September 29, 2015

Cactus liberation, and a local opuntia

Salad days. (Hesperoyucca whipplei.)

Saturday morning I set off on a mission to liberate a couple paddles of Cow's Tongue Prickly Pear  (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis), and check out some opuntias in the wash. There are two thickets of Cow's Tongue growing at the base of a slope below the Mousley Museum, and the museum's president of operations kindly told me to knock myself out (thanks, Claire!), so the expedition was on. I parked by the arroyo below the museum, and walked back up the road to the cactus.

How to get closer? 

This approach looks risky.

This side looks better.
[takes out large knife, avoids eye contact with passing motorists]

Cow's Tongue is native to Texas and northern Mexico, and is now found all over the Southwest, because it's gorgeous. It also has the advantage of being frost hardy to at least -22F (according to this site. Beautiful cactus photos there...). 

Wonderful big fruits, deep burgundy.

Mission accomplished! Two nice paddles sliced off and bagged. Next: find those opuntias in the wash. I know you're out there...

Chaparral, opuntia, two dried H. whipplei stalks like ivory tusks. Lizards were perfectly camouflaged until they darted. Rattlesnakes held their peace: too hot by now for much activity. 

Deeper into the wash...

Cylindropuntia californica var. parkeri, valley/cane/snake cholla. 

The big dirt nap.

What a beautiful little cactus!

There may be three species of opuntia growing here in the wash. Let's check Jepson. (California plant mavens can probably skip this next bit.)

"The Jepson eFlora is the foremost authority on the native and naturalized plants of California. For plants occurring in wildlands or otherwise outside of cultivation, the Jepson eFlora contains taxonomic treatments, distribution maps, illustrations, photographs, and identification keys."

Here in the wash we might have Opuntia littoralis, but the elevation is about 2700 feet and this area does get snow in the winter, so I'm leaning (carefully) toward frost-hardy Opuntia phaeacantha. And look at those spines on the cactus in the photo below -- yikes. Littoralis is extremely variable, but phaeacantha has the longest spines of the possible species, as far as I can tell. There may also be Opuntia ×vaseyi (O. littoralis × O. phaeacantha) growing here, but again... cold winters. I need to go back and take more photos, and in the meantime, phaeacantha gets my I-am-so-not-a-botanist vote.

This warmed my heart so much. The closest-to-home record of O. phaeacantha, according to the Jepson map, lists its locality as "Igo's Store, first canyon on the road to Barton Flats. San Bernardino Mt. Range." Small world! My great-grandparents spent summers up the road at Forest Home when their children were young, in the early 1900s, and I can't tell you how many times I heard older relatives speak of Igo's. 

Opuntia phaeacantha, I think. Cochineal for sure.

"Note: Igo's Store is present location of Mountain Home Village, Hwy 38, San Bernardino Mtns., San Bernardino Co." added one S.D. White in 2006. The shades of my ancestors would like me to point out that Igo's was in fact on the other side of State Route 38. Eye-goes. Thank you, botanist Lyman Benson, for adding some sweet memories to the weekend cactus hunt!

September 19, 2015

Some variegates

Late summer. Blazing hot some days, raining hard on others. Everyone's happy.

Loree Bohl of Danger Garden really does grow all the coolest, spikiest plants, and last week over at Plant Lust she wrote about some of her favorite spiky variegates. She inspired me to take inventory, and it turns out I may have more variegated agaves than not. How'd that happen?! 

Because honestly, I love non-variegated agaves. I think they're gorgeous. The shapes of the leaves, their colors and patterns, the variety of lateral and marginal spines, the bud imprints... check out this Agave isthmensis: 

And this A. cupreata with its copper spines: 

[Digression: Bud imprints always remind me of Mesoamerican design, like the Xicalcoliuhqui pattern, and figurative art, like this seal from the Olmec archaeological site San Andrés

Everyone in Agaveland cultivated agave. The Xicalcoliuhqui pattern was inspired by bud imprints, if you ask me.]

So anyhow, I started looking around the garden and there were variegated plants everywhere. New ones, like the 'Cornelius' and the little 'Butterfingers' (both gifts from a friend up north -- thanks, Tom!), and the A. victoriae-reginae 'Golden Princess' (pupping!) from Tony Marino, maker of cool rock pots

I thought I'd killed this A. gypsophila 'Ivory Curls' (because I tend to kill gypsophilas, though I love them so much). Not dead yet:

Here's a 'Cream Spike.' Not happy in full inland sun, picky about water, one of my favorite agaves:

A very small 'Cream Spike,' saved after the parent plant went belly-up last winter. Thrive, little dude! I love the tiny bud imprints:

Wiki says that Agave murpheyi is "found growing only at a few dozen archaeological sites of the ancient Hohokam Indians in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. It appears to be a cultivar grown by the Hohokam for food and fiber." Here's a terrific article on A. murpheyi, pre-Columbian Indian cultures, and the son of Mayahuel himself, Howard Scott Gentry: "There, amid the palo verde and the mesquite, the bur sage and the barrel cacti, a prehistoric Hohokam plot had persisted at least half a millenium after being last tended. The same plant -- the identical genetic stock that had been transplanted here in prehistoric times -- had reproduced vegetatively on its own, clinging to the same terrace where it had been originally placed." Agave is life...  

My big Kissho Kan:

With 'Creme Brulee' leaf in foreground:

And a little Kissho Kan, lower leaves still pockmarked from a hailstorm last year:

Variegated opuntias! Opuntia monacantha:

Opuntia cochenillifera:

Agave americana var. striata:

This is the only A. angustifolia marginata that survived last year's snowy winter. His siblings turned to mush :~(  He'll get more protection this year.

Not a variegate, but I'm including this one because the spines are so big and striking and white. Titanota from Granite Hill Nursery:


More white. A. toumeyana var. bella:

A. shawii. Got this one in a trade (thanks, Rob!):

'Rum Runner,' from the Huntington. Looks delicious:

I left out a few: 'Shira ito no Ohi,' 'Fireball,' 'Snow Glow'... They refused to be anything but blurry. (My fault for being such a poor photographer.) So here's another shot of white spines -- an unnamed hybrid dyckia:

Interesting weather we've been having. One day last week I took the scenic route home from work:

Preview of El Niño? Just in case, I'm ordering some Self-Inflating Sandless Sand Tubes. And of course I'll be stocking up on plants: Fall Planting Festival at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden's Grow Native Nursery, Claremont - October 3-4, 2015. Can't wait :~)