Monday, May 31, 2010

Puya in New World Desert

This Puya has beautiful gray-green leaves and a wonderful geometry from a distance. When you get up close, you notice the perfectly purple flowers. Stunning!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Claremont Canyon

Great walk in Claremont Canyon yesterday. I am ashamed to admit that I have been to the top of Panoramic Way before. It is so close and the views are incredible! We saw Sara Orangetips, Loquin's Admirals, Anise Swallowtails, ringlets, and many other species of plants, birds, etc. For some reason the Chalcedon Checkerspot was posing for pictures, so I got a good picture of that one and posted it here. Jerry Powell did a great job of leading. I'll have to go back; it deserves another trip.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


The pink flowers of this plant with the common name Spanish Peaks look lovely with the purple lavender behind them. It is closely related to foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea. I really like the deep color of this flower, though, and it is a perennial, so it will live in the garden a lot longer. Plants in this genus are also known by such common names as Dead Man's Bells and Witches' Gloves because of the cardiac glycosides they contain. Depending on the dose, they can improve heart function (digitalin was first derived from this plant) or kill you. Although it has been in medical literature since the 1785, herbal preparations are no longer used since the size of the dose is so important and the plant varies in how much active ingredient it contains. The line between improvement and death is just too small. Such a pretty plant, but so sinister!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sunset Ridge Elementary School

Yesterday, Andy and I went to Pacifica to do a butterfly presentation. We usually participate in the end-of-the-year butterfly festival at Sunset Ridge elementary school. This year was not our best. The kids are usually on the playground having snacks and getting their faces painted, and then come in for a few minutes to see live specimens and watch the video. This time, it was raining, so instead, we rotated between classrooms. In addition, one of the vases (otherwise known as a caterpillar cage) broke when Andy picked it up. It must have had some flaw. Glass scattered across the table and on the floor. Andy was bleeding. The kids REALLY wanted to get up close and see the disaster. I yelled at them to keep away. I was somewhat successful in my attempt at keeping them under control. People cleaned up, got Andy a Band-Aide, and we continued, somewhat behind schedule. But it worked out. All six kintergarten classes got to see the entire video and all the specimens. And, as usual, we got caught in rush hour traffic on the way back. It was not a fabulous experience, but we muddled through and got the job done. I would express a wish for things going better next time, but Joanie is retiring, so I think this was our last hurrah at Sunset Ridge.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Flowers are nice. But sometimes it is not about the flowers. Like in this case. The white woolyness on the bright green leaves is a special kind of beautiful. Sometimes if you get up close to a plant and look at the details, it is just amazing. This plant wasn't labeled, but it looks like Verbascum thapsus to me. It has many common names, and many of them refer to the wooly quality I find so fascinating: feltwort, blanket mullein, velvet, Lady's blanket. This plant has been used as a medicinal herb. It is supposed to help with coughs, and used topically is supposed to improve the skin. I think I will stick with products I get at the store. For now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


This buckwheat has lovely soft yellow blooms held about a foot above a low mat of foliage. I love the color and form, but question the name. "Sulfur Flower???"?????!!! That is not the color of sulfur. The mineral if a brassy bright yellow, almost like that terrible oxalis weed. I suspect that this may be Eriogonum ersinum, Bear Buckwheat. I will have to ask someone at the UC Botanical Garden, where this picture was taken, if they know something about this plant that I don't. Maybe the sign was moved from its proper location. It is a mystery to me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Poor Knight's Lily

What an amazing flower! Like a bottlebrush, only more so. Blooming today at the UC Botanical Garden in Strawberry Canyon. The plant is named after the island where it grows, Poor Knight's Island, and it is an example of island ecology. The plants that grow on islands are often much larger, smaller or different from those on the mainland. This one is different in a big way!

Monday, May 24, 2010


The excitement today at the UC Botanical Garden was the Gopher Snake in the soil bin. At first I thought maybe it could be a rattlesnake, but it had no rattle. And I thought it might be alive, but it didn't move, even when we became noisy. So, finally, I decided I had to know if it was alive, and I touched it with a shovel. Dead. Then I used a shovel to pull it out of the soil. No head. REALLY DEAD. When Paul, our brave director, saw it, he said, "Oh that is just a gopher snake. I used to work with those. Then he picked it up and disposed of it. It is so nice sometimes to have a zoologist around. The botanists, horticulturalists and gardeners are fine, but sometimes you need someone who is comfortable with animals.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lorquin's Admiral

This is a Lorquin's Admiral that I raised a few years ago. The caterpillars are brownish and whitish and look sort of like bird poop. I guess this discourages birds from eating them. I post this now because I saw this butterfly at the UC Bot Garden yesterday, May 20. I hope we see more of them when I have my Butterfly Walk there on Tuesday. I am doing regular butterfly walks on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Also, there was a ceanothus moth there yesterday that many people enjoyed. I got some pictures of it, but it wasn't my camera, so I don't know if I am going to be able to post that.