The Intriguing Aroma of Bladderpod

Bladderpod at Ulistac Nature Area, Santa Clara (click on the image to enlarge it)

Bladderpod (Peritoma arborea) is naturally at home on coastal desert hillsides and, with its deep taproot, has been described as being so drought-tolerant as to actually resent watering once it is established.  But it also excels in its overall versatility.  It produces interesting spider-like yellow flowers that bloom most of the year (but especially in the winter and spring).  It can be used as an informal hedge or screen.  It is considered a fire-retardant plant.  It can be used for irrigation control, soil retention and hillside stabilization on dry slopes and banks.  It is a source of pollen for bees, of cover and shade for quail, finches, sparrows and doves, of seeds for ground foragers and nectar for harlequin-beetles-2hummingbirds and native bees.  Harlequin beetles (at the left) are especially attracted to the bladderpod and may live their entire lives on the leaves or pods.                                               But perhaps its most inter- esting characteristic is the “aroma” produced by its leaves.  Just gently surround a cluster of bladderpod leaves with your hand and, keeping an open mind, explore the aroma left behind on your hand.  In the interest of full disclosure, the aroma has been unfairly des- cribed as pungent, strange, disagreeable, like burnt popcorn, like bell peppers, pretty stinky, ill-scented, evil smelling, foul smelling, even repulsive.                                                           Unfairly, I maintain, because  while I agree that the odor of the bladderpod is unlike anything else you might encounter in an otherwise lovely green plant, in my opinion it is none of these things!  Instead, I would actually describe it as appetizing, and even savory.  I’ll explain later on in this article, after I have whetted your appetite!

Why It Is Called “Bladderpod”              flowers-fruit             The flowers of the bladderpod (formerly also called Isomeris arborea and Cleome isomeris, and still often found in the literature under those names) develop into soft, fat bladder-like pods about an inch or so long.  Both the blossoms and the pods remain on the plant at the same time.  The pods are filled with a few large, round seeds which look remarkably like peas in a pod, and in fact are edible and can be eaten very much like garden peas (except that they are somewhat bitter, and may need to be cooked for a while to remove the bitterness and become sweet).

Why Plants Have Aromas                                                                                                             Many plants have their own aromas that humans can detect (the sages are good examples), and most probably have aromas that only insects can smell.  That fact tells you something right away about why plants have aromas.                                                                     One reason is to attract pollinators – insects, bats and hummingbirds – to transfer pollen and create fertile seeds.  The scent of the flower alerts pollinators that the plant is ready to be pollinated; in fact, the attractive aromas in plants are strongest when this time arrives.  Plants and pollinators often have a long history of mutual evolution over the millennia.                                                                                                                                         On the other hand, plants also have certain aromas to repel animals that might otherwise eat them.  The smells come from chemicals that are often toxic to animals and are likely to taste bad to the animal or make it sick (milkweed, for example).                                    Less obvious to us are plants that release their scents when insects are eating them.  The scents travel thru the air and alert other insects that are interested in eating the bugs that are eating the plants (like freshly cut grass and clover).  Finally, some of the chemicals in plants have antimicrobial properties.  They serve to kill bacteria and fungi that threaten a plant that has been injured by something trying to eat it, or by traffic or some other source of injury.  Native Americans recognized the antimicrobial potential of certain plants and utilized them to treat wounds and heal infections.

Bladderpod at the Granada Native Garden

Bladderpod at the Granada Native Garden

The Truth About Bladderpod Revealed!                                                                                     A recent visitor to the GNG was invited to experience the aroma of  the bladderpod leaves and describe his impression.  A curious look came over his face, and he said, “Bell peppers and onions!”  As a matter of fact, that is exactly my impression as well as of a number of my colleagues – fresh bell peppers and onions sautéed in a little olive oil!  Scrumptious!                                                                                                                                   Regardless of one’s ambivalence toward the scent of bladderpod, Native Ameri- cans relished the seeds and flowers for food.   In fact, Native Americans aren’t the only ones.  In her book California Foraging, Judith Larner Lowry describes the unripe fruits (the bladders) as “sought-after delicacies”.   The immature peas inside are fresh and juicy, and can be harvested like garden peas.   They can be used as capers.  The flowers are edible too, but they reportedly need to be cooked for four hours to remove bitterness and reveal their sweetness.  Then “they can then be mixed with cooked onions and salt and eaten on a tortilla”.                                                                                                                                         In her blog, Deborah Small describes making a bladderpod taco in a similar way by sautéeing some onion, stirring in some flour, then adding the cooked and drained flowers with a dash of salt on “a fresh handmade tortilla”.

lewis-clarkMore About the Diet of Native Americans                         Lewis and Clark were saved from starvation by some of the Native Americans they encountered.  Having no super-markets from which to purchase food, the indigenous people managed quite well using the native plants growing among them.  The following excerpt from  http://factcards.califa.org/cai/diegueno.html  gives us some insight into the food resources of our “almost ancestors”, as Theodora Kroeber referred to them in her book of the same title:                                                                               “For most of the Diegueño, acorns were the main food.  Some of the southern Tipai groups depended more on pods from the mesquite bush, which they pounded into flour in much the same way that the others pounded acorns into flour.  Seeds of the sage, flax, and buckwheat plants were also ground into flour, and used to make mush and flat cakes.              “In the spring, the women and girls gathered fresh greens such as watercress, clover, yucca stalks and roots, and the blossoms and buds of roses and several kinds of cactus.  In some areas they found berries on manzanita and elderberry bushes, wild plums and cherries.  Wild onion was used as a seasoning.  The agave plant, which provided fibers from which sandals were made, was also used as food.                                                        “The Tipai who lived in the Imperial Valley were one of the few early California groups to plant some crops.  They learned from people living to the east of them how to grow corn, beans, and melons.  Even those who did some farming, however, still got most of their food by gathering wild plants.”

Guided Tours of the Granada Native Garden Are Available!                                                     Are you interested in seeing some of the plants that are described in this Newsletter or in past issues?  One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon.  But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times.  If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .  Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address!

Many thanks to …                                                                                                                  Alrie Middlebrook of Middlebrook Gardens for allowing us to use the photo of the harlequin beetles.                                                                                                                    • Judith Larner Lowry of the Larner Seed Company for her suggestions for the culinary delights of the bladderpod.                                                                                        • Dennis Dowling of the Ulistac Nature Area for allowing us to collect the seeds that have become the bladderpods at the Granada Native Garden.                                              • Rob DeBree of the Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery for donating six Epilobium canum plants, which are now installed near the tables at the GNG.

Check out the native plant selection at ALDEN LANE NURSERY, 981 Alden Lane, Livermore, CA 94550

Plants in 4-inch pots

Plants in 4-inch pots

1-gal and larger plants

1-gal and larger plants

For reliable certified arborist services, contact STUMPY’S TREE SERVICE, (925)518-1442, http://www.stumpystrees.com .

Stumpy's

Index

3 Tables           This Index is to help both new and current Followers of the Granada Native Garden Newsletter become acquainted with the Garden and its Newsletter … and to help current Followers locate informational articles from earlier posts and individual topics.                                 To use this Index, scroll down to the topic that interests you.  Take note of the month and year when the topic was archived.  Then back up to the current Newsletter post and click on the desired month and year in the Archive list.                                                      To become a Follower, just find the “Follow” button at the lower right corner of the screen and follow the easy instructions.  You will be notified automatically by email whenever a new post is published (usually every one or two months).  Welcome to the Granada Native Garden Newsletter!                                                                                                 If you have questions or comments, please email Jim at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .

A:  Individual Plant Topics:  COMMON NAMES
B.  Individual Plant Topics:  SCIENTIFIC NAMES
C.  Plants by Themes
D.  General Topics

A.  INDIVIDUAL PLANT TOPICS:  COMMON NAMES                                    BuckeyeArchived in April, 2016.  Posted on April 17.                                          Buckwheat:  Archived in June, 2013.  Posted on June 26.
Bush Poppy:  Archived in February, 2015.  Posted on February 3.
California Poppies:  Archived in March, 2013.  Posted on March 15.
California White Oak:  Archived in August, 2014.  Posted on August 29.
Clarkia:  Archived in May, 2014.  Posted on May 4, 2014.
Coyote Brush:  Archived in February, 2014.  Posted on February 7.
Elderberry:  Archived in August, 2013.  Posted on August 23.                        Fiddleneck:  Archived in February, 2016.  Posted on February 7.                                Grape:  Archived in December, 2015.  Posted on December 1, 2015.                       Holly-Leafed Cherry:  Archived in October, 2015.  Posted on October 11, 2015.
Lupine:  Archived in April, 2013.  Posted on April 29.                                               Matilia Poppy:  Archived in May, 2016.  Posted on May 30, 2016                          Miner’s Lettuce:  Archived in January, 2016.  Posted on January 17, 2016.
Mugwort:  Archived in July, 2015.  Posted on July 2.
Our Lord’s Candle:  Archived in May, 2015.  Posted on May 29.
Purple Needlegrass:  Archived in April, 2015.  Posted on April 30.
Sagebrush:  Archived in July, 2015.  Posted on July 2.
Toyon:  Archived in December, 2013.  Posted on December 5.
Valley oak:  Archived in August, 2014.  Posted on August 29.                             Yampah:  Archived in July, 2016.  Posted on July 14, 2016.

B.  INDIVIDUAL PLANT TOPICS:  SCIENTIFIC NAMES                                                  Aesculus californica Archived in April, 2016Posted on April 17.                  Amsinckia menziesii:  Archived in February, 2016.  Posted on February 7.
Artemesia spp.:  Archived in July, 2015.  Posted on July 2.
Baccharis pilularis:  Archived in February, 2014.  Posted on February 7.
Clarkia spp.:  Archived in May, 2014.  Posted on May 4.                                    Claytonia perfoliata:  Archived in January, 2016.  Posted on January 17, 2016.
Dendromecon:  Archived in February, 2015.  Posted on February 3.
Eriogonum spp.:  Archived in June, 2013.  Posted on June 26.
Eschscholzia californica:  Archived in March, 2013.  Posted on March 15.   Hesperoyucca whipplei:  Archived in May, 2015.  Posted on May 29.
Heteromeles arbutifolia:  Archived in December, 2013.  Posted on December 5.
Lupinus spp.:  Archived in April, 2013.  Posted on April 29.
Quercus lobata:  Archived in August, 2014.  Posted on August 29.                                    Perideridia kellogii:  Archived in July, 2016.  Posted on July 14, 2016.                        Prunus ilicifolia:  Archived in October, 2015.  Posted on October 11.                                 Romneya coulteri:  Archived in May, 2016.  Posted on May 30,2016.                        
Sambucus mexicana:  Archived in August, 2013.  Posted on August 23.
Stipa (Nassella) pulchra:  Archived in April, 2015.  Posted on April 30.                       Vitis californica:  Archived in December, 2015.  Posted on December 1, 2015.

C.  PLANTS BY THEMES
About “Fire Followers”:  Archived in July, 2014.  Posted on July 10.                    Current Attractions – Earth Day, 2014Archived in April, 2014.  Posted on April 27.    Is There Life after Poppies?  Archived in May, 2013.  Posted on May 27.           Planting for PollinatorsArchived in November, 2013.  Posted on November 10. Precocious Poppies & Other Signs of Spring:  Archived in February, 2014.  Posted on       February 26.                                                                                                             The Colors of Spring (April, 2014)Archived in April, 2014.  Posted on April 6.            The Return of the WildflowersArchived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 19.      Two Surprise Appearances!Archived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 31. 

D.  GENERAL TOPICS
Welcome to the Granada Native Garden!                                                                         Archived in February, 2013.  Posted on February 18.                                                        Overview of the Granada Native Garden                                                                             Archived in February, 2013.  Posted on February 24.                                                     A Short History of the Granada Native Garden                                                                   Archived in May, 2013.  Posted on May 8.                                                               Plant Communities of the Granada Native Garden                                                            Archived in April, 2013.  Posted on April 1.                                                             Water Management at the Granada Native Garden                                                        Archived in January, 2015.  Posted on January 3.                                                     Why Should We Plant Natives?                                                                                             Archived in November, 2014.  Posted on November 11.                                           Why Do People NOT Grow Native Plants? – Part 1                                                         Archived in July, 2013.  Posted on July 18.                                                                       Why Do People NOT Grow Native Plants? – Part 2                                                            Archived in July, 2013.  Posted on July 24.                                                         Planting for Pollinators                                                                                                         Archived in November, 2013.  Posted on November 10.                                           Fire! … at the Granada Native Garden                                                                                 Archived in June, 2014.  Posted on June 10.                                                           About “Fire Followers”                                                                                                          Archived in July, 2014.  Posted on July 10.                                                          Current Attractions – Earth Day, 2014                                                                                 Archived in April, 2014.  Posted on April 27.                                                                  Is There Life after Poppies?                                                                                                  Archived in May, 2013.  Posted on May 27.                                                                      Precocious Poppies & Other Signs of Spring (Feb-Mar, 2014)                                          Archived in February, 2014.  Posted on February 26.                                                  The Colors of Spring (April, 2014)                                                                                        Archived in April, 2014.  Posted on April 6.                                                            Return of the Wildflowers                                                                                                     Archived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 19.                                                        Two Surprise Appearances!                                                                                                 Archived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 31.                                                         The Arroyo Mocho at the Granada Native Garden                                                          Archived in August, 2015.  Posted on August 25.                                                 What’s Blooming? – March, 2016                                                                                       Archived in March, 2016.  Posted on March 8.                                                                 In Defense of “Bugs                                                                                                             Archived in September, 2016.  Posted on September 10.                                                                                                        

ALN Credit

Directions to the Granada Native Garden

GNG Neighborhood.jpegThe unofficial address of the Granada Native Garden is 801 Murrieta Blvd., Livermore, CA  94550                                                                                                        The map above and photos below can be enlarged for better viewing by clicking on them.

If you are a Livermore Resident . . .                                                                                 • The Garden is directly across Murrieta Blvd. from the Nob Hill-RiteAid shopping center. Parking is available in front of RiteAid.  The Garden is also directly accessible via the           Arroyo Mocho Bike Trail.                                                                                                       • See the map above for the safest place to cross Murrieta Blvd. and walk to the Garden, approximately 600 feet east of the Garden (toward Holmes Ave.).

Note:  Because of the boulevard center divider, there is no direct automobile access to the Garden for cars traveling from east to west on Murrieta Blvd.  And no on-site parking at the Garden itself … see below for parking information.

A View of the Woodland & Grassland Sections

A View of the Woodland & Grassland Sections

If traveling 580 eastbound to Livermore . . .                                                                     • Pass Airway Blvd. and exit at Isabel/Portola Ave.                                                               • Turn right onto Isabel.                                                                                                        • Continue past the big blue water treatment building; get in the left lane.                            • Turn left onto Jack London Blvd.  Follow it to its end at Murrieta Blvd.                               • Turn right onto Murrieta Blvd.  There will be 2 sets of traffic lights before you go under the railroad tracks at Stanley Ave.                                                                                           • Cross Stanley and get in the right lane, go 0.2 mile.                                                           • The Granada Native Garden will be on the right, just before an apartment complex at 975 Murrieta Blvd.  The Garden is immediately to the right of the apartments.                        • Limited unauthorized parking is in the apartment complex, along the tall chain-link fence.  Other parking is across the street in the Nob Hill/Rite Aid shopping center, but         to get there you will need to make a left turn into the shopping center.  See the map           above for the location of authorized pedestrian crossing, approximately 600 feet east         of the Garden.

A View of the Grassland-Chaparral Sections

A View of the Grassland-Chaparral Sections

If traveling 580 westbound to Livermore . . .                                                                     • Exit 580 at N. Livermore Avenue.  Turn left onto Livermore Avenue.                                   • Continue to Portola Avenue.  Turn right onto Portola Ave.                                                  • Continue to Murrieta Blvd.  Turn left onto Murrieta Blvd.  There will be 2 sets of traffic lights before you go under the railroad tracks just before Stanley Ave.                                    • Cross Stanley and get in the right lane, go 0.2 mile.                                                           • The Granada Native Garden will be on the right, just before an apartment complex at 975 Murrieta Blvd.  The Garden is immediately to the right of the apartments.                        • Limited unauthorized parking is in the apartment complex, along the tall chain-link  fence.  Other parking is across the street in the Nob Hill/Rite Aid shopping center, but         to get there you will need to make a left turn into the shopping center.  See the map           above for the location of authorized pedestrian crossing, approximately 600 feet east         of the Garden.

If traveling on Stanley Avenue from Pleasanton . . .                                                        • Follow Stanley Ave. into Livermore to the ARCO station at Murrieta Blvd.                           • Turn right onto Murrieta, stay in the right lane and go 0.2 mile.                                           • The Granada Native Garden will be on the right, just before an apartment complex at 975 Murrieta Blvd.  The Garden is immediately to the right of the apartments.                        • Limited unauthorized parking is in the apartment complex, along the tall chain-link fence.  Other parking is across the street in the Nob Hill/Rite Aid shopping center, but         to get there you will need to make a left turn into the shopping center.  See the map           above for the location of authorized pedestrian crossing, approximately 600 feet east         of the Garden.

If traveling from San Jose/Santa Clara . . .
  • Take 680 north toward Pleasanton.                                                                                   • Take Exit 25 (Sunol Blvd.).                                                                                                 • Continue on Sunol Blvd. thru Pleasanton; Sunol Blvd. becomes Stanley Ave. in Pleasanton; continue on Stanley Ave. toward Livermore.                                                        • Follow Stanley Ave. into Livermore to the ARCO station at Murrieta Blvd.                           • Turn right onto Murrieta, stay in the right lane and go 0.2 mile.                                           • The Granada Native Garden will be on the right, just before an apartment complex at 975 Murrieta Blvd.  The Garden is immediately to the right of the apartments.                        • Limited unauthorized parking is in the apartment complex, along the tall chain-link fence.  Other parking is across the street in the Nob Hill/Rite Aid shopping center, but         to get there you will need to make a left turn into the shopping center.  See the map           above for the location of authorized pedestrian crossing, approximately 600 feet east         of the Garden.

NOTE:  Because of the boulevard center divider, there is no direct automobile access to the Garden for cars traveling from east to west on Murrieta Blvd.

           Check out the Granada Native Garden Newsletter by googling “Granada Native Garden Newsletter”.  New articles about California native plants appear monthly, bimonthly, or irregularly.  You can be informed by email whenever a new article appears by clicking the FOLLOW button at the lower right corner of your screen.  You can also contact the Garden personnel by emailing the staff at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .

In Defense of “Bugs”

            “I understand that people with allergies to bees are wise to avoid them, but it drives me a bit crazy when someone spots a bee and starts screaming.  Worse yet, people who teach their children the same way.  Yes, bees will sting, but they always have a good reason, and it’s usually because we’ve done something to harm or threaten them.  They don’t fly around looking for someone to terrorize.  They only want to find a flower, gather some nectar, spread some pollen and go back to their hive.”                                                             – Joan Morris,  Tri-Valley Times, October 27, 2015

Birds & Bees Cartoon           Ali and her mother were visiting us at home one afternoon.  Being a curious 10-year old in the boring com- pany of adults, Ali wandered out into our backyard to explore a somewhat over- grown row of pineapple guava bushes along the rear of our yard.                                “Ali, get out of there!  There are buggies in there!!”  her mom anxiously warned from her safe place at our kitchen table.                                                     I wasn’t aware of anything life-threatening lurking in those bushes, nor of anything that could sting, pinch, bite, eat or otherwise threaten poor Ali.  I thought only of the many hours I had spent as a child exploring remote, over- grown parts of my own neighborhood, or wandering alone in the forest at my uncle’s farm in northwestern Pennsyl-vania, nurturing my current interest in nature and wildlife, and I felt sorry for Ali who was having her curiosity terminated by someone else’s well-intentioned but misplaced fear of “buggies”.

Good Bugs & Bad Bugs                                                                                                               In the world of nature, an insect is neither good nor bad.  Each one has its essential role in maintaining a balanced, healthy ecosystem.  But this article isn’t about which bugs Black widoware good or bad — that depends on how they relate to our life styles, comfort, childhood conditioning and emotional behavior (many people living in California are deathly afraid of the brown recluse spider which, however, hasn’t established itself any closer to California than Texas).  Nor is it about the importance of insects as pollinators of our food crops, nor about the enormous nutritional value of insects (think … grasshopper scampi, maybe?  Yum!)                                                                                                                   It is about how insects are related to the native plants that we are trying to promote in our environment, and to ecosystems in general.                                                                           For an excellent treatment of this topic, I encourage you to consult Douglas W. Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home:  How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.              In common parlance, any creature that flies or crawls around on more than two legs is a bug.  But from now on, we shall use the word “insects” instead of “bugs”, in order to satisfy us purists for whom a true “bug” is a member of the zoological order Hemiptera, which is an order of insects that have mouthparts adapted to piercing and sucking, twoScreen shot 2016-08-30 at 5.37.43 PM pairs of wings, and a specific form of development from larva to adult.  This means that, technically speaking, flies, beetles and spiders are not true bugs, but they are insects (members of the broader cate- gory, the phylum Arthropoda).  But they are certainly what Ali’s mom had in mind when she warned Ali about those “buggies”!

Insects – The Energy Link between Plants and Us                                                                   Plants are the only organisms capable of capturing the sun’s energy and turning it, Bluebird with insectthru photosynthesis, into food for the rest of us.  Animals that don’t derive their energy by eating plants directly obtain it from eating other animals that eat the plants.  At the beginning of this energy chain are insects that eat plants.  According to Tallamy,          37 percent of all animals are insect herbivores.      And 96 percent of the terrestrial birds in North America rely on insects and other arthropods for their food.  That’s almost all of them!  The ecologist         E. O. Wilson has called insects “the little things that run the world”.

Insects and Native Plants                                                                                                            California native plants are those which evolved in the California environment before plants from other parts of the world were introduced and began to compete with the natives, and in many cases, out-compete them.  Recently, a friend of the Granada Native Garden toured her neighborhood and reported that 100 percent of her neighbors had non-native plants growing in her their yards, and 100 percent of the plants were non- natives!  (Maybe this is somewhat of an exaggeration, but it’s not far off!)                                        And this includes most of the common weeds that give us trouble in our lawns and gardens, introduced from other countries, accidentally or by well-meaning folks.                            Over the millennia, the insects co-evolved along with the native plants.  This means that insects which evolved to eat certain kinds of plants are often unable to eat plants that are unfamiliar to them.  This is because they are not biologically programmed to recognize the size, shape, nutrient requirements and leaf chemistry of the non-native, alien plants.  As the non-natives out-compete the natives, the usable insect food resources diminish.  And as the food they are able to use diminishes, so do the insects themselves and other forms of animal life, including the birds, that depend on insects.                                                      Everything in this world is connected with something else!

Native Plants vs. Non-Natives                                                                                                    The horticultural industry has had many years to develop plants that flourish in the California climate, but have evolved in other parts of the world.  This means that, in California, these plants are no longer threatened by the insects that evolved to rely on them for food, as well as by insects and naturally-occurring pathogens that controlled theirSpray Guy rampant growth in their original environment.  As a result, they grow rampantly in California!  Evolutionary adaptation takes time!  From the standpoint of everyone who is trying to grow an insect-free garden, this is great news!  In addition, there is an vigorous, door-to- door industry dedicated to exterminating any insect “pests” (that is, “buggies”) around our homes, regardless of whether they are beneficial or not.

The Importance of Biodiversity                                                                                       

Wasp pupae on a tomato hornworm

Wasp pupae on a tomato hornworm

           Biodiversity is the number and variety of plants, animals and other organisms that exist in any particular area.  It is essential for the survival of the human species by providing food, fuel, shelter, medicines and other resources.                                                                                      Biodiversity is the result of 3,500,000,000 years of evolution.  Humans have the ability to change all that in our lifetime!                                                                                    Biodiversity has suffered due to human activity ever since humans first appeared.  But most scientists acknowledge that the rate of species loss is at an all-time high.  Some speculate that a quarter of all mammal species could be extinct in the next few decades, and that the present rate of extinction, due to human activity, is capable of eliminating most species on Earth within the next century.

Wasp laying her eggs on an aphid

Wasp laying her eggs on an aphid

Traditionally, the common practice is to bulldoze native plants and replace them with a narrow diversity of alien plants that people have become more familiar with.  According to Tallamy, not enough natural habitat is left in our country to support the biodiversity that used to exist.  As more non-natives are planted and replace the natives, either by competition or by outright removal by humans, the insects that evolved to depend on them are fewer, and the insectivores (mainly birds) become locally extinct and no longer contribute to the function of the ecosystems.

“Researchers have concluded that 10th of all the world’s wilderness has been lost in just 20 years.”                                                                                                                                                                     Chelsea Harvey in the Washington Post, September 9, 2016

 Insects at the Granada Native Garden                                                                           Most photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.  But don’t let them frighten you.

Bumblebee pollinating a tidytips wildflower.A bumblebee taking nectar from a tidytips wildflower.  Bumblebees are important agricultural pollinators, but their numbers are in decline because of habitat loss and pesticides.

Great golden digger wasp pollinating a Santa Cruz Island buckwheat.Great golden digger wasp on a Santa Cruz Island buckwheat.  Big and fearsome, but not dangerous, unless you are a grasshopper or cricket.  Not aggressive but curious about persons and pets lingering near their burrows.  Stings are quite rare.

hoverflyHoverfly on a tansy-leafed phacelia.  Aphid-eating hoverflies are being recognized as important natural enemies of pests, and potential agents for use in biological control.

carpenter-bee-2A friendly carpenter beeCarpenter bees nest in holes or crevasses in wood, and are important pollinators, especially of flowers that other bees and insects may have trouble getting into because of the flower’s shape or structure.

ladybug-larva-on-milkweedThe long black and orange insect on the milkweed is a ladybug larva, hunting for its breakfast of yellow milkweed aphids.  Both the adult ladybugs and their larvae are voracious consumers of the aphids that ravage many of our desirable plants.

Be Quiet and Eat Your Insects!                                                                                    crying-child               If the knowledge of the nutritional value of insects has turned you on to adding insects to your dinner table, you might want to connect with Tiny Farms, a project operating out of San Leandro.  Or try the crispy crickets and toasted moth larvae available at the Oakland restaurant Agave Uptown!

Quote du Jour                                                                                                                              “Plants are as close to biological miracles as a scientist could dare admit.  After all, they allow us and nearly every other species to eat sunlight, by creating the nourishment that drives food webs on this planet.  As if that weren’t enough, plants also produce oxygen, build topsoil and hold it in place, prevent floods, sequester carbon dioxide, buffer extreme weather, and clean our water.”                                                                                                                                    Douglas Tallamy, in the New York Times, March 11, 2015

Guided Tours of the Granada Native Garden Are Available!                                                     Are you interested in seeing some of the plants that are described in this Newsletter or in past issues?  One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon.  But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times.  If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .  Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address!

Check out the native plant selection at ALDEN LANE NURSERY, 981 Alden Lane, Livermore, CA 94550

Plants in 4-inch pots

Plants in 4-inch pots

1-gal and larger plants

1-gal and larger plants

For reliable certified arborist services, contact STUMPY’S TREE SERVICE, (925)518-1442, http://www.stumpystrees.com .

Stumpy's

“Care for a Side of Yampah with Your Meal, Sir?”

Field of yampahNot Just Another Weedy Native!                                                                                                 Before there were russets, Yukon golds and French fries, there was yampah!                      Yampah (Perideridia spp.) is a rather weedy, grass-like plant that has a limited attraction as an addition to your front yard.  Nevertheless, it was a valuable plant for the indigenous peoples of California, and it is an important pollinator plant too.

Freshly harvested yampah

Freshly harvested yampah

While the leaves are tender and completely edible, and are said to taste like a mild asparagus, it is the underground part of the plant that was most important.  The plant forms tubers, which are actually swollen underground stems, out of which grow the roots, exactly as potatoes do.  Like the “eyes” of potatoes, the tubers also possess buds which will form the leafy part of next season’s plants.  The tubers store nutrients during the dormant season, food for the plant during its next growing season in the winter and spring.

Yampah is a member of the parsley family (Apiaceae, formerly Umbelliferae).  Its white, lacy flowers closely resemble those of carrots and parsley that have been allowed to go unharvested, but also those of the common wildflower Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), and of the acutely toxic poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) which was used in ancient Greece to execute prisoners, as well as the the philosopher Socrates who had been condemned to death for “corrupting youth”.  No such fear from yampah — when the flowers are ripe, I enjoy plucking and sampling the seeds, which taste like carrots to me.  It is also called wild celery, wild caraway and white anise.

Yampah blossoms

Yampah blossoms

There are several species of yampah which grow in California, and they differ in terms of the size and usefulness of their tubers.  The most widely valued variety appears to be Perideridia gairdneri (the species we have at the Granada Native Garden is P. kelloggii).  Native American villages were sometimes set up near fields of yampah.  The tubers, sometimes known as “Indian potatoes”, were harvested by the sackful in late summer when the leaves have died back, and kept on hand for winter use.  Small bulbs were left behind to produce a crop the following year.  While the production of yampah was managed to suit the needs of the village, in some cases the demand for the tubers was great enough that they might have been over-harvested to the point of  extinction.                                                                                                                                        Unfortunately, the cherished fields of yampah, along with grasses and root crops valued by the Native Americans for food, medicine and cultural items, were ravaged by the cattle and sheep brought in by prospectors and settlers.  The loss of this resource is believed to have prompted some Indian tribes to attack stage coaches and the Pony Express for their livelihood.

Steamed yampah

Steamed yampah

Yampah In Your Kitchen                         Potato peelers had not been invented yet, so the skins were removed from the tubers either by placing them in water and tramping on them with bare feet, or by agitating them in special baskets with rough interiors.  Then they were roasted, baked or steamed and eaten like potatoes, or even raw.   They are reported to be crunchy and mildly sweet, like water chestnuts.  Sometimes the roots were dried and then ground into flour for baking, or mixed with grains as an ingredient in cereals or cakes.  The tubers are rich in carbohydrates that are rapidly assimilated by the body and were used by hunters and runners as a high energy food to enhance physical endurance.

For a contemporary presentation of yampah, consider this creation described more fully in  http://arcadianabe.blogspot.com/2012/06/yampa-more-than-taste.html :
“Shin cleaned, peeled, and steamed the yampah.  He garnished the yampah with chili pepper-infused Lummi Island sea salt, a garlic-soy sauce reduction, pickled grape leaves, fresh nodding onion (Allium cernuum) bulbs, cranberry spinach salad, and a handful of dried dates.  Our steamed yampah had all the flavor of a parsnip with the soft granular texture of a baked potato.”                                                                                                

Shin's creation!

Shin’s creation!

             The seeds are useful too.  Having a flavor variously described as tasting like carrot, caraway, anise or parsley, they were used as a seasoning for porridges and pinoles.

Yampah seeds (courtesy of Jean Pawek)

Yampah seeds (courtesy of Jean Pawek)

Yampah in Your Garden                                                                                                                In the garden or in the wild, yampah is an important pollinator plant for a wide variety of insects, as well as a host plant for the anise swallowtail, which favors plants in the Apiaceae family.

Anise swallowtail

Anise swallowtail

Yampah Had Medical Uses Too                                                                                                   Like so many other native plants, yampah was found by Native Americans to be useful for a number of bodily ills.  The roots were said to ease stomach discomfort and act as a mild laxative.  An infusion of the roots was used to wash sores and wounds, and to clear mucus from the nose or throat.  A poultice of the roots could be used to draw inflammation from swellings.  The slowly chewed root was said to ease sore throats and coughs.                                                                                                                                           The seeds helped to ease indigestion and stomach aches.  A poultice of the seeds could be used to treat bruises.                                                                                                        Our modern potatoes aren’t nearly as versatile as yampah!

Quote du Jour                                                                                                                               “The famous horticulturist Luther Burbank spoke of the abundance of yampah: ‘There are places where the plant grows almost like grass, so that hardly a shovelful of dirt can be turned over without exposing numerous roots.“                                                                                                                   From M. Kat Anderson, Tending the Wild, p. 241

Check out the Native Plant Selection at ALDEN LANE NURSERY, 981 Alden Lane, Livermore, CA  94550

Plants in 4-inch pots

Plants in 4-inch pots

1-gal and larger plants

1-gal and larger plants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For reliable certified arborist services, contact  STUMPY’S TREE SERVICE,      (925) 518-1442, http://www.stumpystrees.com .

Stumpy's

The “Fried Egg” Plant

Romneya blossom             At the Granada Native Garden, we have coffeeberry, milkweed, miner’s lettuce, and even a plant that gives off the savory aroma of sauteed onions and peppers!  To continue the foodie theme, currently in bloom is the so-called “fried egg flower”, properly named the matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri).  That’s “ma-TIL-i-ha”, by the way.  And you can easily see how it gets its whimsical nickname!                                                                           Or “sunny side up” flower, if you prefer?                                                            Blossom cluster               “Queen of the California Wildflowers” is another title that has been justly bestowed on the matilija poppy because, as Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren have said, “Drama is Matilija poppy’s first, last and middle name.”  It is in good company with our famous California poppy, belonging to the same botanical family (Papaveraceae).                           The genus name “Romneya” has no relationship to a recent presidential candidate, nor even to a botanist, but rather to the Irish astronomer John Thomas Romney Robinson (1792-1882), who also happened to be the inventor of the anemometer, a device for measuring wind speed.  We’re not sure how he happened to get a flower named after him, except that it might have been given to him by an admirer because of his efforts as an active organizer in the British Association for the Advancement of Science.                                    However, even tho the matilila poppy is truly a California native which luxuriates in hot, dry weather with no water except whatever has fallen during the winter, it has apparently acquired an extensive following in England, with its wet weather, cold winds and overcast skies.  Several gardeners in England report having grown it successfully there, where it is a showstopper wherever it has been successful.

Hard to Start, Hard to Control                                                                                                     The matilija poppy insists on special treatment when transplanted from a pot.  Be careful not to disturb the existing roots any more than necessary.  Water thoroughly once, then withhold more water for a month, or until the leaves seem to be stressed.  Bert Wilson of Las Pilitas Nursery confided that he “plants three to get one successful plant”.               But be careful what you ask for!  Once the matilija poppy gains a foothold, it takes over — literally.  In a single season, it can reach 6-10 feet tall and just as wide.  It spreads by means of underground rhizomes (plant stems that grow horizontally under or along the ground and send out new roots and shoots, which become new plants), so it will pop up all over the place.  It has even been known to tunnel under a house and come up on the other side!  (You can enlarge the pictures below by clicking on them.)  However, this very characteristic of sending out runners can be used to control erosion on a slope.

New growth in May

Just two months later

New growth in March

New growth in March

The matilija poppy usually blooms from March thru July.  The flowers are said to have a faint apricot scent.  After that, the plant starts to die back, and in the fall or winter it should be cut back to about 3-4 inches from the ground, except for any new shoots that have begun to appear.  Winter rains will start the growth cycle all over again.  But needless to say, the matilija poppy needs its space and isn’t a good match for a small garden.Ferruchi's matilija for Newsletter

Nonetheless, this matilija poppy growing in a parking strip on Fifth Street in Livermore insists on defying the odds!

 

 

 

Propagating the Matilija Poppy                                                                                                     For all the toughness and resilience that this poppy possesses, it can be difficult to start new plants.  While seeds are readily obtained from the blossoms, they refuse to germinate unless they have experienced the heat of a flash fire.  (See our Newsletter article “About Fire Followers”, posted in July, 2014. )  The common way to accomplish this in the nursery or at home is to sow the seeds in a flat, cover the soil with a layer of dry pine needles, and carefully set them on fire.  The heat provides the stimulus for germination, which is said to take place within a few days.                                                                                  Another approach is to propagate from root cuttings.  Marjorie G. Schmidt recommends selecting young lateral roots in November or December, cutting them into small pieces, placing them horizontally in a sandy rooting medium in flats or large, shallow pots, and keeping them moist and shaded.  Roots should develop within a month, followed shortly thereafter by new shoots.  The plants can be moved to “permanent quarters” and should begin to flower the following year.   (Growing California Native Plants, 1980 ed., p. 148.)

GNG Seasonal Update                                                                                                                 The variably red, pink and white Clarkias are in full bloom now (that’s why they are nicknamed “Farewell-to-Spring”; see the article “Clarkia – A Native Flower with a History”, published in May, 2014), but most of the other spring wildflowers have set seed and are gradually being removed, along with the superbloom of weeds resulting from this year’s rains.  During the summer, we plan to install a few secondary pathways that will allow visitors to explore more remote sections of the Garden and appreciate some of the other native plants that are off the main trails.  We will also be adding a few larger plant identi-fication markers, in addition to the more informative tubular ID markers.                               New ID Marker           One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon.  But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times.  If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .  Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address!

Native Plants at Alden Lane Nursery                                                                                         As mentioned in our previous article about the “Water-Wise Buckeye”, the native plants section at Alden Lane Nursery has been relocated.  There are now two places at the nursery where you can find California native plants.  The original assortment of natives, mainly stocked with 1-gallon and larger specimens, is now at the rear of the nursery.  A table containing smaller, 4-inch pots can be found in the main part of the nursery.  Check both out!                                                                                                                          

Plants in 4-inch pots

Plants in 4-inch pots

1-gal and larger plants

1-gal and larger plants

Quote du Jour                                                                                                                   Blossom with bees (Internet)            “Do not even bother trying to contain this plant, as it always escapes.  You may be forgiven when you curse the day that you invited Matilija poppy into your garden, but the plant’s flowers and foliage are so beautiful that nearly everyone eventually succumbs to its charms.”                                                                Bornstein, Fross & O’Brien, California Native Plants for the Garden, p. 172.

Stumpy's

The Water-Wise Buckeye

Buckeye, dormant (1-20-15)            “That tree is dead”, said the visitor during his first visit to the Granada Native Garden one day in August.                                                                                                              “No, actually it isn’t” replied Jim, the Worker Bee who happened to be doing garden maintenance that day.  “It’s only dormant, because it’s a buckeye, and they lose their leaves during the summer in order to save water.  It‘ll grow a new crop of leaves in the spring, and be good as new.  We say it’s aestivating, the opposite of hibernating.”                           “That don’t look like no buckeye we used to have back in Ohio.  You know, Ohio is the Buckeye State.”                                                                                                                     “I know what you mean” agreed Jim.  “We had a big one near my home in Pennsylvania, but we called them horse chestnuts, and I liked to collect the pretty nuts when I was a kid.  This one is the western variety, the California buckeye, but some people call it a horse chestnut too.  I’m not sure why they are called horse chestnuts, because the seeds are poisonous to most mammals, including humans.  But I understand that the California ground squirrel can eat them, probably because the trees and the squirrels evolved together in California.”

Buckeye with "candles" in April

Buckeye with “candles” in April

A buckeye panicle

A buckeye panicle

 

Shortly after the buckeye begins leafing out in late winter or early spring, the future blossoms, resembling candles, form in abundance at the tips of the new growth.  In a matter of a few weeks, the candles burst into clusters (panicles) of sweet-scented, white to pale pink flowers.  Each panicle consists of numerous individual blossoms, but only one or two of them will eventually mature into a buckeye fruit, which contains the seed of a potential new tree.  (You may click on a photo to enlarge it and get a closer view.)

Aesculus, full bloom, 5-13-13

Buckeye in full bloom

 The Buckeye in the Home Garden – Pluses and Minuses                                                       Not everyone appreciates the striking silvery architecture of the dormant California buckeye (Aesculus californica), if they expect everything in their garden to be lush and verdant in the summer.  Its size (15-30 or more feet), shape (sometimes single-trunked, sometimes multi-trunked) and summer-deciduous habit (it loses its leaves in the summer) does require careful placement in a home garden (altho a source of summer water will keep the leaves green).  One author describes its form as “best in sun, where trees develop into a living sculpture of multiple or low-branching trunks, symmetrically out- stretched branches, and a delicate tracery of small branchlets.”   The short-lived display of blossoms are sure to attract attention, followed by the unusual drooping fruits containing the mahogany-colored seeds.                                                                                              FruitsFruits 2           The seeds are about the size of a golf ball and are sure to be noticed when they fall to the ground in the autumn.  But because they are poisonous to mammals, they could endanger a dog who might be tempted to chew on one.  Native bees and butterflies, who have co-evolved with the buckeye over the centuries, are readily attracted to the buckeye blossoms and are not harmed by the toxin in the pollen and nectar.  However, it is of concern to some gardeners that the blossoms are toxic to our non-native honeybees, who have not developed resistance to the toxin.                                                       Painted ladyTiger swallowtail

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it might be fun and instructive for a child to plant one or more of the seeds and watch it grow.  The tree is a fast grower – it might achieve as much as 1-2 feet in a year.  Plant the brown seed half-buried in a pot of damp but well-drained soil, or directly in the ground, with the light spot on the seed facing downward so that the spot remains covered with soil – the root will sprout from this area.  Make sure the soil stays damp, but not soggy.  The chances are excellent that it will sprout when the weather starts to warm.  It needs a little water during the first year or two of growth.  Like so many native California plants adapted to drought conditions, it develops a long tap root to reach water deep-down.  After that first year or two, it should need no summer water at all, but it will characteristically lose its leaves in the summer unless it is given a little water once a month or so.

A Novel Way to Catch Fish!                                                                                                         The seeds of the buckeye, as well as several other plant varieties, contain chemi- cals called saponins.  A characteristic of this class of chemicals is that they create a foamy, soapy mixture when shaken with water.  They are also bitter to taste, and toxic to most animals, which protects plants containing them from being eaten and even protects them from microbes and fungi.                                                                                                        Nonetheless, many Native American tribes learned to use this characteristic to catch fish.  They would pulverize the seeds and roots, shake them with water to create a foam, and add the suds to a stream where fish were plentiful.  This would kill or stupify the fish, which would float to the surface and could be easily gathered up.  Some tribes used other plants, such as the soap lily (Chlorogalum), in the same way.                                                  While saponins are poisonous to humans too, in addition to being bitter, they reportedly are poorly absorbed by the human body (but children are more vulnerable).  Thus buckeye seeds could be used as food by Native Americans, especially when other food sources were scarce.  But the seeds had to be crushed and rinsed in water for up to three days to leach out the saponins.  The flour made from the treated seeds could then be used in cakes, porridge or soup (similar to the way holly-leafed cherry seeds were used; see the article on Prunus ilicifolia in the October, 2015 issue of the Granada Native Garden Newsletter).                                                                                                                                     Lest any part of a valuable plant go to waste, Native Americans also used the wood of the buckeye for firemaking drills and bows for hunting small game, and as fuel for fires.  Medicinally, one tribe even made a tea out of the fruit for bathing hemorrhoids, or mashed the fruit and mixed it with kidney fat for the same purpose.  The Pomo Indians made a poultice from the bark and applied it to a snakebite.

Screen shot 2016-04-14 at 8.04.22 AM

 

The GNG Is a Destination!                          Rex and Jenny Mananquil chose the Granada Native Garden as the site of their annual family photo, with almost-2-year old Zara as the centerpiece (in addition to the Garden itself).  The photo was taken by local photographer Dylan Douglas, but Rex himself is a professional photographer whose work is well known both in the Bay Area and in southern California.  Google “photography by Rex” to get to his website.

 

Welcome Dean to the Granada Native Garden!                                                        Dean                 Dean has joined the GNG Worker Bees and is now sharing his wealth of gardening experience with the GNG.  Currently he has offered to tackle the Murrieta Blvd. approach to the Garden, which was becoming more unsightly with each passing day.  It’s a challenging task!

 

Native Plants at Alden Lane Nursery Have Been Moved                                                                                                          If you are looking for the display of native California plants at Alden Lane Nursery and can’t find them, don’t panic!  They have been moved to the rear of the nursery, where I am told there will be a bit more shade for plants that need it.ALN CreditGuided Tours of the Granada Native Garden Are Available!                                                     Are you interested in seeing some of the plants that are described in this Newsletter or in past issues?  One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon.  But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times.  If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .  Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address!

Stumpy'sQuote du Jour                                                                                                                               “A lot of people still think native plants are dull and don’t really do anything, so we want to get them here to the garden to understand that everything they see is a California native plant, that they’re really quite lovely and are wonderful additions to any garden environment.”                                                                                                                                   Bart O’Brien, garden manager at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park