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October 23, 2018

Dear Skyliners,


Lots happening in the last two weeks: we installed the new trail sign at Siesta Gate; we've mowed several expansion areas for the coming year; and, we discovered a new plant for our list: Jim Brush (Ceanothus oliganthus sorideatus) which brings us to 277 native species at Skyline Gardens.


We'll be going out this week Thursday afternoon at 4 and Sunday morning at 9:30.  Please let me know if you can make it.


Last Saturday, we installed the new trail sign at the Siesta Gate hiking entrance.  Here it is:

new sign.jpg

This completes the work we started at Siesta Gate last year with the new fencing, trail entry and the bench.  We were able to re-use the posts from the old sign, and even the bolts.  Special thanks to Mark at EBMUD for providing the sign, and to Jim of Take to the Hills for all his help with everything.


We're making big plans to expand in the coming year.  The first step in claiming new ground is to mow down the invasive thistles and hemlock, so we can get in with the vinegar, once the rains come, and zap the seedlings.  Over in the Saddle (on the way to Barberry), we're testing out some new mowing techniques to see if we can simplify the process.  Here's a side-by-side 'before and after' picture:

before on swale.jpg
after on swale.jpg

The grey-brown patch in the center of the left was a no-man's-land of dead thistle.  An hour later, on the right, they're all gone.   The good news is that the thistles in that patch were so thick that once they're sprayed, there won't be any weeds underneath, so the natives can move right in.


Over by the Water Tank, we decided to take on the whole swale area below all the way to the armored crossing in the trail.  This has been a really nasty spot with Hemlock, Teasel, Milk Thistle, Spurge, and Italian Thistle.  Here's a picture after hand cutting the larger stalks and then mowing:

water tower area after mowing.jpg

This area will be a challenge because of the mix of invasives, some of which are perennial.   And then, there are surprises.  While out hand mowing, we found and liberated the best stand of Yampah, about thirty plants, in all of Skyline Gardens.   The butterflies will love us for that.


On the new plant front, I just found a patch of Jim Brush (Ceanothus oliganthus sorideatus) in the woods down behind the picnic table.  Here's a shot of a small branch:

ceanothus oliganthus sorideatus.jpg

Shrubs can be ten to fifteen feet tall, with a willowy habit.  The leaves are bright green and shiny on top.  The stems are reddish in color.  The flowers are light blue.  Jim Brush is found in Coastal mountains up and down the state.  In our area, they are uncommon, but they grow here and there in woodland glades, often on north slopes.  There's a number of them down in Huckleberry Preserve, and also in the Mitchell Canyon area of Mount Diablo.  We've been expecting to find this one sooner or later, and now we have.  


Here's a 20X close up of a seed cluster:

20x seed cluster ceanothus

We'll be planting these seeds right away and hopefully have some plants in the spring to tuck in here and there.  Ceanothus are larval food plants for the Pale Swallowtail butterflies.  I think a grove of these would would be really handsome in the swale by Siesta Gate . 


This is the 277th native plant we've found at Skyline Gardens.  The rangers at EBMUD think we'll eventually hit 300 species and I think that's realistic.  I can think of a number a likely suspects that we should eventually find, not to mention the surprises.


Asters are still blooming by the picnic table; here's a cluster:

aster chilensis by picnic table.jpg

Evenings have become really special.  We are blessed by the serenade of the crickets, three species of them, everywhere.  And, right now, there's four planets in the sky: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.


Here's a shot of the holy mountain in alpenglow:

holy mountain in alpenglow.jpg

As far as I can tell, it's all perfect.


Now, we just need rain.


Happy Trails,



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