On a glorious sunny Saturday morning of Feb. 25., Director of The Tule River Parkway Association Cathy Capone and Barbara Brydolf of the Alta Peak Chapter of California Native Plant Society met with volunteer Mae Day from the Tule River Tribe to learn about the identification of plants along the Tule River Parkway.  

Capone said, “It’s a beautiful sunny day to observe plants and birds at the Tule River Parkway.”

Using the website of CalFlora and the associated application on their smart devices, volunteer observers can take notes on plants and then type them directly into the computer or their phones or tablets.

Capone had two computers set up in the back of her car so she could show volunteers how to work on the website before going out

into the field. 

Using the CalFlora website, data can be input and searched throughout California. There is a drop down menu for each region, and you can check observations about various watersheds and areas of land. The website also provides observations of each area regarding annual precipitation.

“The best way to show people what they look like is to come out to the Tule River Parkway and learn to identify the plants,” said Brydolf. “Making plant observations for CalFlora is a great way to add to the knowledge about our area. That’s why a citizen science project like this can make such a difference to our area. You can’t plan for or protect something that you don’t know about.”

The three volunteers on Saturday were inputting data from the Tule River Parkway site by describing the native plants such as Blue Elderberry bushes, Valley Oak trees, Cottonwood trees, Fiddle Neck ferns, Yerba Santa bush, Mule Fat bushes, American mistletoe, and Russian thistle plants.

A non-native plant found was the Tamarisk bush, which is an invasive plant, as well as Stinging Nettle.

“Animals don’t eat it, and they cannot use it,” said Brydolf. 

“Plus they are difficult to remove,” Capone said. “They’ll have to cut out the stump and use a tiny bit of weed killer to get rid of it.”

They also found an ornamental strawberry tree with pink to red drooping flowers in the parkway, which was said to have probably been planted by a neighbor. 

There were a bunch of Valley Oak trees along the parkway, some in groupings of four, and others scattered around the area. They had not had additional water in years, and were only getting their water from the ground. The trees were also next to the Tule River. All of the oaks were dormant, with no growth showing, but the trees had parasites called Oak Galls growing on the branches.

“There were willow trees in the area around the river that needed to be identified by size and condition,” said Capone. 

Day, Brydolf, and Capone walked up to a large Elderberry bush and made various observations about it. They identified it as a Blue Elderberry bush.

“The leaves have an astringent herbal smell that’s kind of stinky,” said Capone. 

The plant was leafing out and starting to flower, and the flowers and berries are edible for people and animals. They also attract butterflies and bees. 

“It was determined that the Elderberry beetle does not live in the Porterville area,” Capone said. “So the previous measures in prior years to cut down Elderberry trees and bushes were unwarranted.”

The Cottonwood trees that were leafing out had red and green catkins or buds on the male tree, while the female cottonwood tree had light chartreuse green feathery

hanging flowers. 

Besides observing and making notations on plants at the parkway, Brydolf brought her binoculars and said it was a glorious day for bird watching. She identified Nutall’s Woodpecker, the Common Raven, Northern Flicker, California Scrub Jay, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, an Orange-crowned Warbler, a Yellow Rumped Warbler, a Turkey vulture in flight, a Mockingbird, and a House Finch. She said the Fremont Cottonwood trees are an important plant for birds and butterflies.

The Yerba Santa bush was dormant, but when it flowers it has a purpleish lavender bell shaped flower.

There were a few Mule Fat shrubs along the parkway. These shrubs are a native plant with pink and white flowers that live along the river. It is a very common and hardy native plant, attractive to birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects. 

“American mistletoe is all over California,” said Capone, as she looked at large clumps of the parasitic plant in three or four native cottonwood trees. “Birds nest in it and eat the berries.” 

“I want people to use native plants for their gardens,” said Brydolf. “They save water and provide great habitat for birds and critters.”

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