The Understory Revives

Today is Saturday and it’s raining again. But this was predicted, so I went shopping (again) on Friday, and this time I brought my camera.

Understory? Reminds me of a bad joke. But ecologically, it’s everything that grows below the forest canopy that isn’t actually living in the ground. And though the canopy no longer exists along many parts of this river, springtime remains the time of the understory, of the lower-growing plants, bushes and trees that thrive before the canopy leafs out and shades them.

After a dry February, the rains returned in March, giving the early plants and flowers a big chance to proliferate. And though in many places the grasses are already choking them out, in many other places they are the stars right now.

Flowers

broom

Let’s start with all the leguminous plants that like to flower at this time. Above is a broom. Brooms are very hardy and are officially considered weeds in most of the west. But they sure are showy when they flower!

lupine

Here’s a lupine. What a show! This is probably the Silver Lupine, which is native in this area, but quite possibly has been replanted in this case.

Another spring legume is the vetch, not pictured. It is very common in this area and likes to crowd in with Star Thistle and the grasses that mature later in the year. And another is the Redbud. It is not native here, but has been planted all over due to its beautiful spring flowers.

Next, some flowers that may be horticultural escapees, but are very conspicuous now in the Folsom area.

Here we see Allium, Fiddleneck, and a mustard (Rocket) all growing together. The Allium are so noticeable right now that they deserve a separate portrait.

allium closeup

Monkeyflower, which I saw blooming in the late summer, is even more prolific now. It tends to grow in bushy patches.

monkeyflower

Right next to this plant, growing under a pine tree, were a large bunch of Collinsias. I call them by their botanical name because they have so many different common names, such as “Chinese Houses.”

collinsias

We also see vetch and leaves of a buckeye in the background, along with an unidentified dried stalk with seed capsules still attached, along with a mint in the fuzzy foreground on the right.

And of course Spring here would not be complete without California Poppies.

california poppy

Way down the parkway in the William B. Pond Park lawn, I found this next plant, which I had difficulty identifying. It is a Henbit, a small-flowered member of the mint family.

henbit

Other Plants

fern fronds in the sun

I had to go back and visit the fern plants I have been keeping track of. They seem mature now, which means the “green” part of their life cycle is almost over. In a moist environment (a real understory) these fronds would persist throughout the summer. But out here among these rocks, they will probably die back.

coral lichen and mosses

The amazing lichens I photographed back when it was really wet have already died back, and the mosses they live with are well on their way to completing their life cycle for another year, too.

Drawn to the Draws

In western lingo, any gully or visible low area is called a “draw.” I have always found these areas appealing, but they are hard to photograph in a way that conveys the feeling of shelter that goes with them.

large open draw

This one is all sunlit, right next to the trail, and with a big dead tree down at the bottom.

deep shaded draw

This one is also right next to the trail, but shaded. It is quite deep, but possibly not really natural, as all the terrain in this area has been modified by the old gold mining activities that used to be the norm along this river. But that’s been over 100 years ago now, so all these places have had a lot of time to grow back into more diverse ecosystems.

poppies next to a wide draw

Here’s another wide and sunny drainage area with poppies all along its banks. This is right next to a huge pile of river rocks (mine tailings) that has not yet become overgrown.

Animals

Animals present various photographic challenges. In this first shot, though, I think I just had my camera set wrong. The fuzziness of the butterflies does, however, suggest how in motion they were.

butterflies in fiddleneck

There were a lot of these dark-winged butterflies flying around. They look like they may be Swallowtails.

male turkeys

These turkeys did not really want their picture taken. I believe these are males. There were some females not far away, but they were further off the trail.

This deer also wanted to keep its distance.

Stay At Home?

people on the trail

A lot of people seemed to agree that home was not the place to stay on a beautiful sunny day. As was true last week, there were a lot of people walking and biking this Friday afternoon. Most of the government people involved with the shutdown orders seem to recognize our need to get out for some fresh air. They are most concerned about people going out in order to gather somewhere and then infect each other.

I was on an “essential” trip, grocery shopping, and those qualify as well. “Infrastructure” work also keeps going, such as on this construction site, and at the hotel they are building across from where I live.

construction site

The businesses being hit the hardest are the gathering places. The restaurants, bars, auditoriums, schools and churches. My church decided to close so that parishioners would not find themselves in situations where they would have to explain to authorities why going to church is essential (though I think it should be considered so!).

It is such a shame that a stupid disease would convince us that we should not go out and meet with each other, hug each other, or shake hands. It can’t continue this way. Hiding inside is no way to confront a problem. We do too much of that in “normal” times. In the end it would probably be better for us to get out more, not less. It’s already become a bad habit that many of us really need to break, not find more justifications for.

smile

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