Saturday, November 14, 2015

Road Trip

Mt. Shasta
So I have now as of November fifth reached a threshold that has for my entire life seemed a lifetime away. I have after three decades reached the age of 30 (see what I did there?), both relieved and disappointed to be out of my "twenties." Just a number I suppose, but it is a tick in the clock of life that chills me to the bone. It is a reminder that I cannot wait to fulfill my dreams until I'm ready or some other excuse, but to work towards them now, as I have been doing with this blog and various other activities.

Mt. Shasta panoramic
One such activity that I have been wanting to do is to take my family to the Bay Area in California. Specifically I wanted to go to Marin County to visit my parents and revisit one of the many places that make up the chaos that was my life. We drove down on a Friday and returned on the following Monday. It was brief but we made the most of the time. On our drive South we stopped at a rest area by Mount Shasta to have lunch and stretch. That area is beautiful, the rolling hills surrounding Shasta are dotted with volcanic debris creating islands of rocks among what is now used as cattle land. It stirs the botanical adventurer in me to wonder what types of flowering plants are native to such a landscape?

Ericameria nauseosa
While our stop was brief, I was able to briefly examine a single specimen of rubber rabbitbrush. Ericameria nauseosa, my best guess as the identity, was very common in the landscape surrounding Shasta. It filled entire fields and dotted distant hillsides as far as I could see. They had all set seed (I wish I had collected some of it!) but there is no doubt in my mind that it was teeming with pollinators at the peak of its bloom.

Ericameria nauseosa
The seeds are apparently distributed by wind, as suggested by the fluffy pappus. This is common in the Asteraceae, of which it is a member. This is one of the thousands (no doubt) of species of in the sunflower family that would confound those who aren't familiar with the taxonomy of the family. This species produces no ray florets (the "petals" of a daisy: stereotypical of the Asteraceae). Each inflorescence is composed of five tubular disk florets. Like Solidago and Euthamia, the individual inflorescences are borne in a dense multi-branched panicle (or perhaps more accurately a compound corymb, or both) creating very large mostly flat-topped inflorescences. Exerted stigmas while the plants are in flower receive the pollen as soon as the pollinator lands.

Ericameria nauseosa
It was interesting to compare the seed on different parts of the bush. Some had already dehisced while other flowers seemed to have been younger, perhaps in flower only a week or two prior.

Ericameria nauseosa

Many hours of driving led to our inevitable arrival at the hotel in Marin County. The next day, Saturday, we went to the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens where I met up with some family that I had not seen in quite a while. My daughter had a great time. Nothing makes me happier and more content than to make my daughter happy.

The gardens of the San Francisco Zoo are filled with many interesting African and Australian plants, little that would survive outdoors in our harsh Southern Oregon zone 7 climate. But I enjoy opportunities to see a different mix of flora, particularly when I am unable to recreate the effect at home. A little bit of context: the SF Zoo is literally located across the street from the ocean, so it benefits from the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean. Considered a cool-summer Mediterranean climate, San Francisco typically reaches a max of around 80°F and dips to 50°F (record  27°F) in January. This marks San Francisco under the USDA 10b Plant Hardiness zone, perfect for many tropical plants.

Leonotis leonurus
Leonotis leonurus, AKA lion's tail or wild dagga, is a relative of mint from South Africa, where it is surely pollinated by sunbirds (African relatives of hummingbirds) and Lepidoptera. Hardy to 20°F, it would not survive my garden but is close enough that it is occasionally sold at nurseries. The plant is used medicinally, the breadth of its usefulness described on this page: Horizon Herbs: Wild Dagga.

Protea magnifica (?)
The magnificent Protea from South Africa (naturalized elsewhere) are prevalent in the SF Zoo and represented by countless species and hybrids. This very tall specimen of what I am somewhat certain to be Protea magnifica (please correct me if I'm wrong) caught my eye when I observed these two pollinators visiting this single flower. I know very little about Protea, except that they are very rich in nectar. They are so rich in nectar that they are known as sugarbushes in the vernacular. I had read somewhere that the flowers were so rich in nectar that they were once collected and boiled down in a pot of water and filtered to create a very sweet and edible syrup. In fact, I found a recipe here.

Protea magnifica (?)
The two pollinators, one a honeybee and the other some sort of vespid, were apparently oblivious to each other and to me.

Protea magnifica (?)
Protea flowers are made up of many individual florets surrounded by large colorful bracts. I am curious if the "fluff" is part of the stigma or has some other function?

Clivia miniata
The envy of many gardeners I am sure, the SF Zoo boasts large plantings of Clivia. Most were not in bloom at the time, but a few were. The large waxy flowers were in odd salmon-orange shades. These are strange members of the Amaryllidaceae because they do not form bulbs and they prefer shade. Instead of bulbs they grow from fleshy roots. Clivia are expensive in the horticultural trade, from $40 and up for plants and often over $5 for a single seed!

Clivia miniata
Most Clivia species are pollinated by African sunbirds, yet Clivia miniata is speculated to be insect pollinated (I suspect both). Various bees and flies have been seen visiting the plants (read this). Flies make sense, being more active in the shade than bees. My best guess is that the flowers of C. miniata are open and available for any pollinator, maybe even beetles. The truth, at least in the United States, is that the most likely pollinator of the species is humans resulting in the countless hybrids and selections available from specialists.

Limonium perezii
Perez's sea lavender, as it were, is native to the Canary Islands. It is also naturalized along the Southern California coastline. I have seen it in La Jolla CA, where it has integrated itself among the beach flora. Not at all related to true lavender (Lavendula), it has thick fleshy [mostly basal] leaves and grows from a woody rhizome. The flowers open purple and age to white.

Limonium perezii
This butterfly was actively moving from floret to floret, despite being irritated by my presence.

Hemerocallis hybrid
Daylilies had their place in the SF Zoo gardens as well. Being moth and butterfly pollinated, I was tempted to sell this fly as a possible pollinator although it is much more likely it was taking advantage of the heat reflected by the flower than by the floral rewards.

Helichrysum sp.
One of the countless "dusty millers" with downy leaf surfaces and tiny yellow buttons that are the inflorescences held well above the foliage can be found within the genus Helichrysum. These are actually members of the Asteraceae, which is not that hard to believe when viewed up close. The inflorescences are similar to sunflowers and other "daisies" by having ray florets on the outside and fertile disk florets in the center, the latter of which opening last.

I must remember that these individual sunflower-like inflorescences are around ¼" across. Scale is one of the challenges of photography, particularly when the subjects are botanical, because the uninformed could easily assume that the scale is far off from the reality. In other forms of photography this is a great asset, misleading the viewer into a perception that does not really exist in the real world. For me, I like to make small things big in a photo in order to fully appreciate the intricacy of its structure and perhaps gain insight about the way it functions. A photo can help me experience the natural world. There is elegance in the tininess of the reproductive machines that are flowers.

Azalea rutherfordiana 'Alaska'
Rhododendrons were planted all around the Zoo. Many weren't in flower, and had probably flowered earlier in the year or in Spring. This selection (hybrid?) was in full bloom. The floral morphology (exerted reproductive structures) suggests a pollinator with long feeding parts, like the beak of a hummingbird or the proboscis of a moth or butterfly. However, like the Clivia, bees and flies have been recorded as the most common visitors and perhaps the most effective. Bumblebees are the most frequent floral visitors of the local Rhododendron occidentale, also known as the western azalea in the local vernacular. The bumblebees land and vibrate with such force that the pollen figuratively explodes into the air creating a small yellow cloud. The pollen then is attracted to the bee by a slight difference of the electric charges of the bee and pollen, the former positive and the latter negative.

Azalea rutherfordiana 'Alaska'
The leaves in this variety are interesting to me, far removed from the common varieties with large Arbutus-like leaves of most of the commercially available hybrids.

Gagea sp.
Gageas are a common sight in well planted landscape designs in the Bay Area. They are closely related to Iris and grow from rhizomes. They have thin Iris-like foliage and are mostly winter growing, except tend to be less hardy than Iris. The method of pollination is similar to Iris, pollen being picked up and subsequently deposited by the backs of bees rubbing under the style arms where the stigma and anthers are located.

The following photos are of some interesting plants which I know little about, yet still felt compelled to share with you. Each undoubtedly has a unique method of attracting pollinators. Being in the mild climate at the waters edge in San Francisco, the array of subtropical plants (they are wildflowers, somewhere) is fascinating and instigates my botanical imagination. Countless studies indicate vertebrates as the primary pollinators of many tropical and subtropical ecoregions. This isn't to say there aren't bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, beetles, moths, or other insect pollinators in those regions. I can visualize the potential for greater abundance of food in tropical climates for vertebrates, particularly the birds bats, rodents (yes, I said rodents), reptiles, and perhaps primates (yup, lemurs) that will serve as the pollinators. Where will your imagination lead you now?

Salvia sp.
Hedychium sp.
Bromelia humilis
Grevillea sp.
Callistemon sp.
Westringia fruticosa
Impatiens sodenii

Tulbaghia violacea
After the SF Zoo we had a day of fun at Bolinas, an off the beaten path beach that is not too far from Stinson (both north of the Golden Gate Bridge). There I first saw what I guessed was an Allium. Again, on a stop while on the long drive home I saw the plant again. Both times it was used in diverse landscaping schemes: first in a beautifully planted park at Bolinas, then in the parking lot of a hotel in Santa Clara. With the guidance of those who are more knowledgeable than I, I was given the proper identification: Tulbaghia violacea aka society garlic.

Tulbaghia violacea
Tulbaghia violacea grows from small bulbs, though it is evergreen and maintains permanent fleshy roots. All parts have a strong alliaceous scent, which led me to think it was an Allium. One feature that made me unsure was the presence of a corona, appearing as small appendages at the base of the perianth at the mouth of the floral tube. The seed pods also differ from Allium. They are another African native from the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, north as far as Zimbabwe. They are somewhat tender, so I'm not sure if they will survive my garden (though I did find a few unripe seed pods). Most of the clones I saw were of a dwarf variegated form, as seen here.

Tulbaghia violacea
A few must have produced some fertile seed, because the taller plants with darker green foliage appear to have been seeded directly into the variegated clump.

Tulbaghia violacea
SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute) wrote a good page on the species, including details of the species natural pollination ecology. Have a look here:

Nerium oleander
One more conspicuous angiosperm was seen for miles up and down the California Interstate. Oleander (Nerium oleander) is utilized as a median plant from close to the Mexican Border north to Corning and beyond on Interstate 5 (and surely other mass transit roads as well). For much of the drive it was in flower, and it flowers throughout the year, so it would seem they would be good pollinator plants, yes? But what I have learned is that they do not produce nectar, but instead use deception to attract pollinators. Only a single pollinator visit is required because the sticky pollen is aggregated into clumps, similar to an orchid the pollen is delivered as a grouping of pollen thus increasing the seed produced.

Nerium oleander with Aphis nerii
Upon inspection of a single flower, I discovered a family of oleander aphids, Aphis nerii (orange, toward the base of the tube). This could account for beekeepers observations of bees visiting the flowers of oleander. Aphids, like most sap-sucking insects, produce honeydew (their sugary poop) which is occasionally collected by honeybees and other pollinators in a dearth (when more preferred floral resources are unavailable). I speculate that these aphids may be an important facet to the anthecology of oleander, producing a [less desirable] reward for floral visitors. Meanwhile, the plant is saving resources by not producing nectar (a taxing resource in a droughty climate) and instead sustaining the life of the aphids. In a balanced ecosystem, say perhaps the oleanders native Mediterranean Basin range, the aphids would be kept in check by whatever their natural predator(s) are. Hmmm...

Then, hours later, we arrived back home.


  1. Lois Cook I am in Northern Calif. and have lots of social garlic. If you
    want some bulbs let me know. I will send them to you. They survive all winter here in Ukiah,
    Mendocino Co.,Calif. and bloom all summer. Actually can be come sort "weeds"here.

    1. That's very kind of you. But I strongly doubt it would survive here, our Winter low temps usually dip to single digits, while Ukiah averages mid-30's. I did collect some seed, so I will try that for now.

  2. Wonderful blog of your botanical travels. Thanks for posting. Does botany come into use in your line of work?

    1. Thank you, Isaiah! Currently, I work in a cabinet factory. My botanical and entomological studies stem from my curiosity. Perhaps I have a career in these areas in some form in the future, but for now it is just for fun.


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