First week after Winter Solstice

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.

Sycamore LeavesMaple Leaves
(Sycamore leaves on left, Maple leaves on the right – Click for larger image)

Blue Oak LeavesMaple Leaves
(Blue Oak leaves on left and the right – Click for larger image)

Willow LeavesCottonwood Leaves
(Willow leaves on left, Cottonwood leaves on the right – Click for larger image)

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
(Silk Tassel, probably staminate tassel)

Silk 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, 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
(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.

Other Links

Old leaves, new leaves

I made it out to Happy Canyon and Sunset Valley Roads on Sunday to photograph fall color along the creeks by the sides of those roads. There were some wonderful displays here and there.

(Big-leaf Maple along Happy Canyon Road)

(California Sycamore along Sunset Valley Road)

Many of the fall leaves will probably be on the ground after this week’s rain. On Sunday, at the slightest breeze, dozens would float and meander to the ground, where they would often fall on the new leaves of plants preparing to bloom in the spring.

(New leaves of Fiesta Flower among fallen leaves)

Some of the new leaves photographed were of Fiesta Flower, Imbricate Phacelia, California Thistle and Larkspur.

(New leaves of Larkspur)

Flowering plants include continuers from this fall such as California Fuschia, Long-stemmed Buckwheat and Bush Groundsel, and some of the early leaders for the approaching spring, e.g.  Chaparral Currant, California Bay and White Alder.

(Chaparral Currant)

Dried flowers photographed were Golden Eardrops, Larkspur at the base of which new leaves were growing, and most impressive of all, the seeds and empty flowers of Scale Broom. (Sometimes I can only identify the dried flowers by remembering the plant locations from spring and summer.)

(Dried flowers of Scale Broom)

Having not had vacation in a few years, I hope to take advantage of the rain this season to get out into the back country as much as possible to hopefully photograph fantastic and abundant flower displays. Who knows if one will get the chance again.

 Sounds and sights of Fall