Monthly Archives: February 2013

February Blues

 The February blues on Alcatraz are anything but blah. The range of bluish purple flowers in the gardens is very rich and complements many of the orange and yellow blooming plants.

Just on our small island, there are a number of plants in bloom right now in the same shades.

Echium candicans, pride of Madeira,

Pride of Madeira, Echium candican. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Pride of Madeira, Echium candican. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

has been blooming for over a month now, mainly on the west side of the island where they are loved by hummingbirds. A survivor garden plant, one seed landed by chance in the rose terrace, right alongside another survivor, Muscari

Grape hyacinth. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Grape hyacinth. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

armeniacum, grape hyacinth. Seeing the same shade of purple blue but in drastically different plants adds to the richness of the garden. The seedpods Muscari can be left to stand to add more interest to the garden, plus they also multiply themselves.

Vinca major, periwinkle, is another survivor in bloom now. This common groundcover is often forgotten as it is pretty common to see, and can even spread itself into places you rather it not go. When photographed against yellow lichen on a concrete wall, it really does catch your eye.

Periwinkle. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Periwinkle. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

 

 

 

 

Our dutch iris, ones that grow from a bulb instead of a rhizome, are just beginning to flower on the rose terrace. A few original bulbs were found growing in this garden so we planted more of ‘Sapphire Beauty’ in a raised bed in front of the greenhouse. The yellow flame looks great with California poppy and yellow Calendula or daffodils.

Dutch iris 'Sapphire Beauty'. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Dutch iris ‘Sapphire Beauty’. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

A new plant for Alcatraz is the native California lilac, Ceanothus. This shrub has many cultivars and we chose ‘Julia Phelps’, that will hopefully reach its full size of 7′ tall and 9′ wide. The flowers are a dark indigo color and this cultivar is suppose to be one of the best bloomers. We planted it at the top of the cellhouse slope and even with the sparse rain this winter, it is already blooming. Perhaps one negative for this plant is that we are also noticing seagull feathers collecting on the leaves. But, the dark blue flowers will look great with the pink persian carpet.

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Science of the Seasons

What is phenology? Phenology is the study of seasonal or periodic biological events such as plant leaf-out and flowering, insect emergence, and animal migration. Put simply, phenology is the science of the seasonsIn order to assess the effects of climate change on California’s extraordinary biodiversity and natural resources, the California Phenology Project was established in 2010 as a 3 year pilot project. The pilot project is focusing on 7 parks, including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

 

Corny walking her phenology trail with her clipboard. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Corny walking her phenology trail with her clipboard. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Corny Foster, a garden volunteer, also volunteers with stewardship of Crissy Field, an area just east of the Golden Gate Bridge. A few plants in her area are being monitored as part of the California Phenology Project, and so she thought ‘why aren’t we doing this on Alcatraz’? Alcatraz has 2 of the 5 native plants that are being monitored in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – California poppy, Eschscholzia californica and coyote bush, Baccharis pilularis. Project wide, over 60 plant species are being monitored. The species were selected based on their ability to address key scientific questions and to inform natural resource management, as well as their ability to engage the public (charisma and easy identification are important!).

Our plants are being monitored for breaking leaf buds, young leaves, flowers, open flowers, pollen release, fruits, ripe fruit and recent fruit drop. Our phenology trail takes about 30 minutes to complete and we are hoping to build a volunteer group to do the twice weekly monitoring. Eventually, we hope to invite school groups out to observe the plants and to build on their school lessons, and to show them that looking closely at plants is FUN!

The checklist of what to look for. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

The checklist of what to look for with simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

The island’s environment provides a unique opportunity to study the plants. We will be able to compare our flowering times with plants on the mainland and find out just how much being surrounded by water affects our plants. Plus, Alcatraz does not have any gophers, so our California poppies are never tampered with. The selected plants to be monitored on Alcatraz do not receive irrigation.

Simple to observe and record, phenology offers a way for “citizen scientists” to

A California poppy staked out on the trail. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

A California poppy staked out on the trail. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

learn about the rhythms and natural processes of their local environment while observing directly the important links between the living world and the climate system. If you would like to volunteer to monitor our plants, send an email to info@alcatrazgardens.org.

 

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