March 24, 2012
The Beautification team had a small turnout of volunteers on Saturday, March 24, but they decided to walk around and see what was happening in the park. First a trip to where the Bunch Grass is growing atop the hill, and the team was also happy to find some Blue Eyed Grass growing there as well.
The Black Sage, Salvia mellifera, a very fragrant native plant is beginning to bloom. Clare noted that the entire hillside where this plant was growing was once covered in Black Sage, but a fire circa 1997 wiped out much of the native stock. The beautification committee may begin to propagate Black Sage in an effort to restore its population in the park. The flowers of the Black Sage are attractive to hummingbirds and many native bees and butterflies.
The Golden Currant bushes are beginning to set fruit and the fruit is beginning to ripen. Clare scolded Daniel for eating a currant since he would be depriving birds from their food source. Moments later a beautiful crested male Phainopepla was spotted picking a ripe currant from a nearby bush. Golden Currants are named for the color of the blossom. The ripening fruit turns from green to yellow, red and black.
The seed pods of the Wild Cucumber, Marah macrocarpus, are becoming large and noticeable. The Wild Cucumber is also known as Manroot because of the large underground tuber that can attain the size of a small human. These native plants are dormant much of the year, but with winter rains, the vines sprout and can achieve a great length. Small white flowers are followed by the prickly pods.
The endangered California Black Walnut Trees are currently in bloom, though the blossoms do not resemble the average person’s notion of a flower. The male flowers are long greenish-yellow catkins that release pollen into the air.
The female flowers are closer to the tips of the branches and they appear red at first. If the female flowers are fortunate enough to be fertilized, they begin to form the nuts, which is evident in the accompanying photograph. The nuts will grow in size, with the green covering hiding the shell of the nut inside much like the flesh of a peach covers the pit. The nuts will begin to drop in mid summer and if conditions are right, the new seedlings will sprout in late winter after passing through a cold period. The California Black Walnut is an endangered native species and Mt Washington is one of the few southern California locations where the trees can still be found in their native ecosystem.
The Bush Sunflowers still have a few straggling blossoms, though they peaked in February. Seed heads from flowers produced earlier in the season are getting close to ripening and there are plans to collect the seeds and germinate plants in the nursery so that plants from our local gene pool can be used to repopulate the park. Bush Sunflowers are popular with pollinating insects like bees and butterflies.
The California Buckwheat, Erigonum fasciculatum, has just begun blooming and new blooms can be seen on plants that still contain dried seedheads from last season. Buckwheat is another plant that is very attractive to pollinating insects. Buckwheat normally blooms later in the season, though our unusually warm and dry winter may be a contributing factor in the early flowering this year.
After the Beautification Committee completed its brief hike to check on the status of plants above the meadow, Clare returned to the nursery and Sean and Daniel commenced weeding milk thistle. The sun began to break through and butterflies became more active, including several Painted Ladies that were nectaring from the introduced wild radish. They did not prove to be especially cooperative once the camera came out and the best photo is one that is partially obscured by grasses. The Painted Ladies were especially wary whenever the camera approached.