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Monday, November 02, 2015

Walking the Los Angeles River

Water is life giving. The current drought should be making us more respectful of the naturally occurring water in southern California. Still many people laugh when Angelenos say we have a river.

The Los Angeles River was the center of human habitation in this area for thousands of years. When it created havoc and catastrophic flooding, people confined it to a concrete pathway in order to control its unpredictable ways.

Bridge at Tampa
Finally, fear is giving way to respect and a desire to allow the River to reconnect with its natural ways. The L.A. River officially begins in Canoga Park, less than two miles from where I grew up and I've always wanted to think of it as a river rather than "a wash" or storm drain.

Heron gates at Canoga Ave.
We've been venturing down to the L.A. River for the past nine years. Gradually, new parks and pathways are inviting the public to rediscover the River. See the L.A. River Headwaters walking path.

I've been birding the L.A. River in the Sepulveda Basin for years. It is a gem of wildlife habitat surrounded by suburbs. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the whole L.A. River could become a ribbon of life winding its way through the city? 

I've gotten this idea that I want to walk the River from its birth as a trickle of water in the surrounding mountains to its eventual arrival at the sea.

native wildflowers along the bikeway
So far I've walked sections from the trail along Bell Canyon Creek to the mid-valley at Tampa.

Exploring the River is also seeing the land change, the neighborhoods change, and thinking about the city in new ways. Today, friends joined me in walking the River from Winnetka to the footbridge at Vanalden St. We saw thirteen species of birds and a variety of wildflowers on the native plants landscaping the bikeway. Check out my friend Doug Welch's flower photos on his blog. 

There is a river near you and it is worth exploring.

Video of the Tributaries:
Limekiln Canyon Creek
Arroyo Secco
Watershed: Las Virgenes Open Space and take a hike there


Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall is Time to Plant CA Native Plants

deer grass from SB Botanic Garden
Two weekends ago, we took a ride up to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden for their fall native plant sale. 

Native plants can stand up to drought, but now is the time to plant those plants. If the rains really do come, it will give your native plants a jump on survival. For us, it is also about maintaining the stability of our hillside. 

I've been planting, planting, planting.

Calliandra from seeds
Even some of the seedlings I started this spring are going into the ground.

The Botanic garden also had a  cross-over art event, a fiber arts installation organized by Yarn Blaster Babes. 

Check out our Earth Minute videos of the installation How Do Trees Dream? and a school project that displayed How Tall is a Redwood Tree?

This creative installation reminds us all to play. Explore trees, plants, and flowers. Don't just look, interact. A new viewpoint may open up some other aspect of your life. The solution to that work challenge might be found while playing in the garden. Gardens don't have to be big; make a mini-garden.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden plant sale continues through the end of the month. What more can I say? GO. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

CA Native Plants Standing Up to Drought

The drought continues to be a challenge for all of Southern California, but I was heartened this morning by the survival skills of some of my native plants. 

It is October 1, but these plants are looking well.

Video - Take a look at the variety of adaptations in their leaves.

San Nicolas Island buckwheat
Many of the Channel Island species, especially those from the southern islands, are thriving. The San Nicolas Island buckwheat (Eriogonum grande timorum) continues to bloom and to reseed itself, while the San Nicolas Island chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatom 'Nicolas') is a rich green.

Now is the time to plant California native plants so they can establish themselves over the winter. In October, numerous native plant growers are offering special sales:

Theodore Paine Foundation
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Now's the time. Plant those natives!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ring-necked Snake in the Garden

ring-necked snake
Creating habitat in your yard means inviting in predators as well as prey. You can't have healthy equilibrium without creatures at all levels of the food chain.

One of our predators isn't large or threatening, but it is important. We happened upon this juvenile ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) spending the day between rocks at the bottom of the fence. See video of this snake on

Though small in size (typically 30-90 cm) the ring-necked snake is an important predator of small creatures, notably salamanders and lizards in its western distribution. We have both, especially a growing population of western fence lizards. We noticed a couple of years ago that the explosion of young fence lizards had slowed. Around that time came my first observation of a ring-necked snake. Not long after, I found the remains of one that had been eaten.

This snake species is found across North America. The eastern population tends to be smaller with a yellowish belly, while the western population has a bright red belly. In both cases this bright coloration is flashed at would-be predators to scare them off. The color red is often found in nature as a warning color suggesting venom or poison. There are theories that the red scares scrub-jays which might potentially eat these small snakes if they found them in the leaf litter. 

The ring-necked snake is a member of family colubridae, the most numerous group of snakes. Most are harmless to humans. The large eyes indicate that this snake is a visual hunter and as a colubrid with a long thin, fast body, it most likely tracks down its prey. 

Lizards and amphibians can be tricky to catch and subdue. The ring-necked snake is one of many colubrids which is now known to have venom delivered by fixed fangs at the back of the mouth. The venom delivery system has evolved for prey like lizards. The snake bites the lizard, holds on and moves the mouth back and forth to work the venom into the struggling prey. The nature of the venom and the manner of its delivery makes most rear-fanged venomous snakes not dangerous to humans. This little snake does not want to use its valuable venom on a human or a bird predator, that is why it has the warning coloration on its belly. "I could bite you scrub-jay, but I really don't want to. Leave me alone."

We gently relocated the ring-necked snake to the other side of the yard while we were working on the fence. We hope that it stays and continues to live in our yard. Small, unassuming predators like the ring-necked snake are vital to biodiversity and habitat balance. Would you believe that a study of density, found a healthy ecosystem could have 719 - 1,849 of these small snakes in an area the size of two football fields? And most people would have no idea they were there.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Make a Fairy Garden

Between pocket gophers and the drought, I admit I'm garden weary. 

I needed a garden success so I redid my mini-gardens.

Take a minute and let's redo a mini-garden together.

If you are garden weary too, you might also visit a public garden or local California wild place. 

Hidden Gardens of Los Angeles and other California wild places on The Earth Minute

Visit for inspiration or a bit of nature's calm and let someone else worry about the watering.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Rabbit that Sat on Dad's Shoulder & Other ANIMAL TALES by Keri Dearborn is there a rabbit perched on that man's shoulder? 

Where else would it sit to watch TV?

My family is notorious for its Animal Tales and I've just finished compiling them in this book.

From California desert tortoises to red-tailed hawks, there were always more furred, feathered, and scaled creatures in our home than people. Travel wasn't worth the destination if it didn't include a skunk, a black bear, or a day dodging cattle on my uncle's farm. I learned parenting from a grizzly bear and survival from a goldfish.

Have you ever wondered what gifts a love-besotted hawk gives to his beloved? Do you know the "truth" about hamsters? Have you met my uncle the goat?

Dogs, cats, goats, bears, tortoises, even teeny tiny rabbits can bring love, wisdom, and laughter into your life. 

The Rabbit that Sat on Dad's Shoulder &
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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Diversity in Epiphytic Plants - Orchids and Epiphyllums

hybrid epiphyllum
People love flowers. We don't generally eat them. They don't provide us with shelter. Yet, humans are drawn to the beauty of flowers.

Thousands of years ago, when people began living closer together and sanitation was less effective, the fragrance of plants and flowers helped us mask our own stench. Roses were hybridized for their perfume. In the modern world, visual appearance is the main attraction to flowers and two groups of flowering plants have formed a mutualistic relationship with humans: orchids and epiphyllums.

Orchids are ancient flowering plants; species are found all over the world–typically with small flowers. 

The ancestral plants of epiphyllums live in the forest of Central and South America. While their flowers are fairly large, coloring is minimal because their pollinators are usually nocturnal creatures–bats and moths. 

Both orchids and epiphyllums are epiphytic plants. They depend on another plant host to provide  a safe location up off of the forest floor. Their seeds settle into the debris caught in the crouch of a tree branch and the epiphytic plant lives happily with little soil on the rain water and nutrients washing off its host. 

Living on the fringes of established plants seems to have required an ability to be flexible, to have genetic options. People admired the natural flowers of both these plants, but then found we could selectively breed these plants to create flowers with varying colors, sizes, and shapes. Growing epiphyllums

Both orchids and epiphyllums have amazing diversity.

See Orchid bloom diversity

See Epiphyllum bloom diversity

People have stepped in to replace the forest trees. We provide tended pots and protected patios. We have taken the place of host plants and the genetic plasticity of orchids and epiphyllums has enabled us to create a broad spectrum of hybridized plants with spectacular blooms.

Would these hybrid plants continue to exist in a world without human partners? It is a fascinating question. Could they adapt and attract another evolutionary partner? If there were no flowers, what would we find beautiful? What would take their place?