|animation: Beatrice the Biologist|
|Image: Torrey Pines State Reserve Park Rd|
|image: Torrey Pines State Preserve Park Rd|
|image: Torrey Pines State Reserve Park Rd|
I was also further amazed by something I found regarding California Fan Palms this past weekend west of Ocotillo California in a canyon between Dos Cabezas Springs and Mortero Palms Oasis. To be honest, I never really paid much attention when it came to Fan Palm root structure and viewed their network as something which never strayed far from the tree. I mean after all, they always seem to be located near springs or seeps which run close to the surface. But I again stumbled upon something interesting again and in a location most hikers normally avoid or pay little attention to. The parking area for setting out on the long strenuous hike to Mortero Palms Oasis is in a separate canyon from that of the Oasis, but up that canyon there 5 or 6 good medium sized California Fan Palms along with smaller ones. There does also exist an older fallen log of a grand daddy which I can tell you has been there for years. The dry hot desert air tends to mummify wooden things in a sort of preservation phenomena. But aside from the usual placement of the odd palm here and there, it was the root system with in the area's fractured granite rock strata which actually caught my eye. First off, there was this one interesting fan Palm which was the first palm you come to climbing up the wash. Everything looked pretty much normal until you squeezed around to the back behind it. This is where I started paying attention once again to the ground and the network of root systems. Take a look at the photo below here where all is not what it seems from a visual perspective
This California Fan Palm was intriguing for one particular reason. I actually had to squeeze by this granite boulder here where I saw an interesting growth anomaly which took place decades back history where flood waters had knocked this tree down flat on the wash bottom as a youth, but through gravitropism it was able thereafter to right itself back up where from a frontal view looks perfectly normal and opposite in the back door. Nothing out in the wild can be attributed to ideal conditions. Everything is a tough struggle with some slight ideal conditions which allow for the success and survival. Of course in the urban landscape, things can be ideal, but understanding the mechanisms by which things succeed out in the wild will enable you to establish a landscape which will be more likely to flourish on it's own, especially during times of water availability and uncertainty. This is the goal that should be sought after anyway under any conditions. A landscape developed and maintained on a life support scenario, otherwise known as welfare, will not survive such tough times. The degradation of 75% of Southern California yards is proof that something has to change.
For the moment, take a look at this Fan Palm to the right. This tree was at the top of a rocky outcropping higher in the wash with it's roots extending downwards and also broadly running in a side pattern horizontally almost 15 feet away from the base of the tree. As solid as the granite bedrock was, it had numerous fracture lines running vertically as well as horizontally. This is where these delicate, yet tough fan palm roots found a conduit channel for seeking out further water seepage. I never though the roots ever went that far away from the tree and actually they went further beyond down the wash, but these pictures are of what I could verify on the surface. I have no real idea of how deep a setting the Fan Palm roots will venture. It would seem however they may go some feet in deep sandy wash type soils where aeration is exceptional. Given their presence in washes with regular flash flooding and debris sediment movements, I have seen some which have been buried far above their normal root line. Also there is the fact that many in a sheltered landscape setting, as they age and mature do start showing the protrusion of roots growing down from the trunk a foot or two above the ground level higher up on the trunk base. So who knows what the possibilities of actual depth with which could be obtained by these trees as long as there is good healthy aeration.
Below here is one final photo. This is the bottom of the canyon where the wash opens up and fans out in the alluvial plan. This is a specimen of Holly Leaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia). Most of you won't believe this, but this particular old chaparral plant was present in the late 1960s when I first ventured here as a Boy scout. It is also a fascinating phenomena considering it's placement in the wild landscape. This area is extremely hot and dry, often well over 100 F or 40+ C. It's root infrastructure is clearly tapped into a permanent water source. It's the only Holly Leaf Cherry I have ever found near here and mostly likely was placed here by means of Coyote scat as opposed to being washed downstream. The placement above the wash may support this. The main point here is this chaparral species and the giant Sugarbush (Rhus ovata) in the next wash over can succeed in harsh climates given access to regular water. This is why natives should be used more often in the landscapes where as time pants on to the end, survival is becoming more and more of an issue than at any time previously.
The chaparral everywhere here was suffering terribly and sadly it will be blamed when a disastrous wildfire strikes and it will, trust me. This should also be a wake-up call to home owners whose landscapes are in horrible condition and I say this from first hand on the ground observation. While the incredible amazing root infrastructure is all still there and in existence within all the plant communities, it means nothing without a normal rainfall pattern coming back again.
There were many stressed Torrey Pines, especially on the highest points where annual needle bundles located along the yearly growth whorls were from this years growth and that of last year. Most healthy pines in general should have as far back as six year's needle growth still present. The fact that these trees here exhibited only two or three years at best proves the stress they are under as they eliminate what they are incapable of maintaining. Armed with this knowledge, folks should inspect their own home landscape and be observant to the tell tale signs of a weakening system within their landscape. This is one of the main problems with the recent San Marcos Fire last month where News Helicopters revealed many neglected stressed or outright dead trees in their landscape which caused a greater firestorm. Although the State Park by it's very rules won't allow trimming of branches and dead material, in the interest of the park as a whole, something of a maintenance plan should be devised. There should be a rethinking of all Park and Wilderness rules where the conditions of climate and ecosystem health under which those rules originally formulated do not any longer exist. The conditions and rules by which Nature once operated no longer exist and humankind changed the rules.
Further Reading Interest: