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Blinded to the Light

Mountain maple, Quincy Airport (10/12/19) Robert Kermen

Sometimes, we’re blinded to the light, revved up by the cold, a color spotter in the night.

Paraphrasing Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics, we are often more influenced by popular belief than scientific fact.

In color spotter Robert Kermen’s case, he was blinded to the light, not knowing that it had a greater influence on fall color change than temperature.

He wrote when submitting this report, “I used to think that a leaf’s turning color was triggered by temperature or colder air flow, but when I saw this tree I knew that was only part of it. Just like fruit trees, the side that gets the most sunlight, has the riper fruit. Except that in the case of leaf coloring, the side that gets the most sunlight in the fall turns color first.”

The revelation happened when he saw this unusual tree and confirmed his “aha moment,” when he read Brent Cook’s article, How A Tree Grows.

Cook states, “If you’ve ever seen a tree that has green leaves on one side and red, orange, or yellow leaves on the other, it was probably a result of different amounts of sunlight. In the northern hemisphere, leaves that are on the southwest side of a tree will receive much more sunlight than leaves on the opposite side. Leaves near the top of a tree will also receive more sunlight than leaves at the bottom of the canopy. Consequently, phytochrome (photoreceptors) will trigger abscission (fall color) sooner in leaves getting more sunlight.”

Note that in the above photograph, the shaded side of the tree (left) is still green, whereas the side in the sunlight (right) has turned color. It’s counterintuitive, but a fact of nature. Why that is true, is not entirely clear to me.

Could it be that the sunlit side of the tree senses the change in autumn light waves sooner than that in the shade? We’ll let a dendrologist answer that.

In the meantime, the below photograph answers the question. Jeff Luke Titcomb took it from behind the fence to reveal: it isn’t one tree with two sides, it’s two trees whose canopies have merged.

It is a mystery solved to everyone’s embarrassment. Though, because of Bob’s inquisitiveness, we learned something new about the possibilities that a tree could have two fall color sides, because of light.

Two trees in one, Quincy Airport (10/14/19) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Bob was returning to the Northern Sacramento Valley by way of the Beckwourth Pass (5,221′) (named after legendary mountain man James Beckwourth; his is an extraordinary story) and CA-70 along the Feather River. Color is near peak throughout most of the route.

  • Feather River, CA-70 – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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The Holly and The Ivy

Boston Ivy, Scripps College, Claremont (11/30/18) Kaiyuan Chen

Holly standeth in the hall fair to behold, 
Ivy stands without the door; she is full sore a cold

Holly and his merry men, they dancen and they sing;
Ivy and her maidens, they weepen and they wring.

Ivy hath a lybe, she caught it with the cold,
So may they all have, that with Ivy hold.

Holly and ivy have been linked together for many centuries, though they are quite different plants. The Holly is a tree, Ivy a vine.

Owlcation.com tells us, that used as a mythological symbol ivy was associated with the Ancient Greek god of wine, Dionysus who often wore a crown of ivy.

English ivy grew abundantly over the childhood home of Dionysus, the mythic mountain Nysa. To the middle ages, ivy was associated with alcoholic beverages, often hung from an alepole or alestake outside a tavern to indicate that the establishment served wine or ale.

The expression “Good wine needs no bush,” meaning that something of merit needs no advertisement, comes from a bunch of ivy being called a bush. In other words, good wine needs no alepole, as word of mouth will establish its quality.

In “The Holly and the Ivy,” a traditional Christmas carol, holly is mentioned throughout, but ivy is mentioned only in the first and last verse, almost as an afterthought.

Ivy certainly is no afterthought at American colleges, where ivy-covered walls have become synonymous with prestigious education. The practice of growing ivy over the brick walls of northeastern colleges, evolved to their sports teams being described as within The Ivy League.

Other universities and colleges adopted the horticultural practice growing climbing vines of Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricupidata, and English Ivy, Hedera helix, on their walls as verdant symbols of higher education.

Scripps College, Claremont (11/30/18) Kaiyuan Chen

At Scripps, a renowned women’s college in Claremont, Calif., Boston Ivy climbs the walls, providing late autumn color.

Kaiyuan Chen reports that the vine – which is from China not from Boston – and the school’s other deciduous trees and shrubs now vary from Peak to Past Peak.

That’s appropriate, as it’s almost time to sing … 

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir 
  • Claremont Colleges, Claremont – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.
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November ends, not the color

LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia (11/28/18) Frank McDonough

Today is the last day of November, but there’s still another 20 days of autumn ahead.

Frank McDonough of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden demonstrates what’s ahead in today’s post.

California’s arboreta and botanic gardens are in their own, presently, with holiday displays blending with final bursts of fall color. To find an arboretum near you, CLICK HERE

  • Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Fun with Fungi

Sulphur Tufts, Hypholoma fasciculare, Trinidad (11/3/18) Gabriel Leete

Late October/early November are usually mushroom months, but with little rain so far in autumn, we’ve not yet seen much fungi photography.

To the rescue comes Shasta Cascade color spotter Gabriel Leete who drove to find a store of spore-born fungi in Shasta Cascade and North Coast forests.

Gabriel became fascinated with mushrooms when he was 19 (he’s now 46). So, he really knows the fungi he photographs. Leete wrote that he became interested in them when trying to find a certain fungi, then realized it had “deadly look alikes.”

So, he focused on learning how to identify mushrooms which led to exploring what edible fungi he might “take home for dinner.”

A word of caution: many California mushrooms are poisonous. Only if you are expert like Gabriel, should you attempt to dine on them. Not taking such a precaution could have you pushing up daisies.

Leete’s fascination with fungi made him serious not just about identifying fungi, but growing them, and eventually, mushroom microscopy. 

To tune his ability to identify one mushroom from another, he’s joined groups of expert mushroom hunters. They are so knowledgeable, that he’s learned a lot from them.

Mushrooms are both good for the environment and, if edible, good for you (full of nutrients and medicinal qualities).

MushroomShack.com reports that “mushrooms play an important role in the environment, breaking down logs, leaves, stems, and other organic matter in the forest to recycle essential nutrients. Many are vital to the growth and survival of trees. They form a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship, with the trees giving mushrooms glucose and mushrooms providing trees with essential minerals.

“Not all mushrooms grow on wood, though. Some grow from the ground, feeding on humus and organic materials in the soil.”

Pacific banana slug, Ariolimax californicus, devouring a Russula atroviolacea, Trinidad (11/3/18) Gabriel Leete

Friends, following is more fun-filled, factual fungi filler:

  • (Above) Sulphur Tufts are mildly poisonous and prolific, found throughout California. When fresh, the clustered caps are bright yellow to greenish-yellow, as are the gills and stem, though cap colors vary widely.
  • Russula atroviolacea, a type of fungi known for its bright color (Russula means red) is seen being devoured by a Pacific banana slug, Ariolimax californicus. Banana slugs are the mascot of the University of California, Santa Cruz (The university’s chancellor had chosen the Sea Lions, but the student body persisted in supporting the lowly mollusk as the school’s mascot. It has since been judged, on numerous occasions, as the nation’s best college mascot). Though banana slugs were a food source for North Coast Yurok Indians, their slime deadens tastebuds. Celebrated on a UCSC t-shirt, Sammy the Slug is identified by its motto, “No Known Predators.” Wikipedia advises, “Even when fed corn meal to purge them or soaked in vinegar to remove slime, the slugs’ flavor is not always well regarded.” Gabriel says their acrid flavor “gets worse the more you taste.” I guess the t-shirt got it right. 
  • (Below) Bracket Fungus, Ganoderma applanatum, also called shelf fungus is called “the artist’s fungus” due to its white to gray pore surface and brown bruising. It retains the brown bruising for years when picked and brought indoors.
  • Amanita muscria, var. guessowii buttons grow to be spectacular mushrooms, but are unigue and beautiful as buttons, as well. The Amanita muscaria are typically red with white dots on the cap and have been placed on many stamps, postcards, in books and cartoons. They vary from scarlet to yellow and are lethally poisonous. Look, don’t touch.
  • Postia ptychogaster, commonly known as the powder puff bracket, is a species of fungus in the family Fomitopsidaceae. The fungus resembles a powdery cushion that fruits on stumps and logs of rotting conifer wood.
  • The King Bolete, Boletus edulis is a world traveler, called the Cep in France and Steinpilz in Germany. This is a well-known, large mushroom favored for use in cooking pots by mushroom hunters. This example was small, young with a greasy/tacky, bald brown cap and a meaty swollen stem with fine reticulation (netting). The pore surface is usually white, with tightly spaced or “stuffed” pores, becoming more and more visible as it ages.
  • Stropharia ambigua are fairly large and at first bright yellow, fading with age. They become semi-slimy and adorned with drooping white veils. They are both beautiful and prolific … so much so that they’ve been called weeds due to how many grow along the coast.
  • Peppery Bolete, Chalciporus piperatus, are not something to eat, “losing their peppery flavor when cooked, and with so many other edible mushrooms growing in the same habitat, why bother?” Gabriel advises. 
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California Wild Grape

California wild grape, Vitis californica, Cameron Park (11/2/18) John Poimiroo

A month ago, I reported about California wild grape, Vitis californica, growing near a dry creek in Cameron Park.

Since then, its grapes have withered, though its large, kidney-shaped leaves are now displaying from muted to intensely saturated color.

A climbing vine, this one has scaled Fremont cottonwoods, several stories high.

Dr. Eva Begley, author of Falcon Guides’ Plants of Northern California writes that, “if there’s nothing to climb, it spreads across the ground, where it can provide good erosion control.”

Its grape are now shriveled, though were plump and ripe, sweet to the taste, but seedy, a month ago. More of the red color is likely to develop this month. Look for them in riparian areas and canyons. 

  • California Wild Grape, Cameron Park – Near Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica, Cameron Park (11/2/18) John Poimiroo
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Gone Big in Big Pine

Frémont cottonwood, Big Pine (10/30/18) Mark Harding

Cottonwood cannot be overlooked in the Owens Valley. They’re just too big.

Color spotter Mark Harding was driving US 395 through Big Pine on Tuesday when he could hardly stop looking up, and it wasn’t the views of Mt. Whitney that caught his eye.

Frémont and black cottonwood (Populus Fremontii and Populus trichocarpa) each grow to 100 feet in height in the Eastern Sierra.

A landmark Frémont cottonwood can be as tall as an 11-story building and five feet wide at its base.

Their limbs are loaded with golden leaves at peak and, with little else as tall in the Owens Valley, elder cottonwood dominate the valley horizon.

The most pronounced difference between each genus is its leaves. Frémont cottonwood have heart-shaped leaves, while those of the black cottonwood are spear-tip shaped.

Those in Mark’s pictures are Near Peak, though cottonwood hold their leaves longer than aspen, so they will continue to stay bright for another two weeks.

Cottonwood growing nearby in the Alabama Hills have peaked in January, proving a durability that just cannot be overlooked. 

  • Big Pine (3,989′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Like Wine, Each Vine Has Its Time

Vines change color by grape variety. Here’s an example. The photograph of Zinfandel grape leaves, seen below, is rated as Patchy to Peak in the amount of fall color seen. Whereas, less than a mile east on the same road at C G DiArie Vineyard (video), vines vary between Peak and Past Peak. 

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth Amador County (10/20/18) John Poimiroo

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Indian Rhubarb – Darmera

Indian rhubarb, Rock Creek, Meadow Valley (10/18/18) Michael Beatley

Indian rhubarb, Rock Creek, Meadow Valley (10/18/18) Michael Beatley

Indian rhubarb, Rock Creek, Meadow Valley (10/18/18) Michael Beatley

Indian rhubarb, Rock Creek, Meadow Valley (10/18/18) Michael Beatley

One of California’s most spectacular native plants is Darmera, or Indian Rhubarb.

With its large, umbrella formed, orange-red leaves, it is spectacular when contrasted with wild blue streams and lush riparian foliage in the Shasta Cascade.

Plumas County color spotter, Michael Beatley visited “Rock Creek in Meadow Valley, which flows into Spanish Creek, which flows into the North Fork of the Feather River, which flows into the Sacramento river and on to San Francisco Bay.” Rock Creek and Spanish Creek were gold mining creeks in the 1860s.

To get to the most colorful examples of Darmera beside these creeks, you’ll need to hike to them. Begin by driving six miles west of Quincy along Bucks Lake Road toward Meadow Valley.

“Just before the park,” Michael explains (which park, he never said – but we figure there must be only one), “turn left onto the USFS dirt road at the sign that reads, ‘Deans Valley, Meadow Camp 2 miles.’ At the bridge is Meadow Camp, a National Forest campground which lies beside Rock Creek.  Hike downstream.  There are no trails; forge your own. The Indian Rhubarb is at Peak and just Past Peak. Gold pan, if you like. Best time is 10 a.m., as the sun crests the tree tops hitting the water. The  campground is dry and free. The road is dirt, bumpy, but accessible by car. This is a hiking spot for fall color, not a drive by.”

I tried to find the camp on Google maps, but could not. You’ll have to trust Michael’s directions to find it. This may just be the time to pack along a copy of the 3rd Edition of NOLS Wilderness Navigation by Gene Trantham and Darran Wells.

It’s NOLS’ official guide to finding your way in the outdoors, since no bread crumbs were otherwise left by Michael to follow. 

Indian rhubarb, Rock Creek, Meadow Valley (10/18/18) Michael Beatley

  • Indian Rhubarb, Rock Creek, Meadow Valley – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


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Last Fruit of the Season

Hawthorn, El Dorado Hills (10/18/18) John Poimiroo

Hawthorn (Crataegus), according to Celtic lore, embody contradictions.

Beautiful in springtime with their abundant white blossoms, Hawthorn produce bonny bouquets. Yet, their long, sharp thorns (a member of the rose family) and deathly smell when harvested, discouraged the Celts from picking them.

It became a bad omen to bring beautiful blooming branches of Hawthorn blossoms into a Celtic home, as when cut they smell like decaying flesh and were seen as an omen of death. The Celts believed the Hawthorn to be imbued with male energy, yet also stood as a symbol of female fertility … more duality.

In autumn, their branches hang heavy with bright red berries, attracting birds. The berries are long lasting, often into winter, are delicious fresh, dried, juiced, made into syrup, wine, jam or jelly and said to benefit the heart and circulation in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, as they are a diuretic (consult a physician before using for this purpose).

Though, their long thorns are so discouraging, that when planted in dense rows they are used as impenetrable fences for livestock or privacy.

In our yard is this Autumn Glory variety of tree that gets taller each year (they grow to 25′). Presently, it is carrying heavy bunches of fruit upon its thorny limbs.

Its dark-green, leathery leaves are showing the earliest signs of color change, with its edges now gilded. Eventually, green leaves will turn to gold and the tree’s fresh red fruit will wither.

Hawthorn is, of course, not native to California, but like the Celts, we love its beauty and fear its thorns. 

  • Hawthorn, El Dorado Hills – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Meadow Valley Morn


Pacific dogwood, Bigleaf maple, Black oak, Meadow Valley (10/16/18) Michael Beatley

Aspen, Meadow Valley (10/16/18) Michael Beatley

Black oak, Meadow Valley (10/16/18) Michael Beatley

Manzanita, Meadow Valley (10/16/18) Michael Beatley

Dogwood, Meadow Valley (10/16/18) Michael Beatley

Mornings are golden in Meadow Valley, Plumas County color spotter Michael Beatley reports.

Michael shot pictures  along Big Creek Rd,  just west of Meadow Valley in Plumas County.  It is the lower road to Bucks Lake. Turn Left at the split in the road where the sign reads, “Bucks Lake via Big Creek Rd for RVs.” The road is populated with bigleaf maple, Pacific dogwood, black oak, and some quaking aspen.

As Beatley’s photographs show, this nine-mile road to Bucks Lake is gorgeous and “worth the drive.” Intense purple, orange, red, yellow, vermillion, gold, lime, pink and green tones, illuminated by shadowed light create magical results on a Meadow Valley morn.

Best time of the day to drive Big Creek Rd. is between 9 a.m. and noon. A 4WD vehicle is required. Accommodations may be obtained in Quincy (click the UpStateCA graphic below for guidance).

Plumas County is at Peak now and through the coming week. A trip to the Northern Sierra now is a must for anyone who’s never seen it at Peak. 

  • Meadow Valley – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!