Vasquez Rocks

Plants Named California

The land of Vasquez Rocks Park
The land of Vasquez Rocks Park

Happy
New
Year!

Some plants are very distinctly California Desert plants. So much so that they’re named after the place. In a recent hop by Vasquez Rocks Park, I hunted down two of the more ubiquitous california species –

California Cholla, and
California Juniper

A few trekkies on a trek in Vasquez Rocks
No, these two aren’t named Cholla and Juniper.
I think.

There’s been rain recently. I had wanted to take a closer look at how things are greening up with the lower winter temperatures… and now this rain is throwing nature into a frenzy. Seeds are dropping, cacti are attacking, and there’s even been a fight between crows and a hawk.

It’s the end of the old year. The very very old, overused year that we have had. I’ve seen more and more people return to the parks, to head outdoors. It’s wonderful. Whatever next year brings, I have a feeling that everyone’s going to be taking a closer look at the life that’s been living alongside them all this time.


California Cholla

Cylindropuntia californica

A California Cholla stuck through my leather boot
A California Cholla stuck through my leather boot

A closeup of the California Cholla's poky bits
A closeup of the California Cholla’s poky bits
The wooden skeleton of a Cholla cactus
The wooden skeleton of a Cholla cactus

This is one of the many cacti known as the Cholla, in the Cylindropuntia genus. They have cylindrical parts, and are made almost entirely of stems. They grow like a tree, with a lightweight wooden skeleton helping reach greater heights while retaining water. These skeletons look amazing! And until recently, I hadn’t quite noticed they came from cacti (I just thought they were from some odd plant that I never arrived on-time to see).

More importantly, these Cholla cacti grow in such a way that each segment is meant to break off. The spikes and spines (and glochids) are incredibly good at sticking into fur, skin, wood, shoes, anything and everything that has a chance to move. Then, like many other cacti, a whole new plant can grow from that little cutting.

Believe me, these spikes are incredibly capable at grabbing onto anything passing by. While I used to think that cactus spikes were used primarily for protection of the plant, I’m now pretty convinced otherwise when Cylindropuntia are involved. Seems like a great way for the plant to break apart and get carried far afield.


California Juniper

Juniperus californica

A California Juniper with some berries
A California Juniper with some berries
A California Juniper shedding its berries heavilyA California Juniper shedding its berries heavily
A California Juniper shedding its berries heavily

This is a very pleasant kind of Juniper. It usually grows between 2500ft and 5000ish elevation, so this placement is closer to the bottom of its acceptable range. Hiking around and climbing, you could definitely change altitude quickly. I’m not sure what altitude I was actually at…

It’s wonderfully tolerant of drought. It grows here and in Joshua Tree (among other places), so it’s no surprise that it has to be hardy. The cones on it pollinate in spring, and drop their seeds after 8 or 9 months. That actually works out, timing-wise, so I’m glad I got to see the seeds before they washed away.

It’s also supposed to be quite popular for bonsai, though I can’t imagine the sort of room you’d need to keep this tree in for it to be happy. Maybe the oven.

I’m going to keep an eye out for little saplings around this area for the next few months. With that many seeds getting dropped – and a recent rain – I’m really hoping at least one of them sprouts.


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