We are fortunate in the Bay Area to be able to have decent-looking gardens in January. Using native plants as the bones of the garden helps.
This January has been a good one, with pretty steady rains but few sustained very strong storms.
This wasp, which I believe is Prionyx thomae (P. parkeri and P. canadensis are similar), seemed very interested in a flowering sedum. It appeared to be collecting nectar, though conceivably it was just watching for prey.
Fairly common in the western U.S. and south to Argentina, Prionyx thomae is a solitary wasp. The female kills prey such as grasshoppers by injecting them with venom, then carries the remains back to a nest where it can serve as a host for its offspring. Because the stinger is not barbed like that of a bee, it doesn’t break off in its victim, and the female can inflict multiple stings. (The male lacks a stinger entirely.)
If my insect identification skills were better I might be able to tell if this is a male or a female. Guidelines from Bohart, R.M., Menke, A.S., 1963, A Reclassification of the Sphecinae: With a Revision of the Nearctic Species of the Tribes Sceliphronini and Sphecini:
The female carries its prey, sometimes larger than itself, to a chamber it excavates at the end of a tunnel that it digs for the purpose, then lays its egg.
Bug Eric (my best source) describes such a wasp grappling with its grasshopper prey.
Many California native plants have been given unloving common names, and Peritoma arborea — best known as Bladderpod — counts among them. More blandly called Californea Cleome, it is notable for its unusual yellow flowers, which bloom year-round, and its globular fruits, which rattle when shaken. Native to Southern California and Baja California deserts, it is extremely drought tolerant, without turning gray or silver like many such plants, but instead remaining cheerfully green.
The fishing pier is a popular destination at Point Pinole, as are the eucalyptus forests and the bluff overlooking San Pablo Bay and the salt marshes. But the grassy meadow in the middle of it all is one of my favorite spots, and many types of birds agree. I think most of the grasses are nonnative but, especially at this time of year, they are attractive, particularly in the slanted rosy evening light. P6175346.
This fuschia plant was present on our property when we moved in. I don’t know what kind of fuschia it might be. It has suffered considerable neglect, yet has survived. It doesn’t seem susceptible to the mites that have devasted many Bay Area fuschias.*
Our native California Pipevine butterfly, Battus philenor, is a handsome swallowtail notable for its deep iridescent blue color decorated with orange and white polka dots. It favors coastal scrub and inland riparian areas, but essentially is found wherever the native California pipevine plant, Aristolochia californica (also known as Dutchman’s Pipe for its strangely shaped flowers) is found. It is the sole host plant for this butterfly, which is consequently entirely dependent upon it for survival.
Among many food plants is Jupiter’s Beard, Centranthus ruber, a volunteer in our garden, shown above and at the bottom of this post. All butterflies, of course, have host plants where eggs are laid and caterpillars develop, as well as food plants that are sources of nectar during the insect’s butterfly stage.
Swallowtails that feed on Aristolochia mainly live in the tropics. This one is a northern pioneer of the species. The host plant provides the insect with toxic aristolochic acids, and the distinctive color and markings announce the toxins’ presence to potential predators, who take note and look for more palatable prey.
It is said of the pipevine plant that in the first year it sleeps, in the second year it creeps, and in the third year it leaps. In favorable conditions, the vine can climb to the top of tall trees. But is also content to crawl along the ground if need be. Our pipevine, shown above, is in its second year.
Art Shapiro has an excellent page with more information on Battus philenor. Las Pilitas is a good place to read about Aristolochiua californica and other native plants.
Originally native to the arid southwest of North America, the resourceful house finch (Carpodocus mexicanus), is now found in every U.S. state. After nesting, the finches gather into sizable flocks — ours are particularly fond of hanging out in the Pineapple guava (Feijoa). They are attractive little birds with a pleasing sort of bebop jazzy song (performed by the male). You can listen to it at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
After many years, our aloe has started to flower. I would have said it was an aloe vera, but according to SFGate, those flowers are yellow.
The plant has got rather large, and it is in a large clay pot, I think 16 inches in diameter. Here’s a picture that was taken earlier this year.
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Our garden lies in what Sunset calls “one of Northern California’s finest horticultural climates.” We are located in an area of wet mild winters and dry mild summers — a Mediterranean climate zone. It’s a region with unique challenges and opportunities. I love gardening here.
Approaches to gardening are strongly determined by scale. Our garden is a small family garden. Its core was formerly a swimming pool. Often we might be growing just a single plant in a container, or a handful of plants, where a larger-scale gardening operation might be planting long rows of crops. Over time we have adjusted to find the right balance for our home garden.
All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even
Watch it sprout.
A mind like compost.
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