Imagine that you’re a honey bee (Apis spp.) that has left your hive in search of nectar. After a short flight, you have found it: a beautiful sage flower, full of sweet nectar. You zero in on your flower. A deep buzz comes from your right. You see a black object twice your size fly right by and land on the flower you had set your simple-heart-tube on. That object was your distant cousin, a female Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) and your cousin is very important to the pollination of native plants.
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What’s the first thing you think of when I say Humboldt? If you’re from California you could be thinking of the county, college, bay, fort, state park or wildlife refuge. If you’re from Nevada you might think of the river, the national forest, wildlife area, sink, saltmarsh, lake, mountain ranges, county or creepy ghost town. Dewy-Humboldt in Arizona, Humboldt Illinois, Humboldt Kansas, Humboldt Iowa, Humboldt Ohio, Humboldt Wisconsin, Humboldt Saskatchewan, it’s hard to escape Humboldt. Humboldt is everywhere. The Humboldt name graces multiple mountains and mountain ranges, forests, national parks, waterfalls, glaciers, an ocean current. and a giant sinkhole Animals and plants including, penguins, squid, bat, monkey(s), skunk, snail, an entire genus of flowering plants, legumes, endangered cactus, a beetle, river dolphins, a carnivorous plant, oak, orchid, lily and mushroom all bear his name. Humboldt is in outer space, the Mare Humboldt on the moon and two asteroids bear the name. That doesn’t even touch the organizations, institutions, monuments and other random things that are all called Humboldt.
The orchid family, Orchidaceae is enormous, containing 28,000 species. That’s just slightly more species than the population of Monterey, California. The species count does not include the 100,000 or so cultivars that have been bred by humans. California has only 31 native orchids (most of them live in the tropics). I didn’t realize that I had seen my first one.
A field of tomatoes wilts. A stand of tanoak trees dies. A forest of bay laurels and manzanita withers. An orchard of citrus yellows and decays. A wildland restoration project crumbles into dust. Potatoes turn rancid and spongy. These are the calling cards of Phytophthora, the destroyers of plants
In their natural state riparian corridors are rich in vegetation and wildlife. A presentation by the the Santa Clara Water District states that “native plants are ecologically best suited to the creek environment.” Plants and wildlife benefit from the sediment and organic material that streams transport and deposits on their banks. In this way, soil is enriched, erosion offset, and aquifers replenished. Native plants and aquatic life are adapted to seasonal variances in river flow, including annual flooding. As F. Thomas Griggs writes, “Cottonwood and willows, as well as all other riparian plant species, are directly dependent on patterns of sediment erosion and deposition.”
"We might, of course, continue the historic pattern of using water policy to facilitate growth. In the long term, then, effects on the environment and on our quality of life would worsen, despite our best efforts at habitat and species protection, and despite concepts like ‘smart growth.’ Never-ending growth, whether smart or dumb, will inevitably overtake the limits of California’s water system."
‘Epiphyte’(“epi” = on top of; “phyte”= plant in Greek), is a fancy-sounding term for a plant that spends most or all of its life living on another plant, usually on a tree . You might think that an epiphyte is a parasitic plant, but it is not! These plants only use the tree as a support system and take no nutrients from the tree itself. They instead rely on rainwater to carry nutrients down tree bark or on collections of soil and detritus in the crotches of branches. Epiphytic plants are represented throughout the plant kingdom, including non-vascular plants (mosses, liverworts, hornworts) and vascular plants (plants that can conduct water).
As the Ordovician period progressed the environment changed. Atmospheric CO2 plummeted from 7000 to 4400 ppm and the Earth cools. This may have been partially caused by green, aquatic algae and land plants as they sucked and sequestered atmospheric CO2.
I have a lot of memories tied up in the sensoria of real holiday trees. The smell of pine evokes sap on my fingers. The feel of spruce in my hands puts me back in New England with November snow crunching under my boots as I pick around half-buried stumps, the smell of gasoline and sound of chainsaws. Memories beget more memories. Harry Connick Jr croons out of the stereo while dad untangles strings of lights. Mom corrals us as my siblings and I tear through the boxes of ornaments to find our favorites. My brother’s, a firefighter dog with a Christmas present. Mine was a chimpanzee Santa with a sleigh of bananas.
There’s a growing anti-lawn sentiment in the drought-stricken West. Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California each have programs in place to pay homeowners to replace lawns with xeriscaping (drought-tolerant landscapes). I’d heard of these programs when I lived in New York. Driving through trackless desert, salt flats and blonde, high-plains I couldn’t help but wonder how we ever thought to impose lawns on these landscapes in the first place. Where did lawns come from?