Wednesday, May 16, 2018



A comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.

A Danish

Blueberry Danish: photo by Cliff Hutson
Blueberry Danish: photo by Cliff Hutson

"A flute without holes is not a flute.
A donut without a hole is a danish."

- Ty Webb

Another Danish

Apricot Pinwheel: photo by Cliff Hutson
Apricot Pinwheel: photo by Cliff Hutson


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

April 2018 Reading

The books that I finished reading in April 2018

April 2018 Books: photo by Cliff Hutson
April 2018 Books: photo by Cliff Hutson

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo
Marlon Bundo Book: photo by Cliff Hutson

A wonderful story presented by "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver". Written by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twiss. Illustrated by EG Keller.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Shaw's Agave

One of my favorite books from my younger days has a poem with the line, “All that is gold does not glitter”. I would turn that around for Coastal, or Shaw’s, Agave and say, all that is drab is not as dull as it seems. Sometimes one just has to wander around until they see things in the proper light.

Coastal agave, i.e., Agave shawii is a succulent with closely spaced, overlapping sword-shaped leaves that measure up to 8 inches wide and about 18 inches long. They diverge from the center of the plant in a spiral making for a rounded shape. The deep green leaves are edged with spines.

These spines nominally appear as brown or gray and don't offer much in the way of a visual display. However, in early morning or late afternoon, when the the sunlight comes in from behind the plant, they light up and glow red and/or orange, rivaling any neon sign on the Las Vegas Strip. 

Coastal Agave
Shaw's Agave by Cliff Hutson

The leaves are also notable for bearing the imprint of the spines of the leaves that were in front and back of them when they were clasped together. I find this to be a charming visual element to the plant.

The flowering plant is also attractive. It may take 20 to 40 years before it flowers. But, then yellow blooms, looking much like  a hand of very small bananas, burst out on the top of an 8 to 12 foot stalk resembling an asparagus spear. The flowers attract hummingbirds, bats and bees. When a single plant flowers it dies, but its “pups” or clones will live on.

Bats are a key pollinator of this agave and probably the primary reason for the tallness of the flowering stalk. Bats, save for the few species of vampire bats, can not launch into flight by flapping their wings. they, instead, take off by dropping from a height be it the roof of a cave, bridge, or tall plant with sturdy flowers.

Coastal Agave is found in Baja California. Also native to California, it occurs naturally only in San Diego County, near Border Field State Park. Most of the plants that were there were bulldozed into oblivion by your government while building the boundary wall between the USA and Mexico. However, a few seem to have survived. Other populations exist elsewhere in Southern California, but they were probably planted out in an effort to preserve the plant. I, for one, certainly hope it stays with us.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

March 2018 Reading

The books that I finished reading in March 2018

March 2018 Books: photo by Cliff Hutson
March 2018 Books: photo by Cliff Hutson

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Spring Has Sprung

One of My Favorite Flowers

The calendar says that it is Spring. But, the weather says that it is "late Winter".  One of my favorite California native plants has been showing for a couple of weeks, as it can go either way.

As a naturalist, I like to have a theme in mind when I lead an interpretive walk. I see this as a means of engaging the audience’s interest, as opposed to just wandering around identifying plants until their eyes start to glaze over. One of the themes I use is “does the common name of this plant make sense”.  A favorite plant for this discussion is the Fairy Duster, Calliandra eriophylla. It takes little imagination to see that the fluffy pink blossoms do resemble feather dusters scaled down to fairy size, assuming we are thinking of Tinker Bell instead of Titania.

The flowers appear between late winter and late spring. They have dense clusters of pale to deep pink stamens and are about two inches wide. I think that they are quite attractive; and, in fact, Calliandra is derived from the Greek kallos, "beautiful," and andra, "stamen”. The leaves are also interesting being twice pinnately compound with each division bearing five to ten pairs of leaflets.

The plant, also known as False Mesquite, is a densely branched shrub, about two feet tall and twice as wide, native to western North America. A member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae), it belongs to a group of primarily tropical plants that include Acacias and Mimosas. However, Fairy Duster grows in sandy washes and on slopes in the arid desert and grasslands of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; and Mexico.

But, to say it occurs in California is a bit misleading as it is found only in the Creosote Brush Scrub community and then seemingly limited to Imperial and San Diego Counties. Due to this geographic circumscription , it is included in the California Native Plant Society Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 2.3 (rare, threatened, or endangered in California; common elsewhere). In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to point out that one specimen was collected by Dr. Robert F. Thorne (of RSABG) on April 12, 1964, in Riverside County and that there is also a questionable 1881 accession from Kern County. I, myself, first encountered Fairy Duster while hiking in Riverside County. It was on land that was starting to be developed somewhere outside of Palm Springs, so it may not have been a natural occurrence.

Wherever we find it, I think it offers people an opportunity to ask people to look more carefully at nature and by observing this one flower they might go to focus on other aspects of nature rather than passively walk though it.