Monday, September 21, 2015

Cottonwoods, Utilities Lines & Dogs

Our valley gets only 12 inches of precipitation per year (semi-arid).  It's covered in grass, with stands of shrubs here and there.  Greens are subdued—the gray-greens and blue-greens of drought-tolerant plants.  But where there's water, everything’s different.  Cottonwoods, willows, tall grasses and sedges line streams, and the greens are rich and deep.

Here’s a Google Earth view of the Laramie Valley.  Our town on the southeast edge.  Dark green riparian zones and occasional irrigated fields line creeks and rivers.
 The green arrows above and below show where my foot was stuck on Saturday.
Laramie West Side and river.
Why was it stuck?  Because every two months, Lucy Corrander of Loose and Leafy kindly hosts a stuck-foot meme:
“… plant your foot firmly in a roughly random place and see what you can see without moving. Best is when you plant both feet. If you are on a slope or some other kind of difficult ground you may need to move the other foot for the sake of balance - but you mustn't move the 'stuck' foot. You can bend your body this way and that. You can lean forward and twist at the waist - but you mustn't swivel that stuck-foot.”
A stuck foot.

My place was not random (never is, but no one objects).  I chose a small stand of cottonwoods on the edge of a patch of prairie just east of the ranch supply warehouse.  I've been wondering why water-loving trees grow between a road and a dry grassland.  When I investigated, the reasons were obvious:  water and sewer lines.  Most likely it's the sewer line.  Tree roots in sewer lines are “one of the top ten plumbing problems”—
“Mother Nature has equipped many trees with sophisticated sensing capabilities. The trees send out feeder roots in all directions in a search for both nutrients and water. … If tiny feeder roots discover these cracks [in older sewer lines] they enter the pipe … Once inside the pipe the roots enlarge and gorge themselves on the plentiful supply of water and food.”  Source.
There's a sewer line here, as well as a water line.
Possibly someone planted these trees but I doubt it.  People avoid narrowleaf cottonwoods (Populus lanceolata) in landscaping because they’re notorious sucker-ers.  I bet the multiple stems (trunks) are all one tree underground.

It was a good time to be stuck:  clear sky, no wind, warm early-morning light.
The trees aren't large, but they already show the narrowleaf's two kinds of bark:  young smooth and white up high; older cracked and furrowed below.
One tree has two tiny branchlets growing out of older bark.  How does this happen?

It was a good place to be stuck, with lots to see.  The trees' shade now makes the site more favorable.  All the past disturbance—entry road, parking lot, utility lines—created habitat for invasive non-natives, but I don't mind.  It's good there are plants that can grow in these places.
Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), from Eurasia.  It did well this year.
Some years it’s barely noticeable; in others it seems to take over.
Rosettes of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)—non-native and designated noxious.
Native salt grass (Distichlis spicata) is taking back the street.
Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum) and curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa, yellow flowers).
 They're native but deemed weedy. In my yard I keep the beautiful foxtails but pull up gumweeds.
Twisting around as far as I could, I saw gumweed, salt grass and wild purple asters.
Sewer clean out, with a milkweed (bottom center), yellow sweet clover and wild aster.
My field assistant ended up in a photo ... by accident.  Sparky was always happy to pose, but Emmie has other priorities, at least for now (only two years old).
In memory of Sparky, great field dog and pal.
Emmie’s just as great, in her own way.
But all dogs are!  Patches and Apache, Wind River Mountains, 1996.
Ellie at Devils Tower, mid 1980s.

For more stuck-foot posts, see Comments at this month’s virtual gathering. [Linky box will be active when Lucy's charger arrives ... online disasters come at the most inopportune moments!]

If you're interested in stuck-foot adventures, sign up here.  It’s easy, fun and always interesting.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Last Hollyhocks in Morning Sun

The hollyhocks in my yard are winding down; just a few flowers left.
Mine are all volunteers.  They’ve done well this wet summer.
Veritable multitudes of schizocarps!

Hollyhock fruits are dry discs that split into many thin segments, each with a seed.  Hence the term schizocarp—split or divided fruit.  On my plants, the segments (mericarps) stay trapped in the old dried sepals until a hard wind blows or someone brushes against them and spills them on the walk.
Mericarps are about 5 mm across.
Three papery mericarps, each holding a seed.