City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 11, 2017

February 11th

Filed under: Astronomy, Gambel's Oak, grass, Mule Deer, Owl, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:12 pm

Tough Plant – Part II

5:00 p.m. It rained throughout the night, ending with a brief laying of light snow on the ground. That snow quickly dissipated on the valley floor, and as drive to the canyon is a classic sunny Wasatch winter day. The valley is warm and free of snow, but the mountains are blasted white and stand majestic under the falling Sun. In the first mile of the canyon, the now snow free soils and trees have been soaked, and there colors are the most vivid tones of dark brown and grey. The soils are deep red-brown, and it greatly contrasts with the darker grey of the trees. Green grass shoots are everywhere, but at mile 1.2 where the Utah Conservation Corps did star-thistle abatement by clearing the land (Oct. 16th), patches are particularly green with new growth. Here, five mule deer browse. Only one looks up as I jog by 200 feet away. They can sense that the deer hunt is over until the fall. At milepost 1.5, Black Mountain sits covered in light snow reflecting the twilight. Two owls have returned to a side-canyon off near mile 1.3 after being absent for some weeks, and they exchange calls as night falls. Turning down canyon, a brilliant Venus is again hanging in the night sky, but as compared to a month ago has shifted to the west.

Quercus gambelii’s southern cousin, Quercus turbinnell Greene is equally tough, but in a different way. In Utah, Quercus gambelii prefers colder, moister habitats on northern facing slopes near water, but where the two species meet at the Utah Arizona border, Quercus turbinnell prefers hotter, drier south facing slopes (Ehelringer and Phillips). The responses of the two plants to differing moisture and heat stress is related to their respective physiology and metabolism. Quercus gambelii has deeper roots and its leaves stop respiration at higher temperatures (Ehelringer and Phillips). Quercus turbinnell has shallower roots, but sustains respiration at higher temperatures (id). As a result, Quercus turbinnell prefers habitats that have consistent summer rain like Arizona’s monsoon season, and Quercus gambelii better thrives in the lower temperature summers of Utah where its long roots can reach deeper aquifers during the rainless peak of Utah’s summer.

The two plants can be distinguished by their leaves: Quercus gambelii has large lobed leaves with smooth edges, and in contrast Quercus turbinnell has small leaves about one-third the size of gambelii with serrated edges (Frates).

Between the two species sits their rare hybird: Quercus gambelii x turbinnell. Its leaves are midway in size between gambelii and turbinnell, are lobed like gambelii but also serrated like turbinnell. Its ability to continue respiration is more similar to turbinnell (Ehelringer and Phillips at Fig. 3b). A small stand of Quercus gambelii x turbinnell can be found at Cottam’s Oak Grove at “This is the Place Monument Park” near the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Cottam noted that the cross hybird, like gambelii, also reproduce in northern Utah by rhizomal (root) clonal expansion (Cottam 1959).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 11th, 1854, he again notes patches of snow fleas. On February 11th, 1856, he sees a partridge.

On February 11th, 1908, Lands and Water Commissioner Frank Matthews reported that City Creek needed to be maintained in a more sanitary condition. Conversely, he reported that 150,000 sheep travelled down Emigration Canyon and that the City sold 160 tons of hay farmed in Parley’s Canyon at Mountain Dell. (Salt Lake Telegram; Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 12, 1908).

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