July 8, 2011
Today was our second day of species collection with Sarah! We had such an awesome time working with her last week, we were excited to continue our work today. We began at the borrow pit (an area where soil is mined and deposited for various purposes) where we had left off the previous Friday. One of the coolest plant species I have encountered on this island lives in this borrow pit. It is South African native succulent part of a genus called Mesembryanthemum and it is beautiful! The plant grows low to the ground and in wide patches. Because it is a succulent, this ice plant is great at living in dry conditions and has adaptations that allow it to store water in its tissues. This trait manifests itself as tiny water droplet like structures that surround the plants stems. When they catch sunlight, the plant glitters! It is really neat, and its no wonder this plant is cultivated for ornamental purposes.
One of the things that I have learned working on this island is that invasive plants aren’t bad or even necessarily ugly, they simply just don’t belong. Despite this plants beauty, it has some gnarly effects on the ecosystem. The ice plant has the ability to concentrate salt within its tissues (which also aids with water absorption). When the ice plant drops its leaves, it concentrates salts in the soil. Many plants cannot grow in this salty environment, so the iceplant can essentially take over once it establishes. As we continued our survey we identified two types of invasive Mesembryanthemum along the trail, Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum and Mesembryanthemum crystallinum. We haven’t discussed the removal of invasives other than fennel along the trail, so I can’t speak to the fate of these ice plants, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss them. They are just that beautiful! I guess I will have to move to South Africa to have some in my yard.
As our identification work continued, we moved to from the Bird Rock lookout point to the Picnic oak. Right past the oaks, we collected one of the trail’s three endemics, the Catalina bedstraw or Gallium nutalium. We continued up the trail, still in the Island chaparral and grassland type plant community, past the fenceline up to a unique looking tree. It has beige bark that peels away to reveal a bright burnt umber interior. As it turns out, this tree is quite special. It is a Xyloccocus bicolor or mission manzanita, a tree native only to Southern California and Northern Baja. I think it is so cool we found such a rare plant along our trail! We carefully collected fruit and leaves from this tree, placed some more species in the press and continued towards the top of the trail.
Near the top, we collected some more unique plants: the Catalina chrososoma, the Island redberry, and Indian paintbrush. I remember reading The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola as a child, and since then it has been an iconic representation of Native American culture to me. It was neat to see Indian paintbrush in the wild, especially since I wouldn’t expect to see it on Catalina.
We finally made it to the top and with 40 species samples! I was so impressed by the diversity of the plant community in this area, I would never have guessed there were so many different kinds of plants. It also goes to show how important preventing a fennel take over is; there are too many species on this trail at risk. I hope we protect this area and can highlight all of these unique plants along our trail so others can see them!
For more pictures, check out today’s photo album: Day 27 Plant Collection with Sarah