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The California Hop Tree


California Hoptree Nature Study

Every now and then I remember that I have a particular plant or tree to research and the California hoptree is one such subject (Ptelea crenulata). I hike past it with great regularity and note its stages of development through the cycle of the seasons. But, even with its interesting circular fruits, I often fail to take a photo and look up more information on this plant.

In researching the hoptree, I found that it is a member of the citrus family (Rutaceae) which is distinguished by its aromatic gland-dotted leaves. The hoptree that we have alongside our canyon trail is more like a shrub and my field guide says it can be from 6 ft to 16 feet in height. I would estimate that our tree is about 6-8 feet tall and almost completely surrounded by blackberry vines which makes it hard to determine where the hoptree ends and the vines begin.

Hop Tree Photo Nature Journal

The California hoptree became the topic of my Once a Month Nature Journal Project for January. I used one current photo and one from my archives showing the features of my winter observations. I pulled out my field guides and looked online for information to include on my page. Creating a simple journal page pulls all the information together both on the page and in my mind. Next time I hike past this tree I will slow down to take note of its identifying features and anticipate its blossoms come springtime.

Have you created your nature journal page yet this month?

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Watercolor Clouds Nature Journal – Cure for the Winter Blahs

We had plenty of opportunities to observe clouds in the past few days. It has been really cloudy and wet…only a few breaks in the weather where we were able to get outside and breathe some air. I tried to enjoy the rain but it really did just bum me out. I was really glad that this week’s challenge was to pull out some art supplies and make a watercolor entry for the weather in my nature journal.

I collected some water for my watercolor project from the rain gauge. Now that I had my supplies ready I was anxious about actually watercoloring in my journal so I decided to make the painting on a separate sheet of paper and then add the painting to my journal with tape.

I played with my gray watercolor pencil before starting the actual artwork, experimenting with different methods of applying the color to the paper. You should try this if you have a few minutes just to see how different the effects are on your artwork.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, here are the options I used.

  • Left box: Use the pencil to draw the square, then apply water with a brush.
  • Middle box: Dip the tip of the watercolor pencil in water, draw the square.
  • Right box: Use a wet brush on the pencil tip, apply to paper.

All of these squares are made with the same pencil….very different results.

Creating a journal page always cheers me up! Between the journal page and taking advantage of the breaks in the rain to get outside, I was starting to feel not so blah.

One morning we woke to actual sunshine and we decided to take a hike to see our neighborhood waterfall. Kona loves this trail since we can let her off leash. She runs ahead and finds something interesting to sniff, following the scent until she detects another trail to follow. She definitely enjoyed the opportunity to get outside and stretch her legs alongside us on the trail.

We were rewarded for our hiking efforts with the rushing sound of water coming down the hill and over the rocks. We took a few minutes to just enjoy the moment and then we all headed back up the hill, just in time for the rains to return. I realized that without the rain we would have had no waterfall to hike to…..sometimes we need to be reminded of the benefits of all that wet weather.

This will wind down our weather study for the month. Just for fun, I will be keeping our rainfall records as we move through January. We might get a dusting of snow later this week which would be the perfect way to wind up the month.

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Our Spring Fern Nature Study

Ferns Red Shack button
Taken May 3, 2012

We actually started our fern nature study way back in January during our Silent Nature Winter Walk.

This week we walked the same trail to view our ferns. We tried to remember how many ferns there were back in January and there seems to be more ferns now and they are larger. Comparing photos I think we are correct.

Wester Sword Fern button
Magnificent ferns on our hiking trail.

I was interested in the Western sword fern but Mr. B was interested in the California Maidenhair fern. Both are plants that we have looked at closely before. The Maidenhair fern is interesting because it has a black stem and looks like lace…sometimes you have to look twice because you think the green parts are floating in air but really they are attached with delicate black stems.

Fern Nature Study notebook page
More Nature Study Book #3 Fern Study Notebook Page

We had a field guide to consult and to glean a few new facts from. Mr. B did a nature journal page for the California Maidenhair fern from our hiking trail. He thought the stalk was a purple/black…I will have to look closer the next time we hike down the trail.

maiden hair fern
California Maidenhair Fern – March 2010 (Best photo I have that shows the stalk.)

Now do you want to see some of our California wildflowers from further up the trail? We were busy this time stopping and noting all the colorful flowers there are right now.

Wildflower Collage May 2012
This is a colorful time of year in our part of the world.

I am keeping a running list of wildflowers seen on this particular trail for the whole year of 2012.

Running List - Wildflowers by location
Keeping a list…nothing fancy about this page in my journal.

I just add to my list in my nature journal when we get back from our hike. It is interesting to see the patterns and successions of blooms.

Fern Prints With Ink
Making fern prints with ink. See link below.

We will be revisiting ferns again this summer as we visit several spots in California that have ferns. I think it will be fun to add to our collection of fern prints that we started back in January.

It is not too late to join in with your own fern nature study….. If you own the More Nature Study Book #3 for spring, there are plenty of simple ideas to glean more information about your local ferns or prepare for the future when you may encounter ferns during your travels.

I am linking up to a new to me monthly meme at The Homeschool Scientist. Click over and join in.

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Wildflowers – Sierra Spring 2011 (Part 2)

Keeping up with our area’s wildflowers has been pretty difficult the last few weeks. Our “spring” has been so much wetter and colder than normal so our wildflowers are lagging behind their normal bloom time.But now that the sun is out and the temperatures are rising, we have a show of wildflowers to make you smile if you take the time to notice.

Don’t get me wrong….it is not a burden to enjoy the bursting out of colors and shapes along the walking trail and our hiking trail. I love seeing the familiar happy flowers and it warms my heart to realize how many of them I actually can identify with no hesitation. The slow flower-by-flower learning of my local area is a joy and it makes the last four or five years of focusing on looking up and naming flowers worth the effort.

Here is a sort of photo journal of some of our wildflowers from the last few weeks.


Golden Brodiaea
Golden Brodiaea

Purple Chinese Houses

The chinese purple houses are everywhere this year. I think the abundance of rain has brought it all out. It is almost “common” this year.

Purple Milkweed

This is my treasured purple milkweed and there are only two plants that I could find this year. I have gone back to see if it is blooming and it is still in bud. I don’t want to miss it.

Maverick Clover

Mustang clover blankets whole hillsides along our trail. Isn’t it a happy flower?


We don’t have too much larkspur but there is one spot that I can find it every year. It also doesn’t last long so I was glad that I was able to catch it on the bloom.

Checker Mallow

The Checkermallow has such a delicate pink color and check out the bud. Doesn’t look like candy?

5 23 11 Red Shack (2)
I can’t remember the name for this pretty flower….

Blackberry blossom

Blackberry blossom

Monkeyflower 5 20 11 (1)

Monkeyflowers are the flower of the year. They line the roadside ditches with explosions of yellow.

What about your part of the world? What are your common wildflowers and what is in abundance this year? I would love to hear your stories.

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Wildflowers – Sierra Spring 2011 (Part 1)

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Blue Dicks

Blue dicks are the purplest purple of the spring in our world. I am thinking that the wildflowers on our usual trail are almost a full month behind their usual bloom schedule. I love knowing the rhythm of the growing things in our part of the world and being able to anticipate the blooming sequence.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Meadow with poppies and blue dicks

There are meadows and trail edges filled with Blue dicks along with orange California poppies. Those two colors together are a feast for the eyes.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Chinese Purple houses

The other amazing purple flowers blooming right now are the Purple Chinese Houses. They are just starting to bloom and in the next few weeks they will bring the trailsides alive with color.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Indian Pinks

These are Indian Pinks….not very pink but rather a deep reddish orange. There are more of these blooming than usual.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Sweet Fennel

The fennel is not as striking as some of the other wildflowers but it has a really nice shape.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Miner's Lettuce

Here is another kind of Miner’s Lettuce. You can really see how it grows in a rosette shape and then has delicate flowers at the ends.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Pretty Face

Here is the first of the Pretty Faces. They are a really soft yellow and I like the way they look as they begin to open up. Maybe this one should go into my nature journal…

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Hairy Fringepod

I almost missed this one! This is Hairy Fringepod and it makes me happy. There is just something about this plant that seems so special and unique. It will eventually bloom.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Woodland Star

Here is a new wildflower for our list. I think it is a Woodland Star. It is in the saxifrage family which I am beginning to be able to pick out when I am identifying flowers.

4 23 11 Red Shack wildflowers Hang Fly

This is certainly not a lovely wildflower but a really interesting insect that I learned about a few years ago….it is a Green Stigma Hangingfly. You can click on the image and go over to Flickr to see the largest size to really get a good look at this amazing insect.

I took quite a few more photos but this entry is getting really long so I will save some for another entry later this week. Hope you enjoyed seeing some of the colorful flowers from our part of the country (Northern California).

If you are interested in seeing more of my wildflower studies…you can click over to my Yosemite Wildflower blog and see some from past years.

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Fungus – Beautiful Polypores and Jelly and the Outdoor Hour Challenges Featuring Mushrooms

3 16 11 Fungus

We always enjoy finding a beautiful fungus when we hike….yes, I said beautiful. They come in such interesting shapes and colors. There is no denying that the bracket fungus above is beautiful in its design.

3 16 11 Witches Jelly

Now identifying fungus with a specific name is not always easy for me so when I do learn a name it usually sticks. This fungus is called Witches’ Butter.

If you live in California, this is a good website to bookmark:
California Fungus-Simple Key.

3 28 11 Fungus on stump

This one was truly unusual and I don’t think we have seen it before on our hikes. It only lasted a few days and I am really glad we stopped to take some photos so we can remember the way it grows.

3 28 11 Fungus

Here it is on another stump. At the bottom of the image you can see that something has knocked part of it off the stump and you can take a good look at the gills.

3 28 11 mushrooms

This one was just an interesting shape….don’t have any idea what it is exactly but I can still appreciate the way it is part of the habitat and that it is just fun to look at as we stopped to observe it along our trail.

Here is a link to another fungus entry I wrote last year: The Joy of Fungus. In this entry I share some of notebook pages and a couple of interesting links for you to check out.

Also, you can check out two of the Outdoor Hour Challenges featuring mushrooms in the Handbook of Nature Study:

Autumn Series #9 Mushrooms

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Spring Weather Observations 2011: Clouds and Sky and Green

4 11 Oaks and sky with clouds

The sky has been amazingly beautiful this past week. Although the temperatures are still a little cold, we have enjoyed bright sunshine every day except for last Friday when it snowed! Just a little. Today it hit 60 degrees on the thermometer with breezes from the south….just enough to stir up the pollen and drive me indoors. I really needed to get this Spring Weather Observation Challenge posted anyway.

4 11 Buttercups and oaks

We were able to do a little hiking this week in the afternoons where we noticed the buttercups are in full bloom. The hounds tongue and the shooting stars are still going strong as well.

Other things we noticed this week:

  • First mosquito
  • First hummingbird at the feeder
  • Dandelions!
  • Apple tree blossoming
  • Tulips blooming
  • Dew in the mornings and not frost
  • Longer daylight hours after dinner
  • Robins singing

4 12 11 Apple Blossoms

Look at the color of that apple blossom bud! This is on our tree that we planted last year so I am excited to see it growing. I need to research whether it is better to let the apples form on a new tree or if I should take the blossoms off for a year or two to allow the tree to grow. I am new to apple trees.

So is anyone else already suffering from spring allergies? It has hit me fast and hard this year so whatever is pollinating right now is killing me. With sniffling nose and itchy eyes, I spent three days in the yard working on clean-up, pruning, and getting garden boxes ready.

4 11 Garden
They are looking better than they did when I shared our garden progress a couple of weeks ago. We are adding pea gravel around the boxes as a way to keep the weeds down. We have a stockpile of gravel in another area of the garden so we are just moving it by wheelbarrow from one side of the yard to the other. More on the garden next week when I have my plans done and a few more things to share.

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Hikes During The Day to Our Outdoor Laboratory

Trail and Clouds

“Out in this, God’s beautiful world, there is everything waiting to heal lacerated nerves, to strengthen tired muscles, to please and content the soul that is torn to shreds with duty and care.”


“Nature-study should be so much a part of the child’s thought and interest that it will naturally form a though core for other subjects quite unconsciously on his part.”

Waterfall at the Red Shack

“Out-of-door-life takes the child afield and keeps him in the open air, which not only helps him physically and occupies his mind with sane subjects, but keeps him out of mischief.”

Red Shack 3 22 11 Fiddleneck
Fiddlenecks are just starting to bloom.

“In nature-study the work begins with any plant or creature which chances to interest the pupil.”

Red Shack 3 22 11 Saxifrage
Saxifrage is blooming in full force.

“Thus by beginning with the child in nature-study we take him to the laboratory of the wood or garden, the roadside or the field, and his materials are the wild flowers or the weeds, or the insects that visit the goldenrod or the bird that sings in the maple tree, or the woodchuck whistling in the pasture.”

All quotes are from the Handbook of Nature Study in the introductory pages. All photos are from today’s lunchtime hike.

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OHC Winter Insects and Hike With a Waterfall

We had almost given up trying to fit in a winter insect study but it was such a perfect day today to get outdoors that we took advantage. I whipped up some sandwiches, we jumped in the car, and we had a little picnic before we took a hike on our close-by and most familiar trail.

Oak with Moss
What impressed me the most as we started to hike was the greenness all around us!  The grasses, the mosses, and the ferns are what Crayola would call “spring green”. It felt good to get outside and hike…we saw a red-tailed hawk right above us and it was amazing! We heard robins and Western scrub jays as we went along, nice to hear the familiar spring sounds in the woods.

Deciduous Oak and Spring Sky
Then the sky and clouds captured my eye and the beauty made me stop to admire and try to get a good shot of just how beautiful the almost spring sky is in our neighborhood today. We had a hail storm around 5:30 AM today and then the storm passed and the clouds parted, revealing a bright blue sky.

So for our insect study I was hoping to find some oak galls or leaf miners and I was successful in finding one of those things.

Leaf Miner 1
Leaf miners are talked about in the Handbook of Nature Study starting on page 329 (Lesson 77).
“Among the most familiar of these are the serpentine miners, so called because the figure formed by the eating out of the green pulp of the leaf curves like a serpent…..The serpent-like marking and the blister-like blothces which we often see on leaves are made by the larve of insects which complete their growth by feeding upon the inner living substance of the leaf.”

Leaf damaged by insects
We saw evidence of other insects all around the trail when we stopped to look closely.

Insect on leaf
As I was taking these photos, I happened to see this guy. I have absolutely no idea what kind of insect it is but was great to observe him this afternoon, a sign of life in these woods.

Shooting Star Wildflowers
The next leg of the hike had some surprises in store for us. Like these very first of the season Shooting Stars!

Wildflower and Insect
And these colorful and cheery buttercups…added bonus….some small fly-like insect.

Manzanita and Oak Spring

I have been down this trail a hundred times and I haven’t ever noticed how nicely this manzanita is shaped. It must be pretty old because it is taller than most of the manzanita in this area and looks more like a tree than a bush. See the nice oak on the left all covered with spring moss?

Saxifrage just starting to sprout
On the way back up the trail we stopped to admire the waterfall and I was excited to see the early spring saxifrage beginning to sprout. Soon it will be blooming and I will know it is spring.

Kona at the Waterfall
Kona had to get in the water while she waited for me to finish my photo taking. She moved some rocks around in the water with her nose and got a drink.

3 7 11 Red Shack hike (17)
Here is the waterfall from the trail. This is looking up and there is a section below where we are so the sound of rushing water is heard from the parking place all the way down to where we turn around and come back up. It is one of those very relaxing and comforting sounds that we enjoy on this hike.

Red Insect
Here is a red insect I spotted while I was crouched down taking photos of the saxifrage. I don’t know what it is but it had wings and eventually flew away.

I think that wraps up our hike and our insects for our study. We are going to try to identify the red insect in the photo above and add it to our nature journals this week. What a great day outdoors! I think I have been color deprived because just seeing the few wildflowers, the greens of the grasses and mosses, and the colorful insect has brightened my mood. I think we all feel better.

I updated my last entry with a photo from last summer….we were at the redwood forest in Northern California. Click over and scroll down to see how small we are in comparison to the base of the tree!

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Yesterday’s Hike: Our Familiar Trail

I love having a “familiar trail”. The subtle changes that take place from week to week sometimes escape my notice until I look at them through the lens of my camera. The light is different this time of year and the colors so very different. This trail that is bursting with wildflowers in the spring and early summer is now just a palette of browns and greens, with an occasional splash of color if you really look for it along the edges.

Although this may sound like a complaint, it really isn’t. I love having the contrasts between seasons, anticipating the next progression of growing. It is something at the core of me that knows this is the natural way to keep time. Thinking about it…perhaps this is why I don’t wear a watch or carry my phone with me at all times. I just like to feel the natural rhythm of the day and the seasons without fussing too much with the minute by minute ticking of time. It’s cloudy, rainy, cold, the oaks have lost their leaves, the buckeyes are sprouting on the ground, the ferns are unfurling… must be close to the first day of winter.

Guess I’m feeling sort of reflective on this cold, gray afternoon. 🙂

What to see a few images from our walk? Enjoy!

Red Shack 12 16 10 Wet Trail
It was still wet from the melted frost we had overnight and the mood was very somber.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Hiking Uphill
It is a steep hike back up the canyon after we hike down. Great exercise for humans and canines. (If you want to see what this place on the trail looks like in the spring, you can click HERE.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Blackberries
Dried up blackberries still hanging on the vines next to the trail. This is near the mushy part of the trail and soon we will have a little creek to hop over at this point.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Weeds
Wet wintery weeds are everywhere….I can visualize what the spring will bring but for now the landscape is pretty sad.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Fungus

The most colorful spot we found on our hike was right near the top where the ferns, mosses, and fungus are all bursting out.

So there you have it….a December day on our familiar trail. We are now facing ten forecasted days of rain so we may  not make it back for another week or so down this trail. If the weather clears, we will jump on the chance to get out and hike again on this path so close to home.