Pacific Poison Oak, Rhus Toxicodendron diversilobum
Photo credit: Las Pilitas Nursery
It’s HALLOWEEN, and all things SCARY take center stage. Here in California’s Santa Monica Mountains I ponder what could be scary as I go about my day~
Starting out the day with a hike, following a trail through tall grass, it would be SCARY to run into a thicket of Pacific Poison Oak (Rhus Toxicondendron).
In the autumn, the red leaves-of-three add colorful interest among the tan-colored grass. At least in autumn, then, it is easier to spy the Rhus Toxicondendron in the grass than at other times of the year. Worse yet, you could run into Pacific Poison Oak hiding in your own backyard! If you do, try to save some of it for the deer, as it is an important food source for them. The berries are also important food source to the birds in wintertime. Few native gardeners would plant Pacific Poison Oak, but some are brave enough to leave it alone to take its necessary place in the ecosystem.
Prickly Pear Cactus with Cochineal Insects, Topanga,
Photo by Kathy Vilim
Another SCARY plant of the California chaparral is the Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia littoralis). There are a number of different types of cactus that cover the hills here, and many long spines to look out for. The prickly pear that dominates my yard at times becomes covered in this white mold-like stuff. But it is far from it. Take a hose to that mold one day, as I did, and you will find the mold MOVES! It is ALIVE!
In fact, it is actually a type of scale insect called Cochineal that burrows into the flesh of the cactus and sucks the cactus’ juice. If you manage to remove the Cochineal with the spray of water, what you get is a red ink that looks like BLOOD! Indians used it to dye clothes, and in some places, farmers still grow cactus for this red dye. Still, it is SCARY to get too close to the cactus. Some of their pricklers are so tiny as to be practically invisible, while others are downright long and SCARY, and they may be lurking in the tall grass!
Young Pacific Rattlesnake,
Photo by: Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area
So you’ve gotten past the Pacific Poison Oak without a scratch, and you’ve passed through the tall grass without getting poked by a cactus. That’s just a little red cactus juice on your pants, not BLOOD. Surely, there is nothing else Lurking in the Grass.. Nothing like say, Mr. Rattlesnake?
Yes, the rattlesnake is a resident of the California chaparral, as well. There are 7 different species of Rattlesnake in Southern California alone incl: Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled rattlesnake, Red Diamond rattlesnake, Southern Pacific, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake. It is very SCARY to walk through the tall grass thinking about SNAKES! Some people will carry a staff or walking stick with them for this reason. But not to worry, for most of the rattlesnakes have begun their hibernation by this time.
Little Brown Bat, photo by BLM.gov (Myotis-lucifugus)
Halloween is coming, and it is time to walk down the hill, down to the creek to watch the bats emerge! Topanga has several different types of resident bats that live under the bridges. The Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) are the most common species living under the bridge.
They are attracted to the many insects that live by the creek. As darkness settles in, BATS will appear, all at once, startling you as they take flight! SCARY BATS take to the sky, wings darker than the darkening Halloween night sky. Leaving their alcoves, BATS claim the night time, which is theirs to share with coyote and owl.
Coyote (Canis latrans) Photo Credit: Demented Pixie
On your way home, you might listen to owls hooting from up high up in tall pine trees serenading you, and you might wish you could see them. Then, if you feel like you are being followed, you might just be, as that curious trickster, COYOTE may be escorting you home! SCARY!
What SCARY things are waiting in your neighborhood this Halloween?
(reprinted- original post by Kathy Vilim on beautifulwildifegarden.com October, 2013)