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Thank You, Mrs. Monarch!

A monarch caterpillar chowing down milkweed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Thank you, Mrs. Monarch. Thank you for laying your eggs on our newly planted narrowleaf milkweed. We planted the narrowleafed milkweed last spring, hoping we could coax you to come. We laid out a floral welcome mat for you with some of your...

A monarch caterpillar chowing down milkweed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A monarch caterpillar chowing down milkweed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A monarch caterpillar chowing down milkweed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The long and short of it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The long and short of it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The long and short of it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An adult monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An adult monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An adult monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Spreading his wings--a male monarch on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Spreading his wings--a male monarch on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Spreading his wings--a male monarch on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 5:27 PM

Yes, It Happens: Sexual Cannibalism in Praying Mantids

A mating pair of praying mantids. At left is the male, soon to lose his head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yes, it happens. We've heard the stories and read some of the scientific literature about what a female praying mantis will do to her partner during the mating process. Sexual cannibalism. She'll bite the head off of her mate and eat it--but the mating...

A mating pair of praying mantids. At left is the male, soon to lose his head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A mating pair of praying mantids. At left is the male, soon to lose his head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A mating pair of praying mantids. At left is the male, soon to lose his head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The headless male lived about eight hours. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The headless male lived about eight hours. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The headless male lived about eight hours. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of the headless male. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of the headless male. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of the headless male. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 8:15 PM

Poison Oak

 

 

POISON OAK

By Linda Lewis Griffith

 

Poison oak is native to western North America and is widely distributed throughout San Luis Obispo County. Poison oak can be difficult to identify because it grows in a wide variety of habitats and looks different depending on its location.  In sunny, open areas, poison oak forms a dense, leafy shrub that stands 1 to 6 feet tall. In shaded areas, such as creek beds or oak woodlands, it becomes a climbing vine, supporting itself on other vegetation or upright objects using its aerial roots.

 

Leaves normally consist of three leaflets with the stalk of the central leaflet being longer than the other two.  Each leaflet is 1 to 4 inches long and smooth with toothed or somewhat lobed edges.  The surface of the leaves can be glossy or dull and sometimes even a little hairy.  In winter the leaves drop off.  The diversity in leaf size and shape accounts for the Latin term Toxicodendron diversilobum, meaning poisonous tree with many shaped lobes. 

 

Poison oak is considered the most hazardous plant in California due to the annual number of working hours lost from allergic contact dermatitis after touching the plant.  The allergic reaction occurs in 80 to 85 percent of the population and can lead to skin irritation, itching, and blisters. Transmission of the allergen can occur by direct contact with the plant at any time of the year.  It can also happen by touching contaminated clothing, tools or animals, or by breathing the smoke of burning poison oak.   

 

You can remove poison oak in your yard by physically pulling it out or grubbing with a shovel or pick. It's important to take out the entire plant, including the roots.  Remove plants in early spring or late fall when the soil is moist and it is easier to dislodge rootstocks.  Grubbing when the soil is dry and hard usually breaks off the stems, leaving the rootstalks to vigorously resprout.  Detached and dried brush can still cause dermatitis, so bury or stack the plant material in an out-of-the-way location, or take it to a disposal site.   

 

Posted on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 7:01 PM
  • Author: Linda Lewis Griffith
  • Editor: Noni Todd

Daily Life For Master Gardeners

The Dreamy Echium

By Andrea Peck

 

If you are looking for a plant that belts out Wonderland, Romance and Fairytale in melodic unison, look no further than the Tower of Jewels (Echium wildpretii ). Two years ago, I took a chance on this homely little tike. It had grey-green, triangular-shaped leaves and sat in a slumped sort of way in the pot. It looked like a whole lot of nothing. But, the description, along with a picture taped up above the display, prompted me to spend the $3.99 required to bring the 4” container home.

I planted it out in the middle of what should probably be called my personal garden wasteland, but we'll just call it the front yard. It didn't do anything for two years. It did not die. It did not grow significantly. Its shlumpiness got a bit more pronounced, but that did not seem promising. I was not hugely disappointed because I tend to be unconfident when it comes to new plants. Who was I to expect that this beautiful creature would make an appearance in my yard anyway? Just another waste of $3.99, I thought.

But, this year it blew me away.

I'm a little fuzzy with the months, but I want to say somewhere in May and June it grew to gigantic proportions. It was mammoth and dramatic. I'd peek out into my yard and swoon over it. The flower spike was large (about 4 feet) and conical, with masses of tiny pink-red flowers. The Tower of Jewels moniker is hardly an exaggeration --you half expect it to turn into some exotic princess or mystical sprite. Even the way it leans and curves its massive octopus-like appendage is charming.

The plant is native to the Canary Islands and was at one point an endangered species. Efforts to save the magical beast have paid off, however. Echium is habituated to a dry climate, making it drought-tolerant. It does not fare well in frost, particularly conditions below 20°F.  It grows best in fast draining, rocky soil. Cactus soil is a good choice. It can be grown successfully in a container, but it will need irrigation to prevent drying out. It does not need fertilizing.

To be honest, photographs do no justice to this plant. You really must see them in 3-dimensions. Not only is the plant spectacular in the sunlight, but it teams with life as bees buzz around it and hummingbirds hastily spiral from flower to flower.

Sometime around July my plant started to shrivel like the Wicked Witch's legs in the Wizard of Oz. Death was imminent. Of course, I did not have time to extricate it from my yard as we were in summer-mode. Luckily, I left it, because I learned that the Echium, though considered an annual, drops lots and lots of seeds.

It still reclines in my yard, a pile of gray matter that looks something like a long tube of gray ash. I'm not moving it—no way.

I'm hoping for a forest of them next year.

Posted on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 6:54 PM

California summer fruit smaller and tastier this year

Drought and warm winter weather combine to reduce the size, and increase the taste, of 2015 California stonefruit.
California's summertime stonefruit - peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots - are tending to be smaller in 2015, reported Lesley McClurg on Capital Public Radio. But don't despair. The smaller fruit is typically tastier, said a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) expert.

"That smaller peach this year very likely is sweeter than the moderate-sized peach of last year," said Kevin Day, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor and director in Tulare and Kings counties.

Most of the change in fruit size can be attributed to the drought. When irrigation is limited, water content of the fruit diminishes and sugars become a greater proportion of the fruit mass. However, Day says drought isn't the only reason for 2015's smaller fruit size. California also had unusually warm temperatures in January and February 2015, causing fruit to ripen faster.

"A variety that might ripen after 120 days of being on a tree in a year like this ripens in only 110," Day said. "And, so it's consequently shortchanged out of 10 days of growing."

Posted on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 9:38 AM

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