Valley Oak (Querus lobata):
The acorns were a staple food, which was leached (rinsed with water) to remove the bitterness, and ground into flour with mortar and pestles. The ground acorns were used in stews/soups, pancakes/tortillas, mush, or layered into pits and cooked with other plants and meats. Oak galls were squeezed to make a blue-black ink for tattoos and tannins were used to make dyes and decorate animal skins.
Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens):
A major grass for creating beautiful, sometimes water-tight baskets to cook food, to carry and store food and other items. Stalks were generally harvested in the spring when easy to pick, then wrapped to keep straight and allowed to cure for a year. They were often soaked prior to weaving into basket. About 1600 stalks would be needed to make one basket.
Santa Barbara Sedge (Carex barbarae):
The rhizomes (underground stems which generally grow horizontally) provided the strongest threads for basket making. The people would manage the rhizome growth by cleaning the soil of anything that might obstruct the growth (i.e., rocks) to allow the rhizomes to grow long and straight. An evergreen grass, the summer flowers range from cream, red and purple colors, which attract butterflies.
Toyon, aka California Holly (Heteromeles arbutifolia):
The wood from this sturdy shrub had many uses including tools, games/toys, fuel for smoking fish, and religious ceremonies. The red berries produced in the fall which were eaten after roasting over coals or dried in the sun.
An evergreen shrub, the summer white flowers attract bees and butterflies. Birds love the berries.
Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea):
This tough, easy-to-grow shrub or tree is dormant in the winter. The spring and summer blooming cream or yellow flowers attract bees and butterflies, with their berries being an important food source to many birds.
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita):
Its distinctive red wood which was sometimes used to dry and smoke fish. The fruit was gathered in summer, then dried and ground to make coarse meal which would be mixed with a little water during winter months or made biscuits. They would make tea with the berries and tips of the branches, which apparently was a pleasant drink.
Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus):
The seeds were used as a food source. They were gathered, parched, ground, and added to foods or eaten by the handful. Flowers were used as décor after drying, made into wreaths, and used in religious ceremonies. The roots and leaves were used for medicinal purposes.
This drought-tolerant, evergreen shrub blooms in the spring, summer, and fall. The bright yellow tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Autumn seeds attract small birds.
Whenever I see any of these California native plants, I think of how the indigenous people of California used these plants over thousands of years. By growing them in our gardens, we honor that history, help the survival of these plants which provide food sources for so many birds, bees, and butterflies, reduce water usage, bring variety to our gardens, and joy to our spirits with their beauty.
Learn more at the Library - Take a free class!
This September, our UC Master Gardeners will present on the topic, "CA Native Plants" at 9 Stanislaus County Library locations. Visit our Calendar at https://ucanr.edu/sites/stancountymg/Calendar/ for dates, times, and locations.
On Saturday, October 7, 2023, we are offering our "The New Front Yard" workshop. Topics include drip irrigation, converting your yard to native plants, and how to garden for year-round bloom! Stay tuned for the registration announcement.
- Enough For All: Foods of My Dry Creek Pomo and Bodega Miwuk People by Kathleen Rose Smith
- The Real California Cuisine: A Treatise on California Native-Plant Foods by Judith Larner Lowry
- Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson
- Indian Summer: A True Account of Traditional Life Among the Choinumni Indians of California's San Joaquin Valley
- Great Valley Museum of Natural History at Modesto Junior College's exhibit on Yokuts
- California Native Plant Society: https://www.calscape.org/
Acknowledgment: Lillian Vallee, English professor emeritus, Modesto Junior College, who has shared her passion and knowledge with me over the years of California native plants and their historical uses by the California native people.
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener in Stanislaus County since 2020.
While fairies are mythical, hummingbirds are real-life winged fairies of our gardens. We tend to think of just bees and butterflies as pollinators, but the tiny, jewel-like birds also play a crucial pollinator role. Hummingbirds co-evolved with native nectar plants, each benefiting the other. A keystone species (a species which other species in an ecosystem largely depend on, so if it disappeared the ecosystem would be severely altered), hummingbirds pollinate at least 20% of specialized indigenous plant species.
Hummingbirds have a very high metabolism and must eat all day. They consume about half their body weight each day while feeding. Nectar from 1,000-2,000 flowers provides 20% of a hummingbird's daily diet, which they drink with a fringed forked tongue in their long beak. Insects provide the bulk of their diet, which includes beetles, aphids, gnats, mosquitoes and wasps.
The smallest hummingbird, the Bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), is a native of Cuba. With a body about an inch long, it weighs the equivalent of 1/4th teaspoon of sugar! The “large” Giant hummingbird (Patagonia gigas) of western South America is about eight inches long (20 cm), weighing less than half of most sparrows.
California has about nine species of hummingbirds with four commonly seen species in the Stanislaus County area listed here in order of most abundant to the least:
- Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna): This permanent year-round resident is a common sight in many of our gardens. The colorful red-headed male is the largest and most prominent of our local hummingbirds. The fastest of all hummingbirds, it can fly up to 60 miles per hour. Males perform a death-defying courtship dive, plummeting to the ground at speeds and accelerations that put jet pilots to shame. Females build the nests and care for the young alone, having three broods a year.
- Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus): With its beautiful orange-red gorget (a hummingbird's brilliant throat feathers), these migrating birds are a beautiful sight in local gardens in the spring and fall. Unlike the green body feathers of other common species in our area, the male has copper-colored feathers. Nesting further north than any other hummingbird, they fly up to 2,000 miles (3,200 km) during their migratory journeys to Canada.
- Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri): Another migratory species, it spends winters in Central America while nesting here in the summers. The male has a black face with a purple gorget at the base of the chin. The female builds a well-camouflaged nest in a shrub or tree.
- Costa's hummingbird (Calypte costae): The smallest and least common of our local hummingbirds, it breeds and nests here in summers, spending winters in Baja California/western Mexico area. The male has a colorful purple gorget and neck.
A Hummingbird Friendly Garden
To make the sugar syrup combine one-part white cane sugar to four parts boiling water and let cool. Do not use honey, molasses, brown sugar, agave, artificial sugar, etc. as these can be harmful to hummingbirds. Food coloring is unnecessary since the red color of the feeder will attract the birds. If possible, place the feeders out of direct sunlight. Refill and clean feeders every 3-4 days (more frequently in hot weather) with a bottle brush, hot water, and a little white vinegar (which retards mold). Extra sugar syrup can be stored in refrigerator for a week or so.
In addition to sucrose, nectar provides additional sugars (glucose and fructose), along with compounds such as carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and oils which sugar feeders cannot provide. So, flowering plants that produce nectar should also be present in your garden to give hummingbirds a diverse, nutritious diet. Hummingbirds favor flowers that are tubular, in red, orange or bright pink colors. Some good choices include penstemons, fuchsias, red salvias, and bee balms.
A hummingbird friendly garden should also include trees and bushes for perching, hiding and nesting, water for drinking and bathing, and safety from domestic cats.
An excellent plant list resource provided by UC Agriculture & Natural Resources (UC ANR) and Master Gardener is Plants that Attract Hummingbirds – Zones 8 and 9: https://ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners/files/287098.pdf
Both the local Rufous hummingbirds and Black-chinned hummingbirds are among those considered to be at risk (https://www.audubon.org/news/how-climate-change-threatens-hummingbirds).
By providing backyard sanctuaries with feeders and native plants we can help support these valuable feathered fairies of our gardens, so they can continue to delight us and pollinate our plants.
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UCCE Master Gardener with Stanislaus County since 2020./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
How Did the Western Monarchs Do This Winter in California?
Monarchs in Trouble
The colorful orange-and-black, magnificent monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are the world's most recognized and beloved butterflies. Yet, they are increasingly in danger of becoming extinct. An announcement last summer from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced the monarch butterfly had been put on its "Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered” due to habitat destruction, climate change, and pesticides, with the primary reason being reduction in milkweed plants that are so vital to their survival.
This Year's Status
According to a recent article by Tara Duggan (https://www.pressreader.com/usa/san-francisco-chronicle-late-edition/20230201/281595244675872) the 2022 annual Thanksgiving count organized by Xerces Society showed relatively high numbers of western monarchs this year with over 330,000 found in overwintering sites throughout California's central coast. This is a significant increase from the winter of 2020-21 when fewer than 2,000 were counted and they were thought to be on the threshold of extinction. The 2021-2022 count the following year was much better, at 250,000.
1990 – 230,000
1995 – 150,000
2000 – 40,000
2005 – 32,000
2010 – 24,000
2015 – 28,000
2017 – 12,300
2019 – 6,000
2020 – 188
2021 – 22,700
2022 – 24,128
11/15/22 – 24,100
11/30/22 – 19,177
12/13/22 – 15,707
1/17/23 – 15,817
2/7/23 – 15,015
2/21/23 – 4,628
How You Can Help
- Plant nectar plants for the adults! While caterpillars feed only on milkweed, the adult monarch feeds on nectar from flowers while migrating. Native plants with tubular or funnel shapes are particularly attractive and nutritious for all butterflies.
- Plant milkweed! This plant is crucial to monarchs' survival since it is the only plant females lay their eggs on and the only source of food for the emerging larvae. When possible, plant from seed. If you purchase plants ask the nursery or garden center if the grower treated the plants with pesticides. The best time to plant is in the fall months when it's cooler, at the start of the rainy season. Local native milkweed varieties include:
o Asclepias fascicularis (Narrowleaf milkweed)
o Asclepias speciosa (Showy milkweed)
o Asclepias syriaca (Common milkweed)
o Asclepias cordifolia (Heartleaf milkweed)
- Use UC Integrated Pest Management as a resource: (https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html). If you use a pesticide, avoid broad spectrum pesticides, selecting a pesticide for the specific pest/disease, or choose one that is less toxic such as horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps. Be sure to follow instructions and apply in early morning or late evening when pollinators are unlikely to be present.
- Get involved in the annual western monarch Thanksgiving and New Year counts (https://www.westernmonarchcount.org/) and/or tagging monarchs to monitor their migration patterns (https://www.monarchwatch.org/tagging/)
What Will the Future Bring for the Western Monarch?
Only time will tell if their numbers will increase, but scientists say these efforts could help the western monarch population recover. By planting milkweed and native flowering plants in our gardens, we can be a part of this ongoing endeavor and hopefully be able to see more of these magnificent butterflies floating about in our gardens in the future.
To learn more about the life cycle and migration of the western monarch, read my article “Marvelous Monarchs” at https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=55249
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UCCE Master Gardener with Stanislaus County since 2020/h3>
- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
Why Are People Scared of Spiders?
One possible reason for people's fear of spiders is they are so different from the rest of nature, which Hollywood and the media have exploited.
Spiders are arachnids, a class of invertebrate creatures, which also includes mites, ticks and scorpions. Unlike insects, arachnids have eight or more legs, with two major body parts (insects have three), a fused head and thorax called the cephalothorax, and the abdomen.
Like mites, ticks and scorpions, most spiders are venomous, using venom to catch/kill their prey. However, the jaws of most spiders are too small to penetrate human skin. Only those spiders whose venom can cause a severe reaction are called “toxic” spiders.
Spiders in the World and California
Spiders have been around a long time – fossilized spiders have been found in 318-million-year-old rock. Today there are about 40,000 types of spiders in the world, on every continent except Antarctica. They range in size from a miniscule 0.02 inches (0.5 mm) to hairy tarantulas up to 3.5 inches (90 mm).
- California has quite a few tarantula species, none of which are venomous. They tend to be long-lived, and use silk to line their underground burrows.
- Orb weaver spiders are often large and colorful. Along with their distinctive, sizeable, elaborate webs they are easy to spot. Their venom is harmless to humans.
- Sheet web spiders are small brown spiders who build messy sheets of webbing, often on the ground. Their venom is harmless to humans.
- Cellar spiders, aka “daddy long legs” initially came from Europe, have long skinny legs, and often hang upside down. Their venom does not harm humans.
- Wolf spiders are free ranging predators who don't build webs and are harmless to humans.
Only four species of spiders in the world are really dangerous to humans: Sydney tunnel web spider (Australia), Brazilian wandering spider (Brazil), African sand spider, and widow spiders (global).
California's widow spider is the well-known adult female western Black widow (Latrodectus hesperus).
Their web is sticky, irregular and tough-stranded. During WWII widow silk was used to make the crosshairs in gunsights. Widespread in California, with as many as 20-30 per urban/suburban property, Black widows are found in the holes, crevices, trash, and clutter of human structures. Her distinctive shiny black body with a bright red hourglass on the underside of the abdomen is a warning signal to others which makes her easy to identify and thus avoid.
Misinformation on Spider Bites
Most spider bites cause no reaction or as much harm as a bee sting or mosquito bite. According to Spider Physiology and Behavior, Volume 41, there were only about 100 recorded deaths from spider bites globally during the entire 20th century! The last death by spider bite in California was in 1976 (due to septicemia). Other arthropod bites, including ticks, fleas, bees, wasps, bedbugs, mosquitoes, deer flies and horse flies, may be mistaken for spider bites.
A bite from black widow venom can cause fever, cramping muscle and joint aches, but it does not cause sores. But they are shy and reluctant to bite; when they do bite, it is often dry (no venom). On the rare occasion someone is injected with their venom, there is an effective antivenom available.
Brown Recluse Spiders
Spiders are extremely beneficial due to being important predators of pest species. They are often the most important biological control of pests in and around homes, yards, gardens and agriculture. It is estimated that spiders eat 800 million tons of bugs a year. According to Norman Platnick of New York's American Museum of Natural History, “Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests” and we could face famine.
I have always scooped up spiders I find in my home to carry them outside and will continue to do so. I am removing the spiders from my Halloween décor, since I do not want to continue misrepresenting these valuable creatures.
- UC Davis Dr. Lynn Kimsey's talk on spiders via UC IPM Urban & Community Webinars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6ExDP5wNVw
- UC IPM Natural Enemies Gallery https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/natural-enemies/spiders/
- UC IPM Quick Tips Card http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7442.html#SPIDER
- UC Riverside https://spiders.ucr.edu
You'll learn about butterflies in general, about monarchs, their life cycle, their incredible migration, the importance of nectar plants and milkweed to their survival, and how you can help these endangered butterflies. Free milkweed seed packets will be given to attendees! Use the link below to register.
Date: Saturday, October 15, 2022
Time: 9:00 am – 10:30 am
Where: Stanislaus Agricultural Center, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Harvest Hall Rooms D&E.
If you see this post and can't or forget to register, please come anyway!