The Cactus Patch
Volume 13       June 2010      Number 06

Santa Cruz Island
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

My sister Karen and her husband arrived on 23rd April from Yosemite where they were very cold. Our son John arrived early on 25th April from a trip to the Grand Canyon where it was very cold. That afternoon we had a birthday dinner at Anne’s for Alice who was 93 on the 29th. Anne supplied a candle which opened with fireworks and then sang Happy Birthday endlessly. Afterwards we went to the last of the Community Concert series, “Abba-Mania”.

Polly and I got up early on the 27th and drove John to Ventura where we caught a 9 o’clock boat to Santa Cruz Island which is part of the Channel Islands National Park. Polly had been to Anacapa on a high school trip and we both had been to Catalina (courtesy of Anne’s husband, Wayne, who flew us out there just before John was born.) Neither of us had been to the other islands, although I could see them from UCSB when I studied there. This was a birthday treat from John.

While waiting, I bought a book, Chumash Ethnobotany, Jan Timbrook, 2007, Heyday Books, Berkeley. The Chumash are the Native Americans who occupied the Channel Islands and nearby coastal areas. They painted fantastic artworks on rocks, presumably with the influence of Jimson weed. Ethnobotany covers the uses of plants and I find parallels with African plant use interesting. The book has some color paintings, but most plants are unillustrated and none are described. On our short turn through the harbor, we saw harbor seals, pelicans and cormorants. As we left the harbor there were California sea lions clustered on a buoy. The highlight of the boat trip was the dozens of dolphins which cavorted in the wake. I have never seen so many. There were even some young ones. We passed between oil platforms and I was reminded of the tar on the UCSB beach. John, of course, was reminded of the two years he spent as an oil platform diver in the Gulf of Mexico. Earlier Lora had taken John and me out on a fishing trip from Santa Barbara and we found the best place was near an oil platform.

We landed at Scorpion Ranch and were lead on a tour by a volunteer, Kathy van Slyke. We started at the Ranch house where there is a small visitors’ center. An orange crowned warbler greeted us during the lecture. Next we proceeded to a campground where we learned about a number of plants such as the Island Ironwood which is found only on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. Because of its strength it was used for harpoons, canoe paddles, abalone pry bars etc.

Just at the edge of the campground we were entertained by a pair of Island Foxes which have recovered from their threatened status. John got some excellent pictures. (He moonlights as a photographer.) Next I found an island western fence lizard. My pictures show more cheese weed than lizard as he was quite shy. Proceeding uphill we found a prickly pear (there are two plus a cholla natural to the island), were shown some diatomaceous earth (most of the island is volcanic) and some ground dwelling bees.

Just at the edge of the cliff we reached a Chumash shell midden. One of the industries on the island was the production of shell money. The steep cliff going down to the sea was covered in giant Coreopsis, a succulent daisy. Unfortunately most of them were past blooming. At the top there were South African mesembs which have invaded the islands. Some were in full bloom. This was the end of our tour, but I asked Kathy if she knew where the Dudleyas were. She didn’t, but suggested hiking out to Potato Harbor. She and Polly started back and John and I set off to find Dudleyas. We had barely started when we found plenty – unfortunately only in bud. After taking a number of pictures, we headed back and caught up with Polly and Kathy.

We had a brief look in the visitors’ center where they had a model of a rare Dudleya which is on the far eastern tip of the island. It doesn’t look like a Dudleya and I wasn’t surprised to find that some experts put it in a separate genus Hasseanthus. We had an hour to kill before the boat left and visited the cliffs near the dock. There were more Dudleyas there as well as succulent Senecios (another daisy) and Chenopodiums. John got great crab pictures and I got some of an oyster catcher. Someone had picked a fruit of a man root. This prickly cucumber looks like a green sea urchin. (The real sea urchins were purple.)

John had booked a scuba trip to Anacapa for the next day, but the wind came up and all boats were cancelled. We took him up to Santa Barbara where he caught the train back to Sacramento. Polly and I went to Ojai and bought plants at Desert Images (the Calandrinas, a giant Portulaca relative, are spectacular) and then stopped at Piru but found the nursery there was closed. All their plants were huge so I probably didn’t need them anyway. South of the grapevine there were poppies, lupines etc. in bloom. We made it back just before the storm that closed the Grapevine that night. (Anne reports the wildflowers survived as she passed that way shortly thereafter.)

Those of us in Bakersfield celebrated Mother’s actual birthday with breakfast at Denny’s (free on your birthday!) and dinner at Sizzler at the Ice House. On the 2nd of May we went to Red Lobster for Anne’s birthday. On the 6th (her actual birthday) we had breakfast at Denny’s and then went to Fresno for the Cactus meeting. John Matthews spoke on Haworthias. Like the similar talk in Bakersfield, he had lots of plants. Instead of just holding them up, however, he passed them around. It was impossible to look at one plant and listen to him talk about another. People began talking among themselves and it was chaotic.

To understand the Dudleyas on Santa Cruz Island, I checked out Dudleyas and Hasseanthus by Paul H. Thomson (1993, Bonsall Pubs., Bonsall, CA) from the Fresno club library. At first glance it looked good: distribution maps, pictures, descriptions, keys etc. But it has some major faults. There are no synonyms listed, so it is impossible to compare this with books that use other names. This might not seem serious, but Dudleyas are a complex group with lots of variation and many different names have been applied to closely related plants. On Santa Cruz Island there are two Dudleyas, D. greenei and D. candelabrum (not to mention the rare Hasseanthus nesioticus which is sometimes included in Dudleya). Greene’s Dudleya supposedly has narrow white leaves but not all the plants we saw fit it exactly. The other Dudleya has wide green leaves and we saw nothing like it.

The Historical background in Chapter one is interesting. Haworth placed a plant of Dudley caespitosa in the genus Cotyledon. This was understandable as it was said to be from South Africa (All Cotyledons are Africa.) When this was corrected to California, the plant was put in Sedum and then Echeveria. Finally in 1903, a hundred years after the first naming, Britton and Rose created the genus Dudleya for this and similar plants of the US and Mexico. (There are now two species known from South America as well.)

The book really falls apart in Chapter two on Theories of Origin. Thomson not only presents creationist views, but goes into unfounded theories about Mu and Atlantis, the mythical continents which were supposedly located in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. He ends with a paragraph stating that dinosaurs could not be more than 65 million years old because the bones are too well preserved! (What this has to do with Dudleyas I don’t know.)

We were at the Bakersfield meeting on the 11th and enjoyed the tour. I was surprised to learn there are American Dorstenias since most of them are African. I will bring one for the brag table.

How to Name a Plant

The question was raised during Woody’s talk as to how plants are named. He answered it well, but some members might want to know more. The first plant I named is now Euphorbia mafingensis. I found it on the Mafinga Ridge on the border between Malawi and Zambia. (Kufinga means “to squeeze” and the ridge is steep and narrow as if it had been squeezed up.) I recognized it as a new species because 1) I had lived in Chitipa District in Malawi which borders on the Mafinga and 2) I have a copy of Peter Balley’s book The Genus Monadenium which illustrates all the species known at that time. To be sure I looked in the Kew Herbarium in London which has the largest collection of plants in the world. I did find a specimen of the plant I had collected, but it was simply labeled “Monadenium species”. It had been collected by Fanshaw who climbed from the Zambian side. I also consulted Susan Carter, the Kew expert on succulent Euphorbias and their relatives. I then wrote a description and had it translated into Latin at Kew. (A Latin description is required for each newly named plant.) Then I sent an article to The Cactus and Succulent Journal (US) where it was published as Monadenium mafingensis. Unfortunately, I learned later that this should have been M. mafingense as the genus Monadenium is neutral. (I don’t know Latin and wouldn’t know about such picky points.) I asked Susan if I had to republish it, but was told that, “Grammatical errors are deemed automatically to be corrected.” Ironically, the genus Monadenium has now been included in Euphorbia, so the correct name is now Euphorbia mafingensis!

In naming a plant, there are three ways to choose a name. It may be a place (as in my example), but this is dangerous if the plant turns out to grow in many other places. So far, Euphorbia mafingensis is only known from one place. The second choice would be a description of the plant, e.g. Euphorbia ingens. (Ingens means huge.) A third choice would be to name it after a person whom you wish to honor, e.g. Euphorbia cooperi which honors the collector Mr. Cooper. I do not like this practice and certainly would distain anyone who tried to so honor himself. (I once narrowly escaped having a new species of earwig named after me. My next door neighbor in Malawi was mistaken for the collector and so was given the “honor”.) As a final note, on the same trip in which I found the new Euphorbia/Monadenium, I also collected an orchid which was new. I did not recognize it as such and so the honor of naming the orchid went to someone else.

Alice's Birthday

Giant coreopsis

John & Dudleyas

Dudleya sp.

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Bruce and Polly on Santa Cruz island