» 2017 » May

A Tale of Two California Flowers

Everywhere you go, flowers are blossoming!  In the mountains, on the plains,  around the corners of our neighborhood, they offer so much beauty and charm of the nature.  Among them, these two flowers probably catch your eyes quite a lot: the tall Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri), and the splendid, golden California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica).  Together, they are a tale of two flowers. Matilija Poppy California Poppy

Voting for the State Flower of California

In 1893, the California State Floral Society met to vote on the state flower of California.  There were 3 contenders: the Matilija Poppy, the California Poppy, and Mariposa Lily.  All native to California.

Mariposa Lily
Mariposa Lily

The result: California Poppy received all the votes except for 3, which went to Mariposa Lily.  The California Poppy was determined to be California’s state flower.  A decade later, in 1903, legislature made the title official. Here is a California Scenic Highway sign with the California Poppy. CA State Flower

Two Flowers, Great Plants for a California Friendly Garden

Both Motilija Poppy and California Poppy are beautiful California native plants that are drought tolerant, making them great choices for a water efficient garden. Matilija Poppy  is native to dry, sunny environments in Southern California and Baja California.  The flower, like a fried egg (“Fried Egg Flower”, another name of Matilija Poppy) is one of the biggest of any species native to California.  The flowers usually begin from early spring and can last until late summer. Matilija Poppy is tough and very drought tolerant, can survive in most of the soil conditions.  It can grow to be 7 feet tall and 28 feet wide.  If there are some spaces needed to be filled in the garden, the Matilija Poppy can be a good contender. In this garden, the Matilija Poppies are planted near the window.   When fully grown, they can become a shield for privacy and hot sunlight. The California Poppy is 4 to 12 inches tall.  They bloom in spring, adding their bright golden or yellow color to any garden. It is drought tolerant and easy to grow. Here, the green foliage and yellow flowers decorate the dry creek bed of this water efficient garden very nicely.

Vote on Your Favorite California Flower

Now you have a chance to vote on your favorite California flower.  These 4 flowers are all California natives. In addition to the Matilija Poppy and California Poppy introduced above, the other two are California Lilac (Cean0thus) and Lupine (Lupinus).  They are all drought tolerant plants great for a California friendly garden. Which one is your favorite?

  1. Matilija Poppy
  2. California Poppy
  3. California Lilac
  4. Lupine

California Flowers

Drinking Water: a Vital Part of Our Life

We all know how important water is to us – drinking, washing, cooking, showering, watering – all part of the things we do with it every day.  Water, and clean drinking water, is essential to all of us. For most of us, when we turn on the tap, water will flow – it comes so natural that we rarely think about where the water comes from, and how they came here. To have access to clean drinking water is central part of human activities since the ancient time.  To have such access, sometimes huge infrastructures are built over a vast territory.  The aqueducts in Roman Empire is one of the most distinguished examples.

Roman aqueduct and drinking water

According to “Roman aqueduct” in Wikipedia, “The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts in order to bring water from often distant sources into cities and towns, supplying public baths, latrines, fountains and private households…Rome‘s first aqueduct supplied a water fountain sited at the city’s cattle market. By the 3rd century AD, the city had eleven aqueducts, sustaining a population of over a million in a water-extravagant economy”. The Roman aqueduct represents one of the greatest engineering achievements in the pre-industrial era.  This is one of the 11 aqueducts in Rome, Nero aqueduct, which was built by the infamous emperor that drew water from Claudia aqueduct and sent to his own palace: Aqueduct Thanks to the aqueducts, water is available everywhere in Rome.  It is one such city that you may get around without bringing a bottled water.  These water fountains are everywhere.  They are called “Nasoni”, from the Italian “nasone” (big nose).  The water from it tastes good and is safe to drink. Drinking Water Fountain 1

California: complex water infrastructures and networks

In California, to support the big population across the state (close to 40 million as of 2015) , there are vast regional and local water systems.  In addition, huge and complex water infrastructures were built to transport water from water abundant areas, e.g., Sierra Nevada snow mountains, to where they are needed, on top of the local supply.  Some of the projects include:

  • Central Valley project, that transports water to the farmlands in central valley; and
  • State water project, that delivers water to Southern California.

In addition to surface water, underground water also plays a vital role, providing some 30-40% of the state’s total water supply, which goes much higher in dry years. When we have a sip of water from a fountain in the San Francisco Bay area, that water may come from melted snow in Sierra Nevada, and travel hundreds of miles in the vast water network before it arrives in the west coast.  It takes a lot of work and huge projects for the water to be delivered to every corner like it is today.    

Pollution: Drinking Water Problems

One of the most serious problems related to drinking water is pollution. Bottled water, and the plastics that come along with it, has become a big hazard for our water, especially our ocean and environment.  Americans used about 50 billion water bottles a year, however, only 23% were recycled, that means  77% or 38 billion bottles went into landfill, streams, rivers and eventually ocean.  There they will not dissolve, but break into smaller pieces which will be ingested by sea animals. This is not a good situation. Another big problem is the chemicals from medicines and personal care products.  After the medicines are dumped into toilet, and the shampoos and sunscreens are used and rinsed off in shower, the chemicals will go into sewage and then wastewater treatment facility.  Though water are treated at the facilities, they are not designed to treat the thousands of chemicals present, which will then be released back to the rivers and oceans.   These pollutants can be hazardous to aquatic animals. An ingredient in sunscreen can harm the coral reefs.  The oceans are so polluted now that the dolphin’s immune systems are failing. With the huge water cycle in nature, some of the chemicals make their way back and can be found even in treated drinking water, so in the end it can be harmful to our own health too. 2017-04-13-13h18m58

Improve Water Efficiency: Recycle, Reuse

Water is a precious resource needed by everyone. How can we best use such a resource?  As Felicia Marcus, Chairman of California Water Board put it:  “In Southern California and the Bay Area, we have this massive infrastructure to transport water from the mountains, use it once, and then send it out to sea. Instead, we should be capturing more rainwater, recycling it, and reusing it over and over. ” As Californians learned in the historic 5 year drought, replacing lawns with water efficient gardens can  save water significantly which helped us cope with the drought.  The next step will be to capture and store more of the rainwater, and reuse it.  Use permeable materials in the garden, harvest rain water with a rain barrel, install a rain garden: these are some of the things we can do to further improve the efficiency of our water.  

A Floral Dream Blooms In Spring

After experiencing one of the worst droughts in the state’s history from water year 2011-2016, California went to another extreme since the start of water year 2017, receiving so much rains that it became one of the wettest for the time period so far.  We know generally plants like rain, but how about the drought tolerant plants and native plants that were planted in water efficient gardens last year?  Did they survive?  How do they do after all the rains?  Recently I went back and checked on those gardens, what I saw totally blew me away.  A floral dream is blooming! floral-dream-4  

A floral dram came true

In the design phase of the garden, one plant chosen to be the anchor was Pride of Madeira (Echium), a drought tolerant plant. At 6-8 feet when fully grown, their big spikes are like flower towers in a garden.  With them in the picture, there is no chance a garden is plain or dull!  However, the Echium was just this small plant when the garden was installed.  It would take quite a while before it could grow to 6-8 feet and bloom, everyone reckoned.  “Let’s just wait, and it will come in some years.” But, as it shows, you don’t need to wait that long!  In a mere 3 months of time, during which it rained heavily, it grew from one foot to 5 foot, with 4 huge spikes of flower tower in full bloom.  It is a spectacular view.  The owner took a trip before it bloomed.  When she returned and saw those spikes, “I was so surprised! It was gorgeous!” Jan 2017 Echium Apr 2017 Echium 2 Apart from Echium, other plants also grew and bloomed beautifully. Jan 2017 Sage 1 Apr 2017 Sage 2 More flowers blossom-2 blossom-1

Rain help make floral dreams come true

While most of the drought tolerant plants are tough and can thrive in new environments, without a doubt, the heavy rains in the last winter and spring helped them grow so well as they did. One might ask, since these plants are drought tolerant, why are the rains still so important?  Yes, it is true they adapt to dry conditions and can survive in a low water environment; however, most of them would still like a certain amount of water to bloom, or bloom well.  If it was dry in the last season, they can still live, but likely not produce such splendid blossom. For plants like Echium and Seaside Daisy (the purple flower above), which originate from areas of Mediterranean climate (Canary Island and California coast), they are accustomed to rains in winter and very little to no water in summer.  They will grow rapidly in the rainy season, then go dormant or grow slowly in the dry summer season.  It is amazing how we can observe the same wonder of nature in our garden.

A beautiful view, and conserving water

In addition to providing us with a beautiful view of all the blooming flowers, water efficient gardens like this can conserve a lot of water. Compared to a lawn, such a garden can save water by 15 to 40%. Yes, with the heavy rains, California is out of the 5-year drought. However, with population growth and climate change, water the resource will just become scarcer relative to its demand.   Water conservation is a way of life in California.  By building a water efficient garden, one not only can live in such a way, but enjoy all the beautiful views from the many blossoms nature has to offer.   floral-dream-3