Sunday, July 20, 2008

July Gloom

The fog that usually persists in June giving rise to the term "June Gloom" around here didn't materialize in June this year. But now it has. When we walked Lunada Canyon yesterday, there were drastic changes from the last time I was there in May. Along with dry soil and moist air came a mold or mildew that has decimated many of the plants in the canyon.

This Bladderpod shows the type of damage that has occurred. Some plants had black tips like this, others like the brave Cliff Aster, had black stems but were still flowering on top. In the upper photo you can see a wide swath of plants that have died back and turned black in the foreground. Since I didn't walk the canyon last month, I can't say for certain which plants these are.

The sages have finished blooming and have dried out as had most of the California Sunflower, but the California Fuchsia was just starting to bloom. The California Buckwheat was in full bloom and was the most spectacular plant of the day. Runoff from the yards and gardens that rim the canyon could be heard trickling down in the bottom of the canyon. This area is full of willows and at least one Mugwort which were all putting out new growth, but the walls of the canyon are too steep for us to go down there.

A crew of volunteers from the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy was there to hack away at the Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, which has pretty much taken over the middle of the canyon. It's pretty, but non-native and invasive. Since the workers were just cutting the plants down and not pulling the roots, they will be back. The air was scented with the peppery smell of the cut fennel.

Among other non-natives that were doing quite well despite the fog were the Castor Bean plants, Rincinus communis, that appear at the end of the trail where the Land Conservancy's domain ends. This plant is highly poisonous although castor oil is made from the beans. It grows vigorously and is a striking plant, especially when it blooms. Nice in the garden, maybe, but it doesn't belong in the canyon. And I wouldn't even have it in my garden if there are children around.

A tree-sized plant has caught our attention many times on our walks, but it is down in the canyon and hard to get to. Using my telephoto lens this time, I got a good photo of the flowers and discovered that it is a kind of tobacco plant—Tree Tobacco or Nicotiana glauca. This member of the nightshade family is also highly poisonous. Hummingbirds are attracted to its bright yellow tubular flowers, but according to my friend at PVIC, they can become nicotine dependent as a result and neglect native plants that need pollination.

One small plant that also seemed to be holding its own was this White Sweetclover, Melilotus alba. It's another non-native and is supposed to be invasive also, but there were only two or three plants that I could find. Perhaps they will be the plant that has taken over the canyon when we go back in August.

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