anthropocenesketchbook: Regenerating coyotebrush and toyon in…

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016


Regenerating coyotebrush and toyon in Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve (California) after the Wragg Fire last July 2015.

I’m drawing Cold Canyon as it recovers from the fire, follow along at Wildfire to Wildflowers.

I’ll just say it: I love coyote brush.

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Rancho Monte Alegre, December 21, 2014 Like I’ve been…

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Rancho Monte Alegre, December 21, 2014

Like I’ve been doing for the last several years, I got permission to enter the private Rancho Monte Alegre parcel north of Carpinteria for the annual Christmas Bird Count this year. The count is next Saturday, December 27, but this afternoon I hiked in to scout the area beforehand.

I didn’t take a lot of photos, but above are a few things I noticed: The sun going down early over the Santa Barbara Channel, some Rhopalomyia californica galls in coyote brush, and tracks in the mud near a rainwater pool: a young skunk (I think? not sure if it was striped or spotted) and an adult mountain lion.

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Plants at the marsh I blogged previously about the California…

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Plants at the marsh

I blogged previously about the California Phenology Project, and how I’m keeping track of some plants at the Carpinteria salt marsh as part of it. I thought I’d share a quick update.

One of the tricky things about doing phenology in southern California is that our plants don’t follow the familiar four-season cycle that occurs in places like New England. New England plants are all about the temperature. Plants leaf out in the spring, grow through the summer, flower and fruit in the fall, then drop their leaves and become dormant for the winter.

In southern California, at least in the coastal zone where I live, temperature isn’t as big a factor. Precipitation is much more important. Almost all our rain falls in the winter and early spring, followed by a long, dry summer and fall. Coyote brush, one of the plants I’m tracking, has a particularly weird (by northeastern U.S. standards) growth calendar. It might start leafing out after a heavy winter rain, then just stop, with its leaves half-grown, until months later when it will have another spurt of vegetative growth.

It can be tricky distinguishing “young leaves” (which have a technical definition for phenology purposes) from older leaves, especially on a plant like coyote brush where new leaves can appear at any time. One thing that’s helped me is that a number of my plants had all their leaves eaten earlier this year during an outbreak of green leaf beetles, Trirhabda flavolimbata.

Back in May when I started the project, four of my six coyote brush plants had no leaves at all. Now, though, all four have started putting out new leaves. The first row of images above shows three of my study plants, the first two (plants #3 and #4 from the study) with newly emerged leaves. The third shot is of plant #6, one of the two plants in my study that didn’t get completely defoliated by the beetles. Plants #5 and #6 are off to one side of the study area, and though the beetles eventually made it that far they didn’t do as much damage to those plants. Now #6 has emerging flower buds, and I’ve learned something I didn’t know before: which gender it is.

Coyote brush is dioecious, meaning plants either have all male flowers or all female flowers. Or, as I explain it to the fourth graders who take the marsh tour sometimes, there are boy plants and girl plants.

Coyote brush #6 is a boy plant. The flower buds haven’t opened yet, but you can see that they have the rounded shape of male buds, rather than the pointed shape of female buds. Besides, the male flowers emerge first. All the coyote brush I’ve seen with flower buds at the marsh this year have been male plants. Over the next few weeks those buds will swell and open, revealing the yellow disks of the male flower. The female plants will flower soon after.

Plants flower throughout the year at the salt marsh, with different species flowering at different times. The coyote brush is just getting started, but another species, the chaparral mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus) is in full bloom. In some ways the late summer is my favorite time to lead the marsh docent tours, because I get to take people down the walk to the amphitheater when it is lined with the beautiful purple flowers of the chaparral mallow. The bottom two images above give you a sense of what that’s like, but the photos don’t do it justice. You have to be there to get the full effect.

I love those plants.

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Marsh phenology I’ve started collecting data on the timing of…

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Marsh phenology

I’ve started collecting data on the timing of events in the lives of various plants at the marsh. I submit the data online as part of the California Phenology Project, which itself is part of the National Phenology Network. I’ve selected 10 individual plants of 3 species, and now I watch them to see when they leaf, flower, drop their fruit, etc.

Six of the 10 plants are coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). I chose so many of them because I want to increase the chances that I end up with data from at least two plants of each sex, and I can’t tell the males from the females until they flower in the fall. Also, I just like them best.

The two coyote brush images above are not of one of my six phenology plants, but of another one nearby that has an interesting gall, a thickening of the plant’s stem caused by a fungus called Puccinia evadens. A few weeks ago I posted a picture of a “witch’s broom” produced by P. evadens, but that gall was old and dried out. The images above show an active gall, with lengthwise cracks filled with bright orange fungal spores.

The next row shows three images of my second species, blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra). The big plant in the first image, behind the interpretive sign, is the one I’ve labeled “blue elderberry 1” for data-collection purposes, and the second image is a spray of its flowers. The third image is a close up of blue elderberry 2, showing both flowers and some developing fruit.

The third species I’m monitoring is Rosa californica. The last row shows some of California rose 2’s flowers, as well as a close up of the rust fungus I wrote about previously, which grows on the underside of rose leaves and causes them to bend back on themselves.

I guess I’m turning into Egon from Ghostbusters, with his thing for spores, molds, and fungus. Can I help it if they’re cool?

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In which I see if I can make you nauseous via video of a geen…

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

In which I see if I can make you nauseous via video of a geen leaf beetle (Trirhabda flavolimbata) crawling around on a mostly-defoliated coyote brush plant (Baccharis pilularis) at the Carpinteria salt marsh. The beetles have been having an outbreak there there for the last few months.

I think they’re cute, but even if you agree about that there’s still a chance of nausea due to my extremely poor cinematography skills, especially after I mounted the macro attachment to the iPhone and things got really shaky.

You can read more about these cute beetles (including blessedly stationary images) in the post I made earlier today.

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Green leaf beetles (Trirhabda flavolimbata) at the Carpinteria…

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Green leaf beetles (Trirhabda flavolimbata) at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh

I mentioned previously that I’m a volunteer docent at the Carpinteria salt marsh. I started off being mostly into birds, but in the spring of 2009 I started obsessing about bugs, and it was this beetle that started that. I was looking for invertebrates to photograph for Circus of the Spineless, when I discovered that there were large numbers of shiny green “caterpillars” (I thought) feeding on the coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) at the marsh. I estimated that there were more than 500 of them in a single medium-sized bush.

It turns out they were actually beetle larvae. Over the next several weeks I watched as they turned into adult beetles and kept munching. By the end of the outbreak, in late May, much of the coyote brush along Ash Avenue had been completely defoliated. The first two shots above are from that 2009 outbreak; they show the larvae (left) and an adult beetle (right).

By the next year the coyote brush had bounced back. There were only a few leaf beetles at the marsh each of the next three springs, but this year they’re back in a big way. Once again, a lot of the marsh shrubbery has been eaten down to bare twigs.

I was out there yesterday and today gathering data as part of a citizen science project that I’ll write up in another post, and while I was there I took some photos.

The second row of photos above shows the effect the beetles have on the coyote brush. On the left is a plant that still has leaves (and beetles), on the right is one that’s already been eaten.

Finally, there’s a shot I took with the macro lens attachment I bought recently for my iPhone. It’s just a little dingus that slips over the end of the phone. I’m pretty impressed with the results, though I need to work on my focus skills. There isn’t much depth of field to work with.

Isn’t that beetle adorable?

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