On December 21st, the shortening of the day length reached a minimum at Winter Solstice. Until June 21, 2010, sunshine hours will increase daily. During this last week since the Winter Solstice, while visiting along Alisal Road to Figueroa Mountain Road, green shoots and young plants were seen in abundance, even as many “fall” trees had not yet shed all of their leaves.
(Cottonwood along Alisal Road)
Cottonwood leaves have turned from yellow to orange, and provide a gorgeous color whether back-lit or not — similarly for Arroyo (?) Willow and Bigleaf Maple trees. Sycamore leaves are bland when facing the sun, but display vivid colors when back-lit. I read that the bland color is the result of tannin, a “waste product from the tree’s natural processes” (Billy Goodnick on Edhat). To better get an idea of the variances of leaf sizes (Sycamore leaves can be very large) and colors, I photographed groups of leaf circles. What was striking was the uniformity of color of the Sycamore fall leaves.
Just as birders have life lists, I have a list of plants I’d like to see. I came across one of these by accident on the 23rd — Silk Tassel Bush. I remember during the summer observing a medium shrub with leaves having a lighter color on the underside and wondering what it was. As I was walking in the same area on the 23rd, I suddenly noticed the tassels on the bush — mystery partially solved. I still have to figure out if it is Garrya veatchii or Garrya flavescens, that have minor differences. Four Garrya bushes were observed in the area, with possibly two staminate and two pistillate versions of this dioecious bush. More investigation of this plant will be done, but for now here are a couple pictures.
(Silk Tassel, probably staminate tassel)
(Silk Tassel, either unopened staminate tassel or pistillate tassel)
No butterflies have been seen. About a dozen Milk Maids, one California Buttercup and one California Poppy were observed in bloom – the plants along Alisal and Figueroa Mountain Roads are not flowering as early as those on San Marcos Pass and San Marcos Foothills. It seems that San Marcos Pass receives the most rain (see http://www.countyofsb.org/pwd/water/downloads/rainfallreport.pdf), and with warmer temperatures, there are unusually early blooms in those areas this year as photographed by Marc Kummel and Yuji Kozaki — see links below.
(Milk Maids near Alamo Pintado creek)
Over this holiday season, I am trying to get out as much as possible — thanks to too much work my fitness level is at an all time low. I read with envy about Diane Soini’s recent hike where there was a 2000 foot gain – I would probably pass out after less than 300 feet. I am going to try to keep up with weekly excursions next year to not only enjoy the flowering but also longer and longer walks. These single day trips represent my yearly vacation spread over many months.
At this early time of the year, there are mostly new leaves to photograph – it is fun to figure out the plant before inflorescence confirms in spring.