Category Archives: Gardens/Plants/Nature

The Babes of Fangorn Forest – Treebeard’s Pin Up Calendar

 

Treebeard

Treebeard here.  The other Ents and I, at our last Entmoot, decided to share our photos of the sexiest trees in Fangorn Forest.  Since we lost the Entwives a terrible long count of years ago, we have become a bit lonely, and sometimes, over a couple of pints at the Entpub, we have quite spirited discussions about our trees.  Who has the most supple branches, the softest leaves, the most graceful trunk, or the healthiest bark.  These  debates, which are quite lengthy since it takes a very long time to say anything in Entish, culminated in a series of 12 images we plan to use in our first ever “Babes of Fangorn Forest” pin up wall calendar.  Many of these trees are my friends, creatures I have known from nut or acorn.  And some of them have grown up to be, well, to use the vernacular, total hotties.  Please take the time to examine the images with care.  Do not be hasty.  Think of roofs of sleeping leaves, the dreams of trees untold, when woodland halls are green and cool and the wind is in the west.  Ahem.  I hope you enjoyed that, it is one of my own compositions.  But enough of me and my words, look, look at the trees, the beautiful, beautiful trees…

1. January

2. February

3. March

4. April

5. May

6. June

7. July

8. August

9. September

10. October

11. November

12. December

 

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Creating and Maintaining a Monarch Sanctuary in Your Yard

Monarch Header.2

The Amazing Life of the Monarch Butterfly

Monarchs, like all butterflies, go through a 4 stage life cycle.  They begin as eggs, hatch into caterpillars, enfold themselves into a chrysalis as a pupa, and while inside metamorphose (which means to change shape) into a striking orange and black butterfly.  One thing that makes Monarchs unique is that their caterpillars will only eat milkweed plants, and will starve without them.  Eating milkweed provides them protection from many predators, as the caterpillars and butterflies concentrate toxic chemicals (cardenolide alkaloids) found in the milky sap.

Another thing that makes Monarch Butterflies unique in the insect world is their annual migration. Monarchs that breed in eastern North America migrate up to 2,500 miles to wintering sites in Mexico. Monarchs that breed in western North America migrate to the California coast for the winter. That is a long way for a creature that has a wing span of 4 inches and weighs 500 grams (equivalent to a paper clip)!

(Click on any of the images to get a closer look)

Caption

The lifespan of a monarch butterfly is short, though the generation that overwinters in Mexico and California lives up to 8 months.

In the fall Eastern Monarchs fly south to overwinter in special forests in Mexico.  The Western population overwinters along the California coast.  In the springs and summer Monarchs either fly north from Mexico to the U.S.and Canada, or move inland and north from the California coast.

In the fall Eastern Monarchs fly south to overwinter in special forests in Mexico. The Western population overwinters along the California coast. In the spring and summer Monarchs either fly north from Mexico to the U.S. and Canada, or move inland and north from the California coast.

Numbers of Monarchs are Declining

Unfortunately, the things that make Monarchs unique are also posing challenges to their survival.  Their overwintering sites in Mexico and in California are threatened by development and habitat loss.  Another threat to the species is the huge decline in milkweed plants found in the United States and Canada, due to habitat loss from human development and the expansion of agriculture (particularly crops that have been genetically modified to resist the pesticide Roundup).  Milkweed, which used to grow alongside crops like corn and soybeans, has almost disappeared from Midwestern fields.  This loss of habitat for their host plant, along with periods of bad weather in the forests where the butterflies hibernate in Mexico, have severely reduced the numbers of Monarchs.

Caption

Help Monarchs by Planting Milkweed

The news is not all bad though.  Recognizing that the Monarchs’ dependance on milkweed that is disappearing is endangering this iconic butterfly, people all over North America are doing what they can to help.  From pushing for protections for their overwintering grounds, to the very simple step of planting lots and lots and lots of milkweed.

You too can participate in helping Monarchs, by setting up a sanctuary in your yard, garden, school, or business.  Your reward will be the countless butterflies that flutter through your yard, feeding on your plants and also laying eggs.  You will get to watch monarchs first hand as they progress through the stages of their lives.  Check out these amazing moments I have witnessed in my yard over the past 2 years…

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Monarch butterflies laying eggs.  They bend their abdomens up and lay eggs on the underside of leaves or on flower buds.  The eggs are the small white dots in the lower panels.  In the panel on the left you can see some tiny hatchlings.

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Big fat Monarch Caterpillars.  These guys can chew through a leaf so fast!

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Monarchs leave the milkweed plant when the pupate.  Sometimes you find their chrysalises out in the open, but often they are hidden away.  The chrysalis starts out bright green, and then becomes transparent.  The unique orange and black pattern can be seen through the thinning walls of the chrysalis when the butterfly is close to emerging.

Monarch butterflies love to feed on milkweed nectar, but they also enjoy feeding from other flowers.  Be sure to have lots of different food sources for them in your sanctuary.

Monarch butterflies love to feed on milkweed nectar, but they also enjoy feeding from other flowers.  Be sure to have lots of different food sources for them in your sanctuary.

 Growing Milkweed in Your Yard or Garden

You will probably find that, just like eating potato chips, you can’t have just one milkweed plant.  I started with one, and now have several scattered around.  My main patch is a collection of 5 large pots, and I have three or four other areas in my yard.  I have mainly tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), though I recently started a batch of narrow leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), a California native.  The milkweed that you mainly find in nurseries in CA is tropical (Monarchs really like laying their eggs on this one), but you can purchase seeds of native milkweeds over the internet or you can find plants at native plant nurseries.

Caption

My main patch of tropical milkweed on the right; tropical (in the pots) and narrow leaf milkweed (in the seed starter) plants I am growing from seeds.

There are many species of milkweed that are native to California.

Some of the many species of milkweed that are native to California, plus one random non-native that I put in because it is so pretty!

Once you have healthy milkweed plants growing, getting more is easy!  They produce many seed pods, and you can harvest the seeds before they blow away and plant them.  I use 72 well seed starters that you can get for under 10 dollars.  I also just shove seeds into the dirt in random pots around my yard and wait for little milkweeds to grow.  One thing to be careful of is that rodents love to eat milkweed seedlings, so when I use seed starters I make sure to put the cover on them and keep them up high when the seedlings are young and tender.  If you generate too many seeds to plant yourself, you could give them away to friends, or send them into seed collecting programs that you can find online.

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Milkweed seeds blowing away from a seedpod.  On the left are seeds that have not fluffed out their floss yet.  They are really beautiful!

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Sam planting milkweed seeds in a seed starter.  He planted 100 seeds, and 40% of them germinated.  Once the plants were bigger he gave them away to his Boy Scout troop.

Maintaining Healthy Plants

One thing that you cannot do is get attached to a leafy, lush milkweed plant.  Because if you get lucky and have a bumper crop of caterpillars, they will eat it down to nothing.  It is a good idea to have a backup plan, in case all of the leaves are eaten. I have twice carried containers of caterpillars over to a local garden when my caterpillars ate every single leaf off of my original plant.  This is also how my collection grew, as I ran out and bought several more plants as insurance against caterpillar famine!  There are a few pests you want to keep an eye out for.  You will find yellow aphids on your plants.  I squish them with my fingers, sometimes also washing them off using a soapy solution (mix a few squirts of dish washing liquid with water and keep in a spray bottle) or the mist setting on my hose nozzle.  If you have a lot of ants around the base of your plant, carefully spray a little ant killer.  Ants milk the aphids like cows, so you don’t want too many ants on your plants.  Or in your pants.  You also want to pluck off and kill any black and red milkweed beetles you find, as they suck the life out of the seeds in the seed pods.  Finally, if you see whitish, sick-looking leaves, remove them, and also scrape off any scale insects you see, which look like little brown limpets clinging to the stems and branches of the plant.  Some people suggest that you cut back your tropical milkweed in the fall if you live in a climate like California where it thrives and blooms year round, to reduce plant diseases and to encourage monarchs to continue their migrations.  I don’t really do this.  I hope the milkweed militants don’t find me…

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My original milkweed that was chewed down the sticks.  It recovered in a few weeks, and was bushy and healthy again in no time.

These creepy little yellow aphids will suck your milkweed dry if you don't remove them.

These creepy little yellow aphids will suck your milkweed dry if you don’t remove them.

These red and black beetles suck the juices out of the seeds in the seed pods, which ruins the seeds.

These red and black milkweed beetles suck the juices out of the seeds in the seed pods, which ruins the seeds.  Have no mercy, even on the little ones.

Monarch Predators

Even though they are poisonous to many creatures, some are able to eat Monarch Caterpillars and Butterflies.  Mice, assassin beetles, and some species of wasps, spiders, and birds are known predators of Monarchs.  I have seen caterpillars fleeing from a milkweed plant, so if this happens check on the stems and the underside of leaves for any other insects.  I have very low tolerance for any insects on my milkweed plants, and the only ones I let live are lady bugs.

Wrap Up

For more information, please visit these websites (from which I obtained many of the facts in this post).

The Monarch Program

Monarch Watch

Monarch Butterfly – Journey North

USDA Forest Service – The Monarch Butterfly in North America

I hope that I have convinced you to take the plunge into milkweed and Monarch madness.  You will not regret it, as you welcome these wonderful creatures into your life.  If you still aren’t convinced, check out these amazing videos I took recently in my yard.

A Monarch Butterfly laying eggs on my milkweed plant

A Monarch Caterpillar eating a milkweed leaf

A Monarch Butterfly feeding on milkweed flower nectar

Monarch Header

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Desert Flowers in Anza Borrego

Flowers.header

I was in the Anza Borrego Desert this past weekend with Sam and his Boy Scout troop.  A detailed post on the fun that was had by all is soon to follow.  This post is a collection of flower photos I took.  Lots of plants were blooming, from large lupine to tiny little I don’t know whats tucked under rocks or dug into the sand.  We have had a few nice storms, though not enough to break the drought, so there was some green out there, more than we have seen in the past.  As always, the persistence of life under such adverse conditions is amazing.

Cactus flower

Cactus just starting to bloom.

Cactus almost blooming

In about a week this will look like a very prickly bouquet.

Clustered yellow flowers

A small cluster of yellow flowers poking up out of the sand.

Delicate yellow

This looked like wild parsley. Tony liked the delicate composite flowers.

Lupine.2

Lovely lupine was all over in the desert washes.

Lupine

Close up of lupine.

Ocitillo

The ocotillo was just starting to bloom. In the winter these look like bunches of dead sticks. In spring they get small green leaves along the length of the branches, and then bright red flowers bloom from the tips.

Pink flower

Really pretty pink trumpety flowers blooming in amongst the boulders.

Purple flower

Tiny purple flower hiding under a big rock.

Tall yellow flowers

These flowers are all blooming from a big round plant. They look like a field of daisies.

Yellow flower.desert floor

I am christening this the desert dandelion. If I was more motivated, I would try to identify these plants. For now, I am just enjoying them…

                 

 

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The Gods Must Be Angry

I live in San Diego, and our region, along with the rest of California, has had a drought for the past 3 years.  We have had so little rain, that when it actually does rain we get all excited.  As you can see from the photo below that I posted on Facebook, which documents the extraordinary occurrence of ACTUAL RAIN in my yard.

It's rainingYou will notice my enthusiastic use of the type tool in Photoshop, along with exclamation points!  And…I also made a sort of snide comment about how the rain only lasted for 20 minutes.  Well, who would have thought that that innocent little comment would result in another bout of rain, this one a veritable deluge, just a few short hours later?  Obviously, the rain gods monitor social media, and I clearly yanked their chain.

After I put this post up on FB, I picked up the kids from school and then took Sam to the orthodontist.  After his appointment is when all hell broke loose.  We looked out the window and saw rain falling by the bucketful.  Actually it wasn’t so much falling as hurtling towards the ground at a 45 degree angle.  Trees were flailing, people on bikes were cowering under walkways, and the streets and sidewalks were streaming with water.

When we arrived home it was to a full on, rip-roaring thunder and lightning storm.  Some of the lighting came really close to the house, and I made the kids stay in for a bit, as I felt like I had already incurred the wrath of the rain gods, and they are probably good friends with the lightning gods.  After the fireworks calmed down Emma and I puttered around the yard, just enjoying the feeling of being rained on, and filling up lots of containers with water to use on our plants in the coming week.

Emma in the driving rain. You can see the angle it is coming down at in the upper corners of the photo.

Emma in the driving rain. You can see the angle it is coming down at in the upper left corner.

Emma helping to fill water containers.

Emma helping to fill water containers.

Eventually the rain slowed, after a good 45 minutes to an hour.  Blue sky peeked through illuminated clouds.  The woody scent rising up from the canyon was amazing, as the dried earth and plants opened up to drink in all the water.

Raindrops plopping into the birdbath.

Raindrops plopping into the birdbath.

Clouds and happy canyon plants after a long-awaited watering.

Clouds and happy canyon plants after a long-awaited watering.

After the rains cleared, the birds came out in force, chirping and swooping about.  I noticed several birds streaking out of the big eucalyptus to snatch insects out of the air.  This is a very blurry photo of what was a very graceful and lively scene.

Bird and bug

After the storm was done we had lots of water stored that will keep us going for a bit.  The plants in the yard and canyon were scrubbed clean, and though it was still very hot and humid, everything was refreshed.  We were lucky not to have any trees or branches fall, we were also glad we were not struck by lighting!

Lots of water to keep us going for a bit.

The tree faces in the yard always look great after a rain, as the palm trunks get dark and shiny.

The tree faces in the yard always look great after a rain, as the palm trunks get dark and shiny.

I, along with the rest of San Diego (except the people stuck on the highways which were full of crashes), were thrilled with our rainstorm.  And now that I know that I have the ability to summon wet and wild weather through injudicious comments on social media, I will endeavor to do my best to end the terrible drought afflicting our great state.  Do you hear that, rain gods?  Your mother was a hamster and your father reeked of elderberries!  I blow my nose at you, so called meteorological deities!!!

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Tadpoles in the Water, Animal Tracks in the Mud

Mission Trails header(Click on photos to get a better look)

On a hot July day I took my son Sam and his friend JD out to Mission Trails Regional Park.  The Visitor’s Center (on the right in picture above), is a 10 minute drive from our house.  We stopped in to ask about the recent fire (you can see the burn area midway between the Visitor’s Center and the break in the hills), that began here and went up over the hills to the right, and to look around.  The canyon behind where we live is on the western edge of the park, and living so near such a beautiful natural resource is one of the things we love best about our house.

It was a bit hot for hiking, but we did see some great stuff as we poked around the park. We saw live animals like tadpoles, and evidence of many animals like raccoons in tracks in the mud.  We also saw the effect of the drought on the park, as the large pond and running stream near the dam has dried up into a few small ponds.  Check out our photos and read about our adventures below…

Sam and JD on the deck at the Visitor's Center, the beautiful view behind them.

Sam and JD on the deck at the Visitor’s Center, the beautiful view behind them.  On the upper left you can see the area that burned in the recent fire.

Sam and JD in the amphitheater by the Visitor's Center, hanging out with a mountain lion and a wood rat.

The boys in the amphitheater next to the Visitor’s Center.  They are making friends with a mountain lion and a cute little wood rat.

Sam and JD in the amphitheater by the Visitor's Center, hanging out with a mountain lion and a wood rat.

A close up of the area of the burn. We happened to see the arson investigation team working at the site when we arrived.

We are in the middle of a drought in San Diego, the effects of which were very apparent.  I found pictures from 2010, when Sam was on a school field trip.  Back then the dam actually had water flowing over it.  Sam is standing in that area in the middle photo.  There were several small ponds, one a very attractive orange color.

We are in the middle of a drought in San Diego, the effects of which were very apparent. I found pictures from 2010, when Sam was on a school field trip. Back then the dam actually had water flowing over it. Sam is standing in that area in the middle photo. There were only several small pools of water left, one a very attractive orange color.

xxx

One really fascinating thing about the receding water is that there were loads of tracks in the mud.  The upper tracks are raccoon hands.  They look like little fairy hand prints.

xx

I think the print on the upper left is a big cat.  Cats keep their claws retracted, so you don’t see claw prints in their tracks.  Or else it just a dog with fat paw pads and small claws!  Lots of bird prints too…

ss

The little pools were full of life.  You can see snail and fish in the green pond, and the little black blobs in the orange pond are tadpoles.  They will probably turn out out to be radioactive, flesh-eating killer frogs, after having grown up in that orange water, so take care in a few months if you are down by the dam!  On the lower left is a wood rat nest, and a lizard on a rock is on the lower right.

fff

The big pond on the other side of the dam wall.  It looked almost like a planned Zen garden.  A nice note to end on.  If you get a chance, take a trip to Mission Trails and check it out.  Just maybe not at noon on a hot July day.  We had to head to Dairy Queen afterward for ice cream cones to recover!

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Summer Photos from My Yard

It seems like every time I walk outside into my yard these days, I walk right back inside…to get my camera.  Most of the pictures in this post are recent, though a few are from previous years.  I haven’t had a chance to share them until now.  The photo of the praying mantis is pretty cool…

See, I told you it was cool!

See, I told you it was cool!

A busy bee visiting the milkweed.

A busy bee visiting the milkweed.

A blue dragonfly on Buddha's bald spot.

A blue dragonfly on Buddha’s bald spot.

Rock purlsane, aloe, and zinnia flowers.

Rock purslane, aloe, and zinnia flowers.

My favorite orange hibiscus.

My favorite orange hibiscus.

Sunny, sunny sunflower.

Sunny, sunny sunflowers.

A big, fat raccoon who invaded our yard to binge on grapes a few years back.

A big, fat raccoon who invaded our yard to binge on grapes a few years back.

Monarch chrysalis tryptych.  The crysalises get darker as the butterfly inside gets ready to hatch.

Monarch chrysalis triptych. The chrysalises get darker as the butterfly inside gets ready to hatch.  I can’t decide if it looks like an alien waiting to attack, or Batman waiting to save the day.

Soon we will have home grown cherry tomatoes.

Soon we will have home grown cherry tomatoes.

A grasshopper, taking a break from eating my tomato plant.

A grasshopper, taking a break from eating my tomato plant.

Spiders we call "Writing Spiders", because they have squiggles in their webs.

Spiders we call “Writing Spiders”, because they have squiggles in their webs.

A dove.  WHO WOO HOO HOO...

A dove. WHO WOO HOO HOO…

A newly hatch Monarch  butterfly.  The colors and pattern were so crisp and intense.

A newly hatched Monarch butterfly. The remnant of its cocoon is hanging underneath the pot lip on the upper right.  The colors and patterns on the wings and body were so crisp and intense.

Monarch caterpillar on the left, Swallowtail on the right.

Monarch caterpillar on the left, Swallowtail on the right.

And finally, Julius hiding behind the milkweed, waiting for the dove to come off of the fence so he can pounce!

And finally, Julius hiding behind the milkweed, waiting for the dove to come off of the fence so he can pounce!

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Beautiful Spring Flowers Galore!

Many many beautiful flowers are blooming in my yard and in the local canyons here in San Diego.  I’ve been taking photos, lots and lots of photos.  Enjoy!

Canyon Plants

Flowering California Buckwheat

California Buckwheat

Purple Straw Flower

Purple Straw Flower or Purple Statice

Thistle, I think.

Thistle

White Sage

White Sage

Toyon

Toyon

Coastal Goldenbush

Coastal Goldenbush

Deerweed

Deerweed

California Aster

California Aster

California Wild Rose Hip

California Wild Rose Hip (not a flower, but a former flower…)

California Fuchsia

California Fuchsia

Bushmallow

Bushmallow

Backyard Plants

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Another Hibiscus close up

Another Hibiscus close up

Flame and Yellow Milkweed

Flame and Yellow Milkweed

Jasmine

Jasmine

Hydrangea

Hydrangea

Butterfly bush

Butterfly bush

Red Geranium

Red Geranium

Succulent purple flower

Rock Purslane

Squashed up Pumkin flower

Squashed up Pumkin flower

Pumpkin flower

Pumpkin flower that looks like a starfish

Orchid

Orchid

Cactus orchis

Cactus Orchid

Close up of Cactus Orchid

Close up of Cactus Orchid

Bouganvillea

Bougainvilla

Blue Flowers

Blue Flowers – Can’t remember what these are!

Iris?

Amaryllis

 

 

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