DryStoneGarden

Plants, Stone, California Landscapes

Flower

Archive for the ‘wildlands’ Category

Ryan Mountain

‘Perspective — that is the reward for hiking to the top of Ryan Mountain.’ (J. Tree signage)

In Joshua Tree there’s a peak named Ryan Mountain. I might have resisted the bait, but then at the trailhead I found a sign proclaiming that ‘The…hike up Ryan Mtn. is a reaffirmation of life. The pulse accelerates, the senses become more acute, and one may renew the acquaintance of lungs and muscles previously taken for granted.’ (Robert B. Cates, Joshua Tree National Park: A Visitor’s Guide 1995) So what’s a blogger named Ryan to do? I of course want my blog to be reaffirming. So, photos from the hike are below.

(more…)

Occupy Joshua Tree

Occupy Joshua Tree

Anita and I spent most of last week at Joshua Tree. It’s one of my favorite places and very photogenic. These are some of the photos I took.

Years ago when I first saw Joshua trees, I thought they were just about the goofiest things growing on the planet. After working with plants for a number of years and seeing a lot more succulents, I don’t find them nearly as strange. Still somewhat Dr. Seuss-y, but not nearly as much.

The showiest color in the park was in the red seedheads of a buckwheat. The foliage was quite red too. Really striking against the dried grass or stone.

Some of the spots in the park look like the work of a talented gardener with a loose, naturalistic style. This path, (click to see it larger), looked like it had been deliberately edged with red and yellow foliage.

The Sulfur Buckwheats were still in bloom. They were doing the same thing — blooming from the cracks in the boulders — when I was in the Buttermilks around this same time last year.

There is one species of manzanita in the park, A. glauca. I saw a few nice healthy ones, but the most beautiful was a deceased one. I don’t think I’ve ever had that opinion about a plant before.

And the desert can make a dead car look beautiful too. A great, great place.

Salt Point State Park

I took a couple of days this week to go climbing and hiking at Salt Point State Park up the coast between Jenner and Sea Ranch. I’d never been before, it’s a little far for a day trip, but now the impending closure of so many state parks has got me motivated to check out some of the parks I’ve always meant to visit. Salt Point isn’t one of the ones that will be closing, but that’s partly because they have already cut back many of the services. The closures didn’t really affect my visit, I had a great time, but it was a reminder of how things are trending. But in any case, I wasn’t dwelling on that during my trip, mostly I was just enjoying the park. Classic Northern California coastline, lots of wildflowers in bloom, and I was lucky to enjoy perfect weather. I’m not sure photos can show how exceptionally pleasant it was.

Salt Point was a quarry in the 1850’s. Sandstone slabs were split and shipped down to San Francisco to use as paving and wall stone; you can still see drilling scars on some of the rocks.

It’s great to see a former quarry site looking so beautiful.

Baja Multitrunks

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree at Dusk

Here are some more plant photos I took in Baja in the desert around San Ignacio and Cerro Colorado, along the coast near Bahia Concepcion, and further south near Cabo Pulmo. My first go at taking photos in low desert, pretty fun, as my favorite things in the plant world are multitrunked trees with interesting form and bark, and Baja is pretty much an entire landscape of beautiful multitrunked specimens with interesting form and bark. Elephant trees were my favorites, but there were other stunning ones: Palo Verdes, Palo Blancos, Cardon Cactus, Organ Pipe Cactus, Adam’s Tree known in Spanish as Palo Adan (Fouquieria diguetii, the southern form of Ocotillo) and Limberbush (Jatropha cuneata), which I’d never heard of but really liked. So many good ones. I suppose some of them are technically standards or semi-standards, but practically all of the plants down there grow with the interesting form I associate with multitrunk trees.

Limberbush, Jatropha sp.

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata

Cardon

Cardon

The Cardones come in graceful or stubby forms.

Cardon Multitrunk

Cardon Multitrunk

Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ Pipe Cactus

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree

Burseras

Burseras

We saw hillsides that had an amazing specimen every twenty or thirty feet.

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Bursera microphylla, Elephant Tree aka Torote

Torote means ‘twisted.’

Elephant Tree Trunk

Elephant Tree Trunk

Fouquieria diguetii

Graveside Fouquieria diguetii, Palo Adan

Fouquieria

Zero Leaves, One Bloom Cluster

Fouquieria diguetii, Adams Tree

Lots of Leaves, No Flowers

In the drier sections most of the Fouquierias were leafless, with maybe a few token blooms to keep the hummingbirds and visiting gardenbloggers happy; down south a lot of them were in full leaf with fewer flowers. Does anyone know why they’re called Palo Adan or Adam’s tree?

Fouquieria diguetii

Fouquieria diguetii at Playa Requeson

I remember something incredibly spiny was keeping me from backing up any more for this photo.

Palo verde

Palo verde, aka Desert Willow

I’m partial to the name palo verde, but desert willow, another of its common names, seems appropriate too. Leafless they looked a lot like Japanese maples, but in full leaf they were indeed willowy.

Green Sticks

Green Sticks

Roadside Palo Verde

Roadside Palo Verde

As far as I’m concerned, they’re pretty even when they grow along the highway with trash scattered around.

Mesquite Tree

Mesquite Tree

We started calling the Mesquites ‘Palo Gris’, because their trunks are gray but their green twigs and foliage resembles a Palo Verde. They’re actually a pretty sweet little tree, I think, just not as showy as the Palo Verdes and Palo Blancos. I read somewhere that some miners in Baja once found a root 50 meters deep.

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco is a perfect common name, but if Palo Verde gets desert willow for a second common name, I think Palo Blanco should also get a second name and be called desert birch. They did seem biggest and happiest at the bottoms of washes and arroyos where they could find some extra water.

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

The Succulents of Cerro Colorado

Cerro Colorado with Elephant Tree

Cerro Colorado in the distance with Volcan las Tres Virgenes beyond it

I mentioned that we started bicycling from San Ignacio, an oasis town about half way down the Baja peninsula. Before we started riding, we spent a few days exploring the desert and checking out the plants there, and especially checking out the succulents on Cerro Colorado, a volcanic hill a few kilometers from town.

Various Succulent Plants

Closer to the hill

If you’re interested in succulents, Cerro Colorado is the place. The Center for Sonoran Desert Studies/Desert Museum did a survey and found 44 unique species, which they claim is the highest number of succulent species of any spot in the southwestern U.S. Would that then make it the highest number of any spot in the world? I don’t know, but there’s a ton of succulents there, regardless. Anita and I did our own personal survey and identified 19, which we’ll obviously have to improve before we can start leading botanical bicycle tours of Baja (now accepting reservations for winter 2031). Looking at the species list for the hill, I see that it broadly defines a succulent as just about any plant that has tissue designed for storing water. The list includes a couple of Asclepias species and a bunch of caudiciform shrubs and vines: cucumber relatives, shrubby euphorbias, a wild fig, and two species of elephant trees (Bursera). Some of those are plants I wouldn’t have considered succulents, but then I’m not a botanist, and with 24 species of cactus, it’s not exactly lacking in conventional succo’s.

Organ Pipe and Cardon

Organ Pipe and Cardon

Cardon Cactuses

Cardones

Cardon Forest

More Cardones

Barrel Cactus

Barrel Cactus

I think these are two different species of barrel cactus. I lost track of all the chollas. We could tell there were several different types, but the desert museum lists eight, including hybrids. A couple were jumpers.

Cholla and Barrel Cactus

Cholla and Barrel Cactus

Slipper Plant, Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Slipper Plant, Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Fouquieria trunk with Cardon Trunk

Fouquieria Trunk with Cardon Trunk

Adams Tree, Fouquieria diguetii and Cardon Cactus, Pachycereus pringlei

Fouquieria Trunk with Organ Pipe

Agave cerulata subcerulata

Agave cerulata subcerulata

It’s probably the spiniest place I’ve ever been, but plants are spaced far enough apart that we could make our way through it as long as we occasionally pulled spiny branches out of our way. I found that walking with all those spines everywhere kept my attention always focused on my immediate area and each plant immediately in front of me, so that I was constantly looking up to discover yet another awesome specimen in front of me, over and over and over.

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Elephant trees get the nod as my favorite plant down there. Has anyone seen or grown one in the Bay Area?

Bursera hindsiana, Red Elephant Tree Trunk

Red Elephant Tree, Bursera hindsiana

This is probably the best trunk I saw on a Red Elephant Tree while I was down there.

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata, in the Euphorbia family

There were two kinds of Jatropha. The other one, J. cinerea, looks a lot like the mexican redbud, but with somewhat swollen-looking branches and twigs.

Palo Verde, Cercidium floridum

Palo Verde

The hill had great palo verdes. They aren’t a succulent, but they have chlorophyl and photosynthesize on their wood, which seems like justification for getting in with the succulent photos.

Palo Verde, Cercidium floridum

Palo Verde

Cerro Colorado

Cerro Colorado from the bridge near San Ignacio

Bristlecones

Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine

While I was out on the east side, I visited the Schulman Grove of Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains. Bristlecone Pines are the famous “oldest trees in the world,” and, checking them out in person, I found they have a suitably amazing presence. They grow on a very dry, barren mountainside, sometimes with other plants — mountain mahogany, sage (Salvia and Artemisia), penstemon, thistle, paintbrush, lupine — but with the oldest ones growing in pure stands of gnarled, low-growing, ancient trees. There is a four mile loop trail that passes through the grove that has the Methuselah Tree, the oldest tree on earth at almost 5,000 years old, though it’s not disclosed which one is the actual Methusaleh, the forest service keeps its identity secret and doesn’t let anyone publish any photos of it. (There was an older one, Prometheus, but it was cut down by a scientist, and a NOVA program about the bristlecones claims that someone has found another one older than Methusaleh; the NOVA link has some cool interactive photos.) They are concerned that people would walk close to it and cause erosion, risking it health as erosion is apparently what eventually finishes these trees. They survive lightning strikes, pests, drought, etc., but in 5,000 years on the side of a dry, sandy mountainside, they’re going to see some serious erosion. Living 5,000 years, they’re not even on tree time, they’re starting to be on geologic time.

The most striking feature is how much dead wood they have. One 4,000 year old tree has a four foot diameter trunk with only a ten inch wide strip of living wood. And even after the wood dies, it doesn’t rot. Scientists have found wood that is 9,000 years old; they used the tree rings on these trees to calibrate the process of carbon dating, they are literally the standard by which we determine how old things are. Which makes sense, as there is something almost archaeological about the grove. Serious patience and endurance; these trees abide.

Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Forest

Bristlecone Forest

There’s a nice photo from the Schulman grove in photographer Rachel Sussman’s project the oldest living things in the world. She also has photos of redwoods, alerces, a 400,000 year old bacteria, an “underground forest,” and clonal trees like aspens where the genetic material is 80,000 years old. Bristlecone and redwood photos are always cool, but I think the best photos in the series are of the plants I’ve never heard of, the ones that are not visually impressive but have been unobtrusively living for thousands of years. (Hat tip: Studio G)

Another photo of a bristlecone and a few other old trees is at the blog for friendsoftrees.org.

— Somewhat off topic, but I feel like bookmarking the link, a slideshow of the world’s most famous trees includes a bristlecone.

You are currently browsing the archives for the wildlands category.