28 May 2014

Even among big trees, I stare at the ground.

I flew out to California a few weeks back to meet my sister and mom for a road trip up to Reno for my brother's graduation. First off, congrats to Dr. Thomas J. Hertweck for completing his PhD in English (Literature and Environment) from the University of Nevada, Reno! I was pleased to be able to meet some of the other fantastic folks in his department, and am hoping to be able to collaborate on some Hertweck & Hertweck publications in the future. Although Tom professes to be "traditional" and eschews official obligations to social media, I know he still frequently lurks the interwebs…so good job, big bro.

Sequoia sempervirens, or redwood trees
While out west, I convinced my family to traipse around a few parks so I could fit in a little botanizing. The highlight was Calaveras Big Tree State Park. You're probably not surprised that there were some pretty big trees. There is only one species of sequoia (a commonly used name in the vernacular), which belongs to the genus Sequoia, and is also known as coastal redwood or just redwood. Redwoods belong to the sequoia subfamily of the cypress family. There are lots of other species of cypress, but redwoods are the only sequoias…other related species are long extinct.
Glad to get the tree taxonomy off my chest! Turns out this trip was a good way to torment educate my family about botany.

Come to find out, even when I'm walking in a forest with some of the tallest trees around, I still tend to look down. Sometimes it's because a downward gaze lets you appreciate the size of these trees. 
Mostly, though, I'm looking nearer towards the ground because I get distracted by flowers. Sometimes they're pretty similar to the plants I see back east. I've placed some tentative species names with the pictures below, but it's really half-assed botanizing at best (hey, I was on vacation).

Dicentra formosa, Pacific bleeding heart. Bleeding hearts are found all over the place, but this local species had nice pink flowers (I'm a sucker for them)
Trillium chloropetalum, giant wakerobin (indeed, it was quite large, the size of a dinner plate!)

Smilacina stellata, false Solomon's seal (widespread, the same one I see on the east coast!)

I'll admit it…I really don't care about identifying trees from Rosaceae.

Corallorhiza striata, an orchid (!)
And sometimes I come across really cool saprophytic plants! Saprophtyes are plants which obtain their nutrients from dead and decaying material on a forest floor. Here's a pretty nice explanation of them (with more gratuitous plant pics) from a carnivorous plant website (because weird plants gotta stick together, ya know?). These types of plants are particularly near and dear to my heart because I talk about them in a manuscript I'm currently revising for publication. Really cool evolutionary stuff!

Sarcodes sanguinea, snow plant, a saprophyte from the heath/blueberry family

I'm not gonna lie. I always feel pretty special when I see a saprophytic plant in the wild, and I think it's mostly just because they're so weird. Not green? Not a problem! Still a plant. I'm sure I'll wax philosophical about these and other topics again in the near future.

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