Saturday, August 30, 2014

Creating Chaparral Alcoves in your Landscape for personal regeneration & meditation retreats

We are also including here such other important descriptive terms such as Chaparral Tunnels, Chaparral Caves, Chaparral Hidden Glens
Image: Californtia Chaparral Institute

From the very first time I gazed at this photograph, I fell love with it. It's mesmerizing and addicting. You just want to step into this place and escape from the outside world even if it's momentarily. It's one of those poster child pictures which would have been recreated onto one of those 1970s popular wall paper murals with a Lava Lamp sitting on a rustic knotty pine end table as part of the decor. But the tangle of biological plumbing/electrical networked infrastructure of the branches above ground and rooting infrastructure below ground all working with cooperative precision and perform all manner of hydraulic life and redistribution or hydraulic descent during the  winter months is just how nature's ecosystems run. People who are clever & intuitive enough to find these old ancient Chaparral Alcoves can experience the exact same energizing natural effects which can be illustrated in a rather unusual way by the re-energizing alcoves that only a mythical Borg could appreciate. Surely you remember the Borg ? However in real life, experiencing the negative ions given off from wet vegetation along with inhaling the various plant aerosols can have exactly that same effect on a human being. It's energizing! Couple that with the informational visual content being transmitted through your eye lens taking in the surrounding beauty [which is the rule in nature & not the exception] and being processed along with all other information coming in through other sense of smell and hearing, the effect can be truly energizing in a real true sense.

Now to the point of this post. I love patterns in Nature, especially artistic natural patterns. I love how they make you feel once you discover and experience them. When I was a little kid, exploring chaparral alcoves and/or tunnels was easier, I was smaller. Gradually I experienced such features near beaches and city parks where the municipal landscapers created such decorative twisting features within their maintained landscapes, but did so with exotic plants. A fine example of this is to visit Pepper Grove at the southern end of Balboa Park in San Diego where they have maintained a twisted grove of Brazilian Pepper trees into a children's playground wonderland and picnic area. Google "Pepper Grove Balboa Park"  and you'll see what I mean. Later during the Southern California wet El Nino event period between 1978-1984 many traditionally dry washes and gulches within the chaparral plant community came alive with babbling brooks of water often running all year long. What made me explore some of these when I was out and about in the bush was the distant sound of water trickles and many times small waterfalls. What I noticed was the beauty of the tangled web or network of various chaparral branches. Often such tangle would open up within these hidden glens revealing a secret location where you could even stand. Such places gave me the idea for replicating such hidden spots by recreating them in the landscape. The twisted tree in the photo to the upper right here is at the beach at La Jolla Shores near San Diego.

Image Mine -  San Diego La Jolla Shores, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
One of my goals on this 2014 trip to California was to photograph such places with their twisted interesting forms from which creative ideas and plans could come to the surface on how to replicate these in the landscapes of Southern California as decorative features, but with native chaparral shrubs and small trees. The chaparral is actually a more perfect fit. They also are more adapted to the drier climate than many of the water loving exotics used instead. For me the use of Brazilian Pepper would be more of a maintenance issue because of it's habit of continual growth and trimming of suckers. True, some chaparral in the beginning may sucker a bit when attempting to recreate a multi-trunk small tree, but with age even that would taper off. When we went up to Monterey to travel south on the Cabrillo Hwy to San Luis Obispo, we did make one stop in Carmel-by-the-Sea and I photographed some examples of the twisting native oaks most people there have in their landscapes. Take note of the gallery below.

Image Mine: Carmel-by-the-Sea neighborhood

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea California

Carmel-by-the-Sea Monterey Cypress
Many of the neighbourhoods up north that I have seen first hand do incorporate many more of the natives as compared to SoCal, however you will find them in older sections of towns and cities down in Southern California if go go for a Sunday drive. But this is true of most older neighbourhoods in all cities within California. These were among the first plants chosen for decor around one's personal space in the garden in the early pioneer days. But sadly, this understanding of California native plants became lost as more and more exotics were introduced and the fact that introduction often came from human beings migrating in from other lands and cultures who brought over homeland favourites from their former countries. But now with the severe drought and water crisis effecting the southwestern United States in general, many are taking a fresher look at working with the native plants in their respective regions. But more should be done than mere placement of plants along hardscaped outlines. Using such plants should be done in creating artistic & aesthetically eye appeal and senses pleasing settings. These are the same settings you stumble upon when venturing out into the wildscape. While there are many 1000s of natives, there are only a few main types of shrubs that I find  that can be turned into ideal small tree form examples. I say shrubs because as time goes on, more and more landscapes in the modern day housing tracts constructed by today's developers are forcing more and more homes onto smaller lots. There is no longer any room for those large majestic trees. As you can see from the photo of the Monterey Cypress in the above right, even when lots were larger in the past, today just a few decades later such trees have come into confrontation with Utility Giants and their precious above ground infrastructure. At this late date, these scenes have become very common place. Most of the utility right-of-ways are above ground over in the United States, unlike much of modern Europe which has chosen to put such infrastructure under the ground, which is not only aesthetically more pleasing, but also less safety hazard as in windstorms and the wildfire ignition danger potential.

Laurel Sumac, Rattlesnake Mountain, El Cajon CA

The photo above was taken this year at my friend's home who lives backed up against Rattlesnake Mountain. This large Laurel Sumac chaparral shrub has been there since the 1960s back when I remember it as a kid growing up. Under normal rainfall patterns which are now almost nonexistent, the foliage is generally much more dense and heavier. But you can see the beautiful branching pattern and structure for a potential addition into any landscape. I had the privilege to witness a volunteer Laurel Sumac at my Mum's places years back before moving here to Sweden. You can it here at the left side yard of her house here. Unfortunately the neighbour at the concrete paved property on the left hated the small chaparral shrub and insisted it was going to turn into massive tree whose roots would crack and destroy his concrete block wall and he warned there would be lawsuits if it wasn't removed. My mother caved [only after I left] and it was taken out. But even from this vantage point, you can see that it poses no problems and at best is only a small tree created by pruning for multi-trunk form. We also never once watered this Chaparral Elfin tree, it was never necessary. All water came from Seasonal rains. Still, this tree is rarely used or thought of for this purpose by even those who purchase natives. This is reflected by the fact that even native plant nurseries rarely carry it. But it's a gem of a chaparral tree when incorporated among other chaparral.

Image Mine: Ranchita California, Sugarbush (Rhus ovata)
Sugarbush is one of the favourites for people living in the backcountry. This one in the above photo is in Ranchita California on the road to my brother's place. Many of his neighbours have beautiful mature ones in and around their patio and Bar-B-Q areas where friends and family can enjoy a meal and pleasant relaxed association with each other. These also grow very well down below in the interior valleys away from the coastal areas where they can take exceptional heat as long as they have deep access to moisture in the subsoil. I've planted one in my mother's backyard along with another perfect chaparral shrub called Lemonade Berry. Both are on the southern side of her California Sycamore trees and will eventually provide a perfect privacy screen and tunnel along the pathway leading further to the back. I've also planted Toyon or California Holly which also is a perfect example of a chaparral which can be deep rooted and shaped into a multitrunk small tree. All three of these chaparral also provide good sources for food at different times of year through their flowering period and fruit berry production time which makes them wildlife magnets. 

Below is a project I am working on each year in the front yard. I'm creating more of a Native Fan Palm Oasis of sorts in the background here away from the driveway with smaller shrubs [some native - others not] to buffer the palms and add colourful border at the front. In the far background behind the palms is a lawn which is coming out and will be replaced by a secret hidden away chaparral alcove which will be slightly etched or excavated into the sloping landscape creating an oval circular arrangement of seating and relaxation under a central planter which will be installed next year and planted with some of the more high desert chaparral to match the Oasis theme better. Believe it or not, SoCal deserts do have Sugarbush, Hollyleaf Cherry and Desert Apricot in and around many of the native California Fan Palm habitats, often growing within or right next to the Fan Palms themselves. If you look to the far right in the photo below, you'll notice a dense hedge of low growing Juniper which my mother put in years ago which screens out the insanity of school traffic across the street multiple times a day. You can also use chaparral in this respect as a formal hedge if you wish, as the example above left of the Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifiolia) being shaped into formal hedge row. California Coffeeberry can also be used this was as I've written about previously. Surprise yourself by having fun experimenting with other ways of substituting some chaparral plants with unique characteristics you thought only the exotics provided.

Photo Mine: Across the street from Pepper Drive School in El Cajon California

Photo Mine
The palm here above behind the Baja Fairyduster is actually a Mexican Fan Palm. On my whole two month stay here I could find only one California Fan Palm which is mostly what I wanted, but alas, I settled for these. The California Fan Palm I did find is already planted just behind that black plastic border along the lawn in the photo at left. It may be difficult to see in the upper left of this photo, but it's there. That lawn of course will come out. I wanted California Palms because their trunks are much bigger and they are slower growing, but bigger broader palm frond canopy. The Meixcan Fan Palms are much more faster growing, but messier to me and get so high that they are very expensive to maintain because you need to hire a professional. The problem is most people want instant landscape and don't have the patience to wait, which really is not that much more time if you know how to make the California Fan Palms happy. A Mexican Fan Palm was already there in the landscape anyway since 8 years back. This one I chose deliberately because of the small pup growing on the side. Palms do this in nature just as the chaparral creates beautiful interesting twisting patterns. I wanted a more natural look anyway as opposed to smooth organized lines common with the majority of landscaping designs. The other surprising wildlife magnet which I had not known before was the Baja Fairyduster in the above photo at the right side of the picture. 

Photo Mine
I was pleasantly surprised one morning when I came out to the front yard to sit along the wall to enjoy my coffee, to hear all the various collection of humming sounds coming from the Baja Fairyduster. Every type of winged insect from Bees to Wasps, every kind of Fly, even Mosquitos and of course Hummingbirds and butterfiles. But it's all those tiny little small predatory wasps which most people mistakenly take for flies and no doubt have killed in ignorance, that I was more interested in. Attracting these guys to your yard will mean you'll have less predatory larva and caterpillars munching your landscape and garden vegetables. They lay their eggs on the caterpillars or if large enough, they capture and stun such garden enemies and take them back to nests they've created either under roof eaves or borrows dug in the ground where there they lay their eggs and seal off the entrance. Knowing such things and how an entire landscape can be both aesthetically pleasing and mechanized in a checks and balances sense will go a long way in helping educate you as to how unnecessary many of the Industrial Science products such as pesticides truly are. The problem though is that they literally own the marketing education on this subject and they've had a monopoly which is backed with massive amounts of money which even goes as far as influencing school textbooks from elementary school right up to the college level. But people can remove themselves from all of that and re-educate themselves and even do their own experimenting within the landscape. 

Sunset Gardening landscape pathways
The main idea behind this post is that you can build into your landscape these amazing Chaparral Alcoves for quiet time which can create such blissful experiences before and after work. Get into the habit of taking time out for yourself on a daily basis in your wild landscape, whether through reading a good book [please dump the electronic devices], meditative relaxation, daily prayer, or just a walk in the open air around your garden chaparral tunnel pathways if you've got the space for them. This will help you feel calmer and more at peace with yourself from the world outside. Order yourself to take a time out which will force you to see the bigger picture and can prevent you from letting the daily stressers of life get you down. Even if it's just sitting in your garden hideaway for a mere 15 minutes a day, that quiet time can help transform your state of mind and assist you in retaining control over your life. There are no cybernetic implants are required here for regeneration. You have all the natural senses of sight, sound and smell necessary for regeneration when the world outside drains you of vital energies. So go ahead and create an award winning Sunset Gardening magazine hideaway landscape alcove or pathway, just do it with Chaparral.

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 104F+ (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 ideal 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.
Importance of understanding what happens with Soil Temperature & the effects heat has on a Plant's Root System

  • At 140 degrees, much soil bacteria & beneficial fungi can die
  • At 130 degrees 100% moisture lost through evaporation and transpiration
  • At 100 degrees, 15% moisture is used for growth, 85% moisture lost through evaporation and transpiration
  • At 70 degrees, 100% moisture is used for growth

So recapping, cool soil around the rootsystem is imperative. Does matter what the surrounding air temperature is, bare soil will heat up with an intensity above what the weather records as temp in the shade. I discovered which back in the 1980s when outplanting in the wild areas of my acreage in the San Jacinto Mountains that the pines that were planted in open bare soil struggled and pull all energy reserves and moisture into just surviving, even when watered regularly. However pines with generous mulch kept soil moist and very kool even where temps above ground were 100F+ or 40C+. The plants with cool roots exhibited long central leader and future branch bud growths, some like my Torrey Pines put on a foot of central leader growth and with no watering. Bare ground with periodic watering had nothing. So my wild planted trees, initially inoculated at time of planting with mycorrhizae and mulched heavily 3 foot around plants outperformed forestry planted seedlings same size in Garner Valley 500 foot higher in elevation, no mycorrhizal inoculation, no mulch applied, and with weekly watering during summer with small tractor pulling water trailer were stunted by comparison to mine with no supplemental watering other than a monsoon thunderstorm. Experiences like this get burned into your memory and you'll never forget.

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.
 UPDATE: 2016
Foothill Pines (Pinus sabiniana) two year successive growth in remote planting
Here is first season's growth in summer of 2015 which is maybe six inches
Image mine from 2015
Well, here is the following year. Take note of original height which was at the central leader branch buds whorl. The new growth is above this. No real supplemental water other than once a week, then once a month after planting in the summer of 2014. After that winter rains. Take note, this tree did growth another 6 inches this same year after I took this photo, mainly in central leader and branch whorl bude growth.
Here is the 2nd year's growth which seem's to have more than doubled in height. 
Photo mine from 2016
Here is the summer of 2016 almost two years after remote planting and in the heart of California mega-drought. Much much greater growth and branching and again with summer 100F+ (40C+) planting, inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi (Pisolithus tinctorius) & mulched with wood chips. Elevation 4000' in Southern California. Never underestimate the value of mulch. Also take note of the Scrub Oak it was planted next two. This tree became more vigorous after this pine's planting and inoculation with Pisolithus tinctorius. This is the umteenth time I have experienced first hand a old stunted scrub oak explode vigorously in new healthy growth after pine inoculation with spores from this symbiotic truffle.
Photo mine from 2015
This species of truffle does extremely well in very warm or hot climates. It has interconnected the Pinus sabiniana with the Scrub Oak now and will continue to reach out and acquire other preferred hosts greating an extensive interconnected network in which all plants will benefit.
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!

Contrary to false religious doctrines by the modern Scientific Orthodoxy, FIRE is not the grand creator of life on Earth
Image - Tormod Sandtorv (Smithsonian Magazine)

Image -  WBTW
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.

image USGS , Grizzly eating Limber Pine Nuts
Well well well, so Mission Manzanita seedlings didn't need fire to germinate after all ? 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. Although no Grizzlies exist in San Diego, they do have Coyotes which are known to eat Manzanita berries. The 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 at El Toro Peak 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. But perhaps California Grizzly Bears did eat Mission Manzanita Berries over a century ago which helped that coastal shrub regenerate. 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 this  mystic insistence that fire is needed 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. This tree always had issues with this weevil, but not overly so. 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 along it's branches where it actually resulted in a more thicker denser foliage than it previously did. Sometimes I wonder if there are other things going on under the ground creating the same scenario. Hmmm ?

Photos courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Southwestern Region
This 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 belief 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 not so ancient Megafauna which were killed by indigenous North America tribal peoples most likely played the biggest rle. Plants and animals need more interactions for the benefit of each other. 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.