Plants with a mean streak

Check out the new exhibit that just opened at the Conservatory of Flowers (and will be on view through mid October).


Darlingtonia californica (photo: Wikipedia List of Carniverous Plants)

“San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers spokeswoman Nina Sazevich quips, “Chomp: They Came from the Swamp,” is bound to be The City’s “most fatal attraction” this year.

Though you may assume that mysterious meat-eaters would live only in far-off and exotic places, they’re quite common in the U.S., which boasts the widest variety of carnivorous plants in the world.

California has its own native species, like the cobra plant, with a bulbous green head, twisted red tongue and long, tubular pitchers. It baits its prey with nectar trails running up its exterior or along its tongue. Sun shining through a series of transparent light windows in the hood then draws them inside. Bad move. An inner collar traps the victim. After a struggle, the insect invariably tumbles down a tube to an interior lined with sharp, slippery hairs. At the bottom they drown in a pool of water secreted by the plant.

“These were the plants that really mesmerized Charles Darwin,” says [Peter] D’Amato, who established California Carnivores 25 years ago this month. “He claimed in a letter he wrote that he cared more about sundews than all of the origins of all the species of life on Earth. He joked with his wife that he thought they were disguised animals.”

In his newly revised book, “The Savage Garden,” regarded as the definitive guide to the cultivation of insectivorous plants, [D'Amato] is not kind in his description of how these “deceptively innocent looking plants with their delicate leaves sparkling with the promise of nectar,” do in their victims.

“The foolish insect curious enough to give a sundew the slightest touch will suddenly find itself caught in a living nightmare. Doomed to a horrible death, the insect may struggle for a blessed few minutes or suffer for untold hours as it tries to break free of ensnaring, suffocating glue, grasping tentacles and burning acids and enzymes; meanwhile, its precious bodily fluids are slowly sucked dry.”

Carnivorous plants are voracious.

“We do plant autopsies which always cause people to be amazed and scream,” said D’Amato. “When they are outdoors, they can catch thousands of insects. One trumpet can hold maybe 2,000 house-fly-sized bugs and they’ll produce a dozen or more trumpets.”

They grow in nutrient-poor soil in boggy areas. So in growing your own, put them in a something like sphagnum peat moss, sold in packages as a soil additive. Break it up and mix it with water until it resembles a soft, wet mud. Avoid any mosses that have fertilizers added. D’Amato maintains his plants in pots that include water low in dissolved mineral salts.

After a lifetime of studying, collecting and observing these ferocious plants, D’Amato’s heart has softened to their victims. Their appeal becomes not just their strange habits but their singular beauty.

“In my old age, I rescue little things all the time,” he confesses.

“When I was a little kid I got a kick out of feeding flies to them,” he said. “Now it unnerves me. If a pitcher has caught a lot of ants and then a little harmless house fly or moth falls in, it’s like a person falling into a greased well loaded with rats. I use my forceps and pull it out and pull the ants off and set it free.”

via Plants with a mean streak | The Press Democrat.

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Must love broccoli: A community garden plays matchmaker | KALW


GGP.victorygardens.1943.(photo: SFPL.AAA-8494)

GGP.victorygardens.1943.(photo: SFPL.AAA-8494)


GGP.victorygardens.1943.(photo: SFPL.AAA-8492)

Community gardens have come and gone in Golden Gate Park over the years.  The pictures show victory gardens in the park during WW II.  The following KALW story describes a new garden where vegetables are growing communally in the park.

“San Franciscans love to garden, but a backyard is hard to come by if you live in an apartment. And the 36 city-operated community gardens have wait lists with hundreds of names on them.

That’s why the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department had to get creative on the Golden Gate Park Community Garden.

It opened last November on the northwest corner of the park, situated between busy Frederick Street and a dramatic living wall of native plants.

In order to meet the high demand for garden space, half of the 67 raised garden beds are cared for by individual households, and the other half are managed by teams of total strangers.

“Our team got together and sort of strategized on how can we bring folks together and our concept was actually one of speed dating,” says Melinda Stockmann, who oversees all community gardens for the city.

The plot sharing experiment was her brainchild. It sounds like an episode of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” but it’s really more like a dating show.

Stockmann led the garden buddy meet-up last August, asking questions to identify common interests and gradually pairing total strangers together. Some people got together because they wanted to plant pollinators, others found partners based on their experience level.

“It’s going to be up to those each individual teams whether they want to just put twine down the middle and straight subdivide or do they want to communally manage and all decide on their planting plan and harvest together,” Stockmann says.

One group is comprised of a retired couple and two people who had never met. They decided to use their plot for veggies and are happy sharing in the harvest together.

“When you have to have this sort of common interest in what you’re growing, you have to have compatible lifestyles,” says Melanie Manghinang, who moved to San Francisco almost two years ago. “ And just sort of getting a feel for each other’s chemistry.”

So far great relationships are growing at the community garden.

“I love the fact that it’s a shared effort and it’s a wonderful way to get to know people,” says Steven Fields, another gardener in the group.

Working with a married couple, John and Margaret Castro, has been rewarding.

“It’s like Christmas morning when I come here on the weekends and find there’s something new here,” he says.

Participants in this garden sharing program aren’t just working the earth, they’re sowing the seeds for future community garden projects.”

via Must love broccoli: A community garden plays matchmaker | KALW.


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Golden Gate National Parks BioBlitz Reaches New Heights – National Geographic Society Press Room

Golden Gate National Parks Conervancy

I read this press release with delight and wondered how many species a BioBlitz would turn up in Golden Gate Park.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare?

“SAN FRANCISCO (March 31, 2014)—After two intensive days of exploration and documentation, the Golden Gate National Parks BioBlitz held on March 28 and 29, 2014, captured a vivid snapshot of the unique plant and animal biodiversity in the parks. Led by more than 320 volunteer scientists from across the country, thousands of amateur explorers, families and students on school field trips conducted a comprehensive inventory of the plants, insects, mammals, birds and other species that inhabit several national park sites, including Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods National Monument, the Marin Headlands, the Presidio of San Francisco, Mori Point and Rancho Corral de Tierra.


About 9,000 people, including over 2,700 schoolchildren, participated in the BioBlitz and the concurrent Biodiversity Festival.

Over 80 species were discovered that are new to the parks’ species list, including a primitive, freshwater sponge, and sightings of 15 threatened species, including mission blue moss, were documented.

The initial scientific species count as of the 3:45 p.m. BioBlitz closing ceremony on Saturday, March 29, was 2,304, with well over 8,600 observations recorded over the course of the two-day event. Organizers expect this number to increase significantly over the next several months as cutting-edge testing of the collected samples continues.

The first-ever canopy survey of redwoods at Muir Woods provided new information about the height, age and condition of the giant trees.

The first observation of a gulf fritillary butterfly in the park occurred at El Polin in the Presidio of San Francisco, and the first-ever park sighting of a climbing salamander was in Muir Woods.

Other unusual sightings were great horned, spotted, barred and saw-whet owls; a mountain lion photographed on a wildlife camera at Rancho Corral de Tierra; and two bald eagles in the Marin Headlands.

The Biodiversity Festival at Crissy Field’s East Beach included a wide variety of music, hands-on science activities, talks, art and live-animal demonstrations. The festival showcased biodiversity across the Golden Gate National Parks and encouraged the Bay Area community to get excited about and involved in protecting and becoming stewards of the natural environment. Many visitors interacted with representatives of prominent science, nature and environmental organizations at more than 55 booths.

The BioBlitz was part scientific endeavor, part festival and part outdoor classroom. Participants combed the parks, observing and recording as many plant and animal species as possible in 24 hours. Activities included counting seals, catching insects, spotting birds, exploring and examining aquatic invertebrates and using technology to better understand the diverse ecosystems across the parks.

“Today, we discovered one of the most primitive, multicellular life forms — a freshwater sponge in El Polin. This discovery clearly indicates that this area has been a watershed for thousands of years as this gemmule — or desiccated version of a sponge — could only have survived on land if it had some access to water,” said Robert Kimsey, forensic entomologist and faculty advisor to the UC Davis Entomology Club, whose students made the discovery. “It is possible that this sponge has been in this watershed since before humans lived in the Presidio.” The recent restoration of El Polin in the Presidio of San Francisco is part of a larger effort to revitalize the Tennessee Hollow Watershed.

“BioBlitz puts a spotlight on the value of science in America’s national parks and offers a unique opportunity for the general public, especially young people, to learn firsthand how important science is in managing parks for the future,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, who joined BioBlitzers in the Marin Headlands and at Crissy Field on Saturday. “We hope that this experience will inspire the next generation to pursue a career in park science.”

“Watching scientists, students and the general public in the field exploring puts a smile on my face,” said John Francis, National Geographic’s vice president for research, conservation and exploration. “Scientists joined students and residents from the surrounding communities and celebrated their unique roles as members of the natural systems where they live. The iNaturalist app, paired with smartphones and pumped-up cell service courtesy of Verizon Wireless, allowed us to document species like never before. This enabled more real-time tracking, greater public involvement and a faster, larger species count.”

The Golden Gate National Parks BioBlitz was the eighth in a series of 10 annual BioBlitzes hosted by the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service leading up to the National Park Service centennial in 2016. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the Presidio Trust joined the partnership for this year’s event. During closing ceremonies, the BioBlitz flag was passed to Cindy Orlando, superintendent of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the ninth BioBlitz will take place on May 15-16, 2015.

The first BioBlitz was held at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., in 2007. The second took place at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California in 2008. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was the site of the third BioBlitz in 2009; Biscayne National Park outside Miami was the 2010 site; Saguaro National Park in Tucson hosted the 2011 BioBlitz; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado was the 2012 host park; and the 2013 BioBlitz took place at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve outside New Orleans.”

via Golden Gate National Parks BioBlitz Reaches New Heights – National Geographic Society Press Room.

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Shakespeare in the Park

Here’s a lovely article about the Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park.   Reminds me that I’ve been meaning to revisit this little gem.  When the rain stops  .  .  .

“An Afternoon with the Bard in Golden Gate Park

By Jeremy Dalmas

Shakespear Gatden photo by Jeremy Dalmas

In a quiet spot, just west of the bustle of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, sits a garden dedicated to English literature’s crowned prince: William Shakespeare. Once you make it past the entrance gate and down the worn brick path, you are transported into an English garden filled with manicured flower beds, trimmed lawns, and people escaping the noise of the city.

Joe Chmielewski is scanning a row of bronze plaques. Each is stamped with quotes from William Shakespeare’s works. He reads one from Midsummer Night’s Dream:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,

Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.

The Garden of Shakespeare’s Flowers is an enclosed nook of Golden Gate park filled only with plants mentioned in the writings of The Bard. Chmielewski is one of the park’s gardeners and he loves the flowers here.

“Along the fence there is the Eglantine roses,” Chmielewski points out. “It’s an old tea rose, so it spreads and it puts out a very nice flower. But, then you just get this brilliant rose hip behind it.”

This garden, though special, is actually not unique.

“This is one of several Shakespeare gardens throughout the country,” Chmielewski explains, “and there are several others around the world and they’re all basically outlined the same way: a 17th century classical garden.”

Cleveland, Manhattan, Vienna, and Johannesburg all have Shakespeare Gardens. Most of them were built in the early part of the 1900s. This one opened in the Summer of 1929, and there is a reason why there are Shakespeare gardens and not Mark Twain or Hemingway gardens.

Eric Anderson, Superintendent of Golden Gate Park, says Shakespeare’s work translates well to landscaping.

“He mentions plants really vividly and really in-depth in a lot of his works,” says Anderson. Anderson’s favorite plant in the garden is the cedar tree. It stretches tall above the flowers, presiding over the entire garden.

“It’s a great specimen and I suspect that it was one of the original plantings and it’s covered in Spanish moss,” says Anderson.

Lauren Sabadin says she comes to the garden often. Today she is lying on a blanket with an old book.

“I was actually just reading my poetry book and trying to draw some inspiration and do some writing,” Sabadin says.

The book she is reading from is actually the same age as the garden, filled with poems from the early 1900s. Sabadin reads me part of her favorite: “The Philosopher” by Edna St. Vincent Millet:

And what are you that, wanting you,

I should be kept awake

As many nights as there are days.

With weeping for your sake?

And what are you that, missing you,

As many days as crawl

I should be listening to the wind

And looking at the wall?

I know a man that’s a braver man

And twenty men as kind,

And what are you, that you should be

The one man in my mind?

“She has a crush on a philosopher,” Sabadin adds. Beyond inspiration, Sabadin says the garden offers her a refuge.

“It’s my escape from the bustle of the city streets,” Sabadin says. “I come to just enjoy the beauty and peace and quiet. I love to read and write and nap down here. Catch up on my sleep a little bit.”

As Chmielewski gets ready to leave, locks up a set of steel shutters that enclose a bust of Shakespeare himself. It is a unique replica of a famous statue from the writer’s home town in England. He is holding a quill and looking straight ahead. There is an inscription under the statue: “A gift to our city from the town of Stratford-upon-Avon and its former mayor Archibald Flower.”

Park Superintendent Eric Anderson says they normally they keep the statue locked away. Perhaps back in 1929, you could have valuable busts sitting out in the open. But not so these days.

In fact, if you look where there are suppose to be six plaques with Shakespeare quotes, today there are only four, and a couple blank spaces. Those two bronze plaques were wrenched off the wall in 2008, most likely stolen to be sold for scrap metal. No matter how tranquil it may seem here, we are still in the middle of 21st century San Francisco.”

via An Afternoon with the Bard in Golden Gate Park | KALW.

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Golden Gate Park is a favorite running route.

Nathana Yau/FlowingData running map S.F.

“Nathan Yau at FlowingData created maps tracing popular running routes in 22 major cities and San Francisco is one of them.”   As a runner, I’m not surprised to see my favorite route show up bold on this map;  it follows the Panhandle and into Golden Gate Park.

But The Bold Italic website (see link below) has looked at how this map was made in more detail and discovered that it relies on “public data from an app called RunKeeper. These visualizations are only representative of people who use RunKeeper, that is people with smartphones who download exercise tracking apps: a pretty small, specific demographic of the population. That probably explains why some of the less well-to-do areas of San Francisco are coming up blank.”  I’m thinking there should be a thick network of running routes heading into the park from all directions;  surely the park is a magnet for runners within a couple of miles at least.

via Looking for New Running Spots? Check Out This Map – The Bold Italic – San Francisco.

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runaway horse causes havoc in golden gate park (Feb. 21, 1886)

GGP.SouthDrive.SFPL.AAA-8339Looking at pictures like this one (South Drive, Golden Gate Park, probably dating to the late nineteenth century, SFPL/AAA-8339), it’s tempting to romanticize the park before the advent of the automobile.  But the following hair-raising report from the San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 21, 1886, paints quite a different picture.

” One of the most exciting and serious runaways that ever occurred in Golden Gate Park took place there yesterday afternoon.   Miss Lillie Linnikau of 927 Golden Gate Avenue and a friend thought to enjoy the delights of an afternoon ride around the park, and accordingly hired a rig at French’s livery stable on Golden Gate Avenue, consisting of a sprightly animal and a two-wheeled phaeton.  All went serenely until the pleasure-seekers reached the corner of Stanyan and Haight streets, where the horse became very much alarmed at the Ocean Railroad dummy.  In a moment he was unmanageable, and started off at a dangerous speed, throwing both the ladies out and injuring one quite severely.

Reaching the main entrance of the park, the horse, by this time fairly crazed, turned in and tore up the avenue at a frightful pace, the cart bounding and dodging around in the animal’s rear as if hardly touching the ground.  At the place called Chickens’ Point — the mound covered with greensward, where the children play and older persons lounge — were standing the handsome family horse and double-seated phaeton belonging to Mrs. Hoadley, in which latter she was seated with the two Misses Rogers.  Seeing the great peril that threatened them in an instant, she endeavored to turn her horse to one side and give free way to the maddened runaway, but too late.  One shaft of the cart struck Mrs. Hoadley’s horse just above the breast collar and plunged into the creature’s lungs nearly eighteen inches, and snapped off like a straw.

The obstacle turned the runaway from his forward course around to the right, where was standing one of Bridge’s rigs, driven by J. King.  Mr King was more successful than Mrs. Hoadley in getting out of the way.  He gave his animal a cut with the whip that caused her to shoot ahead with a jump about twenty feet, and the passing cart caught the bind wheel, doing no other damage but spring the axle.  From this point the frenzied beast plunged right down the stairs into the small grounds occupied by seats and filled with vehicles and people.

The first obstacle encountered was a buggy occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Detrick, which was smashed into fragments in an instant and Mrs. Detrick very badly injured.  Another buggy standing near suffered a like fate, and the horses attached to both became frightened and ran away.  The mad career of the runaway came suddenly to an end in another moment by his jumping into a garden plot on the opposite side and getting so entangled in the harness that he fell and was caught.

In the music grounds there was a fearful panic.  Three mad horses were tearing around and the area was densely filled with people, but fortunately they were all subdued without anything more than some severe bruising and scratching, resulting in the rush of the crowd.

Mrs. Hoadley’s horse stood perfectly quiet amid all the excitement and the instant after the shaft struck him she bounded out of her phaeton and pulled the broken fragment out of his bleeding breast.  The animal simply trembled and cried, but still never moved and Mrs. Hoadley held a handkerchief to the wound until Mr. King returned with Dr. Teval.  As quietly as possible the ambulance kept by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was procured and the bleeding horse conveyed to Dr. Teval’s veterinary hospital.

Had the runaway horse proceeded twenty or thirty feet further before turning into the music ground the havoc would necessarily have been frightful, as the seats and walks all along were closely crowded with women and children and escape would have been impossible.  And had the former regulations of forbidding teams and vehicles to stand in the public grounds been in force much of the mischief that did result would have been avoided.  The authorities state that today and in the future no vehicles will be allowed in that part of the grounds.”



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trees love light: photos of trees in golden gate park at the botanical garden


A beautiful exhibit of photographs by local photographer, Steve Kane, opened in the library of the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park last night and will be on view through April, 2014.   Don’t miss this one!  Using a digital camera and various software programs Kane focuses on trees in the park.  The California Buckeye  (Aesculus californica) pictured above is just one example.  To see more, visit Steve Kane’s website at

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