Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My personal ongoing fascination with anything Sycamore

Restoration Puzzle ?

There are so many logical common sense reasons for replication of Nature in the practical applications department of Human needs. Unfortunately, in our present 'critical times hard to deal with'  world, if something doesn't make some Corporation a $ or put some Politician into positions of power, no amount of responsible Earth Stewardship is going to get done. Sadly, even things like Rich Folks Legacy building like Philanthropy and/or other personal Foundations named after themselves, often come with a price. Often they don't address what's really needed in terms of environmental improvement  The good news is, the average person doesn't have to wait or depend on any of these legal entities to change things for the better, you can do so yourself. Even if it's little by little. If your numbers are large enough, you just might accomplish far more than any of those insisting they be put in charge of such responsibilities. Evidence for ideas from Nature are all around us, but often times ignored. For example, I'm sure people with busy commuting lives rushing along Highway Route 52 from Santee to San Diego have missed this remarkable Sycamore tree seen in the photo below. Actually there are several, but I took this opportunity to stop and photo this one while on my trip over there this past Spring. It's not a very tall tree, but nevertheless survives in a hot dry location where you wouldn't expect it to be. In reality, if you are perceptive enough, you will notice this tree is in a dry Chaparral Plant Community location which are throughout Southern California and not in the usual water rich bottom land locations where you expect to find them.

Photo: Mine
This is along side the west bound lanes of Route 52 almost to the Junction of Interstate 15. The Miramar Naval Air Military Reservation fence is to the right and you can see the evidence still visible of the 2003 Cedar Fire. If you remember, everything in that fire's pathway was completely destroyed. So at the very least, the growth here is 10 years old. There are a number of educational things here of personal note here which can be observed, though no doubt never thought of before by most passers by. First, this tree is not in a riparian habitat and there are no Road Department Irrigation infrastructure here. I know because I looked. So what's keeping this otherwise water loving tree alive ? Look at the plants in the fore ground. Chaparral - Lemonade Berry and Laurel Sumac. Both are deep rooted into moister subsoil layers and through the process of Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution have created a natural hydrating system which supports other plants which would otherwise fail.

Photo: Mine 
Now with the above example in mind, take a look at this next photo. This is my mum's backyard after I've started some tree trimming activity and general cleanup the second week there in April 2013. Notice the spreading green plant under the Canary Island Pines and Tecate Cypress ? This is Catalina Island Currant or Evergreen Currant (Ribes viburnifolium). Without the cover of the trees above, this plant would fry. Yet in the shade, it does great AND it is never watered. It's actually originally a single plant, but it's spread out around the ground under the shade canopy. But notice over on the right hand side of this photo another plant. Actually it was a surprise to me as I never expected to find a young California Sycamore seedling. But low and behold, there it was. I know the six mature Sycamores to the right of this photo which are out of the picture were already producing heavy seed balls, but I never gave it a thought that any seedlings would ever germinate in her yard. 

Photo: Mine
Here is a close up shot of that small Sycamore from the above photo. While I thought the whole thing was kool, I also knew I couldn't keep the plant where it was and I didn't want anymore California Sycamore in that yard. But I knew my sister in Lakeside had a large piece of land off of Moreno on San Vicente Road. In fact, her property line runs right at the old creek bottom which was dammed upstream almost a century ago. San Vicente Reservoir. So I took a five gallon orange Home Depot plastic pail and hauled it over from El Cajon to her property while she was evidently at the Colorado River. Interestingly many Sycamores have volunteered on my mum's property since this time.

Photo: Mine
This particular Friday I chose to plant it I also went up to visit my brother's place in Ranchita. That exact day the high temperature was 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 Celsius). I know, you're not supposed to transplant during outrageous unfavourable conditions. You'll fail. Yes in the past I did regularly, but that was when I did things conventionally. You know, Science-Based & Peer Reviewed habitat restoration techniques approved by various government agencies under the guiding hand of the USDA ? 

Okay, here is what I did and didn't do. In the old days I'd use some type of Vitamin B-1 transplant shock magical elixir sold at most local Landscape and home garden centers. My favourite which said it had rooting hormones and vitamin B-1 which roots supposedly loved was called - Super Thrive  Actually it truly does work in some applications IF you follow instructions of just a couple drops to a gallon. But like most folks, the flawed thinking of "If a little works, more must be better". No it doesn't, not that it necessarily hurts anything, it's just that the plant does simply nothing as far as growth. In fact sometimes I'd notice the plant would stay stuck in neutral and go nowhere until the next growing season. My favourite choice now is MycoApply from Mycorrhizal Applications Inc. You may remember I wrote about this earlier with my Mum's volunteer Pecan Tree which was going nowhere until I inoculated it with Ecto-Mycorrhizal spores. I've never had a failure and I no longer have spent money on commercial chemical transplant Shock prevention liquids. One of the other things I did after planting and inoculation was to place the Home Deport five gallon pail over the plant after I left the well water run in the planting basin for a good thirty minutes, to create a humid atmosphere and prevent direct sunlight which I thought would most certainly desiccate the leaves.

Photo: Mine
Okay, so planting was on Friday in that intense heat and when I came back through Lakeside on my way back home, I stopped by on Tuesday to check on the health of the plant. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to find only two top leases burned or dried out. The leaves under those were still healthy and green and the hard stem was in great shape. I knew that the plant would revive in no time at all. After all, it's a riparian plant and with enough water, anything is possible. 

Photo: Mine
This shot was taken a week after the above photo and clearly the little tree is in full recovery mode with new bud growth and leaf production. At this point deep watering is still once a week which replicates a heavy rainfall pattern cycle for Riparian establishment. This technique actually works well with most differing ecosystem groups in the wild as well.

Photo: Mine
This shot here was taken the day before I left on June 3rd. The two top leaves are almost completely shed now and though the other older leaves were also set back a bit, but look at that brand new healthy and rich bud growth. So apparently all was well after all. I couldn't have hoped for more, but now I was leaving and a key was to keep deep watering this tree at least once a week for the first year or two and then tapering off allowing the tree to grow up and mature on it's own. In fact, this technique for me anyway was the inspiration from my experiences which Bajada or Alluvial Fan observations during those late 1970s to middle 1980s heavy rainfall flooding years which proved how floodplains establish large tracts of riparian forests in cycles.

Photo: Mine
So now, here is the photo of the same little tree which volunteered over at my Mum's place, transplanted on an extreme heat wave weekend, which goes against all known Landscaping rules and it's more than flourishing. Again, I never even seriously expected this much. It really made my day when my sister posted this pic. One of my other biggest fears were all the gophers on this river bottom soil. This soil is so soft and delicate. It's a very soft fine sandy-loam. Water would percolate in that planting hole all day long if you allowed it to. It's just that porous. Sparklets Water Company is just the next property over across her street. They've been pumping water from this area for decades now, so there is definitely a wealth of water under here. Knowing that bit of info helps. That tree like many of the native large Cottonwoods on here property and others along that Creek, will no doubt reach the water table and then as far as height, the sky is the limit as to what this tree is capable of.

Pinterest Image

Musings from the Roost
Sycamores are amazing wildlife trees, especially for nesting. Take these hummingbird nests made of Sycamore leaf fuzz. Not only do they build nests within small twigs, but they commonly build on top of the seed balls. Tall majestic old growth sycamores are great for soaring birds like Eagles and Hawks which prefer to be well above everything else. Restoration projects of riparian woodlands should take adding Sycamores into restoration instead of always narrowly focussing on Cottonwood and willows. I have also previously written about the downstream issues of the San Diego River and the chocking Tamarisks which are clogging it and strangling the native vegetation. They are also a very real fire hazard as I have seen fires race through many thick and dense Tamarisk Bosques. Fortunately for Lakeside and Santee beyond, that 2003 Cedar Fire front had not reached the El Monte Valley floor along the San Diego River bottom where large dense stands of mature Tamarisk Bosque are just on the east side of Wildcat Canyon Road. Once in that dry river bottom among those nonnative invasives, it would have been like a Fire Freeway all the way towards Santee. The Hwy 67 would have been no real barrier as the fire would have blown under it. At that point even southern end of Eucalyptus Hills would have been in danger. And I'm still amazed they halted it from that area. River bottom clean up and eradication would be the toughest job, but the replanting of Native Riparian Woodlands would be the easy part and the quick returns or rewards wouldn't have to be necessarily decades away as I've shown at this post of my mother's yard transformation in 7+ years -
Wildlife Habitat transformation in my Mum's front and backyards 
Lessons Learned from the Bajadas (Alluvial Fans)  
Restoring Southern California Riparian Ecosystems
Best wishes on Your restoration projects!


  1. Hi I just love this blog. I run my own blog antediluvian salad in which I muse about and discuss Mesozoic ecosystems. I am currently looking closely at how some elements of chaparral may prove analogous to how Mesozoic plant communities functioned. I would like to ask you further about the role of groundcover, such as Bigelow's spike moss, in water balance and also I remember reading about how certain deep rooted plants bring up water for all to benefit from. I could not find your email however.
    Duane Nash at duanen@gmail.com
    also are you aware of the growing body of evidence pointing to beaver being native to southern CA and how reintroduction may do wonders for socal riparian waterways.

    Anyways hope to hear from you

    1. Hi Dwane

      The Bigelow Moss has drought or dry season dormancy. Like any other Moss it will spring back to life with either winter rains or summer monsoons. I'm sure it's everywhere, but where I can be visibly more pronounced is on those south facing mountain slopes of San Jacinto River Canyon where it actually creates wonderful miniature terraced patterns in between the Chamise. Bot working together are surprisingly strong erosion control. I'm actually going to do another post on that in the future. Incredibly, and I wished I'd photographed some examples of it, single California Holly (Toyon) specimens dot the south facing slopes in between the Chamise, though I can understand why many would miss them, they are smaller shrubs, still, not exactly something you'd expect.

      The beaver thing you mention is interesting because I have always thought they were native despite some of the idiocy by government agencies to get rid of them. I'm going to mention this in my Juan Bautista de Anza Trek Post. I know they are native to the Colorado River. With ancient Lake Cahuilla being so massive and a giant fresh water basin (not Salt), also given the fact that many western stream course tributaries made their way from from the mountains west of Lake Cahuilla, why wouldn't they have migrated up to those mountains anyway, They also at times, travel short distances over land. Pocket Gophers will do the same. Folks think they always move by means of tunnel, like the beaver water ribbons, and yet I've seed them run across roads at night or day time to find new locations.

      Thanks for stopping by. How did you find the blog here ?


    2. One more thing on the Beaver. I remember when the fish and wildlife service came into Lake Skinner and trapped and /or killed the beaver at the east end of that lake which was rich in Riparian habitat. They insisted the beaver were never native and that they were destroying Least Bell's Vireo habitat. Because Least Bell's needs willows in order to survive. The stupid thing is, Beavers actually create more riparian habitat than there was previously. So many things are done based on flawed outdated material.

  2. I found your blog because I am researching how pteridophyte dominated, semi-arid, Mesozoic dinosaur ecosystems functioned . I have been looking at chaparral as perhaps offering a model as to how such plant biomes functioned. I am looking at it this way: these "fern prairies" existed in lieu of grasslands with the assistance of an insulating blanket of moss/lycophytes/isoetales/lichens/soil crusts and "mother trees/plants" would have provided the hydraulic uplift from deeper in the water table that helped support them. Perhaps the mother plants were various gnetales, cycads, or conifers- the fossil data is limited. I have come across reference to Welwitschia having 30 m taproots!!!

    I had not previously heard of hydraulic uplift or spikemoss acting as water redistribution agents so thanks for that info. BTW any published reports of Bigelow acting in this water saving capacity you can refer me too?

    There is actually a paper called Management by Assertion discrediting the Skinner Lake beaver control methods. A researcher named Rick Lanman is currently submitting a manuscript for publication proving that beaver were always native to Ventura/Santa Barbara counties and most likely all of socal. He has thoroughly updated many of the wiki entries on socal streams/rivers you can check out such as Sespe, Santa Ynez, pretty much any reference to beaver you find in socal watersheds he wrote. I highly recommend the wiki entry California Fur Rush as this lays it all out how the beaver was so quickly eradicated here and subsequently labelled as invasive. The more you research beaver the more sense it makes to responsibly reintroduce them here for riparian health. I probably went on too long but feel free to email me and/or check out my blog antediluvian salad and I will be starting a blog on beavers in socal shortly as well,

    Duane Nash

    1. Beavers cause water to slooooow way down as opposed to rushing to the ocean. Only humans have channeled former meandering waterways to facilitate their obsession with various business ventures. Temecula always had Beaver as far as I can remember and the flood control people hated them, Interestingly, while they did build dams behind and south of Old Town Tememcula, they also had dug our nesting holes and tunnels in the Temecula Creek stream banks. That's way they never washed away during those mega-floods from the 1980 and early 90s. The stream course behind Lake Henshaw at Boy Scout Camp Mataguay always had beavers, as well as the San Luis Rey River west of Lake Henshaw. But I'm convinced their origins would have come from the Colorado River which at the very least would have had Sonoran Beaver.


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