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Friday, June 26, 2015

Stop and See Yucca Blossoms on Angeles Crest Hghway

It's late spring in the mountains of Southern California.
On the way up to see Chilao Visitor Center off the Angeles Crest Highway (CA State Highway 2), we were struck by the sharp beauty of the native yucca plants in blossom.

See this Yucca plant right along the highway!!


The light streams through the dense blooms putting many orchids to shame.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Walk Mulholland Hwy, Santa Monica Mts, CA

Looking for easy hiking terrain and great views of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley? 

Mulholland Drive / Hwy is a famous road in Los Angeles. It winds its way from the Hollywood Hills overlooking downtown, along the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains and eventually to the sea near Leo Carrillo Beach. But a section has never been paved and is maintained as a fire-fighting access road. The wide dirt road is closed to vehicles and makes for easy walking with fantastic views.


Walk the southern end of Mulholland's unpaved section with us in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. 

Take in the colors of the chaparral hillsides. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, especially birds. And be amazed by the spring wildflowers even in a drought year.

Golden stars (Boomeria crocea) are a native California chaparral wildflower, most closely related to lilies. The small amount of rain we had this spring was enough to encourage these ephemeral blooms to send up a flower stalk.

Other chaparral wildflowers: coyote mint, buckwheat, bush monkey flower, and more.

The manroot or wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus) is one of California's few native vines. It produces lemon-sized prickly seed pods that dry and burst open to spread the seed. The entire vine dies back, but the root lives on underground. Sometimes reaching the size of a person. It's a perfect adaptation for survival in a land of summer drought.

The dirt road is open to people, dogs, and horses. Rattlesnakes can be present. For the safety of dogs and wildlife, PLEASE keep dogs on a leash.

Side trails abound, be alert for mountain lions.

More Hiking in the Los Angeles Area
More California Wildlife

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Ring-necked Snake In The Garden

Look what we found while repainting the fence: a ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus).


This colubrid snake is easily identifiable by its drab coloring along the back, reddish-pink ring around the neck and brightly colored belly. I've seen ring-necked snakes in the yard before, but we unearthed this one while we were digging out some gravel under the fence line.

Ring-necked snakes are common, typically small, and found across North America. In the west they have bright red underbellies. When threatened, they turn upside down, coil up their tail like a small snake, and flash their bright coloring to warn off a typically bird predator. (Watch how this little guy coiled up the tip of his tail.) Many birds avoid brightly colored snakes, because some, like coral snakes, are dangerously venomous.

western fence lizard
Ring-necked snakes prey on tiny lizard eggs, some amphibians, and small lizards. Our yard has both slender salamanders and a variety of lizards. Habitat needs predators to maintain natural balance. As we replace our landscaping with native plants, we are recreating habitat for native insects (Valley carpenter bees, gray bird grasshopper, red jumping spider), birds (Bewick's wrens), and reptiles. 

To catch its lizard prey, the ring-necked snake does have venom delivered through fangs at the back of the mouth. The mouth is tiny and the teeth are not dangerous to humans. Many snakes long considered not dangerous to people, like garter snakes, need venom to subdue their prey. These common colubrid snakes have long thin, fast moving bodies and are important predators. Treated respectfully and with a gentle hand, we relocated this snake so we could finish working on the fence. Definitely an Earth Minute!

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Escape to a Mini Garden

Sometimes the world can be overwhelming. A mini-garden offers all of the beauty and creativity of a large garden, but with minimal effort.

In a minute we'll redo an entire garden and then wander through three mini-landscapes.


This mini-garden has gotten overgrown. The large succulent, that mimics a tree, is fine, but the rest needs trimming and removing.

When you layout a mini-garden, imagine how you would want to experience a large garden: pathways, places to sit, elements to watch.

Find plants with small habits, diminutive leaves and flowers. Add a tiny bench, bird bath, or other items you might find in your ideal garden. Have a focal point: tree, fountain, decorative rock or sculpture, bench, etc.

A mini-garden can be tended in an Earth Minute. Though small, these gardens bring all of the relaxation and calm of a large garden with less time and water.

You can also enjoy public gardens. Check out free public gardens: Hidden Gardens of Los Angeles.

More Mini-Gardens

Let The Earth Minute inspire you to get out once a week to a new experience.