Wednesday, November 2, 2016

California Wild Rose & John Muir's Bee Garden

A few late blooms of the California Wild Rose.  Ornamental roses have nothing on these wild beauties!!
November is not really the time to discuss wild roses, but these blooms caught my eye a couple of days ago and I couldn't resist.  Perhaps this is the perfect time of year to talk about wild roses after all, since in addition to beautiful blooms, brilliant red rose hips are ripe!  While the pink flowers support many native pollinators, the rose hips that come later in the season provide food for a number of bird and mammals species through the winter.
Rosehips (slightly shriveled) of the California Wild Rose
California is home to a handful of species and subspecies of wild rose; common in the Great Central Valley is the California Wild Rose, Rosa californica.  Rather, I should say formerly common in the Great Central Valley, as these days urban development, agricultural fields and annual grasses introduced from the Mediterranean now cover a large part of the valley floor, and much of our wild rose habitat has been lost.  The California Wild Rose has adapted to a wide range of plant communities, including pine forest, oak woodland, chaparral, grassland, riparian and wetland, but cannot survive the plow. 

The wild rose was one of many flowering beauties which graced the Central Valley of old with blooms, now largely lost to development.  In The Mountains of California, John Muir writes of the "Bee Pastures" of California; but already in 1894, he noted that the Central Valley, what he called a flowery "bee-garden" was no longer as it once was.

"WHEN California was wild, it was one sweet bee-garden throughout its entire length, north and south, and all the way across from the snowy Sierra to the ocean.
"Wherever a bee might fly within the bounds of this virgin wilderness... throughout every belt and section of climate up to the timber line, bee-flowers bloomed in lavish abundance. Here they grew more or less apart in special sheets and patches of no great size, there in broad, flowing folds hundreds of miles in length--zones of polleny forests, zones of flowery chaparral, stream tangles of rubus and wild rose, sheets of golden compositæ, beds of violets, beds of mint, beds of bryanthus and clover, and so on, certain species blooming somewhere all the year round."

Imagine how spectacular "stream tangles of wild roses" would have been in bloom!  Today, the banks of our much-dammed rivers are choked with introduced Himalayan Blackberry, Purple Loosestrife and other recent introductions.  Wild roses are now perhaps more common in areas of habitat restoration, where conservationists have attempted to reestablish native plants. 

John Muir continues,

"But of late years plows and sheep have made sad havoc in these glorious pastures, destroying tens of thousands of the flowery acres like a fire, and banishing many species of the best honey-plants to rocky cliffs and fence-corners, while, on the other hand, cultivation thus far has given no adequate compensation, at least in kind; only acres of alfalfa for miles of the richest wild pasture, ornamental roses and honeysuckles around cottage doors for cascades of wild roses in the dells, and small, square orchards and orange-groves for broad mountain belts of chaparral.
"The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step. Mints, gilias, nemophilas, castilleias, and innumerable composit√¶ were so crowded together that, had ninety-nine per cent. of them been taken away, the plain would still have seemed to any but Californians extravagantly flowery... 

"Along the rivers there is a strip of bottom-land... where magnificent oaks, from three to eight feet in diameter, cast grateful masses of shade over the open, prairie-like levels. And close along the water's edge there was a fine jungle of tropical luxuriance, composed of wild-rose and bramble bushes and a great variety of climbing vines, wreathing and interlacing the branches and trunks of willows and alders, and swinging across from summit to summit in heavy festoons. Here the wild bees reveled in fresh bloom long after the flowers of the drier plain had withered and gone to seed."
How I would love to experience John Muir's California of old!
Quotes taken from The Mountains of California, Chapter 16, written by John Muir in 1894

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