Holding hands on the way to a nature park

I love this picture of my first-born grandson, Jun, holding the hands of my sisters.  It is very sweet, and I can’t believe how tiny he was, and how big he is now.  We were on the way to a nature park…

On the way with Juns hand held by great aunties

It was on my bulletin board for many years, and I’m glad I printed it, because the hard drive on the computer where I stored the original digital photo CRASHED.  I lost all the photos in the series.

So now it is scanned, and in digital format once again.  I know…back up, back up, back up, right?  I treasure my photos, and better at backing up photo files now.

The Los Angeles Spread

Whenever I had to do work in Los Angeles in my prior job,  I often elected to drive (from Northern California) instead of booking a flight and flying into LAX.

My rationale was by the time I drove to the airport, parked, shuttled, waited, flew, picked up a rental car, I am really only gaining 1 1/2 to 2 hours of travel time.  I didn’t mind the easy drive, and liked the alone time and being in my own space.

Los Angeles from above web

Downtown L.A. buildings visible from this shot…

On the way to see my sisters in the East Coast last fall, my flight had a layover in LAX and I took these photos.

The view from above gave me a good perspective of the size of the greater Los Angeles area, and an appreciation for why it was easy to feel disoriented in such a big city.

LA Spread web

Higher up, L.A.’s downtown high rises blend into the wider landscape

Population wise, L.A. is the second largest metropolitan area in the U.S., after New York.

With over 13 million people, Los Angeles has the distinction of being the most populous city in California.  The Greater Los Angeles area has over 18 million people, making it the most populous county in the United States.

Cities similar in size to Los Angeles are London, Buenos Aires, and Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Southern California coast Leaving LAX

Leaving LAX – Southern California coastline

Post for the weekly WordPress Photo Challenge theme from Michelle W,  “On the Way”:

For this week’s photo challenge, stop and photograph the metaphorical roses (or the literal tulips). Share a shot of something you saw, did, or experienced on the way: a photo not of your destination, but of an interesting thing along the way. Show us something stunning others might have missed, or find some unexpected beauty in a mundane moment. Maybe we can all start looking at the in-betweens a bit differently!

So while my destination was the East Coast, I appreciated seeing Los Angeles. this time…from above.

Pistachios and the Manny Pacquiao ad

Pistachio Almost 100% of the pistachios grown in the U.S. are grown in California, mostly in counties in the Central Valley area.

Pistachios are a high value crop, and rank #5 in California’s agricultural exports, after almonds, dairy products, wine, and walnuts.

The pistachios grown here are the type called “Kerman”, which originated in Iran. I used to shop at a Middle East market when we lived in the East Bay that sold delicious baklava types of desserts, many featuring pistachios inside, or sprinkled on top.  It must play a big role in the food of Iran and the region.

California PistachiosAfter Iran, the U.S. is the 2nd largest producer of pistachios in the world.

This chart of the top 10 world producers of pistachios is interesting because though Iran leads in production, the yields per ton/hectare are significantly higher in the U.S, and high in Turkey.

Top 10 producers of pistachios in World

Chart via Wikipedia commons

So, the industry here in California must be doing something different, if they can produce more nuts per tree, or perhaps they developed varieties with greater yields.

I used to drive past what seemed like endless pistachio orchards during trips to Southern California, when my grandchildren lived in San Diego.

Pistachio Kerman

If I did not want to take Highway 101, I would cross over on another highway in Paso Robles, to get to Highway 5, the main artery freeway to Southern California.

The crossover part of the trip going towards Lost Hills was the area where a lot of pistachios are grown.  It must thrive in this part of California.

I do wonder if the drought situation we face here will affect the orchards.  Since pistachios are native to desert areas, probably not, and hopefully they will live on past the drought years.

Pistachio trees can produce nuts after 7 years, and peak production is at around 20 years.  I’ve read that they can continue to produce nuts until 50, and even at 80 years old, but by then, the trees are too big for the nut harvesting machines.

Pistachios

Do you remember the red-dyed pistachios?  I think the first time I had pistachios, we still lived in the Philippines — and they were red.  It only took a few nuts to turn my fingers, tongue, and lips red.

It turns out that the beige shells of pistachios can have stains due to hand-harvesting, so manufacturers dyed the nuts red to hide the stain.  Who knew!

They don’t do that anymore because pistachios are now harvested by machines…so no more stain problems.  Good thing, because who knows what mystery red dye # was used.  I think I would rather have my pistachios “natural” anyway…

I’ve seen a variety of humorous pistachio commercials over the last year, through a marketing campaign by the “Wonderful” brand The most memorable for me featured Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao.

Have you seen this ad?  They may have just played in certain regions, which is why I am posting it.

As a Filipino-American, it is good to see Manny Pacquiao reach a level of success and appeal to promote and endorse products in the U.S. — even if I don’t like to watch boxing.  Here is another of his product endorsements (Hennessy) from the blog Taking a Deep Breath (and a write up about Manny’s recent fight against Mayweather).

Do you remember the red-dyed pistachios?  What is your favorite way to eat pistachios?  By itself or as a part of something else, like the baklava type desserts?   I remember getting green colored pistachio ice cream when my daughter was younger, but that ice cream flavor does not seem to be very popular these days.

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is everywhere – post for Earth-friendly Chroniclers’ #10

Poison Hemlock flowers 1It is easy mistake the poison hemlock plant (Conium maculatum) with another plant called “Queen Anne’s lace” (Daucus carota – and also called wild carrot).

Poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s lace belong to the same family of plants (carrots and parsley).  So, not only are the delicate, pretty white flowers similar, the leaves are similar too!

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed seeing the beautiful white flowers of these plants in different parts of California.  I spent a lot of time on the road in my prior work — and a lot of time stuck in traffic in the Bay Area — which means, a lot of time to look out the window and see plants growing on the side the road.

I thought these flowers all came from the same plant (Queen Anne’s lace) and did not know very much about them.

Through the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge this month — focused on biodiversity — I now know that there are two different plants with very similar flowers that grow here in my ecoregion.

Blue Sky and trees

Challenge, #10 asked that we play a naturalist version of I “Spy!” at our ecoregion, to take a camera, and observe what we see.  I went to the greenbelt space behind where we live here in the Central Coast.

I “spied” these familiar flowers and wanted to know more, because there were many of the plants here.  Most were already flowering, with white, lacy blooms.  There were rather tall plants (taller than me) and some of the flowers came from shorter plants.

Unlike the yellow starthistle or iceplants (posted for Challenge #9), which are listed as a high priority invasive plant, the Calflora website listed the poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) as a “moderate” problem.

Poison Hemlock in CaliforniaWhile it is good to know that this plant is not (at least not yet) as problematic as the iceplant or starthistle in California, it was disturbing to learn that these plants have naturalized here and are now invasive.

Even more disturbing is to learn that all parts of these plants are toxic (flowers, seeds, leaves, canes)…and even the dead parts of the plants can remain toxic for up to 3 years.

Poison Hemlock flower details

And not mildly toxic, or an irritant, but really TOXIC, as in the plant is deadly for humans and animals.

Poison hemlock is native to Europe’s Mediterranean region.  The ancient Greeks used the plant to poison prisoners condemned to death — including the philosopher Socrates.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David 1787

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Because these plants are in the same family of plants as carrots and parsley, it is understandable how people can accidentally ingest the plants.  From a May, 2015 Food Safety News article:

All parts of poison-hemlock can kill humans and animals, even when it is dried. Foragers can easily mistake it for wild carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace), parsley, parsnip, sweet cicely, anise, fennel, wild chervil, and caraway, as well as other plants in the parsley or carrot family (Apiaceae), such as the violently toxic western-water-hemlock, or watercress, which is in another family.

…“Misidentifying poison hemlock or other toxic plants can have truly tragic results,” says Alison Halpern, executive secretary of the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. “Learn from an expert before foraging for wild plants, and if you think you have poison hemlock on your property, contact your county weed board, conservation district, or WSU Extension office to learn how to safely get rid of it.”

While poison hemlock is considered invasive, the Quee Anne’s lace plant, though not native to California (and a plant that has also naturalized in the wild), is not considered invasive.

Queen Annes Lace CalfloraWhich means…the plants that I’ve observed growing by the side of the road and in other places in California for all these years, were likely poison hemlock and not Queen Anne’s lace.

In other parts of the U.S., it may be easier to differentiate the two based on bloom periods, but in California, the flowering periods are similar:  Poison hemlocks bloom from April to September, while the Queen Anne’s lace flowers from May to September.

Poison Hemlock Plants

Poison hemlock plants can grow up to 8 feet tall.

Last summer, my grandsons and I spent time a lot of time walking around this greenbelt area (where there are also invasive Himalayan blackberries — and poison oak).

They know to stay away from poison oaks…and I’m glad they did not try to pick any of these flowers.

Poison Hemlock flowers 6

Unless you are absolutely sure which plant is which, it is best to treat these lovely flowers as poisonous, and to be careful of handling them.

I don’t have photos of the Queen’s Anne lace plant yet, but you can view a good collection at this USDA plant database page.

Poison Hemlock flowers

If you want to learn more about how to remove this toxic plant from your area, please contact your local agency, e.g., for Monterey County, start with the Agricultural Commissioner’s office, or see this USDA State Resource page.

The King County (Washington State) website has a section on noxious weed control. Excerpt and link below…

Removing poison hemlockWhen digging or mowing large amounts of poison-hemlock, it is best to wear gloves and a mask or take frequent breaks to avoid becoming ill.  One individual had a severe reaction after pulling plants on a hot day because the toxins were absorbed into her skin…(click here for more).

Poison Hemlock Plants 2Since writing this post, I’ve noticed these plants in spots (by the roadside mostly) here in Monterey County, and I’m surprised that it is not listed on Monterey County’s weed threats.

Do poison hemlocks grow where you live?

Did you get the flower and plant confused with the Queen Anne’s lace flowers, as I did?

Broken down barracks of Fort Ord in the Monterey Bay

Starting in 1917 and up to the 1990’s, almost 1,500,000 military troops trained at Fort Ord.  It was a major army post, located here in the Monterey Bay, in California’s central coast.

Although the post closed in 1994, many of the old buildings remain.

Because I was in the military, there is a part of me that is nostalgic about these buildings…and having lived at military bases, they are familiar to me.Fort Ord off Imjin Eucalyptus side barracks

In addition to its role as a major training base for the army, Fort Ord was also a staging and deployment area for troops that fought in World War II, as well as the Vietnam war.

Word War II is known as the most violent and largest armed conflict in history, and troops who trained here were involved in battles in the Philippines — my home country — after the Japanese conquered the Philippines in 1942.

Many of the old buildings at Fort Ord have already been torn down, and eventually, these will too, to be replaced with new housing communities, office and service facilities, and new shopping centers.

Fort Ord off Imjin barracks 6a

I’ve wanted to photograph some of these old buildings before they are gone forever, and glad that I finally had a chance to do so this month.

I was in the Air Force, and our living quarters were called “dormitories”.  But in the army and other armed forces, buildings that house soldiers are called “barracks”.  Definition below:

The English word comes via French from an old Catalan word “barraca” (hut), originally referring to temporary shelters or huts for various people and animals, but today barracks, are usually permanent buildings for military accommodation.

…The main object of barracks is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training, and esprit de corps.

Fort Ord off Imjin barracks 2

These barracks photos are much different from my previous post for The Changing Season photo challenge (the beautiful scenery at Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf).

Fort Ord off Imjin exit side table

Still…I think it is worth posting, and preserving these images, especially as the landscape transitions to something else.

I imagined this place once filled with many soldiers, and the bugle sounds of the morning reveille — the wake up call (short sound clip below).

Over 20 years after the post closure, the abandoned barracks stand, wounded by vandals, and awaiting their end.

Most of the buildings have broken windows…

Doors removed, stairs missing or overtaken by iceplants…

Fort Ord off Imjin no more stairs

Debris around some of the buildings…

What remains at the Imjin exit side of Fort Ord are mature eucalyptus trees, and the ever-present and invasive ice plants — planted there to contain the sand and for erosion control.

Fort Ord off Imjin Eucalyptus trees

Across the street from these barracks, a wellness center and a shopping center is in place, and beyond these new buildings are brand new housing communities.

Future of Fort Ord land 1

The Ford Ord land also houses facilities used by California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB).  With plenty of land available to construct new buildings, CSUMB is predicted to eventually be the largest in the California State University system.

Fort Ord off Imjin Exit

It’s not all going to be developed though…

Thankfully, three years ago, a large part of the Fort Ord area became a national monument, and is federally protected from further development — a great thing for the Monterey Bay area!

In addition to the interior part of the Fort Ord land, beaches in this area are also part of the national monument  / California State Park system, and land set aside for the public.

And so the Fort Ord land that started as an artillery training field almost 100 years ago, and was a major post for the military from World War I to 1994 now continues its transition, with much of the land going back to public use.

Are there military base closures where you live?  How has the government and community transformed the land after closing the military facility?

Related link: President Barack Obama Proclamation – Establishment of the Fort Ord National Monument

…The protection of the Fort Ord area will maintain its historical and cultural significance, attract tourists and recreationalists from near and far, and enhance its unique natural resources, for the enjoyment of all Americans.

Broken little hearts at Dennis the Menace Playground

There is a popular playground in Monterey’s El Estero Park called Dennis the Menace Playground — named after the comic strip character.

P1080030

The creator of Dennis the Menace, cartoonist Hank Ketchum was a local and lived in Pebble Beach, California until his death in 2001, at 81 years old.

More about this park on the graphic below from the Monterey city website…

Story of Dennis the Menace Park

Part of the park’s attraction is a real train steam engine, located at the playground entrance.

My grandchildren have always called this park the “choo choo train” park, and love to climb inside and play around the train steam engine.

We always kept a close eye on them, and when they were smaller, accompanied them up the steps and around the structure.

These days, this is what you will see if you visit the train steam engine…

Boy looking at fenced off train web

…a fenced off area, and one disappointed little kid after another staring at the train.

The city’s explanation for the closure is below…

Steam Engine train closedBoy leaving fenced off steam engine webIf they have never played inside of it, it probably does not matter, they are just curious.  But if the kids are accustomed to playing inside (like my grandchildren), then they’ll be a bit brokenhearted after learning of the closure.

Despite the train steam engine area closure, there is a lot do in the wonderful playground, so it is still definitely worth a visit.

The playground is next to a lake (and an easy walk to the beach), and there are also paddle boats if you want to spend time on the lake itself.  More information here.

The climbing structure next to the train is a good place for kids to expend energy and get exercise.

I spent many years in the insurance industry so I understand liability issues and the reason for fencing off the steam engine area…but that does not make it easier to explain when my grandchildren ask “why did they close it, Lola…why can’t we go inside… like before?”

Train Stem Engine at playground

Do you think we are overprotective of children in our modern society?

If you have children or grandchildren, would you allow them to play in this train steam engine, within the confines of a park playground?

The Iceberg in Monterey County’s field of greens

Iceberg Lettuce

Head of Iceberg lettuce growing in the field

A few months after immigrating to the U.S. with my mother and younger sister, I had my first job — and it included cutting into plenty of iceberg lettuce heads.

I was 16 years old and my job was a waitress at a chain of family style restaurants in Portland, Maine. Part of my work was to do simple food preparation, and to restock the salad bar.

The kitchen manager showed me how she wanted the Iceberg prepared… “Cut it this way, and include the core — people like to eat that” she said.

The iceberg lettuce was what you started with, the base of what you piled everything else on to, at the restaurant’s salad bar.

Because it was 1979, the salad bar consisted of potato “salad”, macaroni “salad”, 3-bean “salad” and other items like sliced beets (from the can), tomatoes, croutons, crackers, eggs and a variety of dressing.  It is nothing like what you would see today at buffet restaurant salad bars, where there are always more than one lettuce option — and at least some spinach leaves!

At 16, I didn’t give much thought to where the Icebergs (or really any vegetables) were grown.  But I’m pretty sure the Iceberg lettuce I was cutting into — especially since it was the start of winter in Maine — likely came from the Salinas Valley in Monterey County, California.

Field of Greens

I’ve lived in a few places in the U.S. (and Germany) since we left Maine many years ago, and now live in Monterey County.

Besides the beautiful coast of central California, a prominent feature of the landscape here are the farm fields.

Salinas Valley Fields web

Monterey County is an agricultural powerhouse and the only county in the United States with more than $1 Billion in annual vegetable sales.

As you can imagine, growing this much of anything means this place is enveloped in farm fields.

Field of Greens 2

There are farm fields next to schools, near shopping centers, neighborhoods, and on both sides of Highway 101 heading south of the county, if you are driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

There are also farm fields surprisingly close to the ocean, where expanses of sandy soil — some of which were once wetland areas — were turned into farm fields.

Sand Dunes across field of iceberg Lettuce

The most valuable crops grown here are lettuce leaves (for bag salads or packages of mix greens) and lettuce heads.

Lettuce grows well in sandy soil, and cool, mild weather…and yes, indeed, we have lots of sandy soil, and very mild weather here, perfect conditions to grow lettuce.

Although the potential of the land in this area as fertile farmland was discovered in the 1860’s, commercial farming did not take off until the expansion of the Southern Pacific railroad lines.

Starting in 1875, Chinese laborers who came with the railroad expansion worked to drain lakes and swamps in the valley, creating 500 acres of arable farmland in and around Salinas.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge (under management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).  To get to the refuge, you have to drive on a dirt road that ends at the refuge parking lot, facing the Pacific Ocean.

Both sides of the dirt road have farm fields.  Since I’m always curious about what grows in farm fields, I pulled over to take a look…

Field of iceberg Lettuce 2

The fields were filled with rows upon rows of Iceberg lettuce.  I didn’t think people still ate Icebergs, especially now that there are so many more salad greens available in the market.

When my daughter was young, I opted to buy romaine or other types of lettuce after I learned that icebergs were composed mostly of water, and had the least amount of vitamins compared to other lettuce varieties.

Truck with boxes of produce

Truck loaded with boxes of lettuce

But it turns out that Americans still love their Icebergs!

Through writing this post, I learned that of the 35 pounds of lettuce that a typical American eats per year, most of it (about 22 pounds) is the Iceberg variety.

A press release from Salinas based produce company Tanimura and Antle had these interesting Iceberg lettuce facts:

  • The Iceberg was also called “crisphead lettuce” because of its ability to stay fresher longer than leaf lettuces
  • The name “Iceberg” comes from the way the lettuce was packed and transported on ice, making the heads look like icebergs.
  • Records indicate that the first carlot shipment of Iceberg was made in 1919 and took 21 days to reach New York from California.
  •  By 1931, 20,000 railcars were shipped annually. In 1950, over 11.5 million crates of Iceberg was grown, packed and shipped in Monterey County, California
  • California produces approximately 72% of the Iceberg lettuce grown in the U.S, and the Iceberg variety accounts for 70% of the lettuce raised in California
  • Depending on the time of year Iceberg is planted, it takes anywhere from 70 to 130 days from planting to harvest.

So…although the Iceberg’s popularity is dropping, it is still more popular than the Romaine type lettuce (a favorite for those who like “Caesar” salads — like my daughter) and other salad greens.

I suppose because it is a  mild tasting lettuce (not bitter), and stays fresh longer than other varieties, it is understandable why it is still a favorite for many salad eaters.

Field of Greens 1

You never have to tell my grandson Gabriel to eat his salad — he is known in the family as the salad lover.  He is only 8, but as long as I can remember, he will usually ask for a second serving of salad, which made me think that my grandsons’ had palates from another planet.

Do you still eat Iceberg lettuce?  If not, what type of lettuce typically makes it to your lunch plate or dinner table?

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NOTE: This post is part of learning about, and understanding the soil where I live (2015 is the International Year of Soils — designated by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) See this post from  http://justanothernatureenthusiast.org/2015/04/19/unless-earth-friendly-friday-soil/ for more information.  I’m also learning more about what remains of the wetlands in the area, as I read that 90% of the area’s wetlands were drained for commercial farming purposes.

Related: If you would rather grow than buy your lettuce, visit the University of Illinois “Watch your Garden Grow” website for tips about growing lettuce, best varieties for your region, and recipes.

Radio report at NPR on food waste and “Landfill of Lettuce” (What happens to salad past its prime)

The Australian Shepherd and his Baba Bear

Our Australian shepherd is the smartest (and craziest) dog we have ever had.

A funny thing about him is his love of toys.  We started to call his stuffed toys  “baba bear”, so if you say to him, “Go get your baba bear”…he’ll run off and fetch one, and bring it over to you.

Tuks and his baba bear 1

A few times, I’ve seen him nap with one, as captured on this photo — my entry for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge theme of Enveloped.

Despite their name, Australian shepherds (also known as “Aussies”) were bred and developed in the Western U.S.  There are different variations in their color, and I think our guy is called a “blue merle”.  He has one blue eye, and one brown eye, which I think adds to his crazy and sweet personality.  Crazy ol’ blue eye!

He is turning 15 this year, so has slowed down a lot. Considering that dogs similar in size to Aussies live from 11 to 13 years, we are happy that ours is still here for us to love.

A little about the Aussie’s history:

The Australian Shepherd’s history is vague, as is the reason for its misleading name. It is believed by some that the breed has Basque origins in Spain and was used there by shepherds. Those shepherds might, then, have emigrated to the West Coast of the United States via Australia.  However, scientific evidence has shown that the breed has lineage from American dogs that originally came over the Bering Land Bridge. What is known is that it developed in western North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Iceplant Invasion: Post for the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ #9

Ice Plant flowerIceplants (Carpobrotus edulis) are also called “sea fig” or “hottentot fig” and the second plant I’m learning about, and featuring for the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge #9.

The focus for challenge #9 is biodiversity and invasive plant species…and what Jane, the host of the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ call the plant “bullies”.

As with the yellow starthistle (my 1st post for this challenge) which grew all over Contra Costa County, the iceplant is another plant I mistakenly thought as native to this part of the central coast of California.

Ice Plant by Fort Ord Dunes 1

Photo taken just a few weeks ago at Fort Ord Dunes National Monument area. Don’t let the pretty pink flowers fool you, these plants are very aggressive, and crowds out native sand dune plants.

Why did I think it was native?  Well, because these plants are plentiful all along the coast, especially around the Fort Ord Dunes area (photo above).

Articles about the beautiful coastal Monterey County town of Pacific Grove feature images of iceplants in full bloom —- including on the official city website.  The Perkins Park area of Pacific Grove is noted for its “magic carpet” of iceplants.

City of Pacifc Grove Website

Main page of the Pacific Grove official website. The mass of pink flowers are all iceplants.

Among the first scenic coastal photos we took when we moved here, featured ice plants in the background.

The photo below is my grandson, Jun-Jun, at a popular beach side / highway stop near Seaside, California.  He is surrounded by…you guessed it, ICEPLANTS.

Jun surrounded by iceplants

And at a paved road area at the Fort Ord Dunes (part of the Monterey Bay Coastal Bike Path) here is Jun riding his bike with his grandfather, where you can see iceplants growing on both sides of the road.  To the left of the photo is traffic from California State Highway 1.

Jun and Jeff riding bikes at Fort Ord Dunes

The photo below of my younger grandson, Gabriel, zooming away (actually, slowly foot pedaling away) on his toy cycle shows more of the red-hued leaves of the iceplant in the background, facing the Pacific Ocean.  Yes, way more iceplants.Gabriel at Fort Ord Dunes area

Iceplants are found on many beaches here in the Monterey Bay.  The greenery you see on the sand dunes below at Fort Ord Dunes are indeed…more ice plants!

Fort Ord Dunes beach and iceplants

Iceplants are so common in this area that it is easy to assume that they have always been here.

Non-native plants have been brought to California since the first contact with Europeans.  A little about the big problem of the loss of grasslands, and native coastal plants from ElkhornSlough.org:

Approximately 99% of California native grasslands have been lost over the last 200 years, making them one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in the U.S.

Loss of coastal scrub in some parts of California has also been severe. Within the Elkhorn Slough watershed, coastal scrub assemblages often face threats from infestation by tall exotic weeds, such as poison hemlock, fennel, and jubata grass.

Because most of California has a mild Mediterranean climate, it is easy to see how plants from other parts of the world, especially with similar weather, can naturalize here.

Iceplants creep across Moss Landing State Beach

Iceplants growing across the Moss Landing State Beach area, farm fields across the river water.

Typically, these plant invaders have no natural enemies, or wildlife that eat the plants, so it is easy for them to become plant bullies.

Photos above of iceplants spilling past fence areas at the Moss Landing State Beach pathway.

Apparently, iceplants are really good at crowding out native plants…the photo below is a good example:Ice plant circling the native plant

The plant in the middle of the photo is a beach Sagewort (Artemisia pycnocephala), which is the most common California native plant found around sand dunes.  You can see that this one is being encircled by the aggressive iceplant, which will eventually choke out the sagewort.  Iceplants are very good at spreading!

While iceplants in their native South Africa are great for the wildlife there (where turtles, snakes, antelopes, lizards and other animals eat the plant’s leaves, flowers and seeds) it does not provide food or shelter to native California coastal wildlife.

Ice Plant Bagaud French Mediterrennean

Photo of iceplant covering landscape on the French Mediterranean island, Bagaud island, in the Port-Cros National Park. Photo by Vincent via Wikipedia and public domain

In parts of the Mediterranean coast where the iceplant naturalized, the plant also helps other invasive species to thrive.  I found this part about invasive mutualism of interest from a Wikipedia article:

On the Mediterranean coast, Carpobrotus has spread out rapidly and now parts of the coastline are completely covered by this invasive species. Moreover, another invasive species, the black rat, has been shown to enhance the spreading of the ice plant through its feces. As the ice plant represents a food resource for the rat, both benefit from each other (invasive mutualism).

Invasive Plants in the Western United States

Here is more about invasive plants from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California:

Estimates indicate that invasive plants are spreading at about 4,600 acres per day on federal lands alone in the Western United States.

Weeds have invaded approximately 17 million acres of public rangelands in the West – more than quadrupling their range from 1985-1995. In northern California, yellow starthistle increased from 1 million acres in 1981 to 10 million acres today.

While the yellow starthistle were introduced by accident, the iceplants were planted in this area on purpose.

Ice plants at Moss Landing Harbor

Ice plants at Moss Landing Harbor (in the water are two Southern Sea Otters)  Click on the photo if you would like to see more photos and learn about sea otters that live in the Monterey Bay area.

Concerns about soil erosion, and the belief decades ago that iceplants would help to stabilize soil and sand dune areas led to mass plantings, especially in military bases, like at Fort Ord.

In the 1970s, drought issues and the need to use drought tolerant vegetation along California highways led CalTrans — the California Department of Transportation, who manage over 50,000 miles (80,467 km) of the state’s highways and freeways — to plant iceplants on some freeway embankments and dividers.

Except…the folks who promoted the use of iceplants to stabilize soil did not have the information we now have, or the awareness about biodiversity issues, and the extent (and ability) of these plants to crowd out native plants.

On the use of iceplants as a soil stabilizer, from a Wikipedia article:

Despite its use as a soil stabilizer, it actually exacerbates and speeds up coastal erosion. It holds great masses of water in its leaves, and its roots are very shallow. In the rainy season, the added weight on unstable sandstone slopes and dunes increases the chances of slope collapse and landslides.

Oh no! So now what?

A lot of work will need to be done to remove iceplant infestations, and to re-plant native plants and restore dune habitat areas with California coastal plants.

The photo below from Moss Landing State Beach, where dune restoration projects are in place, gives an idea of what the sand dunes around these parts are supposed to look like…

Dune Restoration

Removing iceplants will give native plants a chance to recover, like the yellow sand verbenas (Abronia-latifolia)…

Abronia latifolia yellow sand verbena

and the Monterey spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens).

Monterey spineflower Chorizanthe pungens via Wikipedia commons

So that eventually, the dunes here will look more like the photos below, instead of iceplant intensive, like what we are used to seeing…

Monterey Bay Sand Dune Plants

Coastal cities and public agencies, as well as non-profit organizations are putting forth dune restoration projects, working sections at a time to remove highly invasive species like iceplants.

Native plants returning to dunes

There are still many iceplant patches in this area that need to be removed, but native plants are returning to dunes at the Moss Landing State Beach area.

This will take funding, a lot of work, a lot of volunteers, and educating the public about the “return of the natives”.

Native Plants Dune Vegetation

Because ice plants are succulents and have a high water content, burning is not a recommended way to eradicate these plant bullies.  They will have to be removed by pulling the plant out (thankfully, it has shallow roots), flipping them over and piling them up to compost in areas where it makes sense to compost them.  I’ve also read about cities and agencies allowing the use of a specific type of herbicide to kill the plants, under expert supervision (see the Pacific Grove city website and type in “ice plant” in the search box for more details).

I hope by posting this information and photos, you learned more about this invasive plant (as I have), and it is another step towards helping to control the spread of this plant bully in the Monterey Bay area.

To join in the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Invasive Plant Challenge, click here, and be sure to visit blog posts for this event, including from South Africa / Cape Peninsula – by Nature on the Edge, from Australia – An Evolving Scientist and in Oregon, by challenge host Just Another Nature Enthusiast.

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Talk about iceplants just being part of the landscape here…we got this magazine yesterday, and I see the red hues on the iceplants make a very nice addition to the front page cover photo.  

Ice plants on cover of VIA magazine

Screen shot of digital version of Via Magazine’s Summer 2015 issue.  The spot is listed inside the magazine as from Marin County, California (in the North Bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge)

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ABOUT FORT ORD – DESIGNATED A NATIONAL MONUMENT IN 2012

If you visit the Monterey Bay area and want to go to a super clean beach without many visitors, check out the Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

In April, 2012, a large part of the Fort Ord area became a National Monument, and is federally protected from further development — a good thing for the Monterey Bay!

Before becoming a U.S. National Monument, Fort Ord land was used by the U.S. Military as a training area.  Starting in 1917 and up to the 1990’s, almost 1,500,000 troops trained at Fort Ord. In addition to its role as a major training base for the army, it was also a staging and deployment area for army troops that fought in World War II as well as the Vietnam war.

Ft Ord Barracks

Fort Ord Barracks — awaiting demolition. Despite the military base closed for over 20 years now, ice plants survive — as you can see on this photograph — and are seen all over the Fort Ord land.

The base officially closed in 1994, and many of the military structures (mostly barracks) have been demolished, and the land now houses facilities used by California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), and other tracts of land are being developed for housing and commercial uses.

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More information:

Return of the Natives – A California State Universtiy Monterey Bay (CSUMB) community and school-based environmental education program to restore native habitat – On why they are doing this work:

The Monterey area’s natural landscape and ecosystems are under siege from an army of invasive “exotic” plant species or WEEDS.

Most have been introduced for horticultural purposes, or came as agricultural stowaways, from areas of the world that have similar climates to central California. Spreading onto disturbed soils such as road cuts, and lacking natural enemies, these non-native invaders quickly replace native plants and overrun fragile ecosystems.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary page about Coastal Dune Community

The Importance of Native Species – Information and resource links from the Elkhorn Slough Foundation / National Estuarine Research Reserve

Coastal Training Program from Elkhorn Slough – Endangered Species Fact Sheet

About iceplants(Carpobrotus edulis) – Wikipedia article

President Barack Obama Proclamation – Establishment of the Fort Ord National Monument

Head above the clouds

Despite the drought, and our meager rainfall so far this year in California, we actually did have storms earlier this year, significant enough to produce some scary looking clouds here in the Monterey Bay area (photos captured with my phone camera)…

Storm Clouds over Salinas Valley

Storm clouds over highway

Sun through the dark clouds

I don’t normally think about photographing clouds, but I do like to take sunset photos which can sometimes produce interesting cloud photos.

I did not think much about this sunset shot below because of the lack of color, but on second look, I actually like the grays and the cloud formation.

Gray Clouds Sunset

So it turns out I have more cloud pictures than I realized, and now, these photos have a “home” in my blog because of this week’s prompt by Brie Anne Demkiw with the theme Forces of Nature:

Whether it’s the towering white clouds on the beaches of Thailand, the massive waterfalls at Yosemite, or the fast-moving fog in San Francisco Bay, it seems everywhere we go, nature is putting on a show for us.

This week, share a force of nature from your corner of the world. It can be something as large as the Grand Canyon, or as small as the tiny seedling steadily breaking is way through the concrete in your driveway.

Nature does put on a show for us every single day, if only we remember to take the time to notice…

Sunset and clouds

Since this post is all about clouds, have you heard of, or used the term “head above the clouds”?

What does the term mean to you?  Is it a good thing, because you can think more clearly above it all, or bad, perhaps because you have lost contact with the ground?

Going above the clouds

From waves to a single California poppy for the WPC: Forces of Nature

My entry for this week’s Weekly WordPress Photo Challenge theme, Forces of Nature

P1190533

I took the above photograph after learning about “scale” in an earlier challenge. I think including the silhouette of the beach visitors adds to convey the vastness (and force) of the ocean, even in a small photograph.  What do you think?

Asilomar Coast  1 web

Asilomar Coast web

The WordPress Photo Challenge is truly a good way to improve photography skills, especially for an amateur and forever newbie like me, and to help with composition ideas.

I also started taking wave shots recently, and include these for the theme…

And a few weeks ago, while at a walk, I was struck by the persistence of this California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) to flower, even in a spot that looks unfavorable for growth.

Single Califiornia Poppy at railroad track Single Califiornia Poppy at railroad track 1

The poppy is the official state flower of California.  It is seen on scenic route signs and “welcome” signs along California highways.

Because this poppy is a state flower, it is illegal to collect it in the wild.  But, as you can imagine, if it can grow here along and in between the gravel filled railroad tracks, it is also easy to grow in gardens as it is drought-tolerant and self seeds.

California Poppy plant in bloom

California Poppy — plant in bloom by roadside, where nothing else is growing

When we lived in the East Bay, my daughter put out some seeds at the front of our home, and every year after that, California poppies showed up without fail during springtime.

More on the California Golden Poppy on Local Wiki, where they note “California Native Americans cherished the poppy as both a source of food and oil extracts”. and on an Arizona State University webpage  which includes information about these poppy plants and its traditional use “as a remedy for toothaches…and as tea for headaches”.

There is also an article on The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano about how to make a poppy tincture.  Who knew!

California Poppy in front of Colton Hall Monterey

California poppies, springtime blooms in front of Colton Hall, Monterey, California

California poppies — if you are not familiar with these flowers — are really bright and pretty, and so lovely to see blooming en masse wild in a field or valley.  Note: If you want to see more California poppy photos, please visit the post with spectacular photography by Jane Lurie.

One year, my older sister, my daughter, and I drove out to Point Reyes (North Bay) for a visit during spring to see the wild poppy blooms.

If you like seeing wildflowers, Point Reyes is a must visit during springtime, as there are over 800 species that grow there. More about Point Reyes, part of the National Park Service here.and see this poster to get a sampling of the wildflowers you can see at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

When my younger sister  (who now lives on the East Coast of the U.S., but lived in California for years) saw the orange poppies for my post on The Changing Season photo challenge, it made her miss the area.

I wonder if California poppies evoke similar feelings for others…and does a little flower count as a force of nature?

Yellow Starthistle: Invasive plants and the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge

Sometimes, it is hard to know what plants are native to the area.  If you see it everywhere, for as long as you can remember, it must be native, right?

Field of Yellow Starthistles

Field of yellow starthistle – Photo via Invasive.org (Creative Commons) by Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California – Davis, Bugwood.org – See more at: http://www.invasive.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5374358#sthash.rDPc2dA5.dpuf

Or maybe the weather and the soil is perfect for the type of plant, and actually it is an invasive plant — a “plant bully”, the theme for this week’s Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ Challenge hosted by JustAnotherNatureEnthusiast.org.

Yellow Starthistle Detail

Photo – Creative Commons by Stephen Ausmus, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org – See more at: http://www.invasive.org

When we lived in the East Bay area (Contra Costa County, California), yellow starthistles grew by the side of the road, in between paved walkways, in open fields…and in our backyard.

The spines under its bright yellow flowers were notorious for its strength and sharpness, and often flattened my daughter’s bike tires.

These thistles were brought to North America  by accident in the 1800’s, and now grow in just about every state in our nation, and in Canada.

It is considered an invasive species in California, and as you can see from the first photo for this post, absolutely thrives in many parts of California.

From the California Invasive Plant Council:

Yellow starthistle is native to southern Europe and western Eurasia and was first collected in Oakland, California, in 1869. It was most likely introduced after 1848 as a contaminant of alfalfa seed. Introductions prior to 1899 were most likely from Chile, while introductions from 1899 to 1927 appear to be from Turkestan, Argentina, Italy, France, and Spain (Gerlach in prep., Hillman and Henry 1928).

By 1917 it had become a serious weed in the Sacramento Valley and was spreading rapidly along roads, trails, streams, ditches, overflow lands, and railroad rights-of-way (Newman 1917). In 1919 Willis Jepson observed its distribution near Vacaville and stated: “It is 1,000 times as common as ten years ago, perhaps even six years ago” (Jepson 1919).

Yellow starthistles grow and thrive all over Contra Costa County, and in particular in the Black Diamond Mine areas (part of the East Bay Regional Park District), where these photos of our dogs Jake and Sara were taken in spring and early summer.

Jakey Boy

Jake — our black lab mix and best pound dog ever!

Sara Sassafras

Sara — the smallest, and sweetest Newfoundland…

During hikes in the summer and fall, we had to check our dogs during and after in case thistle spikes lodged near their paws, or attached to their fur.

Jake and Sara Contra Costa County hike

Our dogs Jake and Sara — ahead of us in scenery typical of Eastern Contra Costa County, California. By summer, many fields (like this one) will be blanketed with yellow starthistle flowers…establishing itself in wider and wider areas…

By summer, you could see the yellow starthistle’s flowers across many of the fields and hiking trails.  It crowds out native plants…and because of its long tap root, uses water that would otherwise be used by native grasses and native plants species.

It took me several years to completely get rid of it in our backyard.  I don’t like using herbicides (or pesticides) so I manually pulled each one I found.  Because of its long tap roots, I had to get at the base of the plant (with gloves because the rest of the plant also had sharp and itch-producing properties) and do a sort of twist and pull motion to get at it, and then dispose of it in the garbage.

Garden area

After pulling out yellow starthistles from the backyard, we eventually had a decent garden and patio area. Photo of the garden area by the side of the house is of my daughter (in the middle) her friend, Jennifer at right, and our dog, Sara to the left.

With diligence, it is possible to get rid of yellow starthistles in an enclosed area, and once our garden plants and pavers were in place, I did not see anymore of it.

It’s another story in many parts of the Western United States.  Again, from the From the California Invasive Plant Council:

Yellow starthistle had spread to over a million acres of California by the late 1950s and nearly two million acres by 1965. In 1985 it was estimated to cover eight million acres in California (Maddox and Mayfield 1985) and perhaps ten to twelve million acres a decade later. It is equally problematic around Medford in southwestern Oregon and in Hells Canyon in Oregon and Idaho (Maddox et al. 1985). It also infests, to a lesser degree, areas in eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and Idaho (Roch and Roch 1988).

Aside from small-scale manual removal, other methods to control this invasive species are listed on the California Invasive Plant Council, including mechanical methods (mowing down the plants before the flowers produce seed in the summertime).

The USDA has also approved and continues to experiment with insects that attack the plant’s flowers to minimize seed production.

Horse

Photo of horse taken at a ranch in Placer County, near the Sacramento Metropolitan area.

I’ve seen articles that indicated the yellow starthistle is poisonous to horses, but grazing by sheep, goats or cattle before seeds are formed can be an effective way to control growth if done at the right time (May and June).

Do you have an invasive plant in your area — or backyard and want to join in the WordPress challenge?  Click here for details about this challenge, and visit links for the challenge guideline.

My next post will be about another invasive plant where we now live in the Central Coast of California  —- the “ice plant”, which are seen along the coast and in the backyards of homes here in Monterey County.

Asian Festival at Salinas Chinatown: Celebrating Chinese, Japanese, Filipino culture and preserving history

What warms this lola’s (grandmother’s) heart?  Seeing the next generation Filipino-Americans continue to learn and dance the “tinikling” at the Philippine Community Center — one of the venues for cultural performances at the 8th Annual Asian Festival in Salinas last month.

A popular Philippine folk dance, the tinikling originated in the island of Leyte and is named after the “tikling” bird.  The dance imitates the movements of the birds as they walk along branches and grasses, and how they get away from bamboo traps set out by rice farmers.

I remember trying this dance while in elementary school, and my worries of getting my feet caught (and smashed) in between the bamboo poles!

Filipino Folk Dancing Tinikling keep the beat

Little ones help to keep the dance rhythm by banging half coconut shells — and audience clapping / participation also helps to keep the bamboo pole holders timing as they slide and clang the bamboo poles for the dance.

The motion and footwork for the dances is also an entry for the WordPress photo challenge — though unfortunately, my camera settings produced a lot of photos also appropriate for the challenge theme of blur.

Note:  If you are interested in Philippine birding, see this article from Cornell Lab of Ornithology Getting familiar with Philippine Birds, including the “tikling” bird.  Excerpt with dance description:

In one of those convergences that make travel fascinating, we sat in a barnlike banquet hall at dinner and watched a local dance troupe perform the traditional Philippine tinikling, in which two people kneel and clap long bamboo poles together while dancers hop in and out of the poles in rhythm. The dance is named for tikling, the local term for a rail: dancers mimic the graceful, high-stepping gait of the bird as it walks through the marsh vegetation. In the Villa Escudero marsh the next morning, we saw several members of the Rallidae including Buff-banded and Barred rails, White-breasted Waterhen, White-browed Crake, and Watercock.

Aside from folk dancing, the festival is also a great place to sample authentic Chinese, Japanese and Filipino food.

At the Philippine venue, my favorite banana leaf wrapped item — the suman — as well as cassava cakes, puto, fried banana turons and halo-halo were among the choices for dessert.

But first, you had to get your chicken adobo, lumpia, pancit and rice combo packs…

The afternoon presentation at the Philippine venue showcased traditional Philippine formal wear featuring the Barong Tagalog — Filipino formal attire, and traditionally made of pineapple fabric or a type of fine abaca (musa textilis related to the banana plant) — and the changes throughout history in traditional women’s attire, influenced by over 300 years of the Spanish colonial era.

Philippine fashion show at Asian Festival 1

The malong garment — traditionally used by a number of ethnic groups in the Southern Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago — and its many variations was an interesting part of the fashion show.

A group of women who performed a folk dance earlier in the day also participated in the afternoon’s fashion show.

Filipino-American artist Elgene Ryan Tumacder was at the festival to exhibit some of his artwork…

Fil Am artist Elgene Ryan Tumacder at Asian Festival

You can see more of his work at the 2015 Capstone Festival, California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) on Friday, May 15th at the Visual / Public Art Buildings – 100 Campus Center, Seaside.

The exhibit by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) is a must see, especially if you are looking to learn more about the Filipino community’s history in the Monterey Bay / Salinas Valley, and Filipinos in the context of the history of the United States.

I also add two random photographs taken at the festival because 1) the Philippines’ most famous athlete Manny Pacquiao fought against Floyd Mayweather last weekend and 2) I love the Tagalog word “makulit” and spotted a little guy with the word on his T-Shirt.

Makulit means one who is stubborn, or annoyingly asks questions that have already been answered…and hopefully the “makulit” person is toddler aged, when they ask the same thing over and over, and not an adult, right?  Though you can call anyone, regardless of age MAKULIT.

This year, children representing the Chinese community also performed at the Philippine venue stage.  Their dance delighted the audience!

If you missed this year’s festival and want to learn more about the  history of Salinas Chinatown, you can visit the Asian Cultural Experience (ACE) Salinas website.

Virtual Walking Tour Salinas ChinatownWhile there, be sure to check out the site’s historical timeline feature.

The timeline starts with the California Gold Rush, then the arrival of Chinese workers recruited to build the transcontinental railroad, and later as laborers to drain lakes and swamps that created 500 acres of farmland in Salinas, to the arrival of Japanese and Filipino immigrants to work as farm laborers.

The timeline feature gave me a better understanding of the struggles of Asian immigrants, and their contributions to the modern-day agricultural wonder that is Monterey county.

Historical Timeline Salinas ChinatownThe ACE Salinas website also features an oral history archive, conducted by California State University Monterey Bay students and faculty, as well as video documentaries about Chinatown produced by professional filmmakers and film students.

Oral History Archive

Click HERE to visit the Oral History Archive main page and here for the Filipino Community oral history archives.

And to learn more about the Monterey Bay Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society, click here.

I hope to see this festival continue grow in the coming years, and with the support of Monterey Bay residents, I believe it will.