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Archive for February, 2015

Thursday 19 February 2015 – Anza Borrego again

Why on earth would I go back to a place that I had visited so often? Well, because a review of previous visits revealed that there were still two species – one Mammillaria and one Dudleya that had somehow escaped my camera – Mammillaria tetrancistra and Dudley saxosa to be precise. The second reason of course is that we would pass Santa Ysabella where the Julian Pie Company serves up their excellent Apple Pie and may even sell you a whole one to have a second helping when you get home. Sadly we had completely run out of Apple Pie at Eunice’s kitchen.
Eunice had looked up location data on the on-line Jepson database from which I had made up entries on Google Earth, both for San Diego County (in and around Anza Borrego) and San Bernardino (in and around San Bernardino Co = Mojave State Park).
I selected just three locations from Google Earth based : a) on date, I did not want to check data reported in 1920 if there were locations available from 2009 b) on location: Anza Borrego is large and it would take several days to visit all spots. So I picked the first three along the 78 from Santa Ysabella (where a peach and apple frozen pie was purchased plus a slice of Apple-Dutch for lunch) and on to the first stop (data from 2009).
We pulled up in the first lay by after the location marker on SatNav, nearly a mile on (S3252). Lots of Echinocereus engelmannii here, clearly ready for the new season after having enjoyed some rain, but no obvious signs of buds yet, although based on previous visits, I expect them to be in full flower in a months time. There were also lots of Cylindropuntia, C. ganderi, not the prettiest in the genus. And finally, found by Eunice, a four headed plant that could be M. tetrancistra, but I’ve been caught out by look-alikes before elsewhere. How many central spines? 3-4? Difficult to tell, at least 2-3 dark spines per areole, but there were ‘invisible spines, that suddenly became visible when viewed from another angle. No flowers, but then it was too early for most other cacti to flower. I’ve learned since that this taxon has a different flowering season to the other cacti in the Park, waiting to the monsoon season in August, in Arizona before producing its flowers.
We went back to the actual location coordinates (S3253) and were able to park off the asphalt on the other side of the road. There was an outcrop of granite-like stone that had a number of Ferocactus cylindraceus growing on it, as well as all the cacti previously spotted. I walked up to the largest Ferro and found the first Mam. consistent with those found at the first stop. I wanted to take a shot of a group of young, still globular F. cylindraceus plants, but old enough to be full of yellow buds. I slid down the hillside to get a better angle and slid past three more M. tetrancistra and the first Dudleya saxosa, then a second and a third. I called Eunice over who found another growing almost in a clump of Echinocereus engelmannii, so success on finding both of today’s target plants. So why am I now confidently calling our find Mammillaria tetrancistra? Because just as I was about to cross the road on my way back to the car, Eunice called me back as she had found a plant in fruit with the characteristic large seeds inside.
We took a look at the second location (S3254), but this dated back to 1928. Earlier we had turned on the old, now out of use, CA78 and this had been narrower road – probably the 1928 version was little more than a track. Today’s main road had no space to pull over and was flanked by steep hillsides. Time was ticking on and if there were plants here, they would be in deep shade.
It was a good three hours drive back with the last hour in the dark, which Eunice did. After feeding Bosco (and my first attempt at a report) we went for dinner, again at the Lazy Dog restaurant which serves and excellent ‘Cadillac’ Margarita with a range of burgers and steak. It had become a regular place for dinner, outside, although tonight with the welcome help of an overhead heater.
Eunice had suggested a visit to one of the off-shore islands to look at some endemic Dudleya for Sunday, but the forecast suggests a drop in temperatures to 11C and a 50% chance of rain. We’ll see.
Early start tomorrow for a visit to Jürgen Menzel in the morning and to Steve Hammer in the afternoon.

Tuesday 17 February – rest day

With Eunice spending the whole day at photo school, there was plenty of time to bring the Cactus Trip Diaries up to date in front of the telly, with a first close look at Werner Rauh’s Succulent and Xerophytic plants of Madagascar book.

Madagascar is slowly creeping higher on my wish list of plants to see and photograph in nature.

Nothing else to report.

Sunday 15 February 2015 – Searching for Dudleya

As last Sunday, Eunice was occupied with church during the morning, so I had a nice relaxing time googling for information on pottery matters after acquiring pots at San Gabriel’s CSS meeting and at the San Diego Sales yesterday. If they were not so heavy and potentially fragile, I’d buy some more at the two presentations yet to do, or….. find potters with similar products in the UK or …….. discover how to make them myself.
The only flower pots for sale in the UK and found in the top 20 Google pages were for mass produced pots in garden centres and general stores. So, I need to make some visits to craft markets once I’m back in the UK. Then I remembered that Angie used to go to pottery classes before we met, some 15 years ago. Are there pottery classes in Amesbury?
After a slice of Apple Pie and cinnamon ice cream, we went to the coast where Eunice wanted two show me some more Dudleya, D. stolonifera. It turned out to be a bit of a disaster. As we approached the coast, our average speed reduced to around 15 mph as others also wanted to see the sea and the sun.
The first spot was an old Reid Moran spot that is now a ‘wilderness site’ with so many negative signs: no dogs, no smoking, no trespassing off the track, no enjoying yourselves etc etc that I suggested moving on to an alternative site. The only sign that was missing was ‘no photography’. But I bet that if we had seen any of the plants, say, growing five feet away from the track, it would have been impossible to have taken the pictures we wanted without breaking the law. Reid Moran, you were very lucky to have seen them when you did!
Rather than persevere in this unwelcoming environment (no doubt necessary in this densely populated part of the world) we decided to get back to the car park (US$2 car park charge) and move on the spot #2. This was at a golf course and Eunice had last been here some seven years ago. A lot had changed. There were building works going on at the small car park where we should have parked, had it not been for the ‘no parking’ signs due to the building work in progress (although not during President’s Weekend). They were rebuilding the bridge we would have had to cross and the hillside where the plants were expected to grow was in deep shade, not the best for photography. As we got back on the coast road, the camanchaca was coming in – just like in Chile. Dudleya are definitely ‘fog zone’ plants.
On the way home we stopped off at a REI, a large leisure wear shop with everything from hiking to cycling to mountaineering to water sports gear. I’m looking for a suitable bag to bring the pots and books home – not really a sport, and although some bags would have done the job, at the prices on the ticket, I prefer to take a look at Costco’s another day.
We had a Chinese at Ming in Bellflower before I was fighting my eye lids around 9.

Saturday 14 February 2015 – San Diego Show & Sales

What a lot of festivities! Today is Valentine’s Day and we’re in the middle of President’s Weekend, with yesterday a federal holiday to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and again on Monday for George Washington’s  birthday that both fall in February.

Perhaps the weekend should be renamed Car Day, as it seemed that everybody was on the road – not necessarily moving but certainly on the road.

We had another great day, although tiring – I must be getting old! We left at 6 a.m. to be at San Diego’s Balboa Park around 8, to find a car park space near the sales’ hall and the show display. Balboa Park is an urban recreational park that in addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths, contains museums, several theatres, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. There are also many recreational facilities and several gift shops and restaurants within the boundaries of the park. Placed in reserve in 1835, the park’s site is one of the oldest in the United States, dedicated to public recreational use. Balboa Park is managed and maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of San Diego.Named for the Spanish maritime explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the park hosted the 1915–16 and 1935-36 Panama–California Expositions that both left architectural landmarks. (quoted from Wikipedia). In 2008 I arrived to give my talk around 14:00, to find it impossible to park, eventually finding a spot 30 minutes walk away (uphill, in the heat).With some 500 members, everything is very well organised, with UK-like queues at the entrance to the sales hall; quite unlike Friday afternoon at the annual ELK 3 day C&S festival in Belgium. San Diego Members were allowed in at 9:00, general public at 10:00, so we found a restaurant to have a coffee and an oatmeal cookie.

The plant sales hall again had a very orderly queue going all round a hall, about half the size of the large hall at ELK. Were these people buying plants? Where were the salesmen, here known as vendors? Well, all items for sale have to be labelled by the vendors with their own price labels that state the price (excl. Purchase tax of course) and a barcode. The queue was heading to the 3-4 check-outs where teams of 2-3 people  per till processed the purchases, one recorded the purchases, a second did any wrapping – lots of card board boxes availabl – while the third processed plastic card payments. Two more volunteers were at the front of the queue and ensured that buyers were directed once a till was ready. Very organised, but with some 500 members, there was no shortage of volunteers.

On the whole there was a nice selection of plants of all sizes, with large plants and other succulents making up the majority. There were few rarities, with Juergen Menzel as the specialist with the ‘rare’ plants (of which there are more at ELK) so not surprising that all his plants had gone by the time that the general public were allowed in. Becoming a member is difinitely worth it if you are after rare plants, so you can get in early and enjoy the snacks and drinks from the kitchen next door.

I felt a bit like a celebrity with many people I had never met wanting to talk to me, plus lots of old friends: Woody, Juergen, Steve & Phyllis Frieze,  Mark Fryer, Todd (who had travelled with Eunice, Cliff & I to Kingston Peak in 2009 etc.).  The images and film clips from the new camera / lens are fantastic! I’ll do a similar shoot at ELK this year.

Then on to the show, which was outside (sunny, 26 C) covered with a Gazebo, roof only, to protect plants from the sun. Some plants were on the outside edge and did get some sun so that the high contrast made photography difficult. Fantastic pots and displays and, as I could not buy plants, I (stupidly ?) bought some pots, to pot up table show plants for Portsmouth and Southampton table show and displays, just to show what they do in the US. It really makes for a much more impressive display. Good job that my hold  luggage weighed in at just 12 kg. Then Chuck ( =  Californian Keith Larkin) had the 2 volumes of Madagascar books by Werner Rauch at half price. Now they ARE heavy, but will come as hand luggage if need be. Tomorrow I need to go shopping for another hand luggage flight case on wheels!

By mid day there was still no sign of Pete & Rhonda, our hosts from Las Vegas who were on a 5 hour drive from home to enjoy a Valentine Day’s weekend on the coast. They arrived about 12:30, by which time I was dead tired of having been on my feet since 8, with my back causing pain as vertebrae became compressed. Visit to the doc when I get home, as this happens too frequently and interferes with my exercise regime recommended for my diabetes, cholesterol and general health.

We joined the river of steel i.e. the I-5, back to LA and arrived just after 4 (ET driving, me sleeping) where ET raced straight out again to the dog-park, while I did emails, with the BBC World News on.

It’ll be interesting to see how my UK presentations, What I Saw Last Winter, map out – pt 1 will be Mexico 2014, Ariocarpus in Flower, while pt 2 is an over view of talks in Australia, California and Nevada, mixed with pictures of plants in habitat in between. Doubt if anyone has done anything like that before. Hope it will be of interest to the audiences.
Woody asked me to reserve August 2016 for a 2 week trip to the Atacama Desert, with c 12 fellow travellers. I’ll set out a potential itinerary and do a dry run this year, so UK talks for August 2016 will be cancelled.

pots in display class at the show

pots in display class at the show

Friday 13 February 2015 – Anza Borrego

Ocotillo tree (Fouquieria splendens) in leaf, a sign of recent rains in this otherwise barren landscape

Ocotillo tree (Fouquieria splendens) in leaf, a sign of recent rains in this otherwise barren landscape, just north of the settlement of Ocotillo.

Today we enjoyed our annual outing to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, part of the Colorado Desert.

There were three of us today as Eunice had invited Ken Shaw from the Long Beach and San Gabriel Clubs to come along as well.

After Eunice had destroyed her sunglasses we set off along the I-5 towards San Diego then headed east along the I-8 to Ocotillo, past the café where a few year’s back we had an awful breakfast with freshly defrosted out-of-date orange juice. At least we were not charged for it after we complained!

There have been some major changes here since Angie and I passed by a year ago, with some 100 wind turbines now turning along the skyline. There was brand new asphalt until we had passed through the wind farm, presumably paid for by the construction company.

The usual check point by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service was still there and quickly cleared us after seeing my Dutch passport. 

I guess that we’ve travelled through Anza Borrego at least once a year since 2008, usually in February, when the field flowers are just breaking into flower, followed by the majority of cactus species some two weeks later in March.

Rather than listing each stop, I’ve filed my images under two stops – those in the lower desert are under S3245 with Ferocactus cylindraceus with its yellow flowers in full bloom with buds indicating that there is more to come.

Early flowers on Ferocactus cylindraceus (S3245)

Early flowers on Ferocactus cylindraceus (S3245)

Although we do not intentionally collect cacti, it is impossible to walk between the Feros and not pick up some cladodes of Cylindropuntia bigelovii, the Teddy Bear Cholla. Yes, they look cuddly, but stay clear as they jump on to your shoes and trouser legs. Check your clothes and boots before you get back into the car!

The Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) in a desert landscape.

The Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) in a desert landscape. (S3245)

The next stop, S3246 was in the hills that overlook the lower desert, where in the past Echinocereus engelmannii and Opuntia basilaris delighted us with their flowers, but this time they were still in early bud. However, the Dudleya pulverulenta subspecies arizonica were in great form, growing on the rocky cuttings right alongside the road.

Dudleya pulverulenta subsp. arizonica growing far away from the usually coastal Dudleya locations.

Dudleya pulverulenta subsp. arizonica growing far away from the usually coastal Dudleya locations.

Since 2008, it has become a tradition to stop off at the Julian Pie Company in Santa Ysabel, right along Hwy-79 for a helping of Dutch Apple Pie with cinnamon ice cream, yum-yum! So good in fact that we decided to bring a whole pie and a pot of ice cream back home as a souvenir that won’t last too long.

I think that Ken was impressed with our laid back approach to cactus exploring. We now also have a wonderful cake shop, right on the Vallenar crossroads, if you ignore the new dual carriage way and take the old road instead.

I should mention that Ken was a champion guitar picker in the 1981 picker’s fare in Julian. I wish I had been a fly on the wall!

And so another Friday 13th passed without incident, apart from heavier than usual rush hour traffic despite the fact that today was a holiday. Tomorrow we go to the San Diego Cactus Show and Sale.

Thursday 12 February 2015 – Huntington BG and San Gabriel CSS

Today was Huntington day and hot.  Eunice had been set a project by one of her classes that told a story, and had decided that ‘Paul visits the Huntington’ was one option, so I was told where to stand, how to look etc. So this is what a Hollywood movie star feels like, with a bossy Director!
Nice to meet up with Karen Zimmerman again, after our talks at the Australian Convention in Brisbane in 2014 and to see her Aloe hybrids. Then, after lunch, ET commandeered me round the cactus garden.
Testing the D600 was not as easy as I thought, as they had installed the latest firmware on it as part of the full service. That meant that all my settings had gone, even the diopter adjustment to the eyepiece had been set to 0, so it seemed a completely strange (new?) camera with everything looking out of focus through the viewfinder. We didn’t have all day to reset my settings, after spending too much time chatting with Karen. So I managed just some six test images and they look fine on my small laptop.
Because I have taken my telephoto zoom lenses around on previous occasions, I was determined to shoot most images on the D750 with the wide-angle lens, to produce ‘something different’.
I was glad that Eunice drove to our next destination as I was tired after walking in the hot sun – still acclimatizing. They had closed off the freeway home without notice for road repairs, but we still arrived in good time for my presentation at the San Gabriel CSS, the largest of the bunch yet, with seating for an audience estimated at 180 set up. The mini show, plant and pot sales and the snacks and refreshment table were equally impressive, comparable to one of the larger zone conventions in the UK.

Again,  lots of nice people in the audience. One guy came over and introduced himself as Peter Sharp from Worcester Park, Surrey. He had been a friend and colleague both at work and at C&S clubs in the UK of Bill Maddams, who had recently passed away quite suddenly. He was wearing a T shirt showing off Echinocereus sharpii (not easy in UK cultivation!). He was the Mr Sharp that had discovered the plant!!!
Gunnar Eisel introduced me and Buck Hemenway was back after another trip to South Africa.
Unable to buy plants to bring back home, I bought my first two (smallish) ornamental pots as used in US shows, one from Rosanna Barella, originally from Mexico (with her husband carrying the plants in and out and counting the money). I took her picture at her stand and said she would now be in my ‘What I Saw Last Winter’ presentations in the UK and joked that by buying her pot, I was now her UK Agent. I don’t think that she was used to such a surprise.
The second pot came from a Japanese / Chinese / Korean lady and I have her picture as well. If any reader can provide her name I’ll update this page with it.
The talk seemed to go down well again, despite a sometimes problemetical PA system.
Ken from the Long Beach Branch (#1 presentation) liked it so much that he had come for a second viewing. Jim Hanna, with plant sales, must have liked it even better as this was his fourth attendance! I suggested that I’d just show the pictures and he could do the talking, so overcoming any language difference.
Ken had heard that we were going to Anza Borrego the next day and was interested in coming along.  Sure, we’ll take Elsie (Eunice’s car, a Land Cruiser, initials LC).
Another fun (but longish) day. No time for today’s Diaries before my eyes shut.

Wednesday 11 February 2015 – Bakersfield to Bellflower

Not much to report, certainly not plant wise. Plus it seems that I took no images today to help me. So, from memory, I left Bakersfield at about 10:45 and around noon saw a Denny’s along the road – time for lunch.

I decided to drive past Nikon Services to see if my camera was repaired – it had been shown in ‘Billing’ on the on-line tracking service for two days and as the cost was shown as $0.00, it had to be ready for collection. And it was! Hooray!

And that was that.

Tuesday 10 February 2015 – Bakersfield CSS

It was a full back to school day for Eunice, so after a relaxed start to the day I set off for a leisurely drive to Bakersfield – the first part through hills, the second part through flat agriculturally developed land.

Maynard Moe of Bakersfield CSS had kindly arranged accommodation in the local Travel Lodge, within a few minutes drive of a restaurant where I would meet a number of members for a pre-meeting bite to eat, before another short drive to the hall.

With some 24 members in attendance this was probably the smallest CSS to date, but everyone was very friendly and appreciative of the talk. In the UK I once gave a presentation to six people in one of the member’s living room and that too was enjoyable!

Just as in England, there have been few questions after presentations, but this time I was asked why I had not mentioned the Tule Fog for which the area is famous. I had to admit my ignorance on the subject, but back at the hotel, Wikipedia soon provided the answers.

The three fog deserts featured in my program were all coastal deserts, around the dry tropics of Cancer and Capricorne, with a large and diverse selection of cacti and other succulent plants. The area around Bakersfield is also a desert but is inland and a good deal to the north of the tropics. Rather than coastal fog, the phenomenon here is radiation fog. I was surprised that Kernel County was indeed in a Desert, perhaps because it looks unusually green, but that is probably due to recent rains and irrigation of the agriculture that I saw either side of the 99.

I always think that a presentation is a waste of time if you don’t learn something new, I learn more as I go along, including that many attendants have been many times to South Africa and Namibia and have grown plants from this area much more than I have. Another, shorter trip to RSA is certainly on my wish list.

Maynard sent me another email with details about the local desert, with pictures of the Monvero dunes with named plants in flower that I’ll have to loo0k up to see if they classify as ‘succulent’. Thank you Maynard!

Monday 9 February 2015 – Around Bellflower

For me a relaxed, easy day, without any plant photography to report.

During the morning Eunice needed to take her rental car back which involved a thorough clean inside and out. Eunice needed to attend her photography classes in the afternoon, so an opportunity for me to catch up, in rather random fashion, with some of the holes in the Cactus Trip Diaries.

Tomorrow is another school day for Eunice and I’ll be driving at my leisure to Bakersfield for another talk.

Sunday 8 February 2015 – South Coast Cactus & Succulent Society meeting

We set off in good time to arrive early at the South Coast Botanic Garden where the C&S Society meet, but due to everyone rushing to the coast to enjoy the sun and my overly cautious driving (according to Eunice) we arrived at 13:03, still in good time to set up and shake hands with the Officers and with folk that I had met at other meetings during the week. There must have been some 80 members, who had given up a day in the sun to sit in a darkened hall and listen to a presentation called FOG, when this phenomenon is something that they are already very familiar with as they often wake up to it – as we did during the last week.

Setting up my laptop was quick and easy and the projector provided by the Society was already placed at the correct distance from the screen so it was just a matter of plugging in the VGA cable. There was a short wait so that I could take a quick look at the monthly mini show that consisted of plants in the genus Astrophytum and Euphorbias in the caput-medusae group. When I returned for President Dale La Forest’s introduction, the laptop had gone to sleep and only woke up after several attempts. Fortunately it came back to life just in time!

After the talk there was the judging of the plants. There were classes for novices, beginners, intermediate and expert growers and as at all talks to date, the exhibits were of a high standard including the attractive pots that did help me to separate plants that might otherwise have been in dead-heats. In the UK it tends to be the plant that is judged while pots are ignored, except where their size is inappropriate for the size of the plant. Particularly for new members and visitors – the very people that you would like to return on a regular basis – great plants in attractive pots with attention paid to their display are the perfect way to persuade them back. The perfect show window for the hobby.

Jim Hannah was there again, selling plants. This was the fourth time that he had seen my talk as all Societies have chosen the FOG talk from the subjects on offer. We would meet again in the week to come at the meeting of the San Gabriel CSS and I suggested that I’d bring the images while he could present the commentary. Only joking, Jim!

Eunice and I left the meeting early while the members continued with regular club business.

The South Coast CSS meet on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in LA County, a wealthy suburb right out on the Ocean shore, opposite Santa Catalina Island, where in February 2008 Eunice had introduced me to Dudleya, a genus in the Family Crassulaceae that are found all along the Californian coast, right up to (and across) the border with Oregon and south into Baja California. I planned to see these plants again, hoping that, with different cameras and lenses, I could improve on the pictures taken back in 2008. It turned out that a sunny Sunday afternoon was not the best time for this exercise with the car parks along the boulevard were full up, with more cars waiting. Eventually we found a slot to park, but a group of ten young guys hanging around made us a little concerned about leaving our car with computer laptops and, most importantly, the data stored on them. So we took some scenic pictures in front of the car before going home to pick up Eunice’s dog, Bosco for an outing to the Dogspark at Seals Beach. My visit had distracted Eunice from taking Bosco for regular visits where both dogs and humans meet for a bit of socialising – a wonderful community atmosphere, without the mess that I had anticipated, due to the conscientious tidying up of dog litter by their owners. The sun was about to set as we arrived and had gone altogether by the time we left – it had gotten so dark that we could no longer see the dogs!

We’ll return to Palos Verdes during a weekday, when there will be fewer visitors.

To end the day we went to the Naples Rib Company. It was my first experience of a car park with Valet service where a member of staff takes your car for safe parking. Bosco stayed in the car. After a great meal of Prime Rib, a proper Chilean Pisco Sour as a starter and no space left for a sweet it was back to the car park where Bosco showed that he was a good guard dog, needing Eunice to reassure him that it was OK for the valet to get into the car and pull it forward for us to get in.