My Home Ground

A Paradise ruled by Queen Calafia

Two major human caused environmental disasters drastically changed the natural world of a land that was long ago described as a mythical island; a terrestrial paradise ruled by a statuesque and beautiful queen named Calafia.

The first major changes came with the Spanish missionaries who first brought European livestock into California, along with an accompanying host of European annual grasses and forbs. The additional grazing herds were the...

If you are working with old seed you can do a simple viability test before sowing.  Use a damp paper towel, lay ten seeds onto one-half of the towel, fold the other half over, and keep moist. Watch for the development of the radicle; the number of seeds that germinate will give you a rough percentage of viabilty of your seed.

Fill your containers with the seed starting mix to within about one half inch of the top, and moisten it thoroughly. Press it down in the containers to...

The days are still warm and we’re all hoping, once again, that this will be an El Niño year with ample rainfall and a good snow pack in the Sierras. The days are noticeably shorter, and the evenings are much cooler. The shorter day length is a cue to many native plants and seeds that the season of growth in California is arriving; now we just need the rains!

Seeds also clearly represent the end of one cycle of life and the beginning of another. The only species that I’m still...

The flowers of a plant are designed for the purpose of making seeds. If a flower is pollinated, then fertilization can take place, and a seed develops in the ovary of the plant. This is sexual reproduction, and ensures genetic diversity. As the fertilized seed develops, so does the fruit (pome, pod, or capsule, etc.) which surrounds the seed.

 

But, first let’s get back to real basics; flowers need to be pollinated to start the whole process of seed formation. There are many...

Some seeds have built-in mechanisms that prevent germination until ideal conditions are met. Even when perfect conditions are met, some of the ‘seed bank’ of a species will not germinate. They will wait, often camouflaged in the duff, as an insurance policy against a possibly disastrous growing season.

When planning to propagate try to think like nature. First, pay careful attention to the conditions that the parent plant was growing in; the duff, the soil, the water supply, the...

The term Ecology is a relatively new field of study in the world of Biology; it was coined in 1866 by the German scientist, Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919). There are now two major subdivisions; animal ecology or plant ecology; and as many as twenty-one different specialty areas of study. One of the broadest specialty areas is Bioecology, when plants and animals are given equal emphasis; Autecology is the study of a single species of organism; and Synecology is the study of ecological inter-...

For many Californians throughout the state, deer are the largest free-living animals they will commonly encounter; and for anyone with an affinity for the natural world, it’s an impressive thing to realize that these animals are self-sustaining, leading their own lives  and needing nothing from us. But they are also are more than just beautiful creatures to admire; they are in many ways symbolic of a more calm, untroubled, and carefree life outside of the human hive of activities.

I...

The Mourning Cloak  (Nymphalis antiopa) is fairly common in Marin, and adults can be seen flying almost any time during the year. This species is also found in Europe; on the British Isles it is known as the Camberwell Beauty, and considered the rarest of British butterflies. In Marin we see this butterfly throughout the year; in more inland areas the adults migrate to higher altitudes in summer, and disperse again downslope in the fall.

Unlike most butterflies the Mourning Cloak...

This year my Nevin's Barberry (Berberis nevinii) truly made that leap and ‘came into its own’! Lovely, fragrant yellow flowers smothered the plant in early spring, right about the same time as many Ceanothus start to bloom; and then abundant, small red berries followed, maturing in June.

Nevin's Barberry is a rare endemic shrub, now extirpated from most of its rather restricted original range from Los Angeles south to San Diego; so it’s an especially good thing that the shrub is...

The Acmon Blue Butterflies (Plebejus or Icaricia acmon) are fairly common and more widespread than some of the other gossamer wings (Lycaenidae). The Acmon Blue has a much longer flight period than many other blues; it visits gardens and can be seen in open fields and even along roadsides.

As with so many butterfly species, the butterflies are where their host plants are! The Acmon Blue larvae usually feed on plants in the pea (Fabaceae) family, but also on some plants within the...

My home and garden are situated next to an open meadow, and within that meadow grows lots and lots of vetch! The vetch (vicia spp.) also shows up at the edges of my cultivated areas, but early on, while the plants are still small I pull some of it.

There are two species of vetch commonly seen along roadsides, fields and idle lands: hairy or winter vetch (Vicia villosa), and spring or common vetch (Vicia sativa). Both species are native to Europe and were brought to this country to be...

The Lycaenidae family of butterflies—blues, hairstreaks, coppers, and metalmarks, are usually small and very delicate looking, many of them brilliantly colored and some with very interesting life cycles. The apparent fragility of these tiny creatures earned the family the common name gossamer-winged but the vigor apparent in their life strategies belies this moniker.

This is the second largest family of butterflies, with almost 6,000 species worldwide, but named species are often...

Within the family Papilionidae are some of the largest and most spectacular butterflies in the world. Four species are commonly seen in Marin; each one associated with a particular type of habitat. Three are yellow with black markings; the Western Tiger Swallowtail, with a nearly 4" wingspan is the largest butterfly in Marin; and the Pipevine Swallowtail is the only large 'blackish' butterfly in Marin. 

 

This fairly fresh Western Tiger Swallowtail has already lost...

One of the most common butterflies we see around Marin is the Cabbage White; and it has the distinction of being the only naturalized exotic butterfly in our area. This species has successfully established itself over the entire continent since its apparent introduction from Europe into southeastern Canada in the mid 1800's.  Most likely it was imported as larvae, hidden within the leaves of a cabbage plant. People called them 'cabbage worms', and since they fed on food crops, they were...

There are three closely related 'Ladies' that are easy to provide for in a habitat garden; the Painted Lady, the American Lady, and the West Coast Lady; however, they are not always easy to tell apart. Personally, I’m happy to see any and all of the butterflies coming to my garden for resources, and when I notice a medium-sized orangey butterfly I can be pretty sure it is one of the ‘ladies’. They often don’t sit still long enough, or with their wings held just so, to easily identify the...

Pages