Since I spend a fair amount of time in Santa Clarita in California I thought that I would write some posts on good nature viewing locations near Santa Clarita. One of the nearest and also one of the best places for birdwatching, plants/flowers and hiking is Placerita Canyon. Placerita is an east-west running canyon featuring cool, shaded oak groves, a willow and sycamore-lined seasonal stream and numerous other interesting plant and animal communities. Placerita Canyon State Park encompasses oak woodland, chaparral, and riparian plant communties on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains southeast of the City of Santa Clarita. The park not only serves to conserve a slice of the wild environment but also endeavors to educate the public on the value of undisturbed flora and fauna through wild animal presentations, nature hikes, and self-guided educational trails. Also, if you continue up the canyon, you can enter the San Gabriel Mountains, another great nature location.
Very few organisms consume nectar exclusively over their whole life cycle, either supplementing it with other sources, particularly insects (thus overlapping with insectivores) or only consuming it exclusively for a set period. Many species are nectar robbers or nectar thieves, performing no pollination services to a plant while still consuming nectar. Nectar-feeding is widespread among birds, but no species consumes nectar exclusively. Most combine it with insects for a mixed diet. Of particular interest are four lineages of specialized nectar consuming birds in the New World: the Hummingbirds (Trochilidae) and three members of the Tanager (Thraupidae) family; Bananaquits, Flowerpiercers and Honeycreepers. These groups have adapted to permit a nectar-central diet, showing higher activity of digestive enzymes which break down sugars, higher rates of absorption of sugars, and altered kidney function. Birds need the enzyme sucrase in their bodies, in order to digest the sucrose of nectar. And most simply don’t have enough. Scientists think birds that can readily digest sugar, like warblers, have an adaptive advantage. When they fly to the tropics for the colder months, they can tap into sources of sugar that other birds just can’t handle. That sweet tooth, it turns out, is important to their survival.
I have a few photographs that depict flowers found wild in Costa Rica (including the famous Hot Lips or Hookers Lips flower) some photos of butterflies and hummingbirds found on Porterweed and Lantana. One fine early morning on my most recent trip to Costa Rica, we visited a patch of wild Porterweed. This area was alive with small hummingbirds, maths and butterflies. In particular we saw the Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl), the Violet-Headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti) and a variety of moths and butterflies. In my estimation, there are no greater nectar producing species than Lantana and Porterweed. Every morning in Las Vegas, I have 5 to 10 hummingbirds waiting to feed at my various lantana beds. With the preferences of hummingbirds in Costa Rica, I plan to plant several patches of Porterweed to enhance my garden. As for the rest of the post, beautiful orchids and unusual plants will hopefully excite and amaze you. As for the butterfly at the top of the post, I found this butterfly at Frog’s Geaven. Nymphidium is a genus in the butterfly family Riodinidae present only in the Neotropical ecozone. Some Nymphidium are obviously secondarily transformed by mimicry, otherwise the almost exclusive colors are brown and white either of which being now and then preponderant.
Heliconia is named after Mount Helicon, the seat of the Muses, nine goddesses of the arts and sciences in Greek mythology. These are known as lobster-claw, wild plantain, flowering banana, parrot flower, macaw flower and false bird-of-paradise. Heliconiaceae in the order Zingiberales, are among the showiest plants of the Neotropical rainforest and represent a spectacular co-evolutionary adaptive radiation with hummingbirds. Heliconia originated in the Late Eocene (39 million years ago), making it the oldest known clade of hummingbird-pollinated plants. Heliconia, the only genus of the family Heliconiaceae, has approximately 120 species in tropical America and the western Pacific. These large perennial herbs have brightly colored bracts and bear numerous flowers. Heliconia are typically pollinated by hummingbirds. Most of the 194 known species are native to the tropical Americas, but a few are indigenous to certain islands of the western Pacific and Maluku. Several species are widely cultivated as ornamentals, and a few are naturalized in Florida, Gambia, Thailand and Costa Rica. The plants have stout, reed-like stems and are related to Tropical Gingers, Bird of Paradise, Bananas and Canna Lilies, whose leaves are all similar. These are all grouped in the order Zingiberales, which includes many familiar plants, and are used as ornamental plants (Bird of Paradise flower, Heliconias, Prayer-Plant, Tropical Gingers), food crops (bananas, plantains, arrowroot), spices and traditional medicines (ginger, cardamom, turmeric, galangal and myoga). I saw a nice selection of these plants when I visited Costa Rica this year and thought it would make an interesting post.
This past spring I visited Arcata California for a little bird photography. Whenever I am out photographing birds, I always take a second camera with a macro lens attached for photographing wildflowers and plants. Some days I get more pictures of birds while other days are predominantly flowers. Because of the cloudy Pacific Northwest climate, there are many interesting plants and beautiful flowers to be seen in the area. Also because of the climate there are many fewer people that both live here and visit, compared to the areas south, making it a good place to see wildflowers and birds. Again because of the climate, there are a fair number of unusual local plants and wildflowers that can be seen nowhere else. There are also a large number of non-native plants that while beautiful, affect the delicate balance of nature in this area. These “immigrant plants” should be a reminder that introducing non-native elements into an ecosystem can have unintended consequences. In any case, I came away with some photos of beautiful blossoms which I thought I would share.
I like to celebrate the return of spring each year by writing about the beautiful flowers I find around me in Las Vegas. It might be surprising to some to know that Las Vegas and the surrounding desert are full of life, flowers and beauty, especially in spring. The wet El Niño winter this year has brought above average amounts of rain to California and Southern Nevada mostly in February. This has resulted in super blooms of poppies in California, a rare wildflower super-bloom in Joshua Tree National Forest and an unusual simultaneous blooming of Joshua trees and Mohave Yucca around Las Vegas. Joshua trees do not bloom every year. Like most desert plants, their blooming depends on rainfall at the proper time. They also need a winter freeze before they bloom and it was cold last winter with a little snow. The blooming cycle of the Joshua Tree is totally dependant on climatic conditions. Depending on the timing and intensity of winter rains, blossoming can occur any time from March to May, and can vary from very sparse to a rare abundance of blossoms in relative wet years as we see this year.
Situated among the mist-covered peaks of the Talamanca Mountains, Los Quetzales National Park was established in 2006. This park lies 47 miles southeast of San Jose, and you can easily reach this park from Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Ocean. From Jacó it’s about a two-hour trip. The entrance to the park is on Cerro de la Muerte, just before the turnoff for San Gerardo de Dota. Most of the park area is around the both side of the Savegre river that emerges in the Cerro de la Muerte and connects to the Pacific Ocean close to the Manuel Antonio National Park. it is surrounded by natural rainforest, breathtaking waterfalls, and beautiful canyons. This park includes not only rainforests but also cloud forests, formed by the collision of warm, moist Caribbean trade wind with the Talamanca mountain range which stretches from southwest of San José to beyond the border with Panama. When tiny droplets are deposited on surfaces before they collect together and fall as rain it’s called horizontal precipitation and in cloud forests it can be the main source of moisture. Peaks enveloped by trade wind-derived clouds can capture huge amounts of water when they are covered with tropical montane cloud forests. Their sponge-like epiphytes (mosses, ferns and bromeliads) massively increase the surface area for horizontal precipitation. Vibrantly colored, from the miniature to the gigantic, Los Quetzales flora is some of the most beautiful in the world. There seemingly endless tropical flower species and even orchids. Many can be found growing wild on the trunks of giant trees.
Since this was a wet spring in California, we decided to visit the poppy reserve in Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is a state-protected reserve of California, USA, harboring the most consistent blooms of California poppies, the state flower. The reserve is located in the rural westside of Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County, 15 miles (24 km) west of Lancaster and about 35 miles from Santa Clarita. The reserve is at an elevation ranging from 2,600 to 3,000 feet (790 to 910 m) above sea level in the Mojave Desert climate zone. The intense blooming season for the California poppy falls usually within late winter to early spring, during the months of mid-February through mid-May. Blooming seasons are dependent on the amount of rainfall during the winter to early spring seasons. Within the reserve, there are 7 miles (11 km) of trails, including a paved section for wheelchair access, which traverse through the poppy fields.
Eastern Colorado is a piece of Americana that few tourists ever visit. I decided to visit my cousin who lives in Merino, a small farming community in northeast Colorado. The farming areas in the Midwest and particularly the eastern plains of Colorado are justly called the heartland of America. The pace of life is slow but not without it’s pleasures. This is big sky country, equal to the best skies in Montana. There is a marked difference between north-eastern and south-eastern Colorado in that the south is much drier. There are about twenty-five million acres in Colorado east of the Rocky Mountains. This area consists mainly of high rolling prairies broken by numerous stream beds that are generally dry, except immediately following rains when for a few hours the streams become torrents. The altitude ranges from about 4,000 feet above sea level at the eastern line of the state to 6,000 feet at Colorado Springs. Along the two main rivers, the Platte in the north and the Arkansas in the south, there are numerous small lakes and irrigation channels.
Each year I write on the spring flowers in my home city, Las Vegas. This year I have decided to focus on plants used in public landscapes. Every city and town has a certain ambiance or sense of place. Often the ambiance is due to the people, sometimes the food, music or architecture but frequently it is the mix of plants and landscapes in the particular location. Although the plantings may reflect the surrounding area, sometimes plants are imported from elsewhere and over time become considered as a a native part of the environment. Even if two places are nearby, the landscapes can be completely different, based on water availability, affluence and even history. Las Vegas is not that far from Los Angeles yet the landscapes could not be more different. Not long ago I wrote about the succulents that are recently wildly popular in Los Angeles in part because of the mild climate. Las Vegas suffers from the same water shortages but it's landscapes are distinctly different, reflecting the deserts in the surrounding areas. This is not a complete list, but it will give you a sense of landscaping in Las Vegas and you will get to see some beautiful flowers.