Monday, May 5, 2008

Wildflower hotline: May News


It's been two and a half months since the last drop of rain, and two months since the first blooms appeared in South facing window boxes on York Boulevard in Highland Park. The window boxes that provided non-stop cascades of blooms for so long are getting dry and asking to be trimmed down.

In many unirrigated places where I did not see poppy foliage even a month ago, there are now flowers in full bloom. The largest of these sites include the traffic island at the Southeast corner of Figueroa and York (most notably the traffic island off to the side of Jack in the Box, where they sell Christmas trees) and at the front edge of a large vacant lot in South Pasadena, directly across from the Nature Park. Most of the dramatic field of poppies at the entrance of the Nature Park has been razed. Graciously, however, the weed removal folks left a few sizable clumps of flowers.

Poppies are still looking great by the tattoo parlor and weaving store: this is to Nana's credit. Nana from the weaving store splashes them as she hoses down the street.


Oak woodland is just one of the main plant communities that once made up this region. South Pasadena might now seem to be an entirely new "plant community". This new plant community is made up of craftsman bungalows, sprinklers, ivy, shrubs and green lawns. Yet, I wonder, Does an oak woodland ever really stop being an oak woodland? How much of this first plant community would come back if humans stopped the weekly watering and trimming of lawns, ivy, and hedges?

While cutting back ivy in South Pasadena to make room for poppies more than six months ago, I uncovered a lone native oak sapling. Though this seemed reason for optimism, it was surrounded by four or five saplings of the ubiquitous exotic, Mexican Fan Palm, which is extremely difficult to eradicate.

Meanwhile, in a nearby San Marino botanical garden, every single hedge seems to have an exuberant oak sapling shooting out of it. When the hardworking gardener removes them, shoots simply sprout up elsewhere. The work is never-ending. Up above, oblivious to this struggle, the mighty oaks continue to do their slow seasonal work of dropping acorns. The scrubjays continue their work as well: distributing, stashing, and forgetting those same acorns.  (Judith Larner Lowry talks about the process of collaborating with local wildlife in designing her garden, in the book, The Landscaping Ideas of Jays. Go read this book!)

Breaking news from the world of plants: in South Pasadena and San Marino, the oaks are trying to gain back the landscape! They just need a little help. Clear the ivy. Pull out the Mexican Fan Palms. Don't cut the oaks down. Marc Herbst has urged us to tune into plants for the news. It's true. Keep your eyes and ears open.

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