October’s Bloom

First of all the new calendar is up, lots of chances to get involved, learn something new, challenge your brainy parts… First on the docket and nearest and dearest to my corazon is Doktor Lanny leading a crew around the Ojai Meadow Preserve on Saturday morning.  Come see the awesome progress of the ongoing restoration, maybe even a quick stop by the nursery to see me in action.

On to the rambling…

Today I will be serving up a Bloom of the Month/Everyday Flora all rolled up into one tasty deep fried California native chimichanga.  Honestly I should have saved California fuchsia for my October bloom of the month, they are everywhere right now.  Alas, I am left with some straggling asters to choose from, maybe I should just go back to bed….

Oh I tease… Would never leave you in the lurch, don’t want to lose the half dozen readers I have left.  What this month’s plant lacks in flash it makes up for in ubiquity, olfactory charm and cultural significance.  The gray ghost of the chaparral….It’s not a sage but it sure smells like one:

Artemisia californica, or Coastal Sagebrush if your Latin is rusty.  A California icon endemic to the state, sagebrush can be found near coasts in almost any soil and sun exposure, though north and west slopes are preferred.  The further you get from the coast it’s cousin Artemisia tridentada takes over, the sagebrush you’d be most likely to see in most westerns.

If you travel up to Rose Valley this is the sagebrush you would see.  But let’s have a closer look at our big winner.

A semi-evergreen shrub that will grow up to 5 feet tall and wide.  Many flexible branches in stem lightly to heavily tomentose (hairy, remember?).  The gray/green leaves are helically alternate arranged and linear, often with 3 leaves emerging from a single node.  The whole shrub has a very soft and downy look to it.

The blooms are subtle to say the least

Blooming from October through December, you’ve gotta look real close to see the tiny disc flowers.  Though popular with local insects sagebrush is wind pollinated.  The amazing smell of sagebrush is from the toxic oils that coat the leaves and stems called terpenes.  These make sagebrush quite allelopathic, which will often kill any volunteers growing underneath, especially after the first rain of the season.  These same terpenes keep most wildlife from browsing the foliage.

This doesn’t mean that sagebrush isn’t a key part of the ecosystem.  The tight cozy confines of the multiple branches make it a great host for the rare California gnatcatcher

And the dusky footed wood rat loves to make a home in the litter-filled tangle beneath the shrub

Known as Romerillo in Spanish, sagebrush has many traditional uses.  The malleable but sturdy branches made foreshafts for arrows, and were used as the horizontal hearth in firemaking.  Windbreaks and barricades for dance grounds were made from Romerillo branches.

Medicinal uses included headache treatment by direct application, paralysis treatment by inhaling the boiled vapors, poison oak remedies, and most recently for treatment of coughs.  A sprig in your hat will keep your head cool, someone try this and let me know.

Romerillo was also used in numerous rituals including home purification after a death, and bundles of the branches were erected as offerings at shrines during Winter Solstice ceremonies.

Fairly easy to propagate from seed, some heat treatment usually helps.  I haven’t had much luck with cuttings but volunteers transplant quite easily.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the weekend.

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2 Responses to October’s Bloom

  1. Lanny Kaufer says:

    Thanks, Ron. Here’s a link to the walk on the OVLC website: http://www.ovlc.org/2012/10/november-3-herb-walk-on-the-ojai-meadows-preserve/

    It’s just a 2 hour stroll but I’d like to get the group over to the nursery so I’ll try everything short of a forced march.

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