What I do during the not-field season

dsc_0050 On the one hand, I want field season to start up again, like today.  On the other, I still have so many specimens to process, so much data to analyze, so many journal articles to read, I could actually skip spring and summer this year and be busy for the next 12 months.

In the field biology realm, as it takes place in the upper latitudes, you have a field season and a lab season.  Depending on what your organism is and where you are, it could be 3-months and 9-months, or 6-and-6, which is how it is where I am.  For 6 months I’m almost never indoors and I’m cut up, bitten, sunburned, sweaty, stung and weary.  For the other 6 months, I’m rarely outdoors and I’m tunnel visioned, analytic, pasty, caffeinated, restless and nocturnal.

While I’m inside these days, with the sun low and cold and the rain ever present, I’m longing for the bucolic field days of summer.  When I’m traipsing around the back forty with vials tucked into my underwear, chasing my subjects and alternately being chased by them, those winter months sound downright cozy.


Dung beetles and the scarcity of scat

This is a good review of an article in Neotropical Entomology (Jacobs, 2008 ) about phoresy and poo-diving strategies in dung beetles: How to Find a Turd in the Woods.

“Elsewhere, we hear of a research assistant who “reported that a fecal pellet from a bald-faced saki monkey, with dung beetles attached, fell directly into his shirt pocket as he was observing monkeys in the canopy overhead.” Fieldwork doesn’t get any better than that, y’all.”

True true.  I have a subset of specimens that I unknowingly sat on in the field and later peeled off my jeans – they’re still good specimens.  A bit flat.

Salvia leucantha & Pittosporum tenuifolium

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) is a California staple: colorful and shrubby, it attracts bees and hummingbirds.  This specimen is a bit wild looking, and it’s probably 6-8 plants grouped together.  You can keep it tighter and tidier looking by shearing it back (almost to the ground if you like) right before it starts actively growing in the spring and by planting it in a southern exposure.

Once established, it’s drought tolerant and needs no feeding in moderately rich soils.  In sandy soils, it could benefit from summer water and light feeding.

The silver foliage makes a nice contrast with the brilliant purple flowers, and it goes well with silver foliaged trees:  Melaleuca, Olive, Eucalyptus.  The intensity of color is also good at brightening up a darker area or corner of a garden, but it does best in full sun.  Less sun will result in the somewhat spindly growth seen above and fewer flowers.

(When I first wrote this post, it was titled Saliva leucantha.  Comedy.)


Search term question: “Can you trim up a Pittosporum teniufolium into a tree?”

Yes you can, but you shouldn’t.

There is one cultivar, ‘Marjorie Channon’, that is very tight and frequently sold as a small plant in a tree form.  However, as they age, they don’t get the trunk girth needed to support a canopy.  You’d have better luck trying to do topiary than attain a good canopy.  IMO, that’s not the best use of these plants.

Half the appeal of a mature Silver Sheen is the contrast between the black stems and the silvery green foliage, so you want to prune to best showcase that play of color.  Thinning from the inside is the best way to keep them open and airy.

If you are determined to keep a P. tenuifolium tight, you can shear them across the top or all the way down – the one I brought with me to the PNW (seen above) will no doubt be coppiced to the ground this spring due to cold damage.  In my experience, if you want a tight shrubby plant you can prune into a small canopy tree, I’d go with a myrtle (Myrtus sp.) or tea tree (Leptospermum sp.)