation. Look at any shrub or tree this way, think in terms of purchasing a factory stock muscle car from the 1960s. Certainly the vehicle has many outstanding qualities on it's own and will perform just fine. But this vehicle can be further enhanced by modification of the cars various mechanical components which relate to higher performance. The fungal community under the ground acts as just such a modification partner. They provide an energy performance to helping out the plants during the rougher  times. They provide an antibiotic system which protects plants root infrastructure from diseases which would otherwise wear down it's mechanical components. They create a sharing interconnection exchange of nutrients and moisture between the entire the plant community, and create a much larger resource base by which further moisture and nutrients can be drawn from a greater area. If any of the modified components shut down for any reason, then the entire system can be effected negatively.
It is the same with any vehicle. If the  header exhaust system, gears, or the high performance carburetor starts to fail for any reason, the entire system suffers. With the plant world, we are now seeing complete failure in many places. This is true for example in Anza California. Off hand I'd say it's the inconsistent rainfall totals I have been following throughout Southern California over the past couple of years. Totals are extremely uneven with some areas getting doused with rain and others receiving only a trace. This past rainy season especially, most totals are extremely way down throughout California and this downward trend has been getting worse over the last few years. Seasonal rainwater and other forms of moisture to an ecosystem are like what gasoline is to a car. Lack of water will also create and cause total shutdown in most plant ecosystems, and all other life will be likewise effected. People aren't the only ones with a stake in this water crisis emergency.

What I noticed this past rainy season is that even if an area was officially recorded as receiving an inch of rain, other storms that followed were few and far between. An inch of rain doesn't soak very deep, especially when it's not followed up by other rain amounts. The sun and wind dry up what was made available and the pores in the soils seizes up tight once again. No amount of moisture build up is allowed, which explains why invasive weeds didn't even do well in these areas this past year. The ground water availability chart above provided by NASA bears this out. Most of the chaparral I saw on my trip hadn't even put on a new season's growth, which tells me they are in survival mode at any cost. When this happens, plants and trees will either restrict or hinder altogether giving any carbohydrates to their mycorrhizal partners in life. The plants right now are in extreme survival mode when they shut down and don't produce. Many go drought stress deciduous. For the past decade I have not once found PT Mycorrhizal Truffles in either my favourite wild collecting spots not specific places within cities which were colonized.
image: Roger Gosden
In every ecosystem around the globe there are ecological switches that exist which push the system through a succession of changes until maturity is reached, and the same could be true in reverse when the ecosystem begins to collapse as a result of disturbance from the norm. Reverse engineer anything and you notice a gradual breakdown. Seriously, look at Earth's Climate mechanisms. If we go back to our automobile comparisons, fast forward to our present computerized run modern cars which are loaded with sensors which send instantaneous signals to the computer's programming brain which continually monitors temperature, timing, fluid levels, etc, etc, etc, this mimics beautifully what goes on in the plant world deep down inside on a very molecular level which is controlled by sophisticated sensors & on/off switches on the genes located within the plant's DNA which constantly monitor the surrounding environment for change. The signals the plant genes receive from this feedback by means of chemical signaling which require a response for the organism's next move. This makes more sense to me now, given the info I read a while back from the 2005 report by the US Forest Service which came out admitting that Pisolithus tinctorius does work within chaparral plant community & likes to colonize Chamise. Note the quoted text below where Chamise will allow itself to be colonized, but only & especially during wet years like the El Nino event of 1978 thru 1984. This would also account for the Parry Pinyon's healthy establishment successes within the Thomas Mountain ranges above Anza California which were always productive truffle collection hot spots for me for over two decades. From 2003 onward however I found no truffles [even signs of older mummified ones] in all areas north of hwy 371 on the old Dune Ranch now owned by Agri-Empire. If even the Chamise or Redshank are under stress as a result of drought conditions, it makes sense that certain sensing mechanisms detect environmental ques picked up by the plant's epi-genome, then this must certainly require a disconnecting signal which means the chemical that allows and encourages the colonization process with mycorrhizae must be shut down and may be a survival strategy for these chaparral. Even this year was a bust when I visited Anza, UNTIL => my Julian visit June 30th 2014. Below here is a paragraph explaining & documenting the Chamise PT Truffle association.
"Greasewood or Chamise ( Adenostoma fasciculatum ) normally forms arbuscular mycorrhizae with all genera found in the region. However, during wet years (El Niño), we found EM associated with its roots and EM fungi in the stands (Allen and others 1999b). There was a high diversity of fungi ranging from Cenococcum and Balsamia spp. (ascomycetes ) to a variety of basidiomycetes such as Pisolithus species." 
Wow, what an awesome surprise before returning to Sweden. Truffles, Humbolt Lilies and more 
image: Elisabeth: Desert View Inspiration Point
It was June 30th 2014, my wife and I were returning back to El Cajon after staying at my brother's place in Ranchita, California for a few days. We stopped in Julian for a chocolate malted milk shake, then pushed on south to see what Cuyamaca State Park looked like now. This photo above is the desert view turnoff on Hwy 79 south of Julian called "Inspiration Point. Years ago someone planted Cuyamaca Cypress all around the parking area and median island. They spread out into the chaparral in the old days before fire swept through here. I recall finding seedlings everywhere in the 1970s. I know, it's faith shaking shocker when a much worshiped doctrine gets blown out of the Fire Ecology water, but life is like that. There were some small narrow unmarked trails where persons who visited have created through the chaparral so I followed a few, but something curious caught my eye as I veered off trail an in between Manzanita and Scrub Oak I found what for me is the glittering of gold, a mother load of sorts. Stone-like truffles of Pisolithus tinctorius. 

photo Mine Inspiration Point Hwy 79 south of Julian
The above image has been manicured a bit so that viewers get the full flavour of what they actually look like. Here I have pulled back some of the dry grasses, leaves, dirt and other debris for the camera. To most people hiking in the outdoors, they look rather like small stones. But I've always got my nose to the ground every time I go out, just a habit I guess.
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Here is the same image of the above truffle with another I've cut or broken in half to reveal what's inside of these gems. Unlike normal puffballs most folks might be familiar with which explode in a cloud of dust when opened, these have a compartmentalized interior. Mocha brown inside and gives off the scent of caramelized sugar of English Toffee in my opinion. Often referred to as the Dog Turd Truffle, it is a main pioneer fungi for most all ectomycorrhizal plants which are just getting started. Below here is a picture of a truffle which I have not removed the debris around. You can understand why most people wouldn't notice such a gem.
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But now look below here, they do come much bigger

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Two images of the same truffle above and below here. The lower one allows you to view the American Quarter coin much more clearly which I used for scale. Almost the same size of a Swedish Kronor. I've seen these things get much bigger before, often on my own property in Anza in the past. Once on the backside of Palomar Mountain in 1983, a friend of mine and I went up the forestry road behind Aguanga off Hwy 79 and up near the top in a previous years wildfire burns and after the monsoon Thunderstorms had dumped rain over the last several weeks, we saw large white Puffballs larger than the size of a Basket Ball all over the blacken landscape with which it contrasted beautifully. I really wished back then I had thought to carry a camera.

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Other things discovered at "Inspiration Point"
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Okay now time to pay attention here for a moment. This is looking south from the "Inspiration Point" area and the hill where some trees are recovering from the 2003 Cedar Fire which took this place out almost completely. I still have nightmares of watching Ed Lenderman of KUSI over dramatizing the high winds at this spot live. As you can see there are some pines trees and even Cuyamaca Cypress growing back. Although for a recovery that is eleven years in restoration, it's clear that even rain here has not been in great abundance. Okay anyway, is there any colour that stands out place and jumps out at you in this photograph ? I'll give you some hints, it's not any shade of green, nor sky blue. It also has nothing to do with the reddish brown soil at the bottom foreground of the picture.

The chaparral here at "Inspiration Point" was the healthiest and most beautiful in all of San Diego County, something I had not seen anywhere, but a few places like Palo Colorado Canyon up in Big Sur California off of the Cabrillo Hwy 1. Okay, to the right here is a Humbolt Lily which was growing up out from a medium sized California Coffeeberry Shrub. Not what most people would consider ideal gardening conditions for any kind of Lily. But that's the native chaparral ecology. Fungi makes many things work when all pistons are firing properly. I have some more pics and more stories of things I did here. Like planting Native Plants in hot weather, inoculation and watering properly under harsh conditions. Some natives can be watered and others not. Inoculation is always a must if you want to succeed in the urban landscape or garden. However, unless things weather and climate-wise change radically, I do not believe any remote wildland area restoration will succeed, even if you inoculate with a great mycorrhizal blend. You need rain, not necessarily heavy rains, but back to normal rains will work. There is so much going wrong in the outback environment. To much to ponder. Get outdoors and discover how different Nature is from what the textbooks insist is truth. You'll be amazed.