Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A place in our hearts

Every coastal BC native plant garden needs a patch of bleeding hearts. Beside the Campbell River Museum, they grow at the bottom of the north hill, at the edge of the bush. It's half sunny there, but damp, just the way bleeding heart likes it.

Dicentra formosa

The bleeding heart flower has four petals, but the most visible ones are the two pouched ones that make the heart shape. Where are the other two? Hidden inside. They are completely covered by the heart, except at the very bottom, where they join again, to make the droplet of "blood" that gives the flower the first part of its name.

Each flower head may have up to 15 flowers.

The plants will bloom until the weather heats up, die down for the summer, then flower again in the fall, if the weather is to their liking.

The humble little flower has its part in our history:

The Pacific bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa subsp. formosa) was discovered by the Scottish surgeon and naturalist Archibald Menzies* on the Vancouver Expedition. Menzies collected seed in 1792 in Nootka Sound, and gave it to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1795. From there, seed made its way into cultivation in Europe. It apparently was not cultivated in the United States until 1835, when William Kenrick began selling the plant in Boston. (From Wikipedia)
*Menzies was accompanying Captain George Vancouver on his voyage around the world on HMS Discovery. They arrived in Nootka in July or August of 1792, where Menzies found bleeding heart gone to seed.

150 some years later, I arrived in Tahsis, slightly north of Nootka Sound, where I found bleeding hearts blooming thickly in the rain beside the hill road. Not one for the history books, but an important memory in my personal album.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Once in 18 years.

Under a sign on the museum trails, the trilliums are blooming.

Western trillium, Trillium ovatum var. ovatum

Trillium likes shady, wet forests, and riverbanks where its feet stay wet. At the Campbell River museum, the trillium patch is on a dry (comparatively) slope, just below the paved walkway, in semi-shade, an unexpected location. (There may be some underground irrigation.)

Young flowers of this variety (ovatum) are white, but with age they may turn pinkish or even purple. (I haven't seen any purple ones, though.) Zooming in on this one, I can see the merest hint of pink; it's still young.

I checked bloom times for the area; at the southern tip of the island, in Victoria, trillium flowers in late March to early April. And near here, halfway up the island, I found records in the third week of April. 250 kilometres: 2 weeks delay in bloom. I noticed this same time delay when I drove north last week; travelling north is like setting the calendar back.

Around a corner, on the sunny side of the museum, in an unlabelled patch, I found a couple of unusual trilliums:

Multi-petalled trillium 

These were slightly smaller than the others, but they have the characteristic trillium three-fold pattern: three leaves, three pointed sepals, three petals. But these have three inner petals, as well. I found a match in E-Flora; it was also found in Campbell River, in the forest.

Another interesting fact about western trillium -- it can take up to 18 years for a plant to become sexually mature (i.e. able to produce flowers). (From Metro Vancouver Regional Parks' Facebook page.

Just one more reason never to pick a trillium; it's the fruit of 18 years' work!



Saturday, April 22, 2017

It looks almost innocent

The Campbell River Museum sits on a hillside facing the shore, part sunny lawns, part in deep shade under evergreens or mixed alders and maples. Trails wind through the trees and above the lawn, where a collection of 80 different plants native to the area thrive.

Now that the sun is shining, and flowers are starting to appear along the street, (and I saw my first salmon-berry flower two days ago; more diagnostic of spring than the robins) I went to see what is happening on the Museum lands.

And there were trilliums and flowering red currants and kinnikinick and curly-topped ferns and ... I'll be processing photos for a few days.

But my favourite was this brand new devil's club (Oplopanax horridus) bud, with a visitor:

Two buds, old spines, and a multi-spotted ladybug, probably Harmonia axyridis.

The spines look relatively innocuous now, worn down and de-fanged by a harsh winter. I was almost tempted to touch one. Almost. Once the leaves open, there will be nasty, stinging spines everywhere, even on the leaves.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Strange

Lichens are weird, sometimes. This one looks like something out of one of Spaceman Spiff's (aka Calvin) alien-scapes. Much more friendly, though.

Lichen in a bowl. The closer I get, the more alien it becomes.

Botchy, bumpy, flaking "skin", red-tipped reproductive structures.

I brought this one home to get a better look at it, because on the ground, in the semi-shade of wet trees, my eyes couldn't make sense of its shape. At home, under bright lights, it's still bewildering.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tiger face

Chia had kittens last night. Four: grey, black, stripy, and the tiger.

"Tig". About 12 hours old.

One of these days ...

It's raining again. One of these days, I'll get these seedlings out in the garden, hopefully before mid-summer.

Alyssum on my windowsill, waiting for mud to turn into soil.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Swamp lantern

Weeks and weeks of rain, then a few half-sunny days, cold nights; it's skunk cabbage time! Along the highway to the north, open patches are spotted with them, like yellow flames in the grass.

Young skunk cabbage in a soggy field.

A small section of the field.

So very yellow.

Later on in the summer, the yellow spathes* will be faded and splotchy, the spadices** darker and covered with critters: flies, beetles, snails, slugs; they are attracted to the scent, like that of skunks, but not quite as throat-constricting.  And the leaves, just starting out here, will be enormous, up to a metre and a half long, shading the roots and the grass, holding in the moisture.

The plant flowers more profusely in sunny water meadows, like this one.

*Spathe: the modified leaf that forms a cowl around the flowering stalk.
**Spadix: the flowering stalk.

Monday, April 17, 2017

There and back again

I had four hours before sunset. And I'd been shut in by wet weather for too long; I needed space, an empty road, the whispering silence of the north woods. I took the highway north, stopping occasionally to take another photo, or follow a short trail down to a lake or to a bridge over a river. In spots, the sun shone. Around the next curve, it could be pouring rain, or the road might be hidden in grey fog. A minute later, the sun would be in my eyes, so dazzling I had to duck and squint to see the road.

At sunset, I turned back. I had almost made it to Port McNeill, but there hadn't been a goal; the road was enough. It took two hours to return, driving slowly through rain and drifting mist, keeping an eye out for deer.

Somewhere along the road. The sun hangs low in the sky, creating deep shadows.

Scotch mist leaching most of the colour out of the landscape. Down south, most of our trees are bright with new leaf buds; here, the branches are still bare.

Nimpkish River, I think. 

And Nimpkish Lake.

Nimpkish Lake forms a wide and extremely deep spot along 14 miles of the Nimpkish River. In fact, Nimpkish Lake is the deepest lake on Vancouver Island, reaching a depth of nearly 1000 feet below sea level. Located within the traditional lands of the 'Namgis First Nations tribe, legend says the name Nimpkish means "halibut on the bottom".

Pink-stemmed horsetails, Equisetum sp. These are the fertile stems, with spore-bearing cones; the sterile, brush-like stalks show up later in the year. E-Flora records 10 species of Equisetum in BC.

Hoomak Lake. Steps lead down from a rest stop above, and an interpretive forest trail leads off in both directions. Another day, after the rain gives up, I'll check it out.

Interesting plant with its feet in the water.

Zooming in on a few branches. Much lightened up: this was in fairly deep shade.

At one rest stop, a small flock of pale brown, sparrow-like birds foraged in dry, yellowish grasses. The birds' bellies were the same yellow as the grass. I tiptoed towards them, so cautiously, but they saw me coming and took flight.

And I passed fields bright with skunk cabbage. Some photos tomorrow.

A Skywatch post.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Swallow!

She has to be quick ...

Or the hermit will get her lunch.

The burrowing anemone will sting any crab that touches her tentacles, and eat a snail or limpet that gets too close. But she tolerates hermit crabs. So they climb all over her, and when she finds food, they reach into her mouth to grab it before she finishes swallowing.

It's not quite fair.

Friday, April 14, 2017

10 cm a day

I've been looking again at the wireweed in my aquarium. Branches break off and float to the surface; I remove them, a branch or two daily. And yet the amount of wireweed never seems to diminish.

Wireweed (Sargassum muticum), in the "empty" end of the tank.

Sargassum muticum is usually 1-3 m in length, but can grow up to an incredible 16 m in length in certain habitats, and can form floating mats on the sea surface. It can grow at up to 10 cm each day, and it also has a relatively long life-span of 3-4 years. ... Dense mats of Sargassum can form very quickly. (The Seaweed Site)

The branch I removed this evening was 12 cm. long. I'm beginning to see why the total amount in the tank remains the same.

Section of today's crop, showing bladders, reproductive structures, and a few leaf fragments.

Sargassum muticum is an invasive seaweed, originally from Japan. It has spread enthusiastically to the west coasts of both Europe and North America; on this coast, its range goes from Mexico to Alaska. Besides its fast growth habit, it is also extremely good at starting new plants.

Branch tips with reproductive vesicles. They look like miniature cucumbers. The bumps show that they're mature and ready to spread "germlings".

A branch doesn't have to be attached to the parent to reproduce itself. It can float free for months, still growing, still fattening up these "cucumbers". The infant plants ...

... develop into small germlings and develop adhesive rhizoids (rootlike structures), at which point the offspring will release from the parent plant and sink to the bottom; where they will adhere to whatever substrate they land on. (Sargassum muticum)

I've been noticing a lot of new, brown growth on the glass of the aquarium. I wipe it off every couple of days; I've never had to do that before. Are those new baby wireweed plants?

Broken branches float to the surface. They are buoyed up by dozens of small bladders full of air. In the wild, they float away from the parent plant, seeding new territory as they go.

Gas bladder. Leaves and reproductive vesicles in the background.

Another gas bladder. These get up to about 3 mm across.

Nicholson et al. (1981) reported on a possible short-distance dispersal mechanism they called "walking Sargassum," in which entire plants attached to fist-sized rocks drift with the currents and sink to the bottom where the water slows. (Exotics Guide)

Wireweed has created problems where it has taken over territory, cutting off light to eelgrass and other plants, fouling shores, pushing out native species. Attempts at removing it, (up to 480 tons in three years in southern England: it was back again the next year) have been unsuccessful. In my tank, I can rip it out, scrub the walls, replace the stones, and maybe get rid of it. Maybe.

But I've noticed, with other invasive species, like the Asian mud snails, how after a few years, the natives begin to fight back, and eventually come to a new balance. Nature does love variety and resists monoculture. It will be interesting to watch how it works out in our waters.

And my hermits are beginning to find it interesting; at any time, day or night, three or four are clambering through the upper levels. They do love a climb!

(On the branch above, the longest leaf I found was 6 mm. long, the bladders were up to 3mm., and the "cucumbers" are up to 4mm. long, about 1mm wide.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Viewpoint

You can see better with a little boost from a friend.

Three hermits: the shadowy third is off in the distance, on an even higher vantage point.

These are not the same couple as yesterday's pair; the one beneath, here, is a grainy-hand hermit, Pagurus granosimanus; the one on top is a hairy hermit, P. hirsutiusculus. Different species, still friendly.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hermit shenanigans

It was time to put the aquarium to bed for the night: feed the anemones, add ice, turn off the light. But in the middle of the tank, behind the anemones, a lump of waving legs and antennae turned out to be two hermit crabs, embracing face to face, half out of their shells. I ran for the camera.

I had a few seconds only; hermits don't stay in vulnerable positions for long.

Two hairy hermits (Pagurus hirsutiusculus), mating. The smaller, green legs belong to the female; the male is bigger, and has red algae growing on his hairs.

It's springtime, and love is in the air. And the water. But it's difficult for hermit crabs; to mate, they have to crawl at least partway out of their shells, exposing their soft, juicy abdomens. And crabs are always on the lookout for fresh meat. A researcher timed his hermits; copulation lasted from 10 to 36 seconds, repeated up to 4 times.

I managed to get half a dozen blurry, bubbly photos. No time to wipe down the glass first, nor to turn off the pump.

View from the top. Bubbles and swimming copepods deleted, contrast increased. The female is the one on the right; her abdomen is visible, almost entirely out of the shell.

Either she had just molted (crabs have to wait until the female molts, because of the hard carapace she's wearing normally), or she molted soon afterwards; I found her molted bits and pieces up against the glass in the morning.

I paused to wipe off the glass quickly. When I looked again, a few seconds later, both hermits were back in their shells and walking away, in different directions.

If the mating was successful, the female will be visibly in berry soon; the baby hermits will hatch in about 3 weeks. They'll be too small to see, except as moving specks in a filter, against a bright light.

I have watched the preliminary courting behaviour many times. (I reported on it here: "A friend for Boy Blue", and "Little Bo-Peep is fast asleep.") I had never managed to catch them actually in the act.

Made my day. Theirs, too, I think.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fragments of lace

Occasionally, bits of red lace turn up on the beach, torn from the parent plant. I floated one in a shallow bowl.

Sea braid, aka sea comb, Plocamium pacificum. About 4 cm. The whole plant may be up to 25 cm. long.

Zooming in. The tiny branchlets each have three tinier branchlets off to one side.

And looking at those tiniest branches under the microscope, at 40x, I can see that they also wear mini-branchlets.

This seaweed grows on rocks in the lower intertidal zone, which is why, when I find it close to the shore, it is always a fragment.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sun and snow

It was raining again. As usual, these days. And it was windy, too; from my front window, I could see froth on the waves in the channel. I wrapped the camera in plastic and took it for a drive.

The clouds seemed lighter to the south, and away from the coast, so I took the upper highway, and was rewarded, after about 50 kilometres, by pale sunlight filtering through a fine rain. A crossroads gave me a choice; upward and inland, I could see smidgens of blue sky. I took that road. It lead to the Mount Washington ski hills. And up at the top, the sun was shining. The air was still and warm; I barely needed a jacket.

From an upper parking lot, looking back towards the road I came in on.

Snow so snowy white, small trees at this height (5520 ft), and ski tracks.

I like these shadows.

Lichen growing on the downhill side of a tree. And a coating of ice on that side only.

Squiggly icicles.

I was intrigued by the cut edges of the snow cover. The lower strip shows repeated trips by the snowplows, but how did the upper strip get there?

Halfway down the mountain again, I stopped at a viewpoint to look over the Comox valley.

The sun is shining down there!

At the bottom of the hill, I turned north and homeward, into the wind and rain. No sunshine for us!

A Skywatch post.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

One way to look at it

When it's impossible to separate one element of a scene from its background, go the opposite route: include everything, ground to sky.

Reflections in a pool beside the Ripple Rock trail.


Friday, April 07, 2017

Under a bark roof

At the edge of the estuary wetlands, a tangle of rotting, winter-felled trees bordered the path. What bark still remained hung loose; I peeled off a section, disturbing a family of sowbugs and an earwig in his bright spring outfit.

The wood is soft and wet, protected from light (up until this moment), warmed by early sunshine; a perfect hangout.

The next piece of bark housed spider egg cases on the underside.

Another earwig. I haven't seen one wearing this beautiful maroon colour before.

More sowbugs with frass.

I was interested in the leftovers, the bits of chewed and/or excreted wood, in various colours, stirred together like a vegetable casserole with a side dish of mashed beans.

Under another slab of bark, I found this beetle:

One of the Jewel Beetles, Buprestidae.* A wood borer, probably a recent hatchling.

(*Update: the beetle has been re-identified as a click beetle, Agriotes lineatus. The following paragraph, then, refers to the photo beneath.)

These beetles lay their eggs under the bark. The larvae hatch and tunnel outwards, eating the nutritious growing layers just underneath the bark. They leave characteristic tunnels, wider at the outer end (because the larva is now bigger and hungrier). They pupate, then hatch into adults, which drill an exit hole out to the big, wide world, and hurry away to find a mate.

Mined log, at Miracle Beach. The long, straight, central tunnel was made by the adult female; each little notch along its edges is where she laid an egg. Several exit holes are visible. Species unknown.

After each photo, I carefully notched the piece of bark back into its original location.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Tinies along the trail

The trees along the Ripple Rock trail are crowded, tall, twisty, and thickly draped in mosses. In the afternoon sunlight, the camera sees them as criss-crossing black silhouettes, with flaring yellow sunbursts. My eyes aren't any better. So I watch the path, instead.

First skunk cabbage bud of the year.

Frayed mushrooms on a log end.

Junco, thinking that if he doesn't move at all, I won't see him.

Moss sporophytes.

And on another, short, trail:

Green lights in the understory.

The trees are beautiful, but sometimes you can't see them for the forest.