Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog action day: the environment

Today is blog action day and this year's issue is the environment. This blog is on color perception, so I should write about the visual perception of the environment. However, I am not working on complex color and have nothing new and original to write on this. I could brag about all the things HP does for the environment, but you can read that on our Global Citizenship Report site. Instead, I will do something completely different…

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett were lifelong environmentalists, who bought quite a bit of land for conservation. They even instituted a large well equiped park in the Santa Cruz mountains so employees and their families can enjoy nature. And they really enjoyed inviting all employees to BBQs in their parks.

In particular, Bill Hewlett has a lifelong interest in nature. He has photographed and cataloged hundreds of flowers over the years. A decade ago I asked him to send me a few of his favorites. What I got are photos of some of the most beautiful wildflowers of the Western United States.

My contribution to blog action day is to share these photos and let you reflect on nature's beauty.

Rosa Californica

California Wild Rose Rosa Californica

Wild rose is one of less than a dozen species of Rose native to California where it occurs in moist sites below 1800 meters mostly west of the Sierra Nevada. The flowers of this species have been used for perfume, jelly, candy, and tea. The hip, or mature fruit rivals oranges for its vitamin C content. Upon removal of the seeds, the small apple-like hips can also be used for making tea or jelly.

Mentzelia Lindleyi

Blazing Star Mentzelia Lindleyi

As might be inferred by the common name, this plant produces flowers of a rich golden color. The silky textured petals expand to expose the many stamens that stand upright to form a large tuft in the center of the flower that brushes insect visitors with a generous supply of pollen. Plants of Blazing Star are covered with barbed hairs that cause them to cling to whatever they come in contact with. These plants grow on rocky slopes, coastal scrub, and oak/pine woodlands in California typically at elevations below 800 meters.

Epipactis Gigantea

Stream Orchid Epipactis Gigantea

Because of its wide distribution in California and western North America generally and its ability to tolerate a wide range of habitats from near sea level to 2600 meters in the mountains, the stream orchid has avoided the threats that so many of its relatives are up against worldwide. This orchid attracts pollinators by mimicking their food choices without providing a true reward. It is pollinated by syrphid flies that are attracted by a floral odor that mimics the "honeydew" fragrance given off by aphids, but the aphids are nowhere to be found in the flowers of this orchid.

Achillea Millefolium

Yarrow Achillea Millefolium

Yarrow is widely distributed in most countries of the northern hemisphere. Its finely divided fernlike leaves and flat-topped or umbrella-like clusters of flowers make it one of the easiest members of the sunflower family to identify. Its dried leaves which are occasionally used in tea have a mint-like flavor. This plant is probably best known for its medicinal properties. Achilles, for whom the genus is named, evidently used extracts from this species to treat the wounds of his soldiers in the battle of Troy. It avoids the deserts of California but is otherwise common in many habitats below 3500 meters.

Triteleia Laxa

Ithuriel's Spear Triteleia Laxa

The blue to blue-purple flowers of Ithuriel's spear can add dazzling color to the California landscape in years with good winter rainfall. The corms which can be eaten raw or cooked were a favorite food of early California Indians. Ithuriel was an angel in Milton's Paradise Lost who found Satan squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve, and transformed him by a touch of his spear to his proper form.

Papaver Nudicaule

Iceland Poppy Papaver Nudicaule

Iceland Poppy, originally described from Siberia is a widespread species of arctic regions of North America and Eurasia where it is one of the commonest yet most colorful wildflowers. The silky petals range in color from yellow, white, pinkish-coral, and orange. It is best known in California because it is a favorite garden plant in the cool coastal climate of the Pacific states. Each flower which measures 10-12 cm (4-5 inches) across is borne on wiry stems. They make superb cut flowers lasting up to a week if the flowers are cut in bud and the stalk tip scalded in boiling water before being placed in a vase.

Tragopogon Porrifolius

Oyster Plant Tragopogon Porrifolius

Oyster Plant, a close relative of Chicory, is distinctive because of its narrow grass-like leaves, dull lilac or purple flower heads, and milky sap. In Mediterranean Europe where this plant is native, the young green shoots are added to salads. It is also cultivated for the swollen fleshy rootstock that is cooked and said to have the flavor of oysters. In California, where this plant is introduced, it is a widespread weed of waste places largely unappreciated for its culinary virtues.

Bill's Blooming Hobby

Visitors to a select private Northern California campground have a unique tool for identifying the trees and flowers they see — an album of photographs and copies of identifying leaves assembled by Bill Hewlett. For nearly 50 years, Bill has been studying the plants and trees in all the places where he has spent time. An avid outdoorsman all his life, Bill's career as a part-time naturalist was sparked when the Army stationed Bill and his late wife, Flora, in Washington D.C. during World War II. On one of their frequent visits to Rock Creek Park, he realized that he didn't recognize any of the trees in the area. And when he returned to California, he realized he didn't know much about the trees and flowers here, either.

After reading to acquire a background in botany, he was soon photographing and identifying the trees and wildflowers he saw on camping, hiking, mountain climbing, and fishing trips. Over the years, his collection of photographs has grown to more than 400 different trees and flowers, from areas as diverse as the Santa Cruz and Sierra mountains of California, the American Great Plains, and the mountains of Europe.

Among his favorites from all the beautiful flowers he has photographed are those with the common name Mariposa, including the White Mariposa (Calochortus venustus). The name ties these flowers to the butterflies and Sequoia groves in the foothills and mountains of Mariposa County in eastern California.

The dream of every naturalist, amateur or professional, is to discover an as yet unnamed flower or plant and bring it to the attention of the scientific community. While this has not happened in Bill's years as a naturalist, he still enjoys the challenge of making a difficult identification.

"It is not too hard to make an educated guess as to the genus," he said. "It is the species that is difficult, but the average person is not interested in whether it is an 'Iris douglandiana' or an 'Iris macrosiphon.' Except for the expert, it is sufficient to know that it is an 'Iris.' But there is a challenge to try and find out the species. It is the difference between a job well done and a job half done."

And, as he notes happily, "there will always be new plants to identify."

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