My Arundo

There has been a fair amount of breeding erodium recently...

...out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain

And frankly, I've had enough of it. It's Erodium cicutarium and it's threatening to smother the emergent bunch grasses on the tilted plane that is the front lawn to our house.

It represents another invasive species that we need to get under control. It has appeared out of nowhere, or more accurately, since the last rains. They spread like a stain. Weeding my way across the slope I have found that each plant usually hides three or four more beneath it and between each such specimen that can be satisfyingly pried out of the ground with a 12" shank slotted screwdriver (with half inch tip), there are armies of fledgling recruits showing just a flash of red foliage, some less than a 1/4" in diameter but already augured into the fast hardening earth with an inch long filament root. It is my Arundo (Arundo donax).

Over the weekend we had Roger Conrad come over to start photographing the house. He used an 8' ladder with aluminum rod clamped to the side rail that rose another 5' on top of which sat his Canon. (He used to be an industrial designer and worked on the glazing systems used in Biosphere 2 - the ill-fated vivarium designed to replicate the biosphere). With a 300 mm telephoto lens to foreground the Topa Topas so that they appear to spring directly from our back yard few will notice the impurities of the canted meadow in his photographs. Fewer still will recognize the area around the house as a managed landscape - as a garden.

But someone has indeed been playing god: deciding what lives and what dies, and in extreme cases, what plants will be introduced. Those of you who have been paying attention will also know that a very visible hand has moved a few saplings here and there.

On November 1, 2009, I planted my first shrubs on a south facing slope close to the house. Up Bear Canyon above about 2500 feet, Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium) grows in great drifts alongside the trail. On a visit to Margot's property, I found Lorenz Schaller, the groundskeeper and an old friend, using a pulaski (a combination of axe and mattock originally used by bush fire brigades) to uproot young Yerba Santa from the ground and discarding them. Retrieving half a dozen I transplanted what Lorenz called 'Indian chewing gum' on our property. It is beautiful in the spring through fall and at worst untidy in the winter. The leaves are redolent and brewed in a tea are of some medicinal value. Jan Timbrook reports that Yerba Santa was also used by the Chumash to conjure spirits.

This original effort failed. I have since tried again and one bedraggled specimen might possible make it. More recently I planted three 1-gallon matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri) on the western side of of the bowl that defines the cut part of our house pad equation (theoretically equalling, in cubic yardage, the fill portion that is the tilted plain at the front), and these appear to be flourishing. They were purchased from Nopalito, a native-plant nursery in Ventura.

These were the first efforts at introducing plants to a garden I have been working on for 6 months: chaparral gardening, it seems, is primarily an activity of bio-mass reduction by way of hand weeding, mowing, weed whacking, clipping and chain sawing.

The erodium problem is daunting and requires both the gross motor skills of swinging a pulaski on the larger specimens, the finer skills of plunging a screwdriver through the rocky soil beneath a medium sized plant and the very finest work of plucking miniature seedlings that appear as a reddish flocking over the brown dirt. Sometimes known as Filarees, heron's or storksbill, or scissor weed, they plant their own seeds. The seeds (schizocarps) coil like a corkscrew when dry and uncoil when damp. This action screws the seed into the ground and plants it. The finger-like schizocarps assume an edward scissor hands flourish atop the plant.

Traces of this exotic geranium have been found in the adobe of the old missions; and while It is generally assumed that the invasion of aliens began with the initial introduction of livestock by the Franciscans in 1769 there is pollen evidence which indicates that Erodium cicutarium was well established in the Santa Barbara region several years before the founding of the first California mission at San Diego in 1769. Historical evidence shows that it took the Spanish nearly a decade to develop a livestock base in California. Disturbance by livestock was therefore not a necessary prerequisite for invasion by alien plants. It had spread from the older Jesuit stomping grounds in Baja, where their first mission was established in 1697. Today, back hoes continue the work of facilitating its spread in the chaparral grasslands.

On Sunday evening at around five, Roger returned for some evening shots of the house. He worked deep into the twilight with longer and longer exposures, and late in the session long attenuated clouds appeared in the sky - their undersides suffused with an orange glow like the pale bellies of fresh water perch (Perca flavescens). This was duly reflected in the pool behind the house and committed to pixels.

Lorrie and I visited Roger at his off-the-grid enclave on Monday and reviewed proof sheets of his work. One more twilight session should produce the half dozen shots of the house that we need.

Meanwhile, early mornings and the hour before dark, the magic hours for photography, are reserved for erodium eradication. I am now atuned to its presence -my erodar scans the meadows for the tell-tale dark green discs.