Saturday, July 28, 2012

Friday Flora Famous Last Words Edition

I can assure you that we have flowers here. Summer is setting in, and things are finally drying out and the days occasionally move beyond warm into the realm of hot. Nonetheless, a couple of orchids are blooming under the seasonless lights, and there's still Tritellia and Clarkia and Vicia species hanging on in the main field, clinging to the last of spring. Weather like this moved me and brother M. to explore the creek that runs through our property.
Oak Creek runs below our house, running perpendicular to the shale bedrock that underlies our property. Walking in the center of the stream avoids one big problem: there is lots of poison oak. However, the underlying rock makes for another problem: different layers of shale erode differently. Sometimes, the creek is shallow and has a ridged bottom with a floor of sand, which supports the historical reports of fish runs in the creek. In other places, the rock is little more than condensed clay. This erodes easily, making deep pools. Walking up the creek, there is an alternation of shallow riffles and deep, still pools.

The clay layers in the shale have another interesting characteristic--the creek erodes them into an extremely fine, almost greasy silt, which suspended by water makes a phenomenal lubricant. So, famous last words? I am reminded of the last words of the Union Civil War general John Sedgwick, speaking of Confederate snipers: "They couldn't hit an elephant at that distance." I was walking along, past a tiny little twig dam that had toothmarks suggesting that it was the work of beavers. I turned to brother M. and started to say something to the effect of "gotta be careful here, this clay is amazingly slippery." This is the next thing:
I went all the way in, and so did my camera, and my dark glasses are somewhere in there. The camera seems to be kaput, alas, so no new picture. Fortunately, I have a bunch of pictures from Crater lake. So, here's a really neat Ceanothus species that was growing near the crater rim--it's a creeping plant, spreading over the ground, and I had no idea what it was till I saw the flowers.

I suppose it could have been worse. Far better to slip and fall into Oak Creek than to do the same into Crater Lake.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Flora*

With thanks to V., we have Moomintroll to introduce this week's flora. What have we got, Moomin?

Yes indeed, it's a Coralroot Orchid, Corallorhiza mertensiana, spotted on the side of the Cleetwood Trail, halfway between the rim and the lake at Crater Lake. As always, click to magnify--they're quite lovely.

*No really, it was supposed to be Friday, but somehow it didn't get posted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Not sure how to interpret this, and the passage of time.

My good friend D. sends me this, which he found on Rate My've made a point of not looking there, but apparently the voices in D.'s head told him to do so. Click on it to make it readable.
A couple of years ago, D. sent me a note telling me that according to the reviewers on this site, I was "not hot." So, I am amused. I guess I am heartened that I'm rated as being difficult, helpful, and clear, and not green. Oh, and "J-App"???

I'm also reminded that it's been over a year now since I've done any teaching, which is considerably less heartening. There is still six months to a year of fixing up needed at this place before I feel that I can honestly give attention to teaching. Until then, I am still learning a lot--just about drywall and goats and plumbing and sheep, not microbes.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Friday Flora egregious error edition

It would have to be a big mistake to have a Friday Flora on Monday.
It would be a worse mistake to think that that's what poison oak looks like. That's poison ivy. If you were hiking around here, you would itch so bad. Full page ad on the back of the Economist; I suppose that you wouldn't encounter either in the UK.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Friday Flora Late edition

Late indeed:
This is the withered remains of one of many honey locust suckers that have been sprouting up in front of the house. There were at least three honey locust trees there, and though we cut them out, their roots have been sending up suckers like mad. Honey locust trees are something nice to have elsewhere: the perfume of the flowers of a grove of them, a quarter-mile up the road from us, sweetened the air at our house this spring. However, we don't really want big trees this close to the house, and these can be quite nasty: they have vicious thorns that love to dig in deep and break off inside of you. Worse, trying to dig up the suckers is an exercise for, well, suckers: the roots are just too deep.

So, I put down the shovel and shears and picked up my crossbow. Crossbow is a mix of 2,4-Dichlorooxyaceticacid (2,4-D):
and 2,4,5-Trichloro-2-pyridinyloxyacetic acid (Triclopyr):
both of which have some similarity to indole-acetic acid (IAA)

and Phenylacetic acid
These last two are examples of auxins, perhaps the most significant naturally occuring plant hormones. Deprive a plant of the ability to produce or respond to auxins, and everything goes wrong--stunted growth, no blooming, no apical dominance, no ripening, and worse. However, zap a plant with a huge overdose of auxin-analogs, like I just did...well, anyone who has gone through puberty knows how rough an overdose of hormones can be. This is a few orders of magnitude worse--the plant is overwhelmed, activates genetic programs for development and senescence at the same time, and keels over dead in short order. Interestingly, these synthetic auxins don't do much to monocots (grasses, lilies and their ilk)--once absorbed into the plant, they are chemically modified into an inactive form.

It was not without misgivings that I strapped on the backpack sprayer. Both 2,4-D and triclopyr are considered relatively benign, as herbicides go--they have been shown to decay with a half-life in the range of a month or so, and not to bioaccumulate significantly. However, they do persist enough that we are discouraged from using them wherever we're going to have lactating animals grazing for a year. This is an issue, since we want to have milch goats roaming around the property.

Worse, like political candidates who hung out with a bad crowd in their youth, both 2,4-D and triclopyr have a historical association with 2,4,5-T. 2,4,5-T was part of Agent Orange--and it turns out that it's basically impossible to synthesize 2,4,5-T without having some of it undergo a spontaneous reaction with itself. That reaction makes 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, a deadly poison, a carcinogen in any dose, and a molecule that is essentially immortal in the environment--one of the more evil chemicals humans have made since we started mashing together carbon atoms in the lab. Like politicians who have done their best to expunge certain historical facts from their record, triclopyr even underwent a name change--if you stuck to IUPAC naming conventions, you could also abbreviate its name as 2,4,5-T.

Also, I would love to have this property be organic*, and the Real Doctor and I are working to that end. Right now, though (WARNING! self-justification alert!) we are facing several years' worth of neglect all at once. We are figuring that for the next year or two, we will be using some herbicides, when necessary. But, tree-huggers that we are, we're going to do as much as possible in other ways. Consider the effect of the "natural" herbicides "Painted Lady" and "Ash":
It's kind of amazing to watch them go after blackberry brambles. They'll eat every leaf they can reach, and the effect is not too different from Agent Orange. Here's a picnic table that we didn't even know existed a week earlier:
two days' of nibbling by the goats revealed it, and all that is left of the once-enveloping bramble is the stems.

*I know 2,4-D is organic. I mean in the colloquial, not chemical sense.