Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘weeds’

by Andrea Williams

This is installment three of a twelve-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.

Last month I talked about California’s state grass, purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra, formerly Nassella pulchra). This month, California’s state rock, serpentinite (although we usually just call it serpentine since it’s made up of serpentine minerals), takes center stage. California was actually the first state to designate an official rock, but serpentine is special and, like our Mediterranean climate, helped give rise to plants found nowhere else in the world.

barbed goat grass

The spikelets of barbed goatgrass look a little like goat heads, although that’s not where the name comes from.

Because of the makeup of serpentine rock, and its slow weathering, serpentine soils are thin, poor, and high in heavy metals. The mineral balance is quite different from what most plants can tolerate, so many plants found on serpentine are endemics: they’re only found on this soil type. Others can grow on serpentine and non-serpentine soils, but may be stunted or appear different when living in the strange soil.

Many weeds take advantage of disturbance and can quickly use resources, outcompeting other plants. But serpentine’s qualities make it naturally resistant to invasion, with a few notable exceptions. That brings us to this month’s grass: barbed goatgrass (Aegilops triuncialis). Originally from serpentine soils in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe/Western Asia, barbed goatgrass can thrive in our soils and climate. Not only does it do well on serpentine, the high silica content of the litter it produces is difficult to break down, further altering the soil and making it even harder for other plants to grow! Goatgrass also has a built-in seed stashing strategy: Each spikelet generally has two seeds—one germinates the first year, and the other lays dormant for a year—so even if you get all the plants in a year, the seedbank of this annual has a surprise waiting for you the next.

habitat restoration site

On May 17, help pull invasive barbed goatgrass in this beautiful spot.

Nearly half of our rare plants are found on serpentine soils, which makes these areas so important to protect. You have an opportunity on May 17 to help remove invasive barbed goatgrass from serpentine soils on Mt. Tamalpais, in the Azalea Hill/Pine Mountain area. We’ve been pulling goatgrass from this site for many years, and stemming the tide of invasion. Nine different rare plants call this spot home, and jackrabbits and kites are often seen as well—not to mention our state flower, state bird, and state rock!

 

Read Full Post »

by Andrea Williams

This is installment two of a twelve-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.

California state flag

California state flag

You all know the grizzly bear is a main feature of the California flag, but did you ever give a thought to the turf below its paws? While I can’t be certain, I and others like to think they are tussocks of our state grass, purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra, formerly Nassella pulchra). Did you not know California had a state grass? Purple needlegrass was designated our state grass in 2004, so while it’s only been official for 10 years, this pulchritudinous pastoral plant has been an important and widespread part of our state since well before there was a California. In fact, since individual purple needlegrass clumps can live more than 150 years, there may be plants alive today that have been around since before there was a California!

purple needlegrass

Purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra) Photo credit: Stephanie Bishop

Purple needlegrass is not only widespread and long-lived, but also quite distinctive in its look. Its inflorescence of delicate purple pennons wave above a mound of fine emerald blades. This fine look has it also available at many native plant nurseries. Some may mistake ripgut brome (Bromus diandrus) for purple needlegrass, but the former—a non-native annual weed—holds a fistful of red bristles on single stalks, with no basal clump of leaves. And while ripgut brome is a danger to grazing animals, purple needlegrass remains an excellent forage species—for cattle, elk, deer, or bears!

 

Read Full Post »

by Charlene Burgi

Those are fighting words in some circles, but this kind of thievery, while dealt with using an iron hand, was for the good of the garden. I walked into the greenhouse this afternoon to check on the condition of the newly sprouted seedlings of beets, chard, peas, cauliflower, and lettuce after yesterday’s snowfall and last night’s temperatures dropping into the low 20s. Everyone looked snug and secure while basking in the reflected heat pouring in through the triple wall polycarbonate windows.

It was then that I also noticed the water thieves. No, it wasn’t that someone hooked up their garden hose to our faucet. Nor was someone taking water illegally from the stream allocated for our designated water rights. It was weeds cropping up in the little garden bed with my seedlings inside the greenhouse.

Weed seedling roots

Oh, those roots

Weeds are water robbers! The water you supply to your plants is easily consumed by those pesky unwanted intruders. Their roots are right down there with your seedlings’ sucking up just as much water as, if not more than, your prize tomato or basil babies.

I believe that part of successful weed eradication is to catch the culprits while they are young. The dilemma is how to extract them without disturbing the little treasures growing in the same space. I found this task to be a challenge as gently pulling on the weed often lifted the seedling as well since their root systems are often intertwined.

What to do? I sprinkled water on the loamy bed, and then with one hand tenderly placed my fingertips on the soil around the base of the seedling, while gently tugging the unwanted weed with my other hand. Tedious—yes, rewarding—absolutely.

Parsley and beet seedlings

Parsley volunteers in the beets

This brings up another issue. In the past, I have been asked to define a “weed.” I also remember being shocked years ago to hear that any plant growing in an unwanted space in the garden is classified as a weed! Those words tug at the part of me that doesn’t like to waste anything. After all, there are volunteer parsley seeds that germinated in the same bed where the beets are now growing. Poppies are emerging through the heavily mulched flower garden and lining the path. They are weeds perhaps by others’ standards, but welcomed to grace the walkways here as I know these poppies survive and bloom without additional water.

Do you have water thieves lurking about your garden? The rains finally came, followed by the sun, and that is the perfect formula for seeds to germinate whether you want the seedlings or not! Catch the unwanted water-consumers while they are little. Your plants will thank you later!

Earth Day Marin Festival April 6

Join us for a fun, free, family-friendly community celebration at Redwood High School on Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., to discover ways to save water and other earth-friendly habits. Enjoy music, hands-on activities, inspiring speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, organic food, and much more! For more information visit earthdaymarin.org.

Read Full Post »

Introduction by MMWD Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Whelan

For 16 days in October the federal government ceased all but the most essential operations. But our lands and the creatures that inhabit them do not curtail their operations when we humans hit a budget impasse. Luckily for MMWD, interns from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, who unexpectedly found themselves with free time, volunteered with MMWD for two days in October helping with habitat restoration and vegetation monitoring on the watershed. We were so happy to provide meaningful work and training for them and to benefit from their enthusiastic assistance.

The following summary of the two-day event is by Jaimie Baxter, a former MMWD Americorps intern and watershed aide. She is currently the trails stewardship manager for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Joins MMWD for Two-day Habitat Restoration and Vegetation Monitoring Event
by GGNPC Trails Stewardship Manager Jaimie Baxter

Photo of GGNRA Intern pulling yellow star thistle

GGNRA intern pulling yellow star thistle.

On Wednesday October 9, more than 15 Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Park Stewardship interns and staff congregated near the top of Mt. Tamalpais at the Rock Springs area. This oak woodland and grassland area is known for its epic views, slabs of serpentine outcrops and hordes of rare plants. MMWD Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Whelan and her two watershed aides explained the district’s mission of providing clean drinking water to their customers in south and central Marin County and protecting the 21,635 acres of watershed lands under their management. Director of Park Stewardship Sue Gardner then discussed the burgeoning Mt. Tamalpais Collaborative and the goals of all natural resource agencies in the area to join forces in the Mt. Tamalpais region.

Photo of Park Stewards

The thistle-pulling team of GGNRA and MMWD.

After all that talking, it was time to get to work! MMWD and the Park Stewardship team strategized their assignment for the day — removing invasive, non-native yellow-star thistle (Centaurea solsitialis). Spreading out like a fan, the group surveyed the area for this invasive species, pulled and eventually bagged the prickly plant. The group was later joined by MMWD Vegetation Ecologist Andrea Williams, who discussed the interesting geology and ecology of serpentine soils, what makes a plant rare and ways that MMWD manages invasive species. And this was just the first day Park Stewardship collaborated with MMWD!

The following day the same team plus a few Park Trails interns jumped to the north side of Mt. Tamalpais to the Sky Oaks Ranger Station. Thursday’s mission was to identify and map the non-native, perennial grass species in Sky Oaks meadow. This meadow ecosystem, which has been heavily managed in the past, is a good example of an oak woodland ecosystem. The meadow is relatively healthy as it is mostly free of French broom, has woody species that do not overcrowd each other and has at least three species of oaks.

However the meadow is not without its problems, including Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) and non-native, perennial grasses. Our crew learned how to identify a multitude of these species including velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), wild oat grass (Avena fatua) and many more. The team then split into groups and headed off to map the non-native grasses using GPS-enabled cameras, compasses and datasheets. The team worked all morning and after lunch until they became cross-eyed from looking at SO many grasses! The day ended with a hike to Alpine and Bon Tempe lakes where much of MMWD’s drinking water is stored.

The Park Stewardship team is grateful to have a partner such as the Marin Municipal Water District. Thank you, MMWD, for your time, expertise and hosting Park Stewardship during the federal shutdown. We welcome any opportunity to join you in your efforts on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed!

Read Full Post »

by Andrea Williams

Photo of temperature-controlled dryers.

1. Senior Collections (Herbarium) Manager Debra Trock shows the temperature-controlled dryers, the first stop for freshly collected plants from Mt. Tamalpais.

The Marin Municipal Water District and the California Academy of Sciences recently wrapped up year two of a three-year citizen science project to catalog the plant life of Mt. Tamalpais. In keeping with new tradition, those who participated in the process were invited to a gathering at the Academy. This year, we were also treated to a tour of the herbarium and the process our plants go through after they are collected and squished flat (see photos 1-5 from the tour).

Seeing our specimens added to the Academy’s herbarium reinforced, to me, the purpose of the project: to use this snapshot in time as a way to compare with past and future plant assemblages. The information we contribute is added to the larger pool (or cabinet, in this case) and can be combined, manipulated or extracted to form knowledge. How is the mountain today different from 100 years ago? When did a particular weed show up? Is this the last stand of the tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus)?

Tanoaks are dying off on the mountain from Sudden Oak Death (SOD), caused by the water mold Phythophthora ramorum. I don’t know that tanoaks will be around in another 100 years, if they will disappear from the wild and live on as botanic garden curiosities and herbarium specimens. A study came out this year looking at the pathogen responsible for potato late blight, Phythophthora infestans, which caused the Irish potato famine. To help us understand plant epidemics, the researchers took DNA from herbarium specimens of infested potato (Solanum tubersoum) leaves from the 1840s and sequenced the pathogen, then compared it to modern strains. Like SOD, the pathogen spread quickly and clonally. But it was soon replaced by a separate strain, which is now the dominant type. Unlike SOD, the potato late blight pathogen and its hosts share a similar root and centers of diversity—plant breeders could use the related dwarf wild potato (Solanum demissum), which evolved with P. infestans in Mexico, to breed in resistance to the blight. While there are other species of Lithocarpus in China, where P. ramorum is from, our tanoaks have diverged into a new genus, and their situation is more like the eastern chestnut and its blight—a native tree decimated by a non-native disease.

However it turns out for tanoaks, a portion of their history is now preserved (likely along with the SOD pathogen) in the California Academy of Sciences, along with the hundreds of other plants from the mountain and the millions of plants in the Academy’s collections; history that will be accessible and shared with researchers for decades or centuries to come.

Photo of walk-in freezer.

2. The walk-in freezer is the next stop, to destroy any pests that may have survived the dryer.

Photo of specimens being flattened.

3. Specimens are further identified, if necessary, glued onto archival paper with an identification label, and stacked with foam cushions topped with a weight to dry overnight.

Photo of Academy's collection area.

4. Plants collected from the mountain are integrated into the approximately two million specimens in the Academy’s collections and into an online herbarium database.

Photo of Miconia specimen.

5. Specimens include not only collections of California’s plant species, but “type” specimens from as far back as the 1700s, such as this Miconia from Brazil, collected during the first voyage of English explorer Captain James Cook.

Read Full Post »

Students volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

Student volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed show off the results of their hard work—a mountain of non-native broom.

The Marin Municipal Water District honored 40 volunteers at a special recognition lunch recently for contributing their valuable time to the protection and preservation of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed during fiscal year 2012/13. These volunteers donated nearly 7,500 hours—the equivalent of $185,625 in labor—to activities like trail maintenance, habitat restoration and endangered species protection on watershed lands between July 2012 and June 2013.

MMWD manages more than 21,600 acres of land on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin and counts on its volunteer workforce to help maintain and restore these lands. The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is home to more than 900 species of plants and 400 species of animals, including 77 rare, threatened and endangered species. This abundance of life is threatened by many factors, including increased recreational use, invasive species and global climate change.

Begun in 1995, MMWD’s volunteer program recruits individuals, students and entire classes to help improve trails and habitat; greet and educate visitors; restore habitat and collect biological data; and map native and non-native plants, sudden oak death and aquatic species.

The 2012/13 fiscal year’s 85 volunteer events resulted in the following accomplishments:

  • Dozens of trails were improved for visitor safety and erosion control;
  • More than 700 school children and their parents removed acres of invasive broom, young Douglas-fir trees and other invasive plant species;
  • 140 hours were spent monitoring native western pond turtles and educating the public about this species;
  • More than 200 hours were donated to keep people and their dogs out of the breeding grounds of the native foothill yellow-legged frogs;
  • One third of the 900 plant species on the watershed were surveyed; samples will be housed at the herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences.

Without the help of volunteers, many of the important preservation and stewardship projects on the watershed would not be possible. For more information about our volunteer program and to find volunteer opportunities, visit our website.

Read Full Post »

by Ariana Chiapella

It is truly amazing how much work a group of motivated, enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers can achieve in just a few short hours. On June 29, my site partner Michael Paccassi and I organized a salmonid habitat enhancement event along San Geronimo Creek. This project, called an Individual Service Project (ISP) in AmeriCorps lingo, was a requirement during our term of service with the Watershed Stewards Project (WSP). On paper, this event seemed like only a small piece of our mandated work for the ten months we’ve spent at MMWD, but in reality it was a perfect snapshot representation of everything we have done throughout our time here.

The majority of our work has been “stream restoration,” which at the water district includes spawner surveys, smolt trapping, snorkel surveys, analysis of engineered woody debris habitat, and the ensuing data entry. As a result, we in a way have been inducted into the fragile lives of the endangered coho salmon and have formed an intimate relationship with all of the factors that they depend on for survival. Consequently, the work our volunteers completed during our ISP was directly related to these important aspects of a salmonid’s habitat.

Another large piece of our required work has been community outreach and education. We developed and taught a six-week curriculum to third and fifth graders at a Title One school. The lessons were based in environmental science and included the relationships between watersheds, the water cycle, fish biology and human activity. The key messages of this curriculum were also shared at multiple outreach and community volunteer events throughout the year.

The skills we gained by engaging with the public and communicating WSP’s mission were crucial in our recruitment of over 30 volunteers for the San Geronimo Creek project. Of course it certainly helped to already have so many dedicated MMWD volunteers! We were so excited to see such a strong community turnout at the event. In addition to some familiar friendly faces from other MMWD volunteer events, we also had a great turnout of new volunteers.

The landowners’ property that we worked on was the perfect fit for a volunteer project such as this, not only because of the manageable projects it presented, but because it showed community members how they can make a difference on their own properties and most importantly because of the graciousness of our hosts.

We all banded together to tackle the invasive plants that were growing throughout the riparian corridor and squelching the vital native species that contribute to the habitat that salmonids need for survival. After eradicating the vinca, cape ivy, English ivy, Japanese knotweed and others, our group replanted the entire riparian area with fast-growing native trees, shrubs and perennial plants that, if all goes well, will take hold and restore the biodiversity needed for complex habitat and stable, non-eroding stream banks.

San Geronimo Creek habitat restoration

Before, during, after: Volunteers did a fantastic job of eradicating the Japanese knotweed and squelching the English ivy.

Thanks to a donation from Good Earth for breakfast, lunch from MMWD, and cookies and watermelon from the landowners, our volunteers were rightfully rewarded for their hard work. We could not have asked for a better group of volunteers!

In all honesty, I at first doubted the point of an ISP at the beginning of the WSP term. It seemed so unrelated to the overarching basis of our work here in MMWD’s Fisheries Department. In retrospect, it encompassed everything: endangered species protection, community outreach and education. Not only were we working to improve riparian habitat for the benefit of the coho salmon and steelhead trout, but we were doing so through community organization and action. These principles are laced within WSP’s mission, and we strongly believe that they also will be carried with anyone who has been involved with our program during the past ten months, whether through our education curriculum, field surveys or volunteer events.

Check out MMWD’s Facebook page for more photos of the event!

Read Full Post »

by Charlene Burgi

The word “discipline” conjures up all kinds of reactions. More than a few people cringe at the word, while others shirk. Some happily rise to the occasion, and others grudgingly accept what must be done. Yet, without discipline, things can quickly get out of control. At least that is my current mantra.

teaching puppies to sitIt seems that most of my time lately consists of disciplining the puppies. Though the process of correcting their behavior is exhausting, I must admit it has its rewards. When I now say “sit,” the two adorable little fur balls stop what they are into, sit down and look expectantly at me in wait for their puppy treats. At their young age, they have learned that effort is rewarded.

Since much of our time is spent in the garden, it is important for Sassy and Misty to understand the rules of no digging, not biting the plants, etc. During these lessons, I challenge myself to get some weeding done before the seed heads fall to the ground. This is when it dawned on me—the exercise of discipline also occurs in the garden. We all love a beautiful, well-maintained garden, and that requires setting aside time to mow, weed, prune, feed, mulch, plant, and inspect irrigation for leaks, breaks, misaligned heads or missing emitters. All these chores must be done in a timely manner.

It takes discipline to schedule these chores to keep a garden under control. There is an old adage about Mother Nature taking back what is rightfully hers. It doesn’t take long for weeds to crowd in, vines to infringe where they shouldn’t be, neglected plantings to wither and invasive plants to take over.

As I said earlier, the chores should be done in a timely manner. For the health of the plant, heavy pruning should be done in winter when the plants are dormant. A few plants, like camellias, are dormant when they are in bloom. Some fruit trees require specific types of pruning at certain times of the year to assure fruit production. And some shrubs will forego flowering if not pruned in a timely manner. For example, the reblooming iris will not rebloom in fall if the spring stems are not removed.

The irrigation should be inspected thoroughly before the system is turned on in spring. Each month, while the irrigation system is running, walk around to verify the water is being applied to the root system of your plants and not the sidewalk or neighbor’s yard. And most important is to adjust your run times to correspond to the Weekly Watering Schedule to meet the optimum water needs of your plants.

Weeds are an ongoing chore, but weeding the garden before the weeds set seed will make the job much easier in the future by preventing additional seeds from germinating. Because this task can be overwhelming, find an area to target and work that designated area before moving to the next area. Sheet mulch where you are able.

Mowing a lawn should be done weekly, while feeding plants in containers is a monthly chore. Mulching is a yearly task that I prefer doing before the summer heat to keep the plant roots cool. To this list, I personally plant vegetables by the moon, which requires knowing if the moon is in the waxing or waning phase. And the list goes on to include improving garden knowledge and exploring new ideas for the evolution of the garden.

At the end of the day, your reward, and mine, is found while gazing upon a garden that appears natural, clean and neat. The reward is also in watching people slow down to take in the beauty that was created due to your discipline for getting the job done.

Read Full Post »

by Charlene Burgi

lawn irrigationLet’s face it: Despite the fact that we live in a Mediterranean climate, where we experience five to six months of dry weather every year, we love our lawns. We know that lawns consume more water than any other vegetation in our yards, yet the love affair continues. Where did this affair start?

Historically, large expanses of lawn in England were signs of great wealth. As our ancestors crossed the “pond,” they brought their traditions, customs and ideals with them as they settled on the East Coast, and with them came lawn seed. For the most part, lawns planted on the Eastern Seaboard did not require irrigation systems as the weather offered year-round rainfall—enough water to keep lawns looking lush and green.

As the covered wagons moved west, so did the love affair. Lawns sprouted up with the growing population. Irrigation systems were needed to maintain these spots of green since summer rainfall is a rare commodity on much of the West Coast.

Simple solutions in the east became more complicated out west. The migration also brought maintenance habits that caused this water-guzzling spot of green to need more water, encourage more weeds, require more fertilizer and add more work for mowing. The way you mow your lawn can make or break these habits.

The theory is to keep it simple. The key is to mow your lawn to a height of 2.5 – 3 inches, which will shade the root system, keeping the roots cooler and requiring less irrigation. The taller grasses also prevent weed seeds from getting enough light to germinate, eliminating the need to use herbicides to eradicate the weeds. The tips of grass clippings (not clumps of grass) from frequent mowing will add nutrients to the soil and feed the lawn as the clippings decompose.

This brings up another issue for managing lawns. I am often asked if it is better to water a little every day until the evapotranspiration rate is met for the week. Let me go on record saying that a deep soaking every three days is better for your lawn. If you are on a slight slope, you may need to set your controller for multiple run times, or use the cycle-and-soak feature. This will help prevent runoff by allowing the irrigation system to water for short spurts, with time in between for the water to soak into the ground.

If you have a love affair with your lawn, remember:

  1. Good practices now can make a lawn strong and healthy in case of future drought and help sustain it if water restrictions should occur.
  2. Watering deeply early in the morning will develop deep roots that can tap into moisture deep within the soil.
  3. Cutting lawns too short allows the soil to dry out faster and weeds to develop.
  4. Short water times every day should be avoided since this will keep roots close to the soil surface.
  5. Check various types of lawn seed or sod for water-conserving and disease-resistant varieties that were not available during the pioneer days of yesteryear.

Read Full Post »

Due to high fire danger, the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is closed until sunrise tomorrow morning, May 2. [Update: The closure has been extended until noon, May 2.] The National Weather Service forecast calls for dry, hot, windy conditions, which can contribute to the ignition and rapid spread of wildfire. Our first Red Flag day comes extraordinarily early this year due to a record dry spring.

Volunteers work to remove a dense thicket of invasive broom on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed.

Volunteers work to remove a thicket of invasive broom on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed.

In fire weather, one of the species that causes particular concern on the watershed is highly invasive French broom. This weed grows densely and spreads rapidly, choking out native species, invading fuel breaks and fire roads, and creating a flammable understory. MMWD is working to control the spread of broom on water district lands to reduce fire hazards and protect the unique biodiversity of the watershed.

Read more about broom in the current issue of the National Park Service’s Fire and Fuels News.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers