Saturday, July 14, 2007

California Poppy

Common name: California poppy
Scientific name: Eschscholzia californica
Range: southern Washington to northern Baja California, east to Nevada and Sonoran desert southwest
More information: The California poppy is a stunningly colorful and elegantly simple flower to behold. Here are five interesting facts about Eschscholzia californica (source: Wikipedia):

1. It is the state flower of California.

If you enter the state by road, you'll be keen to this immediately (it's on the welcome signs). It also graces the road signs for scenic routes, and lots of "Greetings from California!" postcards. Apparently, it was adopted as state flower around the turn of the last century--by a landslide vote over the Mariposa lily and the Matilija poppy.

2. It was named for Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, one of many 19th century naturalists who helped to explore and catalogue many taxonomically unchartered islands and territories of the "Far Side of the World"--particularly much Californian flora and fauna. He was also, in my opinion, a handsome fellow.
Eschscholtz, a Baltic-German, was professor of anatomy and director of zoological cabinet at the University of Tartu (which is located in present-day Estonia, then Imperial Russia). From 1815-1818 he was ship's physician and naturalist on the Russian circumnavigational expeditionary ship Rurik, a voyage which enabled him to collect along the rim of the Bering Sea, the Pacific Islands, California, and South America. (Says Wikipedia, "The other naturalist was the botanist Adelbert von Chamisso who took over Eschscholtz’ specimens excepting insects on completion of the voyage. The two were close friends and Chamisso named the California poppy Eschscholtzia californica in his honor.") On a later voyage, Eschscholtz returned to California where he collected over 100 unique species of beetles near Fort Ross, the southernmost Russian fort. (You know that the Creator loves beetles, right?)

3. In places where it has been introduced, it seems to be even more successful than in its native range.

According to Wikipedia: "Because of its beauty and ease of growing, the California poppy was introduced into several regions with similar Mediterranean climates. It is commercially sold and widely naturalized in Australia, and was introduced to South Africa, Chile, and Argentina....

"Introduced populations have been noted to be larger and more reproductively successful than native ones (Elton, 1958), and there has been much speculation as to why. Increase in resource availability, decreased competition, and release from enemy pressure have all been proposed as explanations.

"One hypothesis is that the resources devoted in the native range to a defense strategy, can in the absence of enemies be devoted to increased growth and reproduction (the EICA hypothesis, Blossey & Nötzold, 1995). However, this is not the case with introduced populations of E. californica in Chile: the Chilean populations were actually more resistant to Californian caterpillars than the native populations (Leger and Forister, 2005)."

4. It is reported that at the peak of blooming season, orange petals seem to cover all 1,745 acres of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

Antelope Valley is located in northern Los Angeles County. (This is definitely going on my list of places to visit!)

5. As with other members of the Poppy family, it contains narcotic alkaloids, which have sedative and analgesic properties.

According to reports, however, these properties are relatively mild in the California poppy. Hmm... does that mean Elaine should have eaten California poppy seed muffins, instead of Opium ones?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Giant Green Anemone

Scientific name: Anthopleura xanthogrammica
Common name: Giant Green Anemone
Range: Alaska to Panama.
More information: The name "anemone" refers to a type of flower; "sea anemone" is a metaphor, as these are animals of the Phylum Cnidaria. Cnidarians consist of the jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones. The name is Greek for "nettle"--another plant metaphor referring to the fact that jellyfish, sea anemones, and coral all possess tentalces with the ability to sting.

(Another prominently shared characteristic that unites members of this group is their similar larval development--many jellyfish larvae resemble sea anemones).

Ever since my first visit to a California tidepool last year, I have been fascinated with the Giant Green Anemone, and have sought in vain for a detailed and trustworthy online account of their life history. Supposedly, they live a remarkably long time, and are capable of detaching themselves from their substrate and "swimming" in search of more profitable territory. (Then reattaching themselves; they are otherwise firmly attached to the rock at their cylindrical base.)

I have learned through experience that the Giant Green Anemone's sting is incapable of penetrating human flesh. The worst I have felt is a slight "sticky" tingling. They will close their tentacles upon any thing that might drop into their "oral disk" (the central 'bulls eye'-like structure, see above), presumably this is how they capture their food. I note that crabs seem to possess immunity to the anemone's stinging tentacles. Sea urchins and mussels, do not fare so well. This I know from the touch tanks at Aquarium of the Pacific. See disclaimer, below.*

Pictured above is one individual, about six inches in diameter, in a shallow tidal crevasse located on the Dana Point headland. In the background are other individuals.

*Please note that, in order to promote biological ignorance, superstition, and general contempt for a naturalist's joyful curiosity, the State of California forbids the touching or picking up of rocks, shells, or any living organism on California's coasts, regardless of how abundant that organism is, or whether your action falls well outside the range of what could be considered harmful to the organism. Yes, this is the People's Republic of California. But your own state probably has similar draconian measures in place.

Check out the wildlife laws in Illinois, for example:

"It is also against the law for anyone to live trap and relocate any wild animal without a nuisance trapping permit from the state of Illinois - even on their own property. Fines starting at $500.00 per animal and time in jail can be given to those who decide to break the wildlife laws."

ADDENDUM: Here's a reminder that clicking on any photo will reveal a higher resolution. That's especially recommended for this picture.