Updated: Jul 26, 2019

by Thomas Oberbauer


For a number of years during the mid 1970’s, I searched for rare plants on San Clemente Island in southern California. At this time, feral goats ranged over the island. The canyon bottoms were covered with goat droppings, the lower slopes on the island were nearly barren from goat grazing and browsing, and the scent of goats was ever present owing to the droppings and the occasional rotting carcass of a goat that died of natural causes. During those visits, I could only find many of the endemic species on the island—Blair’s wirelettuce (Munzothamnus blairii), Nevin’s wooly sunflower (Constancea nevinii), and San Clemente Island bushmallow (Malacothamnus clementinus)—growing in the trash dump where the goats did not tread. There were others that I did not see.

I explored the island with Mitch Beauchamp of the California Native Plant Society and Dr. Reid Moran of the San Diego Natural History Museum herbarium. They utilized me, at the time a graduate student, to climb the steep cliff slopes to retrieve plants growing beyond the reach of the hungry goats. Our searches were sometimes successful. We found a new location of the bushmallow, Malocothamnus,when at the time, the trash dump was the only known location.

My holy grail species was the endemic yellow-flowered San Clemente Island Indian paintbrush, Castilleja grisea, an extremely rare and striking plant. On one search, while walking down a deep canyon, we spotted a flowering Castilleja grisea on a cliff above us. I very much wanted to photograph the flower. I carefully picked my way up the 60-foot slope, grabbing on to rocks to avoid the prickly Opuntia, Cylindropuntia and Bergerocactus growing in scattered locations. I got the photo and successfully climbed down with only a few cactus needles on my chest and in my armpits as my toll for the photograph. My efforts had other benfits when Marge Hayakawa, editor of Fremontia, the journal of the California Native Plant Society, put out a call for rare plant photographs. I sent a copy of the Castilleja grisea slide with a long note describing the difficulty of obtaining the photo. My photo and note were published in volume 6, 1978 of the journal.

Thirty years passed before I revisited San Clemente Island. During my absence, ecologist Jonathan Dunn and others had been busy collecting native seeds, replanting native plants, and restoring the island. Additionally, the Navy had removed all of the feral goats, pigs, and deer from the island. Although Jonathan described how the sage scrub vegetation on the island was recovering, I had a difficult time believing him. Then in 2012, when I finally revisited the island, I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. Areas that were barren like a moonscape were now covered with a scrub habitat. What was most shocking, however, was the new distribution of the Castilleja grisea. I did not believe Jonathan’s assurance that it was a major component of the vegetation until I saw the upper third of the island. The sight of a continuous cover of these shrubs with pale yellow flowers was eye opening and demonstrated the ability of the natural habitats to recover. It also illustrated the importance of the Navy’s great effort—even overcoming lawsuits by animal rights groups—to persevere in the removal of the destructive feral goats.

Thomas Oberbauer is a third generation San Diegan and rare plant enthusiast. He loves the vegetation and plant diversity of Baja California and its adjacent islands. He graduated from high school in 1970 east of El Cajon, California and posts documentaries about the natural wonders of Baja California on You Tube.

#California #SanClementeIsland #Castillejagrisea #rare #Flower #Restoration

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Updated: Jul 26, 2019

by Carrie Perkins

I chose Vassar College in part for its stunning library. With stained-glass windows, long wooden tables lit by little lamps, and secret passageways, it reminded me a little bit of Hogwarts. Whether camping out with coffee and snacks to study for exams or just curling up with a book on a rainy day, it became my favorite place to study.

So it was to my great surprise that I found an even better study spot toward the end of my time at Vassar: the college’s greenhouse. Complete with patio table and chairs, the whisper of misting machines, and the chattering of insects, it gave the library a run for its money. Covering every bench were hundreds of unique and sometimes rare plants, from succulents with their thick, fleshy leaves to orchids that filled the air with amazing smells.


The Vasser College greenhouse

But my one true love was the banana tree, which sat right beside the patio table. It towered over everything else in the greenhouse, spanning from floor to ceiling and sprawling left and right. It provided the best bananas I have ever tasted. They were creamy, melted in your mouth, and were bursting with flavor. Oh, how I miss you, my dear banana tree.

Carrie Perkins is Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland-College Park, where she studies patterns of persistence of the aquatic plant Vallisneria americana, a foundation species native to the northeastern U.S. that is threatened by increasingly harsh and unpredictable weather events and chronic poor water quality. Carrie earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and German at Vassar College in 2014. Before entering the Plant Sciences program at UMD, she was a linguistics project manager at Morningside Translations and then worked as a lab technician in Loyola University Maryland’s biology department. In her spare time, she enjoys running with the Federal Hill Runners Club near her home in Baltimore.

Photo credits:

Photo 1, by Vassar College from http://miscellanynews.org/2013/09/18/features/library-acquires-collection-of-ematerials-traditional-books/

Photo 2, by Dion Kauffman, from http://contrastvassar.blogspot.com/2013/08/exploring-vassar-greenhouse.html

#Banana #College #Greenhouse

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Updated: Jul 26, 2019

by Tony Chang

A young Tony Chang

My mom is an incredible plant caretaker—she just knows how to make things grow. She has the ability to pick plants from the wilds of the forest and somehow tame them to flourish as house plants. When my parents divorced, I was five years old. The sudden shift from two parents to one was jolting. I lived with my dad and only saw my mom once every weekend. That shift made me cherish the moments I could spend with my mother. Typically, when we saw each other we would visit the plant nursery together. My mom, being alone, an immigrant, and not speaking much English, found solace and security amongst the docile plants. So, despite not having any interest in plants myself, I tolerated going to the nursery as an opportunity to hang out with my mom and try to understand why she loved plants so much. On one of our many weekend trips, I noticed a batch of baby Venus fly traps near the cash register. I thought they looked more like an animal than a boring house plant and was instantly fascinated. I really wanted to buy one and be a great plant caretaker like my mother, but my mom thought they were hideous. Also, she said we could not afford one, and that if I wanted a Venus fly trap, I would need to save up for it.

I looked at the price tag. Four dollars?! That was a lot of money for a 6-year-old! Since we were so poor and I didn’t get an allowance, I remember resorting to picking up change off the street after school to save money. My dad used to give me coins for doing math, to encourage me to be better at arithmetic. Our household exchange rate was a nickel for every page of hand written multiplication problems. I’d spend evenings furiously trying to finish the problems as quickly as I could so I could acquire more change. Over several weeks, I saved enough coins to buy the plant! On my next visit to the nursery, I showed up with a grocery bag full of change and my mom let me buy the Venus fly trap. It was actually the biggest purchase I had ever made! We dumped all the coins on the counter and the cashier thought it was ridiculous. It was fun to watch the cashier count the coins one by one and finally add up to $4. I was elated to take the plant home and excited that I was going to take care of a plant of my own like Mom! My father did not know much about plants, so I was on my own with the fly trap. All I knew was that Venus fly traps were carnivorous and I remember thinking, “I guess part of taking care of something is feeding it, and this thing needs to eat.” I spent afternoons swatting flies around the house and the backyard, constantly trying to feed the fly trap. It was a delight to see it close up around the flies and a few days later, expel out the exoskeletons. I remember wanting to touch it all of the time because I never saw a plant move on its own. However, despite my enthusiasm, over time it began to wilt and yellow. I just kept force-feeding it more flies, not quite understanding why it was dying. Finally, I asked my mom what I had been doing wrong, and she asked if I had been watering it and keeping it in a sunny place. It didn’t occur to me that I needed to give it sunlight and water! The next day, I immediately over-watered it, but by then it was already too late. My Venus fly trap died and my mom was oddly psyched about it because she always thought it was an ugly plant. It was my first, but not last, failure as a young horticulturist. I still think fondly of my first plant. Who knew a Venus fly trap could teach a child to save money, practice fast arithmetic, and help him understand his Mother’s love and appreciation for plants?

Tony Chang is a 2017 Smith Fellow and an ecological data scientist, applying machine-learning techniques to ecological problems. He now knows that the vast majority of plants require sunlight and water to survive.


#Family #Mom #Dad #Venusflytrap #Math #Children #Parents

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