Monday, July 18, 2011

From the Star Trek Arboretum

Sea Holly (Eryngium x planum) 'Sapphire Blue''
A most alien specimen comes from the planet Andoria.  Sea Holly is a good choice for poor soil and a seaside location.  The Honey Bee is Terran.

The conical flower is surrounded by a corona of bracts which are modified leaves.  The flower's stems are also a rich, almost glowing blue color.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
From Vulcan comes Crocosmia, a most illogical flower.  When grown on Earth, it is a favorite of hummingbirds.

Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) 'Aglaia'
The poet-warriors of the Klingon home world Qo'noS have raised horticulture to an art form.  This Shasta Daisy hybrid shines in the dim light of the Klingon star.

The next time you host an event for Starfleet, consider floral arrangements combining these unusual flowering plants.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Trying Out Google+

This past week, I have been dipping a toe into the Google+ puddle.  There are now links to it in the sidebars here and at Wild Fidalgo.  If you are not aware, it is Google's new social network and answer to Facebook.  Google has done a remarkable job marketing this thing.  The word was out that it was limited, exclusive, invitation only.  Just special people would be involved in the initial testing.  Then, out of the blue, guess who got an invitation.  Moi?  If you get an invitation to the White House, Buckingham Palace or Google+, you don't say no.  So, here I am with my own Google+ account.  Obviously, it's not that exclusive.

I have a Facebook account associated with the blogs.  I read it was what you were supposed to do, but I never felt at home there.  I did not find it particularly intuitive.  The UI is cluttered and confusing.  I wasted a lot of time with trial-and-error figuring-out how to make it work.  Nothing is explained and the help pages are useless.  I created a business page for the blogs, but that just added more confusion.  It took me quite a while to realize that now I actually had two different streams running.  I only want the business page to show, but I can't figure out out how to make that happen.  I turned off all the pestering emails.  The childish elements, games, etc. annoyed me.  There have been constant criticisms of Facebook's privacy and practices.  Seeing the movie The Social Network put a bad taste in my mouth.  Facebook is obviously not my milieu.

On the other hand, Google+ has been a pleasure so far.  In general, I would characterize it as "Facebook for grownups."  There is an elegant simplicity.  I am running it in Chrome and it has a wonderful responsiveness and feel.  Figuring out the lay of the land was very easy.  When choices are selected, often a dialog pops up explaining "now this is what will happen with that choice."  You can then change your mind before implementing it.  Nothing is a mystery.  Your entire profile is created on a single page and you can preview what the public sees before saving it.

The "Circles" are what distinguish Google+.  Think of them as folders for organizing your web interactions.  It comes with default circles which include "Friends," "Acquaintances" and "Family."  Put people into the circles and their posts will appear in that circle's stream.  Posts can be "Public" or "Limited."  If they are public, they will also appear in your main public stream.  If limited, they only appear in the circle's stream.  Only the members of that circle can see them.  You can post in your "Family" circle without the whole world eavesdropping.  Unlike Facebook's groups and lists, Google+'s circles are effortless to master.  To add members, simply drag their pictures into the circle and you can put them in more than one.

The circle called "Following" can be used exactly like Twitter.  Put blog and website G+ links there to follow their feeds.  I created a circle called "Google+" that I use like a bookmark folder.  Here I put links to tips and tutorial websites to help get the hang of it.  If you don't add people to the circles, the feeds will remain private.  I am also building a "Nature Blog" circle and inviting authors to join.  If you have a Google+ account and would like to join the circle, send me your link.  Your G+ posts will then appear in my feed.  If you would like a Google+ invitation, send me your email address using my contact form.  An address already associated with a Google account would be best, but not required.  It will basically take one click to create an account.

Some important points about circles:  The people you invite cannot see your circles and they will not know into which circle you put them.  You don't have to put every stranger who wants to share with you into a circle either.

It has been fun getting acquainted with the Google+ platform in its infancy.   They solicit feedback from users and I have already seen tweaks being implemented.  In a couple of hours I was able to create more functionality than I ever did in all the days fussing with Facebook.  So far, I am glad I signed up.  I hope Google keeps it clean and streamlined, easy-to use and free of all the kid stuff.  "Easy" is the best selling point of all.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gardening for Wildlife:  Fresh Water

One of the criteria when gardening to attract wildlife is providing a source of fresh water.  Consider a small pond with a recirculating waterfall.  There are complete kits available at home and garden stores and the internet.  Even a washtub can be adapted to this purpose.  The motion and sounds will add to the experience.  You will be amazed by the abundance of birds that will visit the pond year around.  They will come to get both a drink and a bath.  Birds you might rarely see at feeders will come in groups by species.  Robins, Thrushes, Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings and even Crows will come in turn at various times during the day.  Locate your pond where you can observe it discretely from the house.  Add a place to sit quietly in the garden.  You will find yourself spending hours watching the passing parade.

Above, water-loving Japanese Iris and Ligularia are planted in partially submerged pots.  Below, the path to the pond is in the entry garden next to the house.  Native plants include Western Sword Ferns, Lady Ferns, Fringecup, Kinnikinnick and Madrona.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Skywatch Friday:  Bald Eagles

From Wild Fidalgo, a pair of Bald Eagles soar over Kiket Island in Skagit Bay.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Exploring Kukutali 2:  Tombolo Wildflowers

In a previous post, we took our first look at Kiket Island and the Kukutali Preserve.  Recall that this is the newest venue in Washington's Deception Pass State Park.  We ended our trek at the beautiful curved beach along the tombolo that ties Kiket Island to little Flagstaff Island.  There is an old ruin here, a boathouse with a small laboratory attached.  I believe this was a base for researchers from the University of Washington.  They conducted several marine biology surveys of the island in the 1970's.

On this visit, I want to look at the plant life growing on and around the tombolo.  This is a harsh, dry, wind-blown, salty environment with little more than sand and gravel for soil.  There are some plants that appear to grow out of solid stone.  Remember that plant cycles are continuous in any location.  What will be seen blooming will change from week to week.  These visits were in late June and early July.  As usual, if I have misidentified anything, please let me know.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
On the path to the tombolo, we pass a large, dense thicket of Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium).  I have never seen it growing this densely or vigorously anywhere before.  Some plants were 8 feet/2.4 meters tall.

Nootka Rose (Rosa Nutkana)
Also lining the trail and the banks along the beaches were thickets of Nootka Rose (Rosa Nutkana) now in full bloom.  It will continue blooming until August.

Both sides of the tombolo are lined with sloping gravel beaches, here seen at low tide.  A tombolo is a sandbar created by tidal currents that ties an island to another land mass.  This land form is stabilized and maintained by the currents.

The top of the tombolo is a dry, wind-blown strip of grassland.  Annual rainfall averages only 20-22 inches/51-56 cm.  What little soil there is has came from decaying plant material.  There must have been a succession of plant communities here before the conditions were suitable for what we see now.  Even in fair weather, the wind seems to blow constantly across the sandbar.

Nevertheless, the tombolo supports an amazing variety of plant life.  The purple flower here is Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) from the Pea family.  The white is Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  The lacy plant on the right is Silver Burweed (Ambrosia chamissonis).  There are several garden varieties of Yarrow.  It is a good choice where drought tolerance is needed.

If you are wondering what will grow well in your yard, look around and see what grows naturally in your area.  What you find will be a good starting point for planning a garden.  Using cultivated varieties of local native plants will minimize the needs for irrigation, fertilizer and pesticides.

Silver Burweed (Ambrosia chamissonis)
Silver Burweed was an interesting plant that was growing everywhere.  On the beach, it grew low to the ground around the driftwood.  In the grassy areas it was more upright.  It is a plant specific to coastal dunes and gravelly beaches, according to Pojar and McKinnon.

Here are closeup views of Common Yarrow.  There are varieties that bloom pink, lavender, yellow and red.  They are said to repel undesired insects such as mosquitoes, flies and cucumber beetles, while attracting the good ones including lady bugs and bees.

Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus)
Beach Pea, true to its name, was another plant growing right on the beach around the driftwood.

Entire-leaved Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia)

Entire-leaved Gumweed is a beautiful Aster with an awkward name.  It is another plant specific to rocky shores in maritime habitats.  Here it was growing in every environment of the tombolo complex.  I have also seen it growing on the beach at Lotte Bay inside Deception Pass State Park.  It continues blooming well into October.

The beaches and rocky outcrops were host to brown Rockweed (Fucus distichus) and Sea Lettuce (Ulva spp.).  When the tide is out, many organisms may be found hiding under the Rockweed.

The prevailing winter storms blow from the south.  On the more sheltered north beach of the tombolo grows American Glasswort (Salicornia virginica).  The plant is halophytic which means it is salt tolerant.  Also known as Sea Asparagus and Pickleweed, it is sold as a salad green in seafood stores and chic restaurants.  Salicornia species are being tested as a source of biofuel. They contain 32% oil and can be irrigated with salt water.

Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium)
Stonecrop is a little succulent that likes to grow from crevices in bare stone.  In late spring, it begins to explode with bright yellow flowers.  It was growing all over the east face of Flagstaff Island.  You will also find a lot of it growing on the stone walls lining the Rosario-Bowman Nature Trail within Deception Pass State Park nearby.  I have been attempting to grow it in my garden with limited success.  When planted in soil, it seems to just fall apart.  I keep trying to get the individual plantlets to take root between the stones of a rockery.  It is found in nurseries with the names Sedum 'Cape Blanco' and Sedum 'Purpureum.'

Small-flowered Alumroot (Heuchera micrantha)
Another plant clinging to the stone face of Flagstaff Island is a Heuchera, Small-flowered Alumroot.  Here it is seen with large, feathery flowers and surrounded by Stonecrop.  Several hybrids of this plant are also available in nurseries including 'Painted Lady,' 'Martha Roderick,' 'Palace Purple' and 'Ruffles.'

Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima juncoides)
This is a relative of English Plantain or Buckthorn, that pesky weed in your lawn.  Sea Plantain is an attractive little plant growing at the top of the beach and from rock crevices.

Lichens are fungi that have incorporated algae as a source of photosynthesis and nutrition.  I am finding it extremely difficult to identify them.  This must be a highly specialized discipline.  In the photo, some parts are dusty patches and others are leafy.  I found several similar photos on the internet.  All were identified simply as "orange lichen."  This one was growing all around the stony sides of Flagstaff Island.  It is also seen growing on the stone cliff faces around Bowman Bay in the main park.

Finally, it is not possible for me to pass up an opportunity to post a favorite photo subject, the Deception Pass Bridge.  It connects Whidbey Island on the left with Fidalgo Island on the right.  This view is from the south beach of Kiket just east of the tombolo.  Extending to the left, you can also see the reef between Flagstaff and Skagit Islands that is exposed during minus tides.

At Wild Fidalgo, you will find a related post from this same visit.  It describes an encounter with the rare and charming shorebird called the Black Oystercatcher.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Mystery Solved and Some Wildlife Too

Japanese Photinia (Photinia glabra)
From Australia, no less, the identification of my mystery shrub was provided by Roman Soroka.  Recall that three plants came up voluntarily in the garden and two are now blooming for the first time in ten years.  It is Japanese Photinia (Photinia glabra).  He explains that it is a popular hedge plant in Australia because of its drought tolerance.  It is not at all common in the Pacific Northwest US.  We have a big destination nursery nearby, and they don't stock it or even know of it.  Apparently, it grows somewhere in the neighborhood and the seeds liked the dry, dusty soil in my yard.  The common Photinia in gardens here is Photina x fraseri, a hybrid of P. glabra which has much larger leaves.  It is also grown in screen hedges or as a specimen shrub.  Now that it has been pointed out, the kinship of the two plants is obvious to me.

This explains why I did not find it in any of the native plant books or websites I searched.  I was led astray by the notion that it was an indigenous plant of some sort.  Lesson learned.  Here the entire shrub is seen growing beneath the birdhouse.  The flowers are quite fragrant.  At first you think sweet and rose-like, but quickly, an unpleasant quality enters the sensation.  Imagine something that got burnt in chemistry lab with a sweet overtone.  Burning rubber and roses!

Roman sent this photo of his Photinia glabra hedge growing in Australia.  It was actually a photo taken to capture a shot of the amazing spider web.  He also sent a photo of the lady of the house:

Notice that she has a male suitor carefully approaching from behind.  We know what his fate will be.  In the spirit of the post, I have identified her as Nephila edulis, the Golden Orb Weaver.  See if you agree.

I want to send my thanks and appreciation to Roman Soroka in Australia for helping me identify my mystery shrub.  I also want to thank him for sharing his photos.  My previous mystery plant was solved by Malcolm Evison in the UK.  These are remarkable examples of the power, reach and fellowship of the internet.

That just leaves this plant where I need help with identification.  Stems on new shoots are red and all of the leaves are small, 2 inches (5 cm) or less in length:

Weather Statistics for June, 2011

TemperatureHigh 71.3° FLow 46.4° FMean 55.5° F
Rainfall0.66 inches
WindHigh 16 mphAverage 1.2 mphDom Dir SW

Observed at South Fidalgo Island (See Climate page for complete climatological data)