November 2010 was marked by our first road trip through the Great Basin region of Utah and Nevada. For the Thanksgiving holiday we rented a vacation home in the Pinyon-Juniper woodlands outside of Cedar City, Utah.
The home offers dog-friendly trails among cedars (Juniperus osteosperma) and piñons (Pinus edulis), which we enjoyed with a fresh, cold snowfall at our elevation of 6,000+ feet.
These two tree species and their companion shrubs form low, wind-twisted, sun-hardened canopies, and grow in what sometimes appears to be 90% rock.
Shaggy-barked Utah juniper is known locally as a cedar, and is the namesake of Cedar City in southwest Utah. The bright blue-red berries are in fact the fibrous cones and an important food source for local wildlife. A fresh lick of white snow makes blues, reds, and greens shine bright against the sky.
Piñon, as I learned from locals, are harvested for pine nuts by members of the community to be sold on the commercial market. (How often have you thought about the effort that goes into that little packet of pine nuts from the grocery?)
There is a bit of plant lore available for cedars here, and piñon here. I would like to know more of the local stories about these trees, and I plan to do additional reading. (Future blog posts will include a list of the books which I collected at info stops during the road trip.) If you have a resource suggestion for southwest Utah plant lore, I invite you to share in the comments.
The cedar-piñon canopy is low and somewhat fragmented, which makes for a fun tree-fort-like forest. Clumps of trees form dense, shady stands which you’d have to belly-crawl to explore beneath. At the highest point on the trail lives the queen of the hill:
She presides over 360-degree views of the Great Basin rhythm where mountain follows valley in successive, colorful symphonies. The more time I spent in this region, the more I felt a growing (and welcome) sense of quiet. The Great Basin is a good setting to empty oneself and prepare to be receptive to new thoughts or projects.
We saw a lot of snow and drove a lot of ice during this trip, including a “blizzard-like” event in Cedar City, complete with blowing, swirling snow. Morning snow track reports revealed the nightly comings and goings of jackrabbit, deer, elk, raccoon, and a feline, although I doubt I was lucky enough to be tracking a lynx. (Note to self: must improve track identification skills).
I caught a few glimpses of jackrabbits which makes me believe that the locals were the black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus Californicus), but I cannot be sure. In fact, had I known at the time that many hares turn white in winter, I might have had better luck spotting them! (The hawks clearly knew what was what, as we saw many hunting from the highway, plus one dino-sized bird, the identity of which remains a mystery).
Blog about trees and send your links for the next issue of the Festival of the Trees, hosted by Rebecca in the Woods. We’re looking for hosts from June forward. Got a blog and an interest in trees? Volunteer to host an issue of the Festival and grow a graft to your community of bloggers. Hosts from all disciplines and persuasions are welcome, as are fresh takes on trees and forests.
Plant geeks, high thee hence for botanical bounties à la Berry Go Round 37, courtesy of returning host The Phytophactor. (PS – Berry Go Round has open slots for hosts in 2011 as well. Volunteer your blog and your plant prowess!)
Forthcoming at Brainripples: more Utah road trip reports in coming weeks, some look backs at the 2010 garden, and satisfying book recommendations.
Greetings and Welcome to Berry Go Round #30, the blog carnival which celebrates all things botanical!
Kind thanks to the coordinators from Seeds Aside and A Neotropical Savanna for inviting me to host BGR. This month’s submissions hail from many blogs that I do not normally frequent, which has made this issue a delight to compose.
Fortunately for all of us, there are many smart people online writing about what they know, and today we get to hear from people who know plants. This issue represents scientists, hobbyists, artists, educators, botanists, writers, gardeners, forest dwellers, outdoor enthusiasts, and the rainbow of curious among us.
I sense that these bloggers share a common hope, will, desire, impetus perhaps, to help all us homo sapiens reconnect ourselves with the earth’s systems in a very basic way: through dirt, and wind, and green things, and things that go raaaawwwrrrr.
I invite you to spend the month exploring these articles, and to give yourself a chance to read every one.
Note: Whereas some botanists, paleobotanists, and geeks of their ilk seem to share a general nerdy love of intellectual discussion occasionally punctuated with expletives and sexual innuendo, I’ll offer a blanket PG-13 rating to this month’s carnival.
Our first peek is for the orchid lovers out there (of which I am but one of countless hopeful amateurs). Mr_Subjunctive of Plants are the Strangest People shares Geneticist (Phalaenopsis cvv.), Part I, a fun and insightful discussion about why there aren’t many yellow- and red-flowering Phalaenopsis varieties. Mr_Subjunctive gives us enough background and peripheral knowledge to make the discussion relevant and understandable, while keeping us entertained with the facts of life, and a smattering of speculative footnotes ranging from tetraploid humans to bananapocalypse. There’s plenty more at this blog to whet any cultivator’s appetite, so be sure to poke around the pages.
Elaine Medline of Memorizing Nature waxes whimsical with wildflowers including Daisy (Asteraceae), Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), buttercups (Ranunculus), blackberries (Rubus), strawberries (Fragaria), and thistles (Cirsium) in Beauty in the Ditch. Her prose reminds us to keep our minds and senses open to the unexpected – good advice for scientists and artists alike. Wander around and read her other recent musings on turtles (Testudines), honey bees (Apis), bulrushes (sedges, Typha I believe), and Canadian geese (Branta canadensis).
Speaking of sedges, from the New York Flora Association Blog I was delighted to get a look at numerous rare plants shared by Steve Young of the NY Natural Heritage Program, including white-edge sedge (Carex debilis var. debilis), and sticky sundew (Drosera filiformis) which I heretofore have known only from fairy tales.
This seems like the perfect time to share a little about the Sustainable Prisons Project, a partnership of the Washington State Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College. The Sustainable Prisons Project found its roots when my friend/mentor Dr. Nalini Nadkarni got it in her head to work with prisoners to experiment with cultivating mosses for use in the floral industry (wild harvesting of mosses takes a heavy toll on Northwest forests). Take a look at their mission statement:
Our mission is to reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices. Equally important, we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners.
Talk about positive intersections of plants and people! Read the stories, take a look at their accomplishments, and if you need a starting point I suggest that you visit the blog to hear journal entries from Graduate Student Carl Ellot in Growing Plants and Potential: Stafford Creek Nursery Project. [Note: If you’re a scientist looking for similar opportunities to make meaningful connections with the public, I recommend another one of Nalini’s branch projects, the Research Ambassador Program.]
Now let us wander to the foothills of the Ozark Highlands where research entomologist Ted C. MacRae of Beetles in the Bush shares the Friday Flower – Dwarf Spiderwort, also known as a wild crocus. Ted offers exquisite images of the shy Tradescantia longipes, including details on where and how it grows and the tricks it seems to use to attract insect pollinators in the absence of nectar. Needless to add, Ted has a wealth of information available on beetles to satisfy your every inquiry.
This month I enjoyed one of the many benefits of plant blogging: plant bloggers who are smarter than me. I blogged about the wild cones growing on a Christmas tree planted ten years ago, only to learn that the tree had been mislabeled, and I had never thought to double check its identity. Thanks to the keen eye and swift detective work of The Phytophactor, the tree has been correctly identified as a Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) and not a Blue spruce (Picea pungens). I invite you to visit The Phytophactor for the glorious Friday Fabulous Flower – Sacred Lotus, among other thought-provoking blog posts.
Sarcozona of Gravity’s Rainbow gives us a unique glimpse at a pretty sanded cross-section of pinyon pine bark and core. Also recommended by Sarcozona: from the DISCOVER Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, an article describing how Mosses use explosive cannons and mushroom clouds to spread their spores. This is a fascinating article revealing how peat moss (Sphagnum), apparently one of the more common plants on earth, employs spore cannons to propel precious genetic material high enough into the ether (a whopping 10 centimeters) in a sort of ‘vortex ring’ so as to be caught and carried by air currents for the furtherance of the species.
Take a break from reading and visit Greg Laden’s blog on ScienceBlogs for the eye candy tour of Plants = Love at Coon Rapids Dam East. Shown here are wildflowers from a prairie ecological restoration project just downstream from Coon Rapids Dam on the east side of the Mississippi River. As reflected in the comments, it’s easy to spot one or two invasives which have wiggled their way among the many gorgeous intentional plantings, but speaking as a gardener, I’ve learned that one must forge a sort of ruthless persistence balanced by an acquiescent peace with the invasives. Face it – a lot of invasive plants are really pretty, really fragrant, and really easy to grow, (*cough* Buddleia davidii *cough*).
Also from Greg Laden, Nature Stinks, a discussion about the notorious corpse plant (Amorphophallus titanium), aka “Big Giant Formless Penis,” which as he aptly describes is a popular yet stinky specimen found in many botanical gardens, (not excluding the University of Washington’s “Waldo,” recently on view at Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory on Capitol Hill).
Greg next submitted “How to Become a Yucca Moth”: An interview with researcher Jeremy Yoder by Chris Clarke of Coyote Crossing. I’m including this piece because of how nicely it shows the interrelationships between people, biota, and landscape and connects each of us to these peculiar trees. Before the interview, Chris gives us a quick synopsis of Joshua trees’ mutualism with two species of moths:
“Tegeticula synthetica (which works with the western population of trees, these days dubbed subspecies Yucca brevifolia brevifolia) and Tegeticula antithetica (the partner of the eastern subspecies, Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana). The tree can’t reproduce without the moth, and the moth can’t reproduce without the tree.”
Stepping out of the wilderness and into agribusiness, Jeremy Cherfas submits posts from the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog written with compadre Luigi Guarino. These articles discuss agricultural trends, plant domestication, and the tricky business of reconstructing the evolutionary past of important staple crops. First, we explore some arguments (and counterarguments) on discussions which pitch organic agriculture against industrial agriculture.
Next, we hear about the challenges in peasant agriculture with Detoxifying Cassava. I like the way Jeremy and Luigi tend to discuss issues from several different perspectives – take some time to read through this article and ponder what it means to say, “This crop needs peace.”
In Looking for leimotifs in the early history of wheat and rice, we are all welcomed to the rich archaeobotanical table heaped with mystery, complexity, and more than a modicum of wonder. As in, I wonder how many of us think regularly about the long-reaching relationships between homo sapiens and so many species of plants? I really appreciate how these two bloggers manage to distill big ideas into meaningful discussions for all us lay-folk.
JSK from Anybody Seen My Focus? shares the lovely Pale Beardtongue or Eastern White Beardtongue (Penstemon pallidus) wildflowers, complete with photos captured at Fort Yargo State Park. Meanwhile TGIQ of Fall To Climb gives us an up-close-and-personal glimpse at the deceptively humble carnivore, common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris).
And Sandy Steinman at Natural History Wanderings gives us a lovely slide show revealing Very Tiny Wildflowers of White Mt. and Mono Lake Areas.
This month from Seeds Aside we get a good look at lasagna garden beds – a gardening method which builds beds with many thin layers organic matter. We see healthy cucurbits, tomatoes, and… potatoes sprouting in this soil experiment (hop over and play “Name that strain”). After picking up a copy of The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, I too have learned to adopt a similarly practical gardening approach and can speak to its success. Seeds Aside also suggests Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza.
At A Neotropical Savanna Mary Farmer brings us Cissus the Scrambler, documenting the careful plant identification process one step at a time. First, the vine is distinguished by the leaves (alternate and compound), and is determined as a member of the Vitaceae family with the aid of the tendrils. For anyone new to botany and plant identification, I’d like to point out Mary Farmer’s Plant Article resources from Learn Plants Now, including 19 Basic Botanical Terms.
I see clouds moving in, which means it’s time to visit fellow Pacific Northwest resident Mike of The Slugyard. This month I wrote The Makings of Good Tree Forts, in which I mention the use of creeping plants or long grasses to lash and bind sticks. And as serendipity would have it, Mike blogged about the plant I knew from my youth by the neighborhood-kid-appellation “stickyweed” (we had a few similarly unscientific names which basically referred to its all-purpose function as a playtime binding agent). In Cleavers sticks to you, Mike gives a name and references one of my personal favorite identification books for these parts, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, to tell us more about this clingy little creeper. Thanks, Mike, for matching a name to a fond plant memory.
Head over for a visit with Watcher at Watching the World Wake Up for Idaho Vacation Part 2: The Weird Flowers of the Lochsa Valley. If you stopped by Watcher’s place while reading BGR 29, you may have already read Idaho Vacation Part 1: Trampy Flowers, Running Bears and Glacial Moraines. Look for follow-ups in Fat, Low & Orange: Catch-Up, Corrections and Filler.
Feel the thick, restive humidity of summer at Rock Paper Lizard, starting with Bee’s Work whereupon the magic of photographer and pollinator reveals the globe thistle (Echinops). Or sit back and regard The State of Things with Santolina, blue elderberry (Sambucus), and creeping Crassulaceae.
Naturally, there is a lot to see over at A Plant A Day, so I’ll conclude our issue with yet another pretty (albeit, poisonous) flower: Mountain Deathcamas-Zigadenus elegans of the lily family. I’m landing you here to drift off and peruse the pages for plenty more plant fun.
I want to thank everyone who submitted links, to nature bloggers everywhere, to the coordinators who keep this green blog carnival alive, and to all our readers. And with that, I’m off to play outside…
But wait — the fun doesn’t end here!
Everyone is invited to keep the celebration kicking this August 1st with issue 50 of The Festival of the Trees, themed especially to examine trees from from a kid’s-eye-view with host Roberta Gibson of the Growing With Science Blog. (Can you name her mystery seed of the week?)
Berry Go Round is always looking for volunteers to host future carnivals. To learn how to submit or volunteer to host, visit the coordinating blog.