April 30, 2008

Photo du jour: London planetree, recently topped

The London planetree pictured below was recently topped, within the last two weeks. Topping is a poor pruning practice leading to structural and physiological problems. This does not look like pollarding and there are no overhead wires with which a full crown would have interfered.

It is a large diameter planetree, apparently healthy; with a full crown, it would provide many psychosocial and ecosystem benefits. For a live look, the tree is located off Marin on Euclid.

April 23, 2008

Photo du jour: Nafta leaders plant an oak in New Orleans

Source: New York Times, Photo by Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President George Bush, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon

None of the men planted the oak on Lafayette Square; it was a ceremonial planting described by a reporter from The Times-Picayune as “hoist[ing] golden shovels to pitch dirt over a newly planted oak tree in recognition of Earth Day.”

None of the media outlets reported who planted the tree (the Parks Department? an urban forestry NGO?) or the species of oak.

April 19, 2008

Berkeley's Earth Day Fair

Bicycle parking provided by Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition. At a recent TALC Summit, East Bay Bicycle Coalition provided free valet parking.

Zip Car was at the fair too with a Toyota Prius.

The most recent Daily Planet article on moth spraying can be read here.

Read about the Happy Forever Community Garden here.

Farm Fresh to You produce delivery service. I would miss walking to the farmers’ market.

Human powered climbing opportunity provided by Clif Bar, formerly of Berkeley, with SunPower in the background.

Lawn sitters watch dance group.

I did not find a tree group at the fair (I don’t think Berkeley has an NGO for sidewalk trees), but Spiral Gardens Nursery was selling apple and pear tree at the farmers’ market on Center Street.

April 17, 2008

Bird watch: Niches in my yard & notes on the hedgerow and mountain ash

Source: Ken Thomas, photographer

Yesterday I told another person outside my household about the cedar waxwing that died after hitting one of the living room windows. Now I share the death with you. It was aweful: I heard a thud, I saw a small feather stuck on the window, and by the time I made it outside, the waxwing was literally taking its last breath.

Cedar waxwings are no longer visiting the yard, at least not in the quantity they did in February when there were many, many berries on the tree I thought was a mountain ash, forgetting that ashes have compound leaves! The red-berried tree in my yard has simple leaves. Dr. Mike Wilcox (in Trees of the World), writing about the mountain ash, notes that its also known as rowan. He describes the tree as follows:

Something about its strongly ascending branches, its lacy foliage or the masses of its striking red berries has connected it with witchcraft from ancient times. It’s very name, rowan, is believed to be derived from the Norse word runa, meaning ‘charm.’ Rowan trees were often planted outside houses and in churchyards to ward of witches (39).

A diversity of birds visit the yard like Cedar Waxwing, Robin, Anna’s Hummingbird, and House Finch. I’ve heard a woodpecker recently; it could be Nuttall’s Woodpecker or Downy Woodpecker. I like to think that the yard offers a variety of niches. There’s a hedgerow of sorts, though Julie Zickefoose would call it a hedge (it’s a monoculture except for some pioneering blackberry). It’s located along the western fence in the neighbor’s yard. A proper hedgerow “is a tangled, assorted mixture of various plants, small trees, and vines” (Zickefoose, 116). Dr. Mike Wilcox uses the word hedgerow and hedge interchangeably in his description of Welsh hedgerows. He writes that “in different periods of history people have favoured different hedgerow plants. An ancient hedgerow will often have giant coppiced trees; hedges of the Tudor age are identified by their maple and dogwood; pre-Tudor hedges feature hazel and spindle; and in post-1800 hedge hawthorn is common” (46).

There are other niches in the yard. The honeysuckle has formed a thicket along the neighbor’s porch. It’s a vine so it’s also crawling along a utility wire that is strung across the front part of the parcel. I had a brush pile, but it was “cleaned up” by gardeners hired by the landlord. The half dead sidewalk tree, a purpleleaf plum, acts as a snag.

Coincidentally I was trying to grow a meadow, another niche recommended by Zickefoose, but the California poppies did not take and I am crossing my fingers for the sunflowers. I got the seeds of the latter from the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) at the Ecology Center. The yard is also lacking coniferous evergreens. The red-berried tree is evergreen, but Zickefoose highlights the “seeds and shelter” offered by pines, spruces, firs, and cedars.

Although the poppies were a failure and the sunflowers have yet to germinate, there are lots of flowers in the yard. The rose, the quince flower, the lemon flower (the tree is in yard of the neighbor to the east), and the “orange” flower, pictured above (note: this is not the actual name of the plant).

April 13, 2008

Photo du jour: Walter Hood's designs for Center Street

Open. Ramblas. Terraced. These are the forms of hybridity developed by Hood Design for the Center Street project. Details of the design are on display in the northern and northwest windows of Cody’s Books. (The photographs were taken at mid-day.)

Will Berkeley residents choose open hybrid, ramblas hybrid, or terraced hybrid? What’s your choice?

Note the creek element in the second section.

April 12, 2008

Hydra spigot duck

“It’s a ‘duck,’” said John of the spigot outside Hydra on Fourth Street. The architectural term “duck,” coined by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour in Learning from Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form, was new to me. The first duck was a duck; a duck-shaped building in Long Island built by a duck farmer.

A duck is “any building shaped like its product,” according to a Newsday article reporting on the Long Island Big Duck. Technically, the Hydra building is not a duck. It is not shaped like a spigot or other bath product though the spigot alerts you to the fact that the store sells bath-related items. Interestingly, you can see a large yellow duckie through one of the windows (third window from the right).

The Hydra spigot “duck” is one of the sites on this year’s Hidden Gems Tour. The tour will begin at San Pablo Park on Saturday, May 10 at 10 a.m.

April 8, 2008

Bird Watch: International Bird Day

Well, I thought today was International Bird Day. I found the holiday on the About.com Homeschooling website via a web search of bird holidays. I have not found reference to this holiday on any bird science or advocacy sites like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. What I did find on the USFWS website is reference to International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) which is celebrated in May, though I could not find a specific date. The Smithsonian National Zoological Park will celebrate IMBD from April 24 to May 1 while the Region 9 Forest Service will celebrate on May 17.

Regardless of the existence of International Bird Day, today is as good as any other day to celebrate birds, in particular urban birds. Local ecology is a participant in the Urban Bird Studies program at Cornell. The five bird projects are PigeonWatch, Gulls Galore, Dove Detectives, Birds in the City, and Crows Count. Celebrate Urban Birds! focuses on sixteen, easily identifiable bird species. I receive print and digital materials from the Lab of Ornithology including most recently a letter about the 25th annual World Series of Birding (WSB), a “carefully timed plan to find the most birds in 24 hours” to be held in New Jersey! You can pledge cents or dollar amounts per species to be observed at the WSB website.

I also received a well designed poster of pigeon color morphs - red, checker, pied, spread, white, red- and blue-bar. The Project PigeonWatch website has a “question of the month” feature. This month’s question is: Why don’t I ever see baby pigeons? You can view the video response here. Unlike the rock pigeon, the red-tailed hawk is not one of the program’s 16 species. However, a hawk at Fenway Park in Boston made headlines after scratching a teenager visiting the stadium last week [via Birding Girl].

At the Fulton and Ward intersection in Berkeley, I heard a woodpecker pecking a hole in a nearby tree. I no longer see cedar waxwings at the mountain ash in my yard; they have eaten all the berries and moved on. Today, happily, I browsed the nature shelves at Cody’s on Shattuck and found the following bird titles (visit our book shop):

Parrot by Paul Carter

Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird, Andrew D. Blechman

Condor: To the Brink and Back–the Life and Times of One Giant Bird, John Nielsen

Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World, Candace Savage

April 7, 2008

Calendar: In honor of National Landscape Architecture Month

April 11 — 13 Changing Climates: Class, Culture & Politics in an Era of Global Warming California Studies Conference schedule [via Urban Alliance]

April 12, Saturday, 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Daily Acts Sustainability Tour in San Francisco Daily Acts Tours website [via Urban Alliance]

April 13, Sunday, 1 - 5 p.m. Art in the Garden The Institute of Urban Homesteading website

April 23, Wednesday, 1 -2 p.m. Three Centuries of Boston’s Great Public Spaces and Private Garden Squares UC Berkeley, 315A Wurster Hall (information)

April 22 — 26 7th International Ecocity Conference Nob Hill Masonic Center, San Francisco (information)

Through June A Passion for Plants: Botanical Paintings by Catherine M. Watters and her students SF Botanical Garden website

Through September 21 Wildflowers of New England: Photographs by Edwin Hale Lincoln (1848–1938) de Young Museum website

Through October 12 In Our Own Backyard: A Celebration of the East Bay Regional Parks Oakland Museum of California website

Through November Tree Walks, Canopy calendar

April 6, 2008

Weekend headlines April 6, 2008

Transplant micro greens. Check. Plant organic Cherokee Purple tomato. Check. Plant Golden Bell sweet pepper. Check.

Three small garden tasks but huge satisfaction from being outside with the sun at my back. Now I am back indoors to blog about recent headlines. In this weekend’s New York Times you can read about a 7,000 square foot North Stamford, Conn. house applying for LEED certification. The house is one of 24 houses on “74 partly wooded acres with a private lake.” Also in the Business section is a story about the Audubon Society’s new and smaller headquarters in Manhattan; the organization’s president is reported to have said that Audubon “went well beyond the criteria needed to be awarded the highest, or platinum, LEED certification.”

The Times also reported on “a shift in the debate over global warming.” Economists and scientists are emphasizing the role of more efficient technology over emissions caps in cutting emissions long term. One of the more efficient technologies cited is “lighter vehicles with more efficient engines.” I was surprised to read this because I heard at Saturday’s TALC Summit that “the more we drive [even if the car is a Prius] outweighs the benefits of technology.” The ClimatePlan California presenters emphasized changing travel behaviors over advances in transportation technology. For example, people who live within a 1/2 mile radius of where they live or work are 10 times more likely to use transit than people who do not. People who live in walkable, mixed use neighborhoods take 30% fewer driving trips than those who do not. The ClimatePlan brochure can be downloaded here.

Of course, neighborhoods also have to be attractive, or possess quality pedestrian environments. A group of physicians and public health professionals from the SF Public Health Department at the TALC Summit presented, among other indexes, the Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index. Many of the elements that encourage pedestrian activity fall under the purview of the landscape architect. Coincidentally, April is National Landscape Architecture Month. Two Orion magazine essays unintentionally honor the field of landscape architecture: “A swamp forest grows in Brooklyn and “Managing the trees of Arlington Cemetery.

Plants are a major element in landscape architectural practice. Issue 010 of Good magazine has run several short features on the uses of vegetation. The Science Barge is a project of New York Sun Works, an organization that “provides technical services in support of rooftop greenhouses and building-integrated agriculture in both educational and commercial settings worldwide.” The Barge, floating on the Hudson River, is an urban farm operated with rain and river water as well as sunlight and wind power.

At a smaller scale, Mathieu Lehanneaur and David Edwards (Harvard scientist) have created the Bel-Air filter, powered by plants. The filter works as follows: “the air circulates among the leaves, and then the filter forces it out through the plant’s roots” (Good, page 26). Click here to see the Bel-Air. No species is specified for the filter, but it would probably be a common indoor plant. Indoor and outdoor plants that “mollify” toxics and purify the air, according to Good, include peace lily (benzene in detergents and trichloroethylene in paints); English ivy (trichloroethylene in tobacco smoke); Poinsettia (formaldehyde in water repellent); Gerbera daisy (trichloroethylene in dry cleaning and inks); Azalea (formaldehyde in foam insulation); and Chrysanthemum (benzene in plastics, trichloroethylene in inks, and formaldehyde in household cleaners).

Now back to the start of this post - food plants. The Food Trust in Philadelphia advocates for community health via access to healthy food. For example, the organization assisted a small corner store in a Philadelphia neighborhood to dramatically increase its fresh food selection [via Good]. More locally, Public Health Law & Policy in Oakland has published the “How to make healthy changes in your neighborhood” guide. The brochure first poses three questions. One, do you live near a community garden? Two, does your neighborhood grocery store sell good-quality, low-cost fruits and vegetables? And three, is there a farmers’ market in your neighborhood? If a reader answers “no” to just one of the questions, the brochure offers the reader eight steps “to get more fruits and vegetables” into her neighborhood (also in Spanish). My answer to all three questions is yes, but the community garden closest to me is a school garden and thus inaccessible. However, I manage to grow a few things in my 1′ x 10′ home garden. My neighborhood grocery store is Berkeley Bowl which is known for its affordable, varied, and good quality produce. The closest farmers’ market, four blocks away, is the Tuesday market at Derby and Milvia.

April 1, 2008

Tree Walk: Capitol Park and surrounding streets

Easter Sunday found us in Sacramento for the “Treasures from Hearst Castle” exhibit at the California Museum of History, Women and the Arts. I heard of the exhibit on the March 12 broadcast of Forum with Michael Krasny. I especially wanted to see the five-foot replica of the castle’s tiled bath tub. Amanda Meeker, director of exhibitions at the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts, listed this item as one of her favorites in the exhibit. I was disappointed; there was no tub. The replica was simply a swatch of colored tiles embedded in the floor of the exhibit area. Regardless, the artifacts from the castle are incredibly beautiful and diverse in design and origin.

On the way to the museum, we walked through Capitol Park, the 40-acre grounds of the Sacramento Capitol. I noticed markers on the trees labeled with the words “Tree Tour” followed by a number. For example, the Canary Island date palm pictured above (right) is tree #61 on the tour. The Capitol was closed - it was a Sunday and a holiday - so I could not get a copy of the tree tour map. At least I assumed there was a tree tour map. An online search later in the day did not yield a map or mention of a map, but the Sacramento Tree Foundation offers guided tours of the park. There is a weathered, laminated map attached to a concrete block near the Ninth Street entrance. Of the trees identified on the map I was most interested in finding the monkey puzzle tree. I did not find the tree; I became disoriented without a portable map and the intense sunshine was exhausting.

On the streets around the Capitol, I found oak galls (pictured above), ginkgo flowers (below), and sycamores (also below).

I know the tree pictured above is not a London planetree (P. x acerifolia) based on Arthur Plotnik’s description below. (Note that the species name - acerifolia - is composed of the genus name for maple - Acer - and the Latin word for foliage or leaf - folia. The shape of the planetree leaf is similar to that of the maple.) It could be an American sycamore/ western planetree (P. occidentalis) based on Plotnik’s description below, but this specis is not listed on the Sacramento Tree Foundation’s tree list. The tree list contains the California sycamore (Platanus racemosa). Sacramento Tree Foundation is a well-respected urban forestry organization, so I will assume that the tree in the photograph is a California sycamore and that Plotnik’s description is making a distinction between the hybrid London planetree and non-hybrid native sycamores.

Plotnik, in The Urban Tree Book, describes the bark characteristics of sycamores as follows:

The London planetree and its parts are a feast for observers. The tan-gray outer bark, which cannot stretch to keep up with the tree’s growth, peels away (exfoliates) in tubular curls and reveals patches of the smooth inner bark. The colors of this bark vary according to exposure to sunlight and species variety, but the London planetree will usually show a pretty olive green and sometimes a pale yellow among its mottle, even on the trunk. (American sycamores retain more of the flaky outer bark on the trunk {my emphasis}; branches are smoother and show grays, tans, and whites.)