House Finch Invasion

I was standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes and looked out at an amazing sight. There were literally dozens of chirpy birds invading my garden, SO MANY I couldn’t even count them all.

They’re easy to identify as House Finches.

According to AllAboutBirds.org,  If House Finches discover your feeders, they might bring flocks of fifty or more birds with them. They did!

I no longer have feeders because of my arch nemeses, RATS, so what they’re feasting on here is actually an invasive species, a Brazilian Pepper tree that somehow sprouted into the neighbor’s yard and they didn’t get rid of it like we did.

The House Finch is a recent introduction from western into eastern North America (and Hawaii). Males boast cheerful red breasts and their distinctive long, twittering song.

The House Finch was originally a bird of the western United States and Mexico. In 1940 a small number of finches were turned loose on Long Island, New York, after failed attempts to sell them as cage birds (“Hollywood finches”). They quickly started breeding and spread across almost all of the eastern United States and southern Canada within the next fifty years.

There’s no way I could capture as many as there are, but I’d say definitely more than fifty of these lovely red breasted birds are visiting Casa de Enchanted Seashells.

The red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt (birds can’t make bright red or yellow colors directly). So the more pigment in the food, the redder the male.

This makes sense because they’re eating red berries from the pepper tree.

They stayed for about an hour, saturating my world with their most delightful song and chirpy calls to friends and family. Every tree in the garden is full of these guys as well the rosemary and lavender bushes.

I’ve never seen anything like this. For me, It’s as exciting as spotting a pod of whales or dolphin. I’m grateful they chose my garden to visit. Pure joy!

Sticks on Fire

On an early morning walk before the rain started (yes, we’re getting more sky water!), I spied this colorfully striking succulent.

Sticks on Fire, sometimes called Firesticks (Euphorbia tirucalli), is a shrubby succulent with bright red, pink, orange, or yellow stems.

The more sun it gets, the more ‘fiery’ it appears. The sap of this plant is sticky/milky and may cause irritation to skin as there are mild toxins.  

Many succulents in the euphorbia genus, such as the pencil cactus and crown of thorns, are also poisonous to both cats and dogs. Symptoms of poisoning from ingesting this succulent range from gastrointestinal upset to skin and eye irritation.

I made it home just in time! That’s not a speck on your screen, it’s an airplane heading to our local airport.

In The Garden: Cape Honeysuckle

After a few very rainy days, it’s dry for a while until the next storm appears. I see a bit of blue sky as the contrasting backdrop to my Cape Honeysuckle trained to climb over an arbor.

The sweet nectar of its orange-red flowers attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

The Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) produces long, thin elongated fruit capsules that contain numerous seeds easily dispersed by the wind. 

It’s easy to propagate from a cutting, so I have lots of them growing in different parts of the garden.

Yup, there’s a lot going on in this photo; a path leading to a pond, the arbor of Cape Honeysuckle and Peppermint-Striped Climbing Roses, and a giant Bird of Paradise.

Everything needs some major work, but it’s a labor of love.

#WordlessWednesday

Battered, Bruised, and Beautiful

While other parts of the country feel the effects of a brutal winter storm, it’s sunny and relatively warm in SoCal.

Relatively, because I’m freezing even though it was in the mid-sixties today. I’m in a coat, scarf, and beanie. As much as I love to be outside, I HATE to feel cold.

This courageous Mourning Cloak butterfly savors the rays of the afternoon sun on a random soccer ball just before the coastal fog rolled in.

Mourning Cloaks live longer than most butterflies—ten months or more— so I hope this one finds a sheltered spot during next week’s forecasted rainy weather.

Battered, bruised, but still beautiful, and glorious to behold as she warms her wings.

Passionflower

I wish I knew why this passionflower vine stopped growing; it’s one of my favorites.

Did you know that passionflower offers healing properties? I’ve never tried it, but according to Dr. Andrew Weil, passionflower is used for stress reduction, calming without sedation, and overcoming insomnia when combined with other calming herbs such as valerian and lemon balm.

Studies suggest that passionflower may reduce anxiety in patients undergoing surgery. Another study found that passionflower had similar affects as an anti-anxiety medication in reducing general anxiety. The properties in passionflower are thought to promote calming effects by increasing the levels of the chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which reduces the activity of some neurons that cause anxiety.

Disclaimer: DO NOT take passionflower if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. For others, passionflower is generally considered to be safe and nontoxic in recommended doses and for less than two months at a time.

Deception

Don’t let these gently flowing fronds in this photo deceive you.

Pampas grass is invasive and chokes out the growth of beneficial California native plants. This out of control stand of grass invaded all the scorched earth from the big fire in Carlsbad almost two years ago. Visit the link for that post: https://enchantedseashells.com/2021/01/20/fire-in-carlsbad/

Interesting fact: Pampas grass is not illegal in the United States, though it is illegal in Australia and carries a $10,000 fine.

Pampas grass is a quickly growing grass that forms massive clumps along roadsides, steep cliffs, river banks, and open areas that have been disturbed by human activities or natural disturbances. Introduced to Santa Barbara, California in 1848 by nursery operators, pampas grass has spread all over the state, threatening native plants and the animals that rely on them.

An individual pampas grass stand can produce millions of seeds annually that travel several miles, and because these grasses are very tolerant of intense sunlight, drought, and frost, they are very efficient at establishing in many habitat types. Due to the fact that pampas grass can live over a decade, it has become a favorable plant for people to grow in their gardens.

Invasive plants such as pampas grass displace native plants and create habitats that are lower in biodiversity. Furthermore, pampas grass has leaf blades that are highly undesirable as food or shelter to birds and other wildlife, and can actually cause physical harm to those animals, including humans, because the leaves are extremely sharp. Therefore, it is important that we do our part by not planting pampas grass in our gardens, but instead plant native plants that are comparably beautiful and provide the same utility.

Native Alternative: Giant Wildrye (Elymus condensatus)

Giant wildrye is a grass that, like pampas grass, forms dense stands in a variety of different soils. It remains green year-round and is drought tolerant, but will also survive in regularly watered locations, meaning little maintenance is required to keep this grass looking great in your garden throughout the changing seasons. Giant wildrye has beautiful blue-gray or dark green leaves that are topped by clusters of yellow flowers during the summer and although this grass prefers full sunlight, it can also tolerate shady locations.

Unlike pampas grass, Giant wildrye is native to California and does not readily outcompete other native plants for resources such as space, light, and nutrients. It also spreads slowly compared to pampas grass, and therefore, it is much easier to contain within your garden fences. Furthermore, while pampas grass is not desirable to most animal species, Giant wildrye attracts various birds that enjoy their seeds.

Giant wildrye is a great native alternative to invasive pampas grass because it provides the same beauty and utility in your garden, but unlike pampas grass, it contributes to higher biodiversity and does not negatively impact the natural environment or those animal species that rely on it. Try out this native plant alternative in your garden today!

For more information on any of the topics above, please contact the Native Plant Program at nativeplants@wildlife.ca.gov.

From: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Plants/Dont-Plant-Me/Pampas-Grass

Dragonfly To My Heart

I’m not sure why, because there’s not any water in my pond right now, but the garden was full of little dragonflies today, which made me extraordinarily happy.

The temps are up again, nearly ninety degrees, so hot it dried the sheets on the line in about half an hour, but the humidity is low with these Santa Ana winds. It’s way more pleasant than the heat/humidity wave we experienced a few weeks ago, and the nights are blissfully cool.

“I heard the wind whisper and the earth sigh, it made my soul smile as I walked by.”
Michelle Schaper

Autumnal Equinox | Fall Into Place

Fall, the portal to change, starts today.

Autumn is a bittersweet season for me. I love cooler nights, but the earlier and earlier sunsets are depressing.

The falling of leaves is a sign of death. All over my garden, plants are transitioning into their end of life, slowing their growth and dying. This is the time I rake and rake and rake.

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I read that at the exact moment of the Autumnal Equinox, the sun shines directly on the equator, and an enormous “snake of sunlight” is said to slither down the stairs of the Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico. How cool would it be to actually visit there and experience this amazing event!

Also tonight “the moon is void of course.” I don’t know what that actually MEANS, but it sounds so snarky, contemptuous, and dismissive — even taunting — like OF COURSE the moon is void, how stupid can you be!

Or…it could be me simply being ultra sensitive to any slight or attack on my intelligence. Here’s what it really means…The void of course moon occurs when the moon makes its final major aspect with another planet before changing signs, which means the moon will now be in Libra.

To Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

   Steady thy laden head across a brook;

   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

   Among the river sallows, borne aloft

      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Random Chat With a Graceful Soul

Do strangers sometimes strike up random conversations with you in public?

Me, too.

Yesterday, standing outside Trader Joe’s, contemplating their plant display, I wondered if I should bring another one home. I spied a pretty little olive tree. My green thumbed son got one at his Traders and it’s now about fifteen feet tall, but that’s the difference between a drought climate and the Pacific Northwest, I guess.

As I pondered this decision, I noticed an elderly lady next to me seemingly in similar deliberations. She was beautifully attired like my mom would have been to go out for the day in a gorgeous dress with heels, accessorized with a sparkly brooch. Her hair was carefully coiffed.

Such a gorgeous human.

I picked up one olive tree and put it back, not sure if I wanted to potentially kill another living being. It’s difficult to grow a lot of things here with barely any rain and restricted watering. Even if it’s not restricted, the cost to effectively water is prohibiitve.

I pointed to the olive trees and said to her, “Are you thinking of getting one, too?”

She replied, “I would, but I can’t see how big it will get.” She had a bit of an accent.

I read the little informational sticker on the pot and told her, “Ten to fifteen feet unless it’s pruned.”

Then I shared with her my son’s successful experience with the olive tree in his garden and how it already created a few actual olives.

After that, she proceeded to tell me one wonderful story after another about growing up on an olive farm just outside of Rome.

Every fall, “just about this time”, she said, they’d pick tons of olives for eating and pressed olive oil and sold it all.

The olive trees outside of Trader Joe’s brought memories flooding back from her youth and you could tell she was wistfully remembering what were obviously happy times with her family.

I told her it was no wonder she had beautiful skin from all the olive oil and she smiled, reached out a hand to touch my arm, and thanked me for taking the time to talk to her.

Actually, it was MY pleasure.

I could have listened to her talk for hours. The stories about her childhood during and after WW 2 were fascinating. I wonder how and why she came to live in California.

(No, I didn’t get the tree, but it’s still under consideration.)

Lurking Lizard: Search and Rescue

I’m involved in a search, rescue, and release mission because a baby lizard somehow sneaked in the house.

Right now he’s lying low, evading my efforts to liberate him, lurking behind the sofa.

I’ve tried everything; this isn’t the first time it’s happened, but so far I’m not successful in this rescue and release.

And that means neither is that lizard because there’s nothing for him to eat here – no flies, worms, caterpillars, nada.

I’m only trying to help.

I cleaned behind the sofa and now there’s no dust, either.

WHERE ARE YOU, LIZARD?

A brief Google search let me know that lizards symbolize resurrection, rebirth, and regeneration. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, the symbol of the lizard was representative of plentiful abundance. A lizard in one’s house is often seen to represent an old friend or acquaintance, reminding you of their spirit. 

The next morning…still no sign of this lizard, but I’m still looking. I haven’t given up yet.

Just after noon, I almost stepped on this little lizard as he was well camouflaged on a floral rug, but he made a wise choice to reveal his location. I grabbed a plastic container, pushed him in, and ran outside to set him free.

Enjoy your freedom, my friend!

Mission accomplished.