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I’m quick when it comes to spotting potentially edible foods in the wild; partly from lots of reading about California flora, and how the native peoples provided for themselves; and partly from an all-consuming curiosity that’s been with me since childhood. I like to decipher the connections between plants; what’s related to what; and I’m willing to try almost anything once.   

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  • Male house finch at the feeder

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In years past I’ve participated in Cornell University’s "Feeder Watcher Program", which engages citizen scientists all across America to help compile statistics on songbirds. One year, the observations of individual watchers was used to help monitor and track the spread of an eye infection amongst house finches.

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About eighteen years ago I was enrolled in a Nursery Management class at the College of Marin and our instructor always had plant propagules to share with his students. One day he took a bag of moist perlite full of stratified, and germinating redbud seeds from the refrigerator to share with the class. I took a dozen or so to grow on; but it wasn’t until several years later that I noticed some minor differences in the leaves of certain specimens: some were fully rounded, or with a slightly indented notch, others showed a delicate little tip to the rounded form; making the leaf almost a heart shape.  

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  • Juncos spend much of their time on the ground

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Brush piles like this are wonderful cover for a lot of the ground feeding birds, and also benefit the raptors – both hawks and owls – because of the great cover for the rodent populations. Brushy areas also create nesting sites for the Juncos. These little sparrow relatives are very successful breeders, even with nests right on the ground! The lovely brown, tan and grayish tones of their plumage are perfect camouflage.

  • Cobweb Thistle in a sunny border
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Micro-Habitats; Knowing Your Land

My husband and I live on a south facing hillside situated above the Novato Creek floodplains; it’s a beautiful, warm, and sunny spot with a great vantage point. Our hill, called Cherry Hill on some maps, is a part of one of the ridges extending from Mt. Burdell, the 3rd highest peak in Marin County, and we’re directly facing Big Rock Ridge, the 2nd highest spot in Marin. When the skies are clear, we can actually see just a little tip of Mt. Tamalpais, the highest peak in Marin! To the east, we can see the twin peaks of Mt. Diablo, which is the highest peak of all in our area and therefore the base meridian of much of northern California.

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Even so, with not much more than an inch of rain, I’m witnessing an almost instantaneous re-greening of the landscape! Within days thousands of seeds are germinating; lots of grasses, and a great variety of weeds and wildflowers. This is where the fun begins. I love the challenge of identifying these minute plantlets. Sometimes I’m already so familiar with the plant that I know it from the cotyledons, but very often I need to see the first true leaves before I really know what they are.

Thinking About Weeds

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Here’s where my thoughts about weeds differ from those of many others; weeds are not all bad!