Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eek, Poison Oak!

Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum, Mission Trails Park. Pacific Poison Oak is apparently common in valleys, particularly near moisture such as streams. It is an innocuous looking shrub with glossy leaves that wouldn't get a second glance. However, it exudes an oil called urushiol that causes a painful reaction for most people (apparently 10-25% of the people are immune to the stuff). You can expect redness, nasty itching and blisters for up to 5 days (oh joy!).

I snapped a picture of this poison oak so I would remember what it looked like. I was merrily snapping pictures of poppies and lupine when a fellow hiker pointed out that there was poison oak all over the place (interspersed with the lupine, go figure). He suggested I might even have rubbed up against one or two! Well...I did feel a little burning (note to self not to hike in shorts) but so far, no itching and no blisters and the burning lasted at most for 10 minutes. Maybe I'm one of the lucky few who aren't particularly sensitive to it or...maybe I really managed to gracefully sneak by the bushes while snapping my pictures. Or maybe I brushed up against one of those beautiful but nasty stinging lupine, Luninus hirsutissimus (a picture for another day)! Either way, I'm keeping an eye out for this stuff in the future!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Highway Architecture

Highway 52 as it bridges the Mission Gorge at Mission Trails Park. San Diego is known for a lot of things. Beaches, nice weather, aircraft carriers, etc. However, few people notice the amazing highway overpasses as they gracefully bridge the many canyons and gorges that are endemic to the area. I've been trying to get a decent picture of this overpass since it is so very dramatic from below. I'm not convinced that this does it justice but you get the idea anyhow.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Golden Barrel Cacti at Daylily Hills

Golden Barrel Cactus, Echinocactus grusonii, Daylily Hills Nursery. Daylily Hills Nursery grows cactus and succulents over several acres of property. They have the grounds planted out with huge, mature cacti in broad swaths up the hillside. In the picture, you can see little yellow barrel cacti where bigger bretheren were dug out for sale. The full sized yellow barrel cacti were probably 3ft in diameter and there were a lot of them. Wow. Just one is dramatic but a whole hillside is amazing! They also had some really cool ponds done with vallisneria (water celery), watercress, bluegill and catfish that were a sight to see (in another posting!).

As for barrel cacti, Golden Barrel Cacti are one of several large, barrel-shaped cacti that store water within their bulbous forms. During dry times, they shrivel down and use the stored water, only to swell up again at the next rain. They are fairly easy, if slow growing and like a well drained soil with lots of sun. They need very little water once established. They are also occasionally sold as pot plants. They are, however, not particularly pet friendly if your pet likes to play with your plants!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Creepy Crawly in the Sink!

House Centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata. How is it I'm always the one that has to deal with the creepy crawlies? Get the snake out of the house. Catch the spider. Throw out the lizard. So, when this "little" house centipede showed up in the kitchen sink, I got the job. Needless to say, I never waste a good photo opportunity so here it is in glowing technicolor, adorning the kitchen sink. Creepy or fascinating? Both?

House Centipedes are originally from the Mediteranian but have since naturalized in North America. They are called house centipedes because they like to live in houses (a no no). They prey upon spiders, silverfish, cockroaches, firebrats and carpet beetles. Hah, suddenly they don't look quite as bad, eh? They are capable of biting (but seldom do so) and have a mild venom that will result in temporary, localized redness (okay, not all that great). Still, compared to a brown recluse or a house full of silverfish, maybe they're not all that bad. If you were innocently walking across the floor and you saw one of these heading straight for you (and they are FAST!), perhaps, thinking that your pant leg or dress was a good place to hunt for silverfish, what would you do? Heheh, what do you think I did with mine?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Living Stones

Living Stones; Lithops species. Maybe Lithops dorotheae or other mix of species. Lithops were accidentally discovered in Africa by John Burchell in 1811. John picked up an apparently beautiful stone and discovered, to his surprise, that it was a plant! These are fairly easily grown, thorn free and quite beautiful. They like somewhat of a dry rest in the Winter and water during the Spring growing season. Better yet, they can be purchased very inexpensively at most cacti dealers including places like Target and Walmart (if you don't have a cacti dealer nearby) or mail ordered over the web. I found one dealer with a particularly large number of Lithops species and good background information at www.lithops.net.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fun with the Photoeditor

Kaleidescope. I was mussing around with the photoeditor the other day trying out different special effects. This is a combo of quite a few but the main effect is a kaleidescope/refraction effect. It's kind of fun. No trace of what it once was but colorful and a little more playful than usual.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Le Chien

Gizmo the Dog. I was looking for a picture I didn't need to research so I could run off to study my copyright law and, voila, we have Gizmo the dog. A couple of weeks ago, I claimed Gizmo at the pound with no name, no age and a hankering for attention. Since then it's been a bit of turmoil in the house. The biggest thing is potty training. He's figured out that outside is preferred but still thinks rugs are fair game on occasion. Not too bad on chewing (no serious furniture issues) but toys and magazines are at risk (to say the least). Also, no more walking in the dark (especially near rugs). Dog fur everywhere... I can't imagine how hard a newborn child would be! Still, dogs are so loving and, with those big eyes and the little wagging tail, somehow everything gets forgiven. I'd thought I'd end up with something bigger but hey, it is what it is.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus; Tijuana Estuary Preserve. I found this bird singing up a storm up high on a tree overlooking the horsetail bog. Most of his breeding bretheren were in the bog proper, perching on the huge horsetails. They would periodically fly out to catch bugs and search for seeds and other food, only to retreat to the safety of the bog when the camera got too close. This one, however, let me get close enough to get a decent picture. Red-winged Blackbirds range up to Canada and the Northern States in the Summer and Winter as far south as Central America. These were Wintering here in sunny San Diego. Their numbers are apparently in decline due to habitat loss to humans.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mammillaria species or Woolly Wonder!

Mammillaria species. Possibly Mammillaria bombycina or something closely related. I love Mammillaria species. Most have this wonderful halo of flowers, as if they were a garland around a maiden's head. It is a particularly large genus with many different species and most that I find for sale are unnamed or at best say Mammillaria species. Still they're wonderful and, if you want to bad enough, you can probably look them up, especially if yours is in bloom. Also, mine seem to bloom easily and regularly in our San Diego climate, being a regular crowd pleaser. I also really enjoy the wonderful symetrical patterns that the spines make providing great texture for photographs.

If you're a cactus guy and you know what species this is, send me a line. I have a few more mystery cacti to post just for fun. We'll see what people come up with.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why did the Turkey Cross the Street?

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo variety intermieda (Rio Grande Subspecies), Julian, California. There was a huge flock of wild turkeys crossing the street just outside of Julian, CA. The car in front of me pulled over and, as I looked to see why, these huge turkeys started dashing across the street, one after another. So I, like any good photo nut, pulled over and hauled out the Nikon! The hens and younger males crossed first and the bigger, dominant males were last. A few turkeys even flew across the street. The pictured turkey was running at a decent clip. My hopping out of the car to take pictures (with a flash no less) did not disuade any of them from crossing although it may have accounted for a little extra speed as they ran or flew across the street. Or, perhaps they are just a little photo-shy. As it was early evening, the pictures are not crystal sharp (exposure length thing) but you get the general idea.

The striking thing here is that wild turkeys are generally agile, sleek, fast moving birds. They are also quite omnivorous gaving a very broad and adaptable diet including grass, leaves, nuts, berries, bugs and other opportunistic food, accounting for their ability to live in quite large groups and also for their ability to successfully spread across America. The wild birds that the Pilgrims at were probably Eastern Wild Turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo silvestris, one of the most heavily hunted wild birds in America. None of them look anything at all like the poor, bloated, line bred, clumsy domestic turkeys we eat every Thanksgiving.

As to why they crossed the street, it was because the rest of the flock had. The old line of elementary school jokes had to do with why the Chicken crossed the street. It normally had to do with Colonel Sanders on the other side or something similarly silly. For the likes of me, I can't recall why we thought those jokes were funny but, in elementary school, a lot of things seemed funny that don't seem so amusing any more. Perhaps we lost something?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas, Tijuana Estuary Preserve. I found this little warbler hopping in and out of the spiny leaves of a beautiful blooming Yucca. Perhaps it was looking for nectar or perhaps eating the bugs that are attracted to the stunning display of yucca flowers. Either way, it hopped through those leaves with dexterity and ease. It always amazes me how wild animals do that. The dog, on the other hand, very inelegantly managed to get a cactus hand stuck in his fur which was very difficult to pull out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

White-Lined Sphinx Moth

White-Lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata. This moth is in the Sphingidae family of hovering moths which includes the famous moth that Darwin predicted as the pollinator for the long-nectaried Angraecum sesquipedale, Xanthopan morganii praedicta, with a proboscis over 7 inches long. The White-lined Sphinx, while not so prominently proboscis-ized as its long-nosed cousin, similarly hovers before flowers, typically white ones at night and colored ones during the day, for their nectary meal. They range from Canada through the midwest on down to Mexico and Central America. They fly quite quickly, zipping by as if they were hummingbirds. However, they are known to perch under the occasional porch light as this one did outside my front door. He barely flinched under the harsh lights of my Nikon strobe and stood stock still for over 12 pictures. He might still be there now!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Lupine species, Mission Trails Park, San Diego County, California. This was one of three species of Lupine I saw while hiking in Mission Trails Park on Sunday. I have no idea which species it is. A quick look at pictures on the Internet showed similarities to Prarie Lupine (wrong state though) or maybe Bush Lupine. However, California has 82 species of Lupine of which I've seen perhaps six. I may never know their names but they do make a stunning display as they, along with the poppies, cover disturbed hillsides with blue and orange. Apparently, both grow well in areas that have previously burned. We had a huge fire in Mission Trails Park two years ago and, while at the time it was totally scary and awful, it apparently left a silver or perhaps blue and orange lining.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Desert Lilly

Desert Lilly, Hesperocallis undulata; Anza Borrego, California. The desert is ablaze with flowers including Sand Verbena, Brown-eyed Evening Primrose, and Arizona Lupine. There were also a few Desert Lillies interspersed between the blaze of yellow and lavender wildflowers, the sparkling white flowers really standing out. It's hard to imagine these plants growing out in the middle of the dry desert sand, given their water-loving cousins that most of us are more familiar with. That just makes it all the more amazing and exciting to see!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't You Love Spring?

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica. Some people say San Diego doesn't have seasons. After all, what are seasons without snow? San Diego gets just cold enough to frost in some areas and snow in the hills. That's enough to provide a decent dormancy for peaches but not so cold that you can't grow bananas nearby! It's also cold enough to provide for a glorious burst of flowers in the Spring! I went hiking on Sunday and the hills back in Mission Trails Park near Poway were just covered with Poppies (2 species) and Lupine (3 species), making for an amazing display!
A few willing subjects are posing here.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Common Chuckwalla, Sauromalus ater. The scientific name derives as follows: Sauros means lizard and omalus means flat, so flat lizard. The common name comes from a Spanish version (Chacahuala) of the local Indian names: Shoshone "tcaxxwal" and Cahuilla "caxwal".

Common Chuckwallas occur in the American Southwest from Baja California up through Arizona, Southern Nevada and Southern Utah. They are primarily herbivorous (vegetarians) but snack opportunistically on insects. They are the American representative of the iguana family, Iguanidae, of which there are also a few more species that occupy islands off the coast of Baja California. So, if you thought that it looked like an iguana, it was no accident.

This Chuckwalla was in a small finger canyon just off the road on the way out of Borrego Springs. I hiked up to snap his picture, having left my trusty 500mm lens at home. He promptly (yes, this is a male as per his coloration) hurried off to a rock crevice where he popped out his head and looked at me from a distance. Supposedly, if they feel threatened, they can puff up their bodies with air and lodge themselves into a crevice, making it difficult for predators to pull them out (imagine a coyote tugging at a tail). He moved pretty fast, much faster than you would expect a big lizard on little legs to move and was a bit of a surprise as I was snapping pictures of wildflowers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Orchid Craziness

Lc. C.J. Carbone x Lc. Rincon Hill. A friend brought this full size Cattleya into judging yesterday. It had a flower stem that was probably 3/4" in diameter topped by four of these strikingly bright lavender flowers with a contrasting deep yellow lip. For fans of full size Cattleyas, that's a combination that you just don't see in full size Cattleyas. Apparently, this clone has been around with the breeders for over 50 years but, so far, they have not managed to pass that bright yellow lip along to the progeny. A dead end? Maybe it is an opportunity to try other things such as crossing it with a yellow rather than a lavender. Only time will tell.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Cymbidium Yasuko 'Oghi', San Diego County Orchid Society Show, Scottish Rites Center. How appropriate to have an orchid show include green orchids an be shown in the Scottish Rites Center on Saint Patrick's Day! Shown is a very intense green Japanese Cymbidium.

Here's to wishing you a Happy Saint Patrick's Day whether you are celebrating today, on the 17th, or all the way from today to the 17th! Note, however, if you have been imbibing in green beer or any other sort of St. Patrick's Day revelry, the police were out in droves today looking for drunk drivers. If in doubt, get a taxi.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Darwin's Orchid

Angraecum sesquipedale. This orchid, a native of Madegascar, was the one that Darwin saw when he hypothesized that it must be pollinated by a moth with a very long proboscis. The long green nectary in the rear of the flower lures moths in each evening for its sweet nectar stored at the bottom of the nectary. Indeed, a moth was discoverd called the hawk moth also known as Xanthopan morganii praedicta that has a long proboscis and acts as pollinator of this orchid. The white color enables the flower to be seen in dim evening light.

Southern Alligator Lizard

Southern Alligator Lizard, Elgaria multicarinata. This voracious mid-sized lizard is a real beauty to behold, having a multicolored, faceted sheen that reflects the sun in fun colors and directions. This one was out in back of the neighbor's house cruising surprisingly speedily (given those stubby little legs) through her garden.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

White Tailed Deer

White Tailed Deer. We saw these white tailed deer along the side of the road on the way back to San Diego from Julian. There were perhaps 40 of them grazing in a field. No sign of the buck although he was probably nearby keeping watch on the herd.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

White Ghost

Haworthia retusa acuminata variegata, "White Ghost." Variegated plants are very popular in Japan with some select cultivars going for thousands of dollars. I found this little variegated clone at Home Depot. You can see that it is even in spike, the flowers likely showing up within the month of March. It was cute enough to take a close-up of the foliage.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Wild Flora in Your Backyard

Coast Barrel Cactus, Ferrocactus viridescens. People drive all the way out to the desert to see Red Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus acanthodes). Admittedly, those are old specimens that are perhaps 5ft tall or more. However, many people, with their nicely manicured green lawns probably don't realize that those of us that didn't go with turf may have barrel cactus right here in our own back yards. This is a picture of the very attractive Coast Barrel Cactus, a species that is in decline due to, you guessed it, encroachment by development. It has the extreme disfortune of liking the same coastal climate that people do. I, for one, think it is prettier than the Red Barrel Cactus, a cousin, due to its angular, flat red spines.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Prickly Pear in Your Back Yard!

Prickly Pear, Optunia species. Due to the massive wildfires that swept through San Diego and Southern California, there are projects to clear out some of the old, choked brush from the canyons in back of people's homes. They used to prohibit the clearing but, for obvious reasons, the City of San Diego now allows thinning. Ironically, the fires are natural for the area but human intervention eliminated the fires for extended periods, allowing massive brush build up and, consequently, massive fires when they did finally manage to strike.

This Prickly Pear cactus was growing wild in back of my neighbor's house and is in full, glorious bloom! You can see a small wasp wading through the pollen as well. Ironically, much of the wildflowers and cacti were largely hidden behind the brush and are now very visible in the cleared space. There was also a plant that looked and smelled like wild onions of some sort growing along the slope as well as other types of succulents (topics for another day).

Many people eat Prickly Pear Cacti, apparently not dissuaded by the spines, which they carefully remove with a knife and thick rubber gloves. If you are feeling adventurous, here are a few prickly pear recipes I found online compliments of Desert Lil's Delicacies.

Nopales on The Grill

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, they are ready for the grill. Cook each pad for approximately 10 to 12 minutes on each side. While grilling, brush each side of the cactus pad with olive oil or a flavored oil of your choice. Pepper or garlic-flavored oil are often used on grilled Nopales.

Scrambled Nopales

1 or 2 cactus pads
8 Eggs
1/4 lb. of cheese (your choice)
salt & pepper to taste
Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, slice into bite-size pieces. Sauté the sliced pads in a small amount of butter for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl; add shredded cheese and the sautéed cactus pieces. Pour the egg mixture

Nopales Salad

2.2 lbs. Nopales (cactus pads)
1 onion, halved
4 cups water
2 Tbs. salt
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 green chiles - serrano or jalapeno - chopped
Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, chop into bite-size pieces. Place the chopped Nopales into a pan with the 4 cups of water, halved onion and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes or until tender. Drain Nopales and combine with remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. This dish gets better if you let is sit a few hours in the refrigerator before serving. Serves 4 or more.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Optunia microdasys var. albata

Optunia microdasys var. albata. A few days ago, I posted a picture of Obtunia microdasys variety 'Bunny Ears'. You'll recall that 'Bunny Ears' had beautiful yellow furry glochids. Here's a variety with Albino glochids, hence the varietal name 'Albata'. I was prowling the local Hope Depot and found this in 3 inch pot just calling for me so, here it is! Hahah. Yeah, I had the decency to buy it before I snapped a picture. The nice black background is actually the blue car hood!

If you hadn't noticed, us plant people often find odd varieties of plants such as variegated plants and albinos really cool. Some of it is for their oddity and rareity; however, a lot of it is for their uncommon beauty, contrast and texture.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Piggie Planter

Matching Pig and Frog Terracotta Planters. Not that I ever really aspired to have a pig planter but they were kind of cute so I snapped a picture. I liked how the light and shadows fell on them. Even the price tag adds some sort of character. These two little planters were part of the fun sights at the Tropic World Nursery in Escondido.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sago Palm Trio

Sago Palm, Cycas revoluta. This is one of the most popularly cultivated of all the cycads and perhaps the most affordable. They grow slowly but steadily and are quite hardy in warmer regions. They are also salt tolerant and originate from Japan. Rumor has it that Cycads date back to the time of the dinosaurs! One more thing: they're toxic so keep the pets and kids away from nibbling on them.

Of all the Sago Palms (or any Cycad for that reason) I've seen, I've never seen one with a branching trunk, little less three trunks! This was another cool plant at Tropic World but way out of my budget! It was listed (if I recall right) somewhere around $30,000 U.S.! Wow. Whatever the price, I definitely recall that it was nowhere near in my budget. Cool though. Maybe cooler than cool.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Prickley and Nice

Agave americana variety medio picta alba, Century Plant. The gray-green form is native to Mexico. The variety medio picta alba is so named for the stripe that goes down the center of the leaf. It is a sport or mutation that is commonly cultivated for the very attractive colors. These plants are quite hardy and certainly drought tolerant. They also get quite large, topping out around 4 to 5 feet in height. Older plants will send out a dramatically long, flower covered spike that towers upward of 10 feet or more after which the parent plant dies back and lots of pups/offshoots sprout along the sides of the main plant.

When I hacked back my plant some years ago (with an axe, something I do not recommend), the sap splattered everywhere and wherever it touched burned (very caustic) and, even after washing with soap and water, resulted in blood blisters. So, if you cut these back, do so with care.

That being said, for our more adventurous readers, our friends at Wikipedia claim that the flowering stem can be cut prior to flowering and the resulting sweet liquid gathered and fermented to create a drink called pulque. Pulque can be distilled to create Mezcal. This is not to be confused with Agave tequilana which is harvested/fermented/distilled for tequila. The Agave syrup is also harvested as a "natural healthful sugar substitute," again, as per Wikipedia. Now, if you ask me, after the blood blisters, I'm not going anywhere near any sap of any kind from my plants. Thus, they are safe just being drought-friendly, low maintenance, yard decor!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Mexican Ceramic Masks

Here's a picture of matching Mexican his & her ceramic masks in a Sun theme. The Sun theme is common in mexican pottery as are the floral decorations. They are nearly always bright, cheerful and intricate in design. Ironically, when I looked at these two masks for sale at Tropic World, I immediately decided they were male and female. Yet, it required a lot of staring to pick out the features that caused me to jump to those possibly unfounded conclusions. My guess is the lips are the number one culprit and the eyes are #2. Odd thing that. They are so abstract, it's curious that you would be able to tie them to any gender at all but yet, there is just enough detail to connote gender. Totally fascinating. Even more fascinating that it all happens at a devious subconscious level. Do you suppose it would still work if you saw them separately?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Bunny Ears

Bunny Ears Cactus, Optunia mircodasys. The Bunny Ears Cactus is native to Central to Northern Mexico. Optunias are "spineless" but have, in their stead, these little furry glochids that are essentially tiny, furry spines that are dreadfully hard to get out of your skin if you run up against them. Sometimes tape will work or running your hands through wet hair when you shampoo. Either way, it is worth treating the innocuous-looking Optunia with some respect.

I found this Optunia up at:
Tropic World Nursery
26437 N Centre City Pkwy (between Silver Tree Ln & Tierra Libertia Rd)
Escondido, CA 92026
(760) 746-6108