Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Lesser Evergreens

The heading is by way of saying that not all mountain evergreens are conifers and their relatives, such as our majestic ponderosas above or the alligator junipers below.

Admittedly, most of our other evergreens are shrubs, sometimes verging on treelike growth. However, the emory oak is a very serious tree, as the the picture above attests. A surprise: the acorns of local emory oaks contain very little tannin and can be eaten without the retting treatment required to make most acorns palatable. My husband and I called them "gourmet acorns" when we first discovered this useful fact.

The leaves of the emory are wavy in outline -- but they do not bite like the turbinella or scrub oak that is so common in the uplands. Take a look at the leaves below. Each of those points is exactly that -- a tiny dagger. And when the leaves from the scrub oak finally rot and turn to mulch, the last item to go is, you guessed it, that little point. Reason enough to always wear gloves when gardening. The turbinella grows to about 15 feet in height and forms thickets. (FYI: the rounded, more yellow-green leaves are mistletoe; the shaggy orangey growth is the result of a gall insect.)

In yesterday's post, you were introduced to one of our more spectacular shrubs, the manzanita. The leathery leaves are green year round, the branches are a striking mahogany red, and the clusters of little pink, bell-like flowers clearly identify this plant as a member of the heather family, along with the arbutus tree. The growth habit of the manzanita is to spread via underground stolens; given an open area for spreading, a manzanita will create a large fairy ring 20 feet or so in diameter as the original portion in the center dies off. And, yes, those "little apples", the fruit, make a fine jam or jelly.

As for the mountain mahogany (above), I've got no idea how it won its name. Probably because the wood is both very tough and heavy. The example below is one of the well watered specimens from the thicket uphill from the house. The limbs seldom grow larger than 2 to 3 inches in diameter, but may range up to 12 or 15 feet tall.

Those limbs or branches are reasonably straight and make a good trellis for morning glories and other climbing plants.

In conclusion, lest we forget, cacti might be considered shrubs -- and they certainly remain green-ish year round. A gentle reminder for friends from Oz -- these prickly pears are growing in their home turf and do not present any ecological problem. My favorite amazing prickly pear fact: the plant is native in all but one or two of the states.


Anonymous said...

Quite a lot of growth for an area in need of water. Deep roots will always find a source.

Granny J said...

We are in the uplands where average rainfall measured about 18" per year when we first moved here back in aught-81. That's close to the amount for Paris! However, in our current drought, the average has been under 15". Our real water problem is that we are draining the ground water basins to provide water to a population that is growing far faster than our politicians can dream up improbable sources for our next cup.

k said...

We have native prickly pears here in Florida, of all places. And the imports do very well too, all sorts of different species. I have 2 species growing right now.

Granny J said...

Our prickly pears come in two basic versions: standard (long visible thorns, yellow to peach colored blossoms) and other (nasty fuzz on the surface only, magenta blossoms.) Of course, the javelina eat not only the tunas but also those prickly pads. Mouths of steel.

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