I know one of my grandfather’s first rules of taking me hiking was teaching me to look out for potentially dangerous plants. We would go hiking quite regularly (even when I was a little kid) through the rugged areas of Southern California chaparral. One of the first California native “look don’t touch” plants that he pointed out to me was poison oak. He taught me, “Leaves of three let it be” and every time we would go out and walk he’d be sure to give me a pop quiz. The crazy thing about poison oak is that it is so potent that it can even cause a reaction if you touch something that has touched poison oak. How does poison oak work? This plant uses biologic warfare to protect itself from predators. The “poison” in poison oak is more to do with a human allergic reaction to a chemical that the plant possesses. Urushiol oil is what the poison oak leaves exude when it is damaged by contact. When it comes in contact with skin it causes an allergic reaction also known as “contact dermatitis” in four-fifths of humans. Usually the allergic reaction it causes is itching and sometimes a rash which can last for 3-10 weeks. Continue Reading →
I just spent the past week recuperating from jet lag but I wanted to share some of my international nature observations! I spent about a week in a relatively urban/suburban German town and really was able to see so many animals and plants thriving in an urban setting. Everywhere I looked there were cobbled streets with grasses and dandelions or other green things sprouting up. And then there were the trees! Germany is so much greener and full of trees than California. There were big tough trunks and large deciduous trees that were beginning to shake off their leaves. I was in heaven, it was finally fall! Not just the time of the year for fall, but the fall weather was in full swing. It took my breath away, both literally and figuratively. The dry cold wind blowing was enough to make you gasp for breath, but added to the fall beauty. The crisp breezes caught and tugged at the clinging yellow and orange leaves, tossing them into the gray sky and onto the gray road. It was a refreshing break from the excessively hot and humid fall we have had in California this year, which has felt more like summer than fall.
When I was growing up in Southern California, some of my favorite hiking trails were through the oak groves of Ojai. As we would hike through the shade, my grandfather would teach me about the plants and the animals in the ecosystem around us. I remember collecting the acorns that had fallen and wondering why an oak tree wasn’t called an acorn tree.
Not only do these amazingly gnarled old oak trees provide shade for hiking trails, but these trees have an ancient past and are incredibly valuable. Oak trees play an important role in the environment, human history and economics. In California these amazing oaks have a history that goes back to the Ice Age, tens of thousands of years ago! Pieces of these trees have been preserved in the Ice Age La Brea tar pits, where these oak trees were ancient food sources and shade for animals like the saber-toothed cats and giant ground sloths. Many years later, people migrated to the Americas and began to use these oak trees even more intentionally. Oaks, specifically acorns, were an important part of Chumash cultural festivities and trade. They would eat meals from crushed acorns, but the Chumash were not the only people to discover the value of oak trees.
Do you like golfing? Do you like nice open green spaces? Did you know that you have that in common with Canada geese? Well not the golfing part, that’s would be silly, but recently Canada geese have been making golf courses their homes and enjoying green spaces outside where they’ve lived historically. This once threatened migratory species from Canada is now becoming a common sight across the United States year round. These birds were intentionally introduced by people to places they had not lived before to help them survive and they have thrived!
These amazing birds historically nested in northern and southern Canada grasslands. Every winter these birds would make a trip (or migrate) down to the USA, much like how we like to visit places with nice weather during super-hot or cold seasons. They avoid the colder and harsher northern winters and get lots of food and sun in the south.
But why do Canada geese love our golf courses so much? The Canada geese can live in many habitats near water or grassy fields and they can digest grass (eat grass for food). Our golf courses tend to be large grassy places with water features perfect for feasting and resting. Another reason why geese love golf courses is because of safety. When they are looking for places to nest and find food, golf courses and lawns give them a clear view of predators. Canada geese behavior also affects their migration locations. Geese return to nest where they first learned to fly, which means if they breed on the golf course they will return “home.” Not all Canada geese have stopped migrating, they do migrate but they prefer to live where life is easier. Continue Reading →