Monday, June 8, 2009

Birthday, Run-Off and Roses

There’s a lot going on right now, and I’m looking at a busy week ahead, so this is a sort of stream-of-consciousness post covering 3 not really connected things.

The Sentimental Thing

IMG_0607 On Saturday Bird Whisperer turned 10. When he was a baby/toddler, one of the things that drove me crazy was how everybody would say, “Enjoy these years- they change so fast.” Your parents, your friends, your coworkers, even people you met for the first time would be like “They change so fast…” I got so sick of hearing it I’d even start to finish the sentence for people when they said it.

Guess what- they change so fast. Every single annoying person who said that to me over the last decade was absolutely 100% correct. Now I can start saying it to other new parents.

When you first have a baby, you are of course winging the whole parent thing, figuring it out as you go along. By the time your kid is 10, he/she’s basically as smart as you are, and you find yourself thinking, “I wonder if he’s figured out yet that I’m winging this…” but of course he hasn’t and he won’t, until and unless he has kids someday, which of course is when we suddenly realized that our parents were figuring it out as they went along. It’s funny, for the biggest other endeavor in most of our lives- career- we go through all sorts of deliberate planning and preparation- school, university, degrees, tests, theses, night school, accreditation, reviews, promotions and so much else. To have children, we maybe take a birthing class* for a few weeks. And yet your kids somehow turn out so much better and worthwhile than your career…

*Which all of us fathers totally forget everything we learned in by the due date…

The Fun Thing

I’ve posted before about our weird hydrology here in the Great Basin. If you live near a river or creek this time of year, it’s hard not to think about hydrology. The power and force (and danger) of the Spring runoff is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

kayak2My office sits alongside Little Cottonwood Creek. Most of the year it’s an unimpressive trickle. But for these few weeks it’s a veritable torrent. Most days I don’t go out for lunch; I just grab a quick bite at the desk and use “lunch” for a ride, run or errands. But the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying hard to spare 15 or so minutes each day to eat my sandwich along the creek. Here’s a video of the rushing waters from my lunchtime perch (leaves in foreground = Narrowleaf Cottonwood.)

kayak1 A fun thing we see every Spring from my office is this kayaker, who plays in the eddies in the shadow of our building for a while before disappearing into the culvert under Union Creek Parkway. We don’t know where he comes out, but apparently it’s close enough that he doesn’t need a shuttle; here he is walking over to the creek.

Creek over 215 cut Tangent: Photo credits for this section go to my coworker- let’s call him “Sid*.” Sid also checked out the course of the creek northwards via Google Maps and found out what probably a bunch of you already knew, but which I was totally clueless about, even having driven under it daily for 7+ years: Little Cottonwood Creek is routed over I-215.

*Same coworker who figured out the office coffeemaker.

styling1 My officemates and I are filled with admiration for this man’s skills, his sense of fun, and his happening hairdo.

The Plant Thing

IMG_0483 From time to time I’ll blog about someplace- the Salt Lake Valley, Little Creek, the Mojave- where the vegetation’s changed dramatically over the past few thousand years. When I do, I sometimes get a “wouldn’t it be cool to see that…” feeling. Last week, I actually did see similarly dramatic floral shift- albeit on a much smaller scale- almost in my own backyard.

IMG_0482 On Thursday morning I did something I hadn’t done in 2 ½ weeks: I biked Shoreline trail. This time of year, if you skip a week on shoreline the changes are noticeable, and if you skip 2 weeks, it’s like a completely different place.

IMG_0480 The grasses on the open hills are probably close to a foot taller than they were in mid-May. The Scrub Oak and Maples are fully leafed-out, and the Maple samaras (pic right) are full-sized. But most dramatically changed are the flowers.

The Arrowleaf Balsamroots are now almost all wilted, save for pockets here and there. But the changeover takes a second to sink in: when you climb out of Dry Creek to the overlook, the hillside below is still carpeted with yellow sunflowerish-looking flowers. But they’re different yellow sunflowerish-looking flowers, which have sprung up amidst the now-wilted Balsamroots.

IMG_0488 In a post last year I misidentified these flowers, then did a mea culpa post when I realized I’d botched the ID. But I think I wasn’t so wrong after all; I had the genus right, just not the species. I believe these are Longleaf Arnica, Arnica longifolia, (pic left) a close cousin of Heartleaf Arnica, Arnica cordifolia, which we’ll soon see in the PLT forests higher up. In the original Arnica post I blogged about the freaky genetics of these flowers, and you can check out that post if you’re curious.

Balsamroot Foothills We’ve already looked at staggered blooms in the foothills, but what’s so interesting about the Balsamroot-Arnica complex is that it isn’t obvious; if you don’t look closely, you may just think “yellow flowers” week after week, when in fact what you’re seeing is a carefully choreographed sequence of blooms, each seeking to leverage the same pollinators.

Arnica Foothills The Penstemons that had just started to appear on my last Shoreline ride are now all over the place, and another stunning blue looker has appeared- IMG_0495 Lupine. There are hundreds of species of lupine across several continents; I believe this one is likely Silvery Lupine, Lupinus argenteus, though Lupines can be tough to tell apart. They’re members of the Pea Family, Fabaceae, and they have that same distinctive flower structure as other Fabaceae, including Utah Sweetpea, which we looked at last Spring and used to explain Punnett Squares (and is now flowering all over the place up around Jeremy and Pinebrook.)

Pea-style flowers have a very distinctive 5-petaled structure. The top petal always sticks straight up, and is called the banner. The 2 bottom petals are fused at the ends (though separate at the base) and form a “cup” or “boat”-like structure, called the keel. The remaining 2 petals, called wings, flank the keel.

Pea Structure The structure is distinctive enough that once you know it you can pick out other Pea family flowers, even if you’ve never seen them before.

IMG_0527 The weeds have also progressed over the last couple of weeks. Right now you can pick out Dyers Woad (pic left) seed pods is different stages of development, from fresh and green to black and ready to drop to the ground, where their allelopathic defenses will help keep the ground clear till they germinate next Spring.

IMG_0512 But my favorite flower on the ride was Wild Rose, Rosa woodsii. (pic right) These guys pop up every year in the sheltered draws, like Dry Creek, but this year I’ve noticed them for the first time on an open hillside along the trail (pic below), just West of the high point of Shoreline between Dry Creek and City Creek.

Rose Hillside Wild Roses are super-easy to pick out, but when people learn to ID them for the 1st time they often ask: Why do Wild Roses look so different from Roses at the florist? IMG_0617 The short answer is that they’re different species; R. woodsii is just one of ~100 species of Rosa worldwide. But the slightly-longer answer is that the roses you buy at the florist are “man-made”, or more specifically, artificially selected/cultivated. Cultivated roses (pic left) descend from probably around 9 wild species, all of which were domesticated in or near the Middle East thousands of years ago. The most common rose you buy for your sweetie on Valentine’s Day is the Hybrid Tea Rose, which didn’t even exist until a French grower cultivated it into existence in the 1860’s.

IMG_0513 Wild Roses, like all Rosaceae flowers (including Serviceberry and Chokecherry) are 5-petaled. As I’ve mentioned previously, the additional petals you see in a cultivated rose are actually modified stamens. What’s interesting about this is that many of the earliest/most primitive flowers had numerous stamens, the outermost of which were really more like petals, with poorly developed anthers, and that cultivation of roses has taken the flowers “backward” towards a more “primitive” anatomy that doesn’t exist (anymore) in Rosaceae, but is more like that of Magnolias, the classic “primitive”-type flower.

Of course cultivated roses grow wild all over the place now (including in our back yard) but it’s weird to think that before people started monkeying around with them a few thousand years ago there was nothing in the world that looked like a “rose.”


Sally said...

Visited Black Canyon Friday; tried to sort out Balsamroot from Mule's ears-- on the fly... Will double-ck photos. We don't quite have the dyc succession here, to my knowledge. Nice post!

Did you see my old roses post? You might like it-- check the link sometime too, when things quiet down.

Kent Peterson said...

What? No tangents? You must be too busy. Post your bosses phone number and we'll have a talk with him about reducing your workload.

Watcher said...

Sally- “Black Canyon”- as in of the Gunnison? I love that place! I don’t know the Balsamroot/Mules Ear species in CO, so it’s possible my ID key may not hold. I know the smooth-leaf/hairy-leaf thing breaks down in AZ. But the stem/leaf form thing will hold true.

Thanks for the pointer- (I hadn’t made it that far back in your archives) cool post. I think I may recognize that Hawthorn from a spot around here, have to go back and check.

Kent- hmm, you’re right. This was a tangent-light post. OK, I’ll make up for it next post- check back tomorrow!

Desert Survivor said...

Streams are up here, too, but some are already going down--part of a trend throughout the West where peak runoff is getting earlier and earlier.

Way cool about Little Cottonwood crossing the interstate! I'll have to look for it next time I'm that way.

Lucy said...

Does Dyers Woad smell funny when it is putting out seeds? Last Friday I noticed this weird smell kinda like malted grain and noticed I was adjacent to a Dyers Woad with tons of black seeds hanging on it. I was on the BST in one of the ravines btwn the zoo and Dry Creek (contrary to your previous post where you said that this weed wasn't located over on that part of BST - maybe those dogs you talked about?). I also noticed the same smell two Saturdays ago in Cache Valley but was too preoccupied with the 88 miles that lay ahead of me and my bike to notice what plant may have been stinking. (There is that pesky grammatical problem word "lay" again. I always have trouble with that one. Maybe you should do a grammar/flower/bike post.)

Watcher said...

Lucy- First off, if you’re referring to my original Woad post, back during Weed Week 2008, I was totally way wrong re: the extent of Woad on BST (which I later corrected in this follow-on post.) So, sorry for the bum steer (though I'm flattered someone actually reads my old posts!)

So the smell- I know exactly what you’re talking about- it’s that weird dusty, grain-y summer foothill smell. I don’t know what it is. I always half-suspected the drying/decaying Arrowleaf Balsamroot leaves, but never really checked it out. The Woad might well be suspect, since we know the blackened seedpods exude some kind of allelopathic chemical. But you’ve motivated me to figure it out. I’ll take a break on my next foothill ride and do a little sniffing around, even if I have to lie (lay?) down in the weeds to do so...

(Oh, and if I do a grammar post, I will make sure to have Shelley proofread it first!)