Getting People Back to Nature

If you grew up several decades ago, it is likely that you can recall your weekends or after-school hours spent playing outdoors. Your parents left it up to you to entertain yourself, whether that be playing hockey in the street with the neighborhood kids or climbing trees with your brother or sister in the woods behind your house. For most of you, those times spent outdoors are fond memories, however it may seem second nature or almost instinctual that you do not expect or encourage your own children to engage in the same activities as you once did.

It is no secret that the children of today spend a great deal of time indoors. Electronic immersion, indoor confinement, and structured activities have become a social norm. Children are expected to spend several hours inside the classroom, complete their homework, and enjoy their leisure time watching television, playing video games, or participating in organized sports. What is more surprising, however, is the degree of disparity in time spent in nature between generations.

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Sighting Blue Whales Along the Coast of Southern California

Blue Whale (Balaenoptera Musculus) off the coast of California

Blue whale season in California is underway. Whether you’ve never been aboard a whale watching vessel, or have spotted almost every cetacean species that makes it way through our waters, don’t miss this year’s opportunity to see the largest animal to ever inhabit the Earth.

Blue whales, once near extinction, have rebounded in numbers thanks to strict international regulations on commercial whaling. They can be found in every ocean worldwide, with around 2,000 individuals living part of their lives off the California coast. Spending the winter months in the warm equatorial waters of Central America and Mexico to breed and give birth, the blues then migrate poleward towards the more productive waters of higher latitudes to feed. They arrive in California as early as June and July, but occur in heaviest concentrations in August and September. The last ones may be seen in October before they return to the warmer tropical waters.

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Drought-Tolerant Gardening: A Southern California Solution

Purple Sage species, a drought-tolerant native

When it comes to lifestyle, it’s hard to beat the climate here in Southern California. Mild winters, ample beach days, and warm summer nights are several of the reasons why so many people have flocked to this region. . Although we may enjoy the plentitude of sunny days, the minimal rainfall we receive results in a tremendous amount of costly irrigation for our yards. When the hills turn brown in the summer, we certainly don’t want our lawns and gardens to do the same.

Many of our yards here in sizzling Southern California contain lush, beautiful plants imported from all over the country and the world. Often these plant species are accustomed to wetter climates, and cannot survive a California summer without ample irrigation. Unfortunately, many of our conventional irrigation methods are very inefficient, resulting in significant water losses and high water bills. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have brilliant, striking gardens and yards without the effort, cost, and environmental impact of intensive irrigation?

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Peculiar Plants of our Area: The Chaparral Yucca

Chaparral Yuccas (Hesperoyucca whipplei)

If you have been hitting the trails recently, it is likely you have come across a plant with a towering white stalk of flowers, reaching twice your height or more. These impressive inflorescences belong to the Chaparral Yucca, more nobly known as “Our Lord’s Candle”, or Hesperoyucca whipplei in the scientific sense. Classified as an agave in the asparagus family, this sharp-leaved, unusual looking plant hardly resembles something that you would steam and eat with your dinner. Although the asparagus family contains thousands of species, many of which are not edible, the Chaparral yucca does in fact have edible parts. Although it is rarely eaten in the present day, several Native American tribes consumed the rosettes, immature pods, flowering stalks, and flowers. The roots are hardly if not ever consumed, but often mistaken for the “yuca”, or cassava root, a completely unrelated plant that serves as a staple in the diet of many tropical nations.

Chaparral Yucca can be found as far North as Monterey and Fresno Counties, south into Mexico, and east into Arizona. It favors habitats on the warmer side, and is one of the most common species in coastal sage scrub and Chaparral. Additionally it can be found in lower densities in deserts, creosote bush scrub, dry woodlands, and yellow pine forest. This hardy plant is highly tolerant of dry, rocky soils, and can even be spotted springing out of some very craggy, inhospitable looking rock formations. The way in which it juts out from the surrounding vegetation creates a striking contrast that can make for some intriguing hiking scenery. A similar species, the Century Plant, is often confused with the Chaparral Yucca. This relative of the Chaparral Yucca does not live nearly as long as its name suggests, rather only a meager 10-30 years. It can be distinguished from the Chaparral Yucca most easily by its height, as it grows to be much taller: up to twenty-six feet high.

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