Saturday, November 6, 2010

Another morning walk


SinceI had so much fun yesterday morning exploring the greenbelt near our house with my younger daughter, our dog and my camera, I decided to do it again today. It’s Saturday, so our 12-year old daughter came along as well. The weather was still beautiful—high 60’s, blue sky, hardly any wind. I’m enjoying the wonderful weather while it lasts. We’re expecting rain tomorrow!

Since our first rain of the season a couple of weeks ago, fresh green grass has been coming up everywhere. In the summer, California truly is the Golden State but as soon as we receive some precipitation in the fall, everything begins to turn green again.

New grass at the foot of a palm tree

Walking through our neighborhood park at the end of our street, I stopped to photograph the intricate bark on this sycamore, like I have done so many times. There are very few trees that have bark as beautiful as this although the gum trees I saw in Australia last winter are definitely in the same league.

Mature sycamore in our neighborhood park

We have quite a few English walnut trees growing in this park and all along the South Davis greenbelt. The English walnut, or more properly Persian walnut (Juglans regia), is native to the Old World and can be found from the Balkans all the way to the Himalayas and southwest China. Our trees must have been planted by the ranchers that settled this area in the mid-1800s. These trees are huge, some close to 100 ft in height, with stately canopies.

Walnut tree along our greenbelt

At this time of year, the paths through the park and along the greenbelt are covered with black walnut husks. It doesn’t really look like there could be anything edible inside of them but there is!

Walnut husks

Similar in shape to walnut husks are the seed capsules of the California buckeye (Aesculus californica), a small deciduous tree that grows to about 15 ft. It loses its leaves in late summer—the first tree to do so around here. It’s a strange sight seeing a bare buckeye in September; many people think it’s diseased or dead!

The seed capsules shown in the photo below will soon split open and release the orange-brown seeds which look like large chestnuts. As pretty as they are, buckeye seeds are poisonous. They were used by native Indians to stun fish in small streams to make them easier to catch.

Seed capsule of California buckeye

Continuing the theme of round objects growing on trees, these are galls growing on a Valley oak (Quercus lobata). They are caused by tiny wasps which pierce the tree and lay their eggs inside the plant tissue. Chemicals inside the egg trigger rapid cell growth, the result of which are these distinctive balls, sometimes called “oak apples”. In the fall, the galls turn brown and then black and eventually fall off.

Galls on Valley oak

Another shrub that is very common in our area and other parts of Northern California is the Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis). In early spring, its reddish purple pea-shaped flowers appear before it leaves out. In the fall, redbuds are covered with russet-colored seed pods which I personally find very attractive.

Redbud seed pods

Speaking of seed pods, here are some of the strangest-looking ones to be found in our area. They are very thin and long and eventually burst open to release fluffy seeds. Have you guessed the plant? It’s oleander (Nerum oleander), which is ubiquitous here. It grows in profusion along the median strip of Interstates 80 and 5. It’s a beautiful shrub with attractive leaves and flowers, but it’s also one of the most poisonous plants in the world.

Oleander seed pods

Equally attractive but completely non-toxic is the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) that can be found in many places in our part of town. It’s native to Western Europe all the way up to Ireland where it’s called “Killarney strawberry tree”. It’s drought-tolerant and grows very well in our climate. The bell-shaped flowers remind me of manzanita flowers.

Strawberry tree flowers

The most beautiful thing about the strawberry tree is its fruit. First bright yellow, then turning a bright red, the berries take a full year to mature and are ripe when the next flowering cycle begins. The fruit is edible but bland. The “unedo” part of its Latin name supposedly comes from “unum edo”, meaning “I eat one”—the implication being that nobody in their right mind would eat more than one! However, the Portuguese have found a way to turn the fruit into a type of brandy called Medronho. To each their own, I say!

Strawberry tree berries

Walking along the greenbelt, I spotted the dried flower stalks of a Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). I love that even in death this plant offers us beauty. Floral arrangers work so hard to come up with something interesting when nature does it so effortlessly—and completely free.

Cleveland sage

Death and life are juxtaposed wherever you look. Across the path from the Cleveland sage above, I found this olive tree, very much alive and producing a good crop of plump fruit. I squished an olive between my fingers just to see what it feels like: juicy and a bit oily. I do love the silvery leaves and general appearance of olive trees but they tend to be very messy unless you are very diligent above removing the fruit.

Olives

At the end of our walk, close to our house, we had our animal encounter of the day. Yesterday, it was wild turkeys. Today, it was a large cat appearing from the thicket next to a walnut tree. Even though I’m sure it’s somebody’s pet, it didn’t look all that far removed from its feral ancestors.

Pet or not?

Even though we live in a housing development, nature is everywhere. I want to make a concerted effort to be more mindful of all the beautiful things around me.

3 comments:

  1. This pics in this post aren't clickable -- they usually are. ??

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  2. Sorry for that. Fixed now. Thanks for letting me know!

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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