Hungry Mice

Pt. Reyes Lupines threatened by invasive beach grass, with the help of a cute little native mouse.

It’s a battle between an invasive plant and a native plant, but with a new twist. The two plants, European beachgrass and Tidestrom’s lupine, are not in direct competition, and yet the beachgrass is helping to drive the lupine over the cliff.

European beachgrass provides cover that allows a timid deer mouse to get close enough to the lupine to snip off stalks of lupine fruits without being nabbed by overflying birds.

How cute is that little mouse? This cute:


Killing the Frogs

From CNN we find out a common herbicide used in the US but banned in Europe may be the leading cause of falling amphibian populations.

Atrazine, a weed killer widely used in the Midwestern United States and other agricultural areas of the world, can chemically “castrate” male frogs…

Farmers in the United States continue to use atrazine on crops The herbicide has been a long-standing favorite among corn, sorghum and sugarcane farmers because t is affordable and can eliminate the need for tilling it is affordable and can eliminate the need for tilling the soil. Tens of millions of pounds of atrazine are used each year in the United States.


Laguna Beach Green Fest Features Succulents

Succulents are the latest in green technologies. You can find them at all the best green expos around town.

Save Energy, Water and Money
Pros and volunteers come together to educate the public at the weekend event.

Jasper Kahn Cooke, 3, and his dad, Brian Cooke, examine a succulent plant at the SmartScape Expo in Laguna Beach. Brian Cooke said, “Jasper’s been watching ‘Curious George Goes Green.’ The show talks about composting so I thought it would be cool to bring Jasper here to check it out. We got some free compost and we painted a pot over there.” Credit: Kathy Ochiai

They do seem particularly impressed with the Echeveria subrigidas.

Las Vegas Cactus

Even with the development crash in Nevada, the edges of Las Vegas are still growing. This time into protected cactus territory.

A state-protected cactus may become a thorny snag for a developer with plans to build a subdivision near Red Rock Canyon….

But growing on the hillside land is the Blue Diamond cholla, a stubby, big-needled cactus that is among 24 plants the state considers “critically endangered.”…

Public opposition to Rhodes’ plan is growing among those who want to protect the cactus.

Well now that is a first – a group of Nevadans trying to slow development encroaching on the desert!


Blue Diamond Cholla is Cylindropuntia multigeniculata and the picture is from Bird and Hike, plus they have a dozen more photos including bright yellow flower pictures of the Blue Diamond. Nice!

Modern Bathing

From Design Boom, we have this amazing water-re-using shower system.


Phyto Purification Bathroom Image: Jun Yasumoto

There’s more detail at the link, but I think the image says everything you need to know about this.

I want one.

Mojave Fishhook Cactus

James Cornett of the Gannett Company was looking for cactus near Palm Springs.

I had heard the Mojave fishhook cactus was rare. I did not, however, expect that it would take me an entire day to find one in what was considered prime habitat or that it would take me another four years to finally discover one in bloom. In the end it was worth it. With the discovery of this species in bloom (known to botanists as Sclerocactus polyancistrus) my list was complete. I had found and photographed all 25 species of cactus known to exist in the deserts of California while they were in bloom….

The other factor making it difficult find a Mojave fishhook is that each specimen looks very much like a browsed clump of bunch grass. The spines (some of which are hooked) are drab in color and appear as wispy as grass blades. Since bunch grass mounds are usually common in the Mojave Desert, distinguishing the grass clumps from the cactus is not easy even at short distances. I had to walk within a few feet of the two specimens I eventually located on my first full day of searching.

No closeup of the bloom? Maybe he’s saving them up for a book.


This seems to be the local African name for one of the tree aloes, possibly Aloe littoralis. From Botswana, we find that thieves have stolen the last trees from habitat.

As we approached Mmanoko from our assignment, we saw a Mazda van packed with cactus trees (mokgwapha), prompting us act. We followed the van for a while, taking pictures as we went, until we decided that BDF headquarters in Mogoditshane was safe enough to flag the van down. Mara and I asked the people in the van if they had a licence to commit such a rape of the environment and the destination of the cargo.

And lo and behold, the three men in the cactus van could not utter a word of Setswana. Not even “Dumela!” We proceeded to do our enquiry in English….

The point is that felling 100 trees of the species is no less harm than mowing down a pride of lions without permission. For the right eco-balance, species of both flora and fauna are crying out for conservation.

Mono Lake Lupine

To follow up this morning’s trolling for Mono Lake Arsenic-eating Microbe search engine traffic, I have another picture I took this summer, of the Mono Lake Lupine.

Lupinus duranii

Clearly this is a classic lupine that grows in extremely harsh conditions, helping to reclaim lost land for the plant kingdom. Mono Lake does indeed have harsh conditions, harsh enough apparently that the microbes there are adapted to eating arsenic. I wonder if this Lupine eats arsenic too? Probably not.

More on Peyote

As if yesterday’s Peyote posting wasn’t enough, in which we passed on everything we know about the cactus, and linked to an article about how tourists in Mexico were decimating the wild population, now here comes a story about the Texas variety of Peyote. <a href=";entry_id=1516" title="" onmouseover="window.status=’′;return true;" onmouseout="window.status=”;return true;">From Reuters</a> we find out that they are having similar problems with dwindling numbers of peyote plants in the wild. In Texas the problem is not wasted hippies, but stems largely from lands being used for hunting preserves for the wealthy. Dick Cheney often shoots captive animals there.<br /><br /><div style="margin-left: 40px;"><span style="font-style: italic;"> The profession seems barely legal in a nation perennially at war with drugs, but in the peyote region there is nothing clandestine about it.<br />
<br />
Morales has a big sign out in front of his modest home that proclaims &quot;Mauro Morales — Peyote Dealer, Buy or Sell Peyote.&quot;<br />
<br />
It includes his phone number should any prospective customers pass by.<br />
<br />
&quot;It’s a business,&quot; he said with a shrug of the shoulders in a recent interview. &quot;It’s the only income I got.&quot;</span><br /></div><br />More after the break…<br /><br />
<br /><a href="">Continue reading "More on Peyote"</a>

More Peyote News

ABC News reports on the <a href=";entry_id=1532" title="" onmouseover="window.status=’′;return true;" onmouseout="window.status=”;return true;">Bad Times for Peyote Harvesters</a>. The article is the same wire story I’ve already posted about, but they add this bit to the mix:<br /><br /><div style="margin-left: 40px;"><span style="font-style: italic;"><img width="413" hspace="5" height="310" border="2" src="/blog/uploads/misc/ap_peyote_071217_ms.jpg" /><br />This is a commonly found peyote plant, photographed March 20, 2004, it is often confused with the rare star cactus that is an endangered species found only in certain parts of northern Mexico and Starr County, Texas. A first ever study of this star cactus is being done on land purchased by the Nature Conservancy under a species recovery plan directed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife. It is believed by people conducting the study that there are only 2,000 or so of the starcactus left in the wild. The location is kept secret because of poachers who can get a large sum of money for the cactus. (Joe Hermosa/ AP Photo )</span><br /></div><br />

National Geographic Bee

From Nat-Geo’s photo of the day comes this really beautiful bee shot.

I don’t normally repost photos like this, although you can find links to them on my twitter feed, but this one seemed a bit more stunning than usual.

Photograph by Dev Banerjee, Your Shot


The Nature Conservancy has a fantastic photo feature on the Saguaro for Summer 2008.

When Gila Woodpeckers, gilded flickers or other excavating animals abandon nest cavities in saguaros, opportunists… move in.

Photo © John Cancalosi/

Did I say it was fantastic? Well, I only borrowed the one photo, while there are dozens more where that came from, including a shot of a western screech owl moving into that giant hole the woodpecker pecked out.

Nature Returns to Los Angeles

I like pictures. I’ve been posting mostly just articles with pictures. If they don’t have pictures, then I probably don’t care. I mean, it’s not like I can be bothered to read the actual article, now is it? 

I know, some bloggers not only read the article, but do research, and followup and write actual articles themselves. Well, that’s just not me. I prefer to post articles that have pictures. And this is a good one.


Nice sense of space, wide angle, lots of cactus and kids and an entire city in the background. Good stuff.

What’s the article that goes with it? Well, this is the caption in the LA Times:

Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times
In an effort to bring the cactus wren back to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park, where it hasn’t been seen in a decade, Dorsey High students are restoring the coastal sage scrub preferred by the bird.

That’s enough for me.

No Protection for You

Bad news on the adorable owl environmental front.

The ferruginous cactus pygmy-owl is relatively rare in the United States, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled this week that the 6- to 7-inch birds are not endangered. Photo by Tom Gatz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Oh Well

Well, that’s the end of that.

Nearly all of more than 2 million acres of public lands in six counties surrounding Richfield would be open to oil and gas drilling and off-highway recreation, under a U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposal released Friday.

The plan, which would open about 80 percent of public lands to energy drilling and about 90 percent to off-roaders, also would allow OHVs into areas of Factory Butte previously closed for endangered-species protection and wilderness-quality lands….

A bit more than a year ago, the BLM closed nearly all of it to cross-country OHV travel…. The emergency action was taken to protect endangered Wright fishhook cactus and the threatened Winkler cactus.

Well, I’m sure the administration has looked into it closely and has determined that they’re not worth it. No good reason to save a couple small cacti. They are doing their best to serve us all, and if they decide we shouldn’t be saving an endangered cactus, well then who are we to argue. It’s for our own good, those actions they take for us, they are.

On the Move

We feature a lot of drought tolerant plants on the cactus blog. Cactus, for instance. But it turns out there is another solution for plants – becoming a nomad; getting up and going where the water flows.


It’s a nomadic plant from Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza. (via good blog, images from plantas nomadas)

One of our Favorite Endangered Species in the Sunday Chron

Limahuli Valley on Kauai’s North Shore, with its green-mantled spires of volcanic rock, starred as Bali Hai in the movie “South Pacific.” The Limahuli Garden, one of five units of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, occupies 17 acres of this improbably gorgeous place; an additional 985 acres preserve remnant upland forest….

Limahuli’s signature plant is the alula (Brighamia insignis), a lobelia relative that could have been a Dr. Seuss invention; it’s been described as “a cabbage on top of a bowling pin.” The alula’s natural habitat is the precipitous Na Pali cliffs, where only a few individuals remain. No one has ever seen its pollinator in action; some speculate that it may be the elusive green sphinx moth, or something even more rare, if not extinct. Botanical garden botanists have rappelled down the vertical cliffs to hand-pollinate alula plants in situ. Alula has been successfully propagated by Martin Grantham at San Francisco State University, among others – but is hard to keep alive. An attempted introduction at Kilauea Point is looking unsuccessful. It really misses its cliffs, where it’s being displaced by the likes of invasive sanseveria, the familiar houseplant “mother-in-law’s tongue.”

The SF Chron didn’t include any pictures. Here’s a picture of one of our plants:


Flower closeup after the break… Read More…

Plenty Magazine

Their motto is <a href=";entry_id=1498" title="" onmouseover="window.status=’’;return true;" onmouseout="window.status=”;return true;">&quot;It’s Easy Being Green&quot;</a> and here they demonstrate with news of some newly liberated wild lands.<br /><br /><div style="margin-left: 40px;"><span style="font-style: italic;">Nearly two dozen members of a New Mexico non-profit, three geologists, sundry guests, and one reporter bowed their heads to 30-knot winds last Saturday to hike up 6,272-foot Chupadera Peak in central New Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert. The motley band was celebrating the unique purchase and donation of this $62,000 rock.<br />
<br />
The cacti and cresote covered mountain rises abruptly on the western side of the Rio Grande floodplain. As part of the Chupadera Mountains, it provides both high elevation habitat for songbirds and serves as a natural wall protecting the wetland stopover home for more than 50,000 wintering birds.<br />
<br />
A birding group called “Friends of the Bosque” will give this 140-acre chunk of mountain to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a roughly 57,000-acre area of protected land in New Mexico. The refuge will in turn ask Congress to designate the land as wilderness.</span><br /></div><br />More after the break….<br /><br /><br /><a href="">Continue reading "Plenty Magazine"</a>

Protect the Bear Claw Poppy

Protecting a poppy in the White Dome Nature Preserve is also going to help protect an endangered cactus. Yay!

The White Dome Nature Preserve, as it is now called, is home to the largest gypsum formation; it is located off River Road north of the Southern Parkway (Utah).  In addition to the Bear Claw Poppy, it is habitat for the Siler Pincushion Cactus, which is also threatened, says York, as well as providing protective habitat for several at-risk animal species, including the zebra-tailed lizard and the loggerhead shrike.

It’s a twofer. And if you add in the lizard and the shrike (a lizard-eating bird!), it’s a fourfer.


Rat-eating plants do exist! Nepenthes attenboroughii.


The plant is among the largest of all carnivorous plant species and produces spectacular traps.” Co-discoverer Stewart McPherson

And another picture from io9


Renewable Energy from Agaves

As a followup to our series of stories on Thursday about the ever-fascinating Agave plant, now comes this hopeful story about using Agaves for more than just tequila – it’s a source of renewable energy. Of course, it might force a rise in the price of tequila, which is probably less of a disaster on the world market than the rise in corn prices because of ethanol subsidies. Anyway…

With a history that stretches well back into pre-Columbian times, certain varieties of the Agave family are beginning to capture the attention of investors and researchers interested in indigenous plants and trees in countries around the world that are not used to produce food and have attributes that make them prospective sources of ethanol.

“Agave can bring in the new era of bio-economics giving the world enough clean energy for a peaceful and secure world.”

— Professor Remigio Madrigal Lugo, Ph.D., Agricultural Biotechnology

This is all very good news.


Rural Australian Cactus Problem

The harissia cactus was introduced as a pot plant over 100 years ago and has since spread throughout a lot of Queensland.

The Banana Shire Council’s rural services coordinator Gordon Twiner says they are working with landholders to try to get on top of the cactus which is spread by birds.

Foreign languages, even when in English, are odd and confusing. Did you know the cactus was a “pot plant” in the “Banana Shire” and that “landholders” want to be “on top of the cactus”? Interesting. Let me translate that for you using google translate, into german and back to english. We get this:

The harissia cactus was introduced as a potted plant over 100 years ago and has since spread a lot of Queensland.

The Banana Shire’s rural services coordinator Gordon climbing plant, it says landowners are working to try on top of the cactus, which is spread by birds receive.

That didn’t work out too well. It did translate “pot plant” into “potted plant” and “landholder” into “landowner” so that was good. Now if only we knew what this “Banana Shire” was and why the people there want to sit on the cactus?

The Harrisia cactus is a night-blooming cereus known as the Moon Cactus (Harrisia martinii). Hard to know why it would be considered a dangerous weed from that photo.

The blooms are stunning! This can’t be a problem cactus to anyone.

Here we see why it’s a problem when it has escaped into the Australian wilds. Indeed that does look like a problem. If someone wants to send me some cuttings, I’ll be happy to research the plant.

Saudi Arabian Cactus Problem

Those prickly plants can be a serious danger to cattle in dry regions, and they can spread pretty rapidly too. This is the first I’ve heard of a problem in Asia.

Landowners in Faifa city in Jizan Province have exhausted all options in their attempts to curb the spread of the… fast-growing purple-colored cactus…

“This type of cactus was only found in desert areas of the Tihama plains,” Bin Yahya says, “but over the time it spread to the foot of the mountains and then the baboons and birds and other animals brought it up the mountains. If we don’t tackle the problem soon, the cactus could sweep away all the pasture land and forested areas in the Faifa mountains.”…

The rapid spread of prickly pear in eastern Australia in the 1920s was considered to be one of the botanical wonders of the world, and its virtual destruction in a mere six years by cactoblastis caterpillars is regarded as the world’s most spectacular example of successful weed biological control.

Southern California Restoration Under Way

In San Diego, they’re finishing up restoration efforts.

An environmental team is nearly finished with two major restoration projects of endangered plants at Otay Ranch in Chula Vista.

One is the Otay tarplant, which has branching stems, green leaves and small yellow petals.

The other is the maritime succulent scrub, an assemblage of plants and vegetation that consists of coast cholla cactus, barrel cactus, jojoba and other succulents.

That seems like a good thing. I’ve never heard of “maritime succulent scrub” as a way to refer to a collection of coastal cactus, and probably some dudleyas in there as well, maybe a sedum or two.

Stimulus Comes to Endangered Species

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the grant recipients on Tuesday…

The project… helps protect habitats for the Siler pincushion cactus, a rare plant endemic to the Utah/Arizona border area… threatened because of the rapid urbanization of the Dixie area. The complex also assists with the preservation of the desert tortoise.

Here’s a picture.


That’s a two-fer – protect cactus AND tortoises. Too often we are asked to protect cactus OR tortoises. No longer. Thank you Secretary Salazar for all your good work protecting BOTH cactus AND tortoises. I’m an idiot.

Stopping Pests Before They Reach California

The cactus moth, a South American bug that destroys the prickly pear cactus, was recently discovered on Louisiana’s coast….

The biologists want to stop them now, before they get to western cactus-lands where they could devastate environments.

The agriculture agents are also breeding sterile male moths that they will release in areas where other cactus moth is found. The female cactus month mates only once, and if she mates with a sterile male the population will decrease.

More info is here and here.


Larvae inside a prickly pear pad. Photo: Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS PPQ

Succulent Biofuels

Maybe Agave? They only use the heart of the plant for tequila, leaving all those giant pointy leaves around to burn as waste.

So they seem to be researching Agave for a Biofuel. Seems like a good idea. Keep the corn for corn syrup soft drinks.

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