Purple flowers for Cee’s Photo Challenge — and they are invasive in this part of California

I’ve seen this plant with beautiful, spiky purple flowers growing around Monterey Bay for many years.  I took photos a few months ago when they were in full bloom.

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The flower photo above is from a shrub growing in the wild, near the Salinas river, where the river merges with the Pacific Ocean.  I spotted it while taking photographs for a post about my watershed.

I’ve always found these flowers attractive — and also photographed some in bloom at the entrance of Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

Monterey Fishermans Wharf yellows and pink 1

I read on one of the blogs I follow that Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge theme this week was purple, and remembered these flowers.  I have wanted to take part for a while, and thought the flowers were perfect to post for the theme.

Not knowing the name, I did an image search and learned that they are called Pride of Maidera (Echium candicans).  It is a perennial shrub native to the island of Maidera in Portugal, much loved by bees and butterflies for its nectar.  It is drought tolerant, and a popular ornamental plant in coastal California.

Great to know!  Except… it is also an invasive plant species, and now being removed in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area so that the native habitat can be restored.  Sigh :(

And so… I’m also linking this post to Just Another Nature Enthusiast’s challenge — Earth-Friendly Chroniclers #9 — focused on invasive plants.

Here is another beautiful purple flower from a plant that I know is not native to California.  Right  now, it is growing all over our landscape, from fields, to the side of the roads and embankments.

Do you know what it is?

Wild Radish flowers purple

The flowers are from a wild radish.  Most wild radish have white flowers, but sometimes, they also have purple flowers.

From the CalFlora website:

Wild Radish California

I pulled out one of the plants and sure enough, I get that it is a wild radish… It is tiny, but the root smells like, and looks like a radish.  A miniature of the “daikon” types I see at Asian stores.

Wild Radish  roots

Wild Radish notes

Some more purple flowers for the theme… and I’m pretty certain these are not invasive here in my little part of the world.

My favorite purple flower shot thus far are the wisteria at the Pacific House Memory Garden, posted for the changing season photo challenge.

Memory Garden Wisteria

Click on the photo for more garden images, taken at the historic Monterey downtown area.

And lastly, a non-flower related (but these young girls are pretty as flowers!) photo of Baile Folklorico dance group members, performing for a community celebration on the occasion of Cesar Chavez Day.

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Click on the photo to see more dance photos, for the commemorative holiday that celebrates the legacy of civil rights and labor movement activist Cesar Chavez (promoting community service).

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.

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 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

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.

Giant Sequoia and Coast Redwoods — Earth’s tallest trees, and about one that traveled from the Moon to Monterey

I could barely move my legs the next day…let alone my entire body, after our first hike in a redwood forest…

We had just moved to San Francisco from Germany, and decided to visit Tilden Park in the East Bay with my younger sister and her friend, Reggie.

We followed a trail, which brought us to what felt like the middle of the earth, surrounded by majestic coast redwood trees.

How tall are Coast Redwood Trees

Graphic Source: Save the Redwoods website – click to learn more about these magnificent trees

Beautiful…peaceful…but now we had to get back up and out of the Earth’s belly, and find our starting point.  Our daughter was about 3 then, and pretty much rode on her Dad’s shoulders (Jeff) for the entire hike.

We were young and inexperienced, new to the area, and most definitely unaware of the size of the East Bay Redwood Regional Park.  After all, we just went across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco…and the park bordered Oakland and Berkeley.

The San Francisco Bay area — with a population of 7 million — is California’s second largest urban area, after the greater Los Angeles area.  Since the SF Bay area is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, getting lost inside a redwood forest did not even cross our minds.

A map of the park would have been helpful, but of course, we did not have one. And there where no websites to visit, or smart phones back then.

After an entire day of hiking (of what was supposed to be a “two-hour tour”) we emerged from the forest and finally found our way back to the parking lot and to the car.

It turns out that the area we were in is 700 acres of an original redwood grove and part of 38 miles of trails in this gem of an urban park in the East Bay.

Despite my sad physical state and condition the following day, I’ve been in awe of redwoods ever since that visit to Tilden Park in the Berkeley / Oakland hills.

Tent next to Coast Redwood

Photo above of tent next to redwood trees, and below are from Jeff’s camping trip to King’s Canyon National Park in California –  a “Land of Giants” and part of the U.S. National Park System.  The widest sequoia redwood is 34 feet wide, and found in the King’s Canyon Park.

You can see a silhouette of a coast redwood in the middle, from his photo below. Note: Much wiser than in our 20’s, Jeff had maps, and a GPS device for his solo camping trip to King’s Canyon in 2011.

Kings Canyon California web

Redwoods are ancient trees — and Earth’s tallest, growing taller than a 30-floor skyscraper.  They also live for a very long time.

There are redwoods that are over 2,000 years old, which means there are living trees here in California that started to grow around the time of the Roman Empire.

From the Save the Redwoods League website:

Redwoods once grew throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The first redwood fossils date back more than 200 million years to the Jurassic period.

Before commercial logging and clearing began in the 1850s, coast redwoods naturally occurred in an estimated 2 million acres (the size of three Rhode Islands) along California’s coast from south of Big Sur to just over the Oregon border.

When gold was discovered in 1849, hundreds of thousands of people came to California, and redwoods were logged extensively to satisfy the explosive demand for lumber and resources. Today, only 5 percent of the original old-growth coast redwood forest remains, along a 450-mile coastal strip. Most of the coast redwood forest is now young.

Lifting a redwood

My funny photo of Jeff “lifting a fallen redwood” from our camping trip at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Santa Cruz mountains several years ago. Yes, I make my family pose for shots like these, just for my amusement…

The largest surviving stands of ancient coast redwoods are found in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Redwood National and State Parks and Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Besides being the tallest trees on Earth, redwoods are also among the fastest growing trees in the world.

From the Sequoia National Park website:

Sequoias get so large because they grow fast over a long lifetime. They live so long because they are resistant to many insects and diseases, and because they can survive most fires. Sequoias do have a weakness — a shallow root system. The main cause of death among mature sequoias is toppling.

When my daughter was young, we drove out to the California “Gold Country” in the Sierra Nevada to visit Sequoia National Park.  We went with my friend Nancy in the winter, so my daughter could see snow, and play in the snow.

My daughter is in the middle of the photo below — at around 10 years old — standing on a giant sequoia redwood tree stump at Sequoia National Park.  The photo was sun-faded, but you can see the stairs at the left side of the tree stump, and get an idea of its size.  There is snow around the base…and yes, that was one huge redwood tree!

Sequoia Giant Redwood Stump

Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 — for the purpose of protecting the giant sequoia trees from logging.  Though Yellowstone Park in Wyoming is the first official U.S. National Park, Sequoia was the first national park designated to protect a living organism – the giant sequoia redwood (sequoiadendron giganteum).  Even back then, they knew how special these trees where, and that the remaining trees needed protection.

Giant trees — with teeny tiny seeds

What is curious about redwoods is that despite being the largest and tallest trees on our planet, among conifers (pines), they have the smallest pine cones — only about 1″ inch long!

More from the Save the Redwoods League website:

Each cone contains a few dozen tiny seeds: it would take well over 100,000 seeds to weigh a pound! In good conditions, redwood seedlings grow rapidly, sometimes more than a foot annually. Young trees also sprout from the base of their parent’s trunk, taking advantage of the energy and nutrient reserves contained within the established root system.

I mention how tiny the seeds are, because it brings me back to the Monterey Bay area where we now live, and about a special coastal redwood tree, planted in Monterey’s Friendly Plaza (in downtown, historic Monterey, by the City Hall).

Redwood Trees Old Monterey 2

Redwood trees by Colton Hall — downtown historic Monterey.  Photo Spring 2015 by Lola Jane.

It is a special redwood tree because the tiny seed was carried to the moon by Major Stuart Allen “Stu” Roosa, a pilot for the Apollo 14 mission.

The Apollo program is the third NASA manned spaceflight program and landed the first 12 human beings on the Moon, from 1969 to 1972.

476px-Apollo_14_Shepard

Photo via public domain, Wikipedia — Launch date was January 31, 1971, and landing back to Earth on February 9, 1971 in the South Pacific.

The U.S. Forest service nurtured and planted the seed into a seedling, and in July of 1976 — to commemorate the Bicentennial or 200th birthday of the United States — it was planted in this beautiful park in the center of old Monterey.

The moon is 384,400 km / 238,900 miles from the center of our planet Earth — so the little seed already traveled for almost half a million miles before being planted in Placerville, California by the U.S. Forest Service.

Redwood Trees Old Monterey

Redwood Trees at historic downtown Monterey by the City Hall – photo Spring 2015 by Lola Jane

That is one special redwood tree!

I wonder how many other commemorative trees were planted all over the U.S. for the bicentennial, and if any other seeds made it to the moon and back…

If you are a Monterey Bay resident, or have visited this area, did you know there was a “Moon Tree” downtown?

I did not know about the “Moon Tree” until I participated in “The Changing Season” WordPress photo challenge.  Another reason I love blogging and photography.

Redwood Trees Old Monterey Moon Tree Sign

Related posts:

Close up of spikes - Rattan palm.  Rattans have spikes to help it climb over other plants, and also to deter animals from eating the plant.About another fast growing plant that can grow to 150 feet in the Philippines – The rattan, and the difference between rattan and bamboo plants.  Photo is close up of spikes on rattan palms. Rattans have spikes to help it climb over other plants, and also to deter animals from eating the plant.

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I originally wanted to post photos of the Monterey redwood moon tree this month but was inspired to expand this article about redwood trees after reading a post by my blogging friend Jane in Training. Her post titled “Get Lost” and forest photographs, reminded me of seeing redwoods for the first time and getting lost at Tilden Park’s redwood grove.  Thank you for the inspiration, Jane!

Redwoods at SF Strybing Arboretum

Admiring redwoods — at the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

May, 2015 — looking at our family photos, I am adding this photo of my cousin and her daughter admiring redwood trees, during their visit to California.  We went to the Strybing Arboretum at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which is another place to see redwoods as well as a wonderful collection of plants from all over the world.

Drive through Redwood Tree

June, 2015 – This photo of the Drive-Thru Coast Redwood by Allan of Ohm Sweet Ohm is another great image of the size of these trees.  My daughter and I stopped to visit this park during our visit to the Eel River in Leggett, California on the way to Ashland, Oregon.

The photo that inspired me to find out what happened to the natural fiber rope trade, once dominated by Philippine “Manila Hemp”

While reading about the 2014 International Coastal Clean-up Day I came across this beach clean-up photo by Kip Evans.

plastic rope debris photo by Kip Evans

The image — and knowing something about ghost nets in our oceans — had me curious about marine trash washed up on the beach and remaining in our oceans, and specifically, when the world switched from using biodegradable natural fiber fish nets and ropes (photos below) to synthetic or plastic, petrochemical-based ropes.

In the process, I learned how the Philippine fiber, abaca, known as “Manila hemp” dominated the natural fiber rope industry starting in the mid 1800’s…

abaca hemp warehouse Manila late 1800s

Traders at abaca warehouse, Manila, Philippines late 1800’s. Bales of abaca are at bottom right of photograph. Photo source: The Philippine Islands by Ramon Reyes Lala via the Gutenberg website, published in 1898 by the Continental Publishing Company.

…and how a material invented in the 1930’s and originally designed as a fabric to replace women’s silk stockings signaled the decline of abaca / Manila hemp as a prime material for the natural rope and cordage industry.

Interested in a bit of history?  Link to the article on Native Leaf’s blog here (The switch from natural fiber abaca, hemp ropes to synthetic ropes).

Related Links:

Monterey, melons and more…

Did you know that Monterey County is the only county in the United States with more than $1 billion — yes, that is BILLION — in annual vegetable sales?  Wow!

Monterey County Fields

Monterey County, California farm field, near the Hwy 1 freeway. Photo www.Lolako.com

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) most recent Census of Agriculture for the category of vegetables, potatoes and melons, the top five counties were:

  • Monterey County, California
  • Fresno County, California
  • Yuma County, Arizona
  • Palm Beach County, Florida
  • Kern County, California

Summer and Globe Squash Monterey County

Monterey County grew almost twice the sales value of the next largest county, Fresno… and produced almost 9% of total U.S. value of vegetable production.  Another, wow….and it is true that the Salinas Valley is the salad bowl capital of the U.S. (and the world?).
Monterey county artichokes
Most of what I see driving around Monterey County and neighboring counties are a whole lot salad green fields, and a lot of strawberry farms.  Not so much melons or potato fields.  This billion dollar number must mean mostly salad greens and artichokes, since strawberries are under another category for berries and tree nuts — an even bigger agriculture industry in California.
Textured MelonsIt is nearing summer time, and I am thinking of cherries and melons and luscious fruits to enjoy this summer, and places to take our grandchildren like “U-Pick” types of farms.    The melons pictured on this post are the Casaba melons, which originated from Kasaba, Turkey, and are in the “winter melon” group that includes honey dew melons.  “Winter” meaning they are hardy melons, since these melons are actually available in summer and fall.
Casaba Melons
I looked at the California Agricultural Tourism Directory website, clicked on the “U-Pick” category, and was surprised to find out there was only one listed for Monterey (The Farm – in the Salinas Valley). Surely there are more U-Pick farms in Monterey County? If you know of others, please comment.  Thank you!

The Saguaro Cactus Menorah

photo from www.azcentral.com

I heard about this unique saguaro cactus on the radio earlier today.  It is estimated to be over 135 years old…

Excerpt from an article by Julian Osorio at www.AZCentral.com:

For the seventh consecutive year, Mel Kline of northeast Phoenix will observe Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, by lighting his 30-foot saguaro Hanukkah menorah cactus.

“This is the only living saguaro Hanukkah menorah,” Kline said. “It’s a symbol of freedom in today’s world. It’s a miracle.”

The saguaro menorah has eight arms and a middle trunk. Kline lit the first arm of the saguaro at 6 p.m. Saturday and will continue to light an arm for each night of the Jewish holiday.

Photo by Mel Kline (Mel and Ellen Bett Kline light up their saguaro Chanukah menorah).

…About 400 people visit the saguaro menorah yearly and 150 people showed up on the final night last year, including snowbirds from Canada and Europe, Kline said.

“We receive wonderful feedback from people who visit or are just driving by,” he said. “People will get out of their cars and start taking pictures.”

Kline bought the saguaro 35 years ago when it was only 10 to 12-feet-tall for about $100. Hs wife initially wanted a maple tree, Kline said.  Read the complete article, here…

Related articles:

Article Southwestern Menorah – www.jewishaz.com

LolaKo’s article Not crazy for cactus…yet  (article about my very own saguaro cactus planted from seed, and photos of cacti at Jardines de San Juan, in the California historic mission town of San Juan Bautista)

Lola Jane’s Saguaro Cactus planted from seed…now almost 18 years old!

About rattan and difference between rattan and bamboo plants

Rattan (Calamus) is sometimes mistaken for bamboo.  There is a big difference — bamboos are in the grass family of plants, and rattans are among the hundreds of types of palm plants.

Rattan canes are solid, while bamboos are hollow.  Both plants are used for making furniture, and strips of bamboo and rattan are also woven into wicker baskets and other handicrafts.

Wicker is the generic term for a woven fiber (usually natural plants), woven into functional items.

The theme for this week’s photo challenge at the WordPress Daily Post — WRONG — is a tough one!  I settled on my rattan photos.

My sister and I bought rattan rocking chairs for our mother while in the Philippines.  The group selling the chairs and rattan handicrafts grew rattan plants nearby and I  took a few shots, and focused on the rattan spikes.

So what is wrong with this rattan?

Rattan – Calamus, Philippines

It may be obvious to you now, but at the time, I did not notice that it had been hacked into, until I downloaded the photos.  I thought…oh no..my detail shot is marred and the palm was cut (though I was happy to see that it continued to grow).

Upon cropping the photo and looking at it closer…it looks like only the leaf frond was cut.  So it was I — who was wrong!

Close up of spikes – Rattan palm. Rattan plants have spikes to help it climb over other plants — like vines — and to deter animals from eating the plant.

So….the rattan palm continues on its growth and travel upwards.

Some rattan can grow over 150 feet!

Can you follow the source of this rattan….from the top left corner to the bottom right, leading to the half-constructed “Nipa Hut”? More on the “Nipa Hut” at the end of the post…

Fresh strips of rattan

Rattan canes and strips, stored in the ceiling area of the workshop — I love the pattern of the ceiling, from the woven palm leaves.

Kitty napping on a well-used, woven rattan chair.

Rattan Seedlings – propagation of rattan is only possible from fresh seeds.

Most of the world’s rattan grow in Indonesia, followed by the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Bangladesh.  Rattans help the overall ecosystem of forests, and unsustainable harvesting can be a problem.

We noted — at least in the area where we bought the rocking chairs — locals working with government programs to replant rattan in the area, and to help create a future plant and material source for the local handicraft industry.

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And a note about Nipa Huts:

A Nipa hut, also called “bahay kubo” is a type of traditional Philippine stilt house.  Bahay Kubo translates to cube house, and kubo means cube in English.

The name “Nipa Hut” came during the American colonial era.— named after the thatched nipa palm fronds used for the roof.  Nipa hut photos below from the late 1800’s via the Gutenberg website.

native philippine hut late 1800sSmall, very basic Nipa Hut above, and below, image from inside of another type of nipa hut.

inside of native hut via gutenberg dot org

tuba gathering from coconut tree

Nipa hut behind man climbing coconut tree to collect “tuba” — coconut sap wine.  Hollow bamboo tubes are used to contain the wine.  Images  from the book “The Philippine Islands” by Ramon Reyes Lala. It was published in 1898 by the Continental Publishing Company.

Who is Rachel Carson…and the MBARI Open House

On a foggy day last week, Jeff and I walked from the Potrero Rd. entrance to the Moss Landing beach, past the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and towards Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery.

Rather large driftwood — drift LOGS, really, at Moss Landing Beach

On the way back, we decided to take the road and frontage trail, instead of walking back on the beach.  On Sandholdt Road, we noticed this ship, the Rachel Carson, at the Moss Landing Harbor.

We wondered….who is Rachel Carson?

Note: The photo does not do justice to the rather new, shiny ship.

I did not think anymore about the Rachel Carson ship — and these set of photos — until reading the “Your Town” section of today’s Monterey County Herald.  Excerpt:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute will hold an open house from noon to 5PM Saturday at 7700 Sandholdt Road.

At 12:45PM, aquarium executive director Julie Packard will christen the institute’s newest ship, the R/V Rachel Carson.

Other activities include talks about the expeditions to the Gulf of California and Sargasso Sea, a tour of the labs, a look at ships and undersea robots used in the deep-sea excursions, and workshops where children can build their own remotely operated vehicles.

According to the MBARI website, the R/V Rachel Carson “will serve as a replacement for both the R/V Zephyr and R/V Point Lobos, and will be able to launch both ROVs and AUVs, as well as conduct multi-day expeditions”.

The new research vessel was named Rachel Carson in honor of the American marine biologist and conservationist.  Click here to view a better image for the R/V Rachel Carson, on the MBARI Press Room page.

Rachel Carson wrote the book Silent Spring and is credited with advancing the global environmental movement.  Excerpt from Wikipedia…

Late in the 1950s Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people.

Although Silent Spring met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.

The open house also celebrates MBARI’s 25th anniversary.  The presentation schedule is as follows:

  • In the PACIFIC FORUM: Extending MBARI’s reach
    12:00 Volcanoes of the Gulf of California ~ Jenny Paduan
    12:30 Video ~ no speaker during christening of R/V Rachel Carson
    01:00 Volcanoes of the Gulf of California (repeat) ~ Jenny Paduan
    01:30 Monterey Bay: A window to the world ~ Chris Scholin
    02:00 Secrets of the Sargasso Sea ~ Alana Sherman
    02:30 ESP around the world ~ Jim Birch
    03:00 Secrets of the Sargasso Sea (repeat) ~ Alana Sherman
    03:30 ESP around the world (repeat) ~ Jim Birch
    04:00 Exploring the Gulf of California ~ Steve Haddock
    04:30 Exploring the Gulf of California (repeat) ~ Steve Haddock
  • PRESENTATIONS in the VIDEO TENT:
    12:15 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    01:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    01:30 Deep-sea video
    02:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    02:30 Deep-sea video
    03:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    03:30 Deep-sea video
    04:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    04:30 Deep-sea video

For further details, please visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) website.

Our trail walk back towards Potrero Road…

Foggy Moss Landing Harbor

Beach Sagewort (Artemisia pycnocephala) is the most common, California native plant, found around sand dunes. This one encircled by non-native — and aggressive — iceplants, which do not provide food or shelter to native wildlife.

Reward for lost scientific instrument!

Fish & Wildlife Service employee photo, via Wikipedia

Link to Wikipedia article on Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)

Carson began her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award,[1] recognition as a gifted writer, and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. That so-called sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the surface to the depths.

Annual Obon Festival at the Monterey Peninsula Buddist Temple

While the Washington D.C. area bakes in 100+ degree weather, the temperature was cool and in the 60’s today at the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple, in Seaside, California — home base for the 66th Annual Obon Festival.

From the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple website:

The Obon festival is a Buddhist tradition to celebrate, remember and express gratitude to all family members who have died.  The Obon festival has been celebrated in Japan since 657 AD.  The first Obon in the United States was held in Hawaii in 1910; festivals on the mainland began about 20 years later.  2012 marks the 66th year of the Obon Festival on the Monterey Peninsula.

The first Monterey Obon Festival was held on August 25, 1947 at the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Hall in Monterey, home to the Temple then. In 1963, the event was moved to the Monterey County Fairgrounds where it was held for 30 years.  The Obon Festival returned to the Temple, now in Seaside, in 1993.  3,000 to 5,000 people from across the Monterey Peninsula and beyond attend each year.

We visited the festival for the first time since moving to this area, and were pleasantly surprised.  It was a well-organized event, featuring plenty of food booths, martial arts demonstrations, tea ceremonies, a book and Asian gift store, and exhibits of bonsai – the practice of long-term cultivation and shaping of small trees growing in a container.

The bonsai displays were interesting, and once we realized how old the trees were — from 20 to 50 years old — we really appreciated the devotion it takes to practice this Japanese art form.

It is fascinating to see a redwood tree (sequoias) — the tallest living trees on our planet, and normally growing 300-350 feet tall — in miniature format, and growing in a tiny ceramic pot.

Bonsai Redwood Tree – Click on the photo to learn more about Giant Sequoias and Coast Redwood Trees, and about one that traveled to the moon and now planted in downtown historic Monterey

Bonsai Monterey Pine Tree

Bonsai Olive Tree

Bonsai Elm Tree

Bonsai with flowers!

There were also presentations of ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  As much as I love vases overflowing with flowers, it is enjoyable to see a minimalist style of presenting flowers, where the emphasis is also about the lines, the stems and the twigs.

Some beautiful examples below:

Did I mention the wonderful volunteers happily pouring free cups of hot green tea to festival attendees?  The hot green tea was perfect for the cool weather (warm sake, cold beer and sodas were also available for sale).

My one complaint…the Styrofoam cups, which are difficult to recycle!  If you read this and plan to attend next year, bring your own mugs for the free hot green tea and other beverages.

More photos from the festival, tomorrow…

Related links: Japanese-City.com – link to 2012 Japanese Obon & Bon Odori Schedule

Monterey Bonsai Club

Monterey Peninsula Buddist Temple

Ikebana International – Monterey Bay Chapter

Don’t put all your bananas in one basket

So…all those rotten bananas from the China export mess taught Philippine banana exporters a lesson.

Banana Plantation, Photo Source: www.freshplaza.com

A lesson that reminds me of the insurance industry terms, risk management and risk separation, or…. don’t put all your eggs — and bananas — in one basket.

After Japan, China was the 2nd largest market for Philippine banana exports.

In mid-May, China impounded Philippine bananas and instituted strict quarantine measures — which many suspect was really due to the ongoing disputes over the Scarborough Shoals, in the South China / West Philippine Sea.

Philippine banana exporters realized that they cannot rely on just a few export markets, and the industry is now looking at other markets, like Pakistan and countries in the Middle East.

And the good news, the Department of Agriculture announced that Dole Philippines is sending its first ever shipment of Cavendish bananas to the USA.  Cavendish are the common type of banana sold at grocery stores.

Bananas at the grocery store

Ecuador is picking up the Philippine banana import void to China.  Though halfway around the world from China, Ecuador’s government is providing a subsidy for their China-bound banana exports, to give their producers a price advantage.

Did you know…bananas are the 2nd top commodity by weight (after furniture) in all container shipments arriving at USA ports?  For more, view the post “What’s in the Box”.

Top 10 banana producing nations
(in million metric tons)
 India* 26.2
 Philippines 9.0
 China 8.2
 Ecuador 7.6
 Brazil 7.2
 Indonesia 6.3
 Mexico 2.2
 Costa Rica 2.1
 Colombia 2.0
 Thailand 1.5
World total 95.6
Via Wikipedia-Source 2009 data-Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
*Note: Although India leads in banana production, most of it is for domestic consumption and not for export.

Related banana links:

Fresh Plaza – Global Fresh Produce and Banana News

All about bananas, from Wikipedia

Lolako’s “What’s in the Box” – Top Commodity, by weight, arriving in U.S. container ports

Bananas – Philippines

Clever line from Philippines Today columnist Fred G. Gabot…“save the sagging saging, Sir“.

Saging is the Tagalog (Philippine national language) word for bananas.  It is pronounced something like sah-ging — the ging part rhymes with ring.

I heard about the Dole banana plantations in the Mindanao region, but prior to this post, I did not know that the Philippines is among the top nations growing and exporting bananas…how about you?

Not crazy for cactus…yet

I’ve planted and grown many plants over the years, but I can remember having only two cactus plants.

One was a gift from my friend, David, who gave me specific instructions to put it in my office, by the computer.  It died about 3 years later.  I am sentimental with gifts, and feel bad that I killed a slow-growing, easy-care plant, that can live for over 100 years.

And then there’s the second cactus, a saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)…which, amazingly, I still have.  This cactus is special to me — even if once in a while I get a poked by its needles — because my daughter planted it from seed.

My 17-year-old saguaro cactus, grown from seed.

Years ago, I went to Phoenix for a business trip.  At the Phoenix airport,  I purchased a package of saguaro seeds as part of my pasalubong items for my daughter.

Saguaro cactus are found in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico.  It can grow up to 70 feet, and live for over 150 years.

My cactus is about 17 years old, and just over 14 inches tall.  Talk about slow-growing!  At this stage (without “arms”) it is called a spear.  It will eventually grow an arm, after about 75 years.

So, if I manage not to kill it, and if my grandsons want it, they may see it grow an arm in their lifetime.

When I gave the seed packet to my daughter, she placed the seeds in a little pot with dirt, watered it, and we quickly had about 20 little seedlings.  One particular seedling took charge of the space, and all the other seedlings died.  We did not pick a particular seedling, nor thin them out.  It’s as if they all knew which seedling was boss, and simply died to allow the boss seed to grow in the space.

I’ve re-potted the saguaro just once.  Honestly, I am surprised that it is still alive.  It does have a brownish area in the bottom, so I don’t know how much longer I will have it.  Maybe it is time for a bigger container.

The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at sunset in Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson, Arizona. Photo via wikepedia files.

As much as I love  plants, I am not exactly crazy about cactus.

Maybe it’s the needles, and the poke factor.  I don’t like plants that can puncture my skin and make me bleed.  I do make an exception for old fashioned roses, since in return, I get to inhale one of the loveliest scents in existence.

A visit to Jardines de San Juan, a Mexican restaurant located in the historic mission town of San Juan Bautista, California, inspired me to learn more about my saguaro cactus.

The Jardines garden has an abundance of cactus, some of which I photographed using my phone camera.  Many were sporting beautiful flowers.  Below are a few of the shots…

Jardines De San Juan, back patio area June 2012

Learning more about my saguaro has given me a whole new appreciation for cacti, and may get me to bring another in our home.  For now though,  I must first get some heavy-duty gloves and re-pot the one I have.

Which cactus camp are you in….crazy for cactus?  Or…keep those spiky plants away from me!

And if you are curious to know how long cactus seeds keep (or are viable)…check out the comment section on Lolako.com’s “Contact” page, here.   Can you guess?

  • over 20 years?
  • over 200 years?
  • or for over 2,000 years?

Where to see springtime wildflowers

If you are looking to view wildflowers this spring, the U.S. Forest Service has a great website, with a listing of wildflowers by region.

The wildflower below is from the Pacific Southwest viewing area, and specifically, the Slate Mountain Botanical Area, in California’s Sequoia National Forest.

Pinewoods fritillary (Fritillaria pinetorum). Photo by Fletcher Linton, U.S. Forest Service Website

Click on the map below to link to the Forest Service website.  You can then click your specific region to find details on where to view wildflowers in your area.  Each area has a detailed description of what you can expect to see, as well as safety information and directions.

Go out and view wildflowers while they are here — and celebrate spring!

An idyllic setting in an alpine meadow of the Albion basin in the Wasatch Mountains. Photo by Teresa Prendusi - US Forest Service website

Tinted Trees: California Black Oak

Spring time also means native California black oak trees (quercus kelloggii) are sprouting new leaves.  The spring leaves of California black oaks are a beautiful light green, sometimes with pinkish hues, contrasting beautifully with its black trunk and branches.

California black oaks are highly drought tolerant, and vital to wildlife for habitat and for food.  It has the largest acorns of western oaks, which are consumed by deer, quails, wild turkeys, scrub and blue jays, woodpeckers, squirrels and rodents, feral pig and livestock.

California Black Oak, spring 2012

This above photo is the “normal” shot, and the following photos have been altered using the simple Windows Photo Gallery fix tool, adjusting the tint.  It is called a black oak for a reason, and no matter the color changes, the dark trunk and branches remain the most prominent feature.

For more details on the California black oak, visit the US Forest Service website article on quercus kelloggii, link here.

Signs of Spring

I took these photographs over the weekend — sure signs for me, that spring, in our little part of the world…is finally here.

Mustard flowers blooming in between fruit trees

Mustard flowers are in full bloom, cropping up and getting taller, along the sides of many of our roads, and in between still dormant fruit trees at local orchards.

Blooming California Poppies - Springtime

Yellow-orange California poppies are emerging…

Some fields are abundant with wildflowers, and finally…the landscape and rolling hills are momentarily…GREEN!

It was summer time when we immigrated to the U.S. in 1979, landing in Northern California. I remember first really noticing the landscape when my mother, younger sister, and I were riding on a Greyhound bus, going through the Sacramento area (easy to understand since there is not much else to do during a long bus ride).

Looking out the bus windows, the colors I saw were predominantly tan, golden and brown.  I did not know what to make of it really — it certainly was different, and I was not sure I liked all the dry landscape.  Where’s the green?

So after years (and years and years) of living in this part of California, I have come to love and appreciate the changing seasons, and even the golden brown landscape.

I always look forward to spring…a magical time for me, when the landscape is suddenly lush and green.

Although these photographs are from areas in San Benito and Monterey County, many areas of California have scenery similar to this.

I know this time is ephemeral, and soon, these hills and fields will dry up and the grasses will begin to turn to golden and brown colors, once again.

But for now, I will enjoy it, and take in the lush, green colors….candy for my eyes and it seems, a sort of nutrient for my soul.

What does spring mean or signal to you?

Green Gift Guide: 10 Compostable, Biodegradable Gifts

Great to see TreeHugger.com’s recent Green Gift Guide and list of 10 Compostable, Biodegradable Gifts, which includes Native Leaf’s hand-woven romblon leaf placemats.

Here is an excerpt from Blythe Copeland’s article:

The world is full of things you didn’t know you could compost, and now your holiday shopping can mimic that trend, too: Organic, Fair Trade teas and coffees, woven place mats and bamboo plates, bioplastic baby toys and potato-based ponchos all have their place on this year’s list.

On Native Leaf’s place mats:

Giving organic, sustainably-harvested textiles for the kitchen and dining room to your favorite foodie is one option — or you can go the uber-chic-and-totally-biodegradable route with these Romblon place mats from Native Leaf.

Click here to view the Green Gift Guide article and slide show (hand-woven romblon leaf place mats on Page 8 of the list).

TreeHugger, a Discovery Communications Company, is the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream. Partial to a modern aesthetic, they strive to be a one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information.

What do you think about the list?  Are you considering green products for your holiday gift giving this year?

Sack Scene

Every time I see these sacks lined up on farm fields next to Highway 101, I wonder…what is inside the sack and what do they grow there?

Last week, on the drive back from San Jose, we actually had a reason to turn on the side road near the fields, and stopped to take a closer look.

The scene reminded me of boot camp, soldiers lined up, and ready to march.

Oh…red onions.  So now I know.  And it was not I who tipped the sack over…really!

More Cucurbitas

Here are more cucurbita varieties, this time found at Trader Joe’s in Monterey.  I am not sure yet if I like the warty types.  Some of these cucurbitas have serious wart conditions.

Variety over monoculture…it’s a good thing.  Maybe it’s a trend.

 

Autumn Time, Pumpkin Time – and the difference between a pumpkin, squash and gourd

Officially, the fall season starts today for countries in the Northern Hemisphere (the United States, Canada).

We are enjoying the last of the sweet summer corn, and now see dried and decorative corn in the market.

And I lament not savoring enough local cherries (yet again) this year.

Pumpkins / Squashes of varying shapes and sizes are now in stores and market stands.

And by the way, if you are wondering what the difference is between a pumpkin and a squash — or a gourd — the answer is at the end of this post.

This year, there seems to be more varieties than ever, like the cream and orange pumpkins below.  They look to me like designer pumpkins, and the texture and pattern could be on a sofa or chair fabric.

There are white pumpkins

There are also miniature white and orange pumpkins

And beautiful, as well as crazy, alien looking squashes (at least what I call squash)

My favorites are these turban squashes, for the unusual shape and color variety

Here is the answer to the question, what is the difference between a pumpkin, squash and a gourd (from the Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture website).

The genetic history of the pumpkin is so intertwined with the squash and the gourd that it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart.

Generally speaking a pumpkin is something you carve, a squash is something you cook and a gourd is something you look at. Though it’s really not that simple, it’s also not that difficult. The answer is in the stem.

Pumpkins and squashes and gourds all belong to the same genetic family – Cucurbita. Within that family are several species or subgroups – Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata.

The pepo species is usually recognized as the true pumpkin. Varieties within this group have bright orange skin and hard, woody, distinctly furrowed stems. But the group also includes gourds, vegetable marrow, Pattypan summer squash, scallop summer squash, gray and black zucchini and summer crookneck squash.

The maxima species also contains varieties that produce pumpkin-like fruit but the skin is usually more yellow than orange and the stems are soft and spongy or corky, without ridges and without an enlargement next to the fruit. They don’t really make good handles for jack-o’-lanterns. Varieties such as Atlantic Giant, Big Max and Show King are often listed as pumpkins but are more properly called pumpkin-squash or squash- type pumpkins. Other members of the maxima group are Hubbard squashes, banana squashes, buttercup squashes and turban squashes – in short, most autumn and winter squash.

Finally, there’s the moschata species. Varieties in this group are usually long and oblong instead of round and have tan rather than orange skin. The stems are deeply ridged and enlarged next to the fruit. Ironically, a member of this group is used for much of the canned pumpkin sold in this country. Other non-pumpkin members include the squash-like cushaw, winter crookneck squash and butternut squash.

And if you are wondering where the Cucurbitas — photographed for this post — can be purchased, we found these at the Moss Landing Farm Fresh Produce Stand today, next to the The Whole Enchilada Marketplace off Hwy 1.

Enjoy the fall…and your pumpkin pies.  And remind me to eat more cherries (and maybe make a cobbler) next summer.  This summer went by so quickly.

~Lola Jane