Monday, March 25, 2013

Something with leaves

We drove out yesterday to look at pretty snow and rocks, and I had an encounter with a plant that was at least green! (An accomplishment at this time of this particular spring.) Other than our ubiquitous conifers, predominantly Ponderosa Pine and Rocky Mountain Juniper, the aspect out there is bleak and brown for plant life, and white for everything else.

Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) is the rare exception. Four of these large evergreen shrubs grow near the Trading Post at Red Rocks Park, far from their normal range in the Intermountain West. These artificially introduced interlopers are not unwelcome, at least to me. One reason is that they don't seem to be invasive: four aging trees, no longer thriving, and one stump suggest long presence here, yet there is no sign of offspring. Research into that must await a more appropriate season. For now, we'll just enjoy the touch of life it adds to the winter landscape and its aesthetic charm against the red rocks of the Fountain Formation.

Despite the cyanogenic glucoside Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany apparently contains,a it's enormously popular as a browse for wild ungulates. So is our local species, variously "true," "alderleaf," or just plain Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus), which would look like this in a different season, but today looks more like a "Cerco-carcass." (Photo of Alderleaf Mountain-mahogany leaves and seeds -- July 2005, Nikon D70, by Cory Maylett, via Wikipedia.)

My first Rocky Mountain ecology teacher used to call this plant "deer ice cream," and our shrubs are generally "managed" within browsing height by the frequent deer pruning they receive. They rarely reach much more than a meter in height.

Curlleaf, in contrast, grows more as a tree and exceeds the reach of its would-be predators, whose munching efforts among its lower branches apparently help stimulate its upward growth.b In deer feeding studies back in the 1940s and 50s, curlleaf was deemed "most desirable" of 17 species of browse offered to captive deer. A hybrid between these two species was ranked second, though data were limited.c

The overlapping ranges shown above create the opportunity for hybridization, with the two occurring together at lower elevations in Utah and other intermountain areas. That factor also contributes to complex intraspecific taxonomic issues, so we're fortunate that here in eastern Colorado, the situation seems to be a little more straightforward.

Lots more to learn about Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany at this site.

Coincidentally, last week before the snows I encountered another individual of the curlleaf species about four miles (7 km) south of the Trading Post. I was surprised to spot it, but again, it was in an area of our foothills long popular with original Americans as well as with later inhabitants. This tree, however, had an unusually intimate relationship with a large boulder next to it. It had grown into and around this huge chunk of red sandstone, or, it appeared, the rock had grown into it.

I have to confess I'm rather baffled by this one. The boulder is on the downhill side of the tree, and what you see in these photos are the trunk and branches, not roots, of a mature tree. I'm looking forward to suggestions from readers on how this might have happened.

aDhurrin, the cyanogenic glucoside of Cercocarpus ledifolius (pdf), Nahrstedt and Limmer, 1982, Phytochemistry Volume 21, Issue 11, Pages 2738–2740

bResponse of Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany to Pruning Treatments in Northern Utah (pdf), Austin and Urness, July 1980, J Range Mngt 33(4), 275-277

cFeeding deer on browse species during winter, Smith, Arthur D., 1950, J. Range Mngt 3(2):130-132

Sunday, March 24, 2013

'Tis the Season



"We heard the lilacs needed pruning!"

Introductions? That's Heir Apparent (aka Son-of-Funny-Face) on the left, Funny Face herself on the right, and assorted daughters and grandchildren in between. Prongs, who is, I think, about three years old now, is out of frame on the right; he has been hanging out with the family lately. They were munching the lilacs (left) until I showed up to distract all ears.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

A Body in Motion

While compiling the Berry-Go-Round collection last week, I got to spend some time with an "old friend," which is to say, Laurent, the original guru of BGR, one of the first bloggers I got to know when I started nigh onto 7 years ago (this month). Laurent's been somewhat scarce these last couple of years, life gets busy, as we know! But now he's becoming a prolific and entertaining blogger again, over at Seeds Aside. You never know what he's going to come up with!

So there I was, hanging out on his blog, checking out posts, and I discovered he's also highly educational. I learned two new tricks, and I'm going to subject you to one of them this very morning:

Whoa! I can't move quite that fast. Let's slow Squirrel Nutkin down a notch.

And he can keep that up all day. Now I know where all the sunflower seeds are going!

So, yes, we have fox squirrels at last. They found us, recognized a well laid table when they saw it, and it looks like they're here for the duration.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Bringing you Berries!

Here we are: February's issue of the Berry-Go-Round plant blogging carnival has reached your mailbox. What is a carnival? Hollis will clarify the concept at In the Company of Plants and Rocks, with a post designed to encourage more plant blogging, and not coincidentally, more carnival submissions! We did well this month, thanks to reminders via email and twitter (#berrygoround if you'd like to join us).

Jessica at Moss Plants and More has recently moved from one side of the U.S. to the other, and now brings us user-friendly photo field guides to help identify mosses of Sequoia National Park. She also shares her up-to-the-minute research on the paradox of cryptic species. I prefer my species a little more obvious (aka "easy"), but "morphologically austere," that sounds intriguing!

Hollis also presents a couple of newsworthy items, with The Plant Press reporting that leaf identification software is trending, and Helen McGranahan reminding us that lichens have a lot to tell us about air quality.

A Taste of Spring

The Phytophactor declares the official first day of spring on February 13th. (Oh, eeps!) Can you guess which of the plants in his neighborhood is his harbinger? He also offers a winter edition of Friday Fabulous Flower I can't resist adding to our collection this month. And, being the Phactor, many more posts of botanical interest.

Spring is not unique to TPP's area, as JSK of Anybody Seen My focus? knows, but in February you have to really look for it. On February 14th, she sneaks up on her target, with fascinating results!

Arts and Crafts

Susannah, On the Other Hand, decides that joining the National Phenology Network will help with her PhD project, as she enlightens us on the phenology of pollen. In another innovation, she also starts a life list of gymnosperms. This should catch on! Why let birders have all the fun?

Speaking of fun, Kim Gilbert of The Modern Forest tells us what it takes to have adventures in the field and survive them! If indoor sports suit you better, check out herbarium fun and games, another entry from the Phytophactor, who strives to interest his students in "reality taxonomy" via specimens.

Laurent, founding parent of this botanical carnival, is back! Now finding himself with more time for blogging at Seeds Aside, he submitted four entertaining posts. His gift for wordplay is well exercised, with an exploration of "chori", which is, of course, the plural of chorus, but in plant form. In other words, everything you wanted to know about how plants get around. More words bring us randomly generated poetry with, he writes, "small bits of botany and Academia."

Are you more visual than verbal? Before BGR, maybe even before we knew Laurent, he introduced It's been beesy (yes, more wordplay), featuring a technique for making plants a little more lively than usual. Now he's moving into a new art form, with his charming Peanut Leechy Gallery (more samples at this post)! I am going to have to try this, though I sense it won't be nearly as elegant in dusty brown Colorado.

Remember how you've been wondering "what is wuyuanzao"? Luigi answers all (except how to pronounce it) at the Agricultural Biodiversity weblog. In another post submitted by Jeremy, Luigi explains all about agroforestry and conservation and why we should care about this approach to the rainforest.

Jeremy introduces Another Blasted Weblog and assures us that Mentuccia is not pennyroyal. He reminds us it's good to know exactly what's cooking, especially when herbs are labeled ambiguously.

Sally delves into, but does not solve, the mysterious Hackberry here at Foothills Fancies.

That wraps up this month's edition. Hope you found some good reading, and if so—don't forget to share your appreciation with a comment or two at each stop! Next month's Berry-Go-Round will be hosted at In the Company of Plants and Rocks. Thanks, everyone!!