City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

August 21, 2017

July 1st; Revised, Reposted

Talking Plants – Part I – Hidden Scents, Hidden Networks

Revised to include plants talking to each other by subsurface common mycorrhizal networks.

2:00 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, it is another butterfly day. Cabbage white and Western tiger swallowtail butterflies line the road. Families stroll through the heat on a holiday weekend.

It is also the time of mature trees. The giant trees of the canyon – those taller than seventy-feet – now dominate the canyon experience. Species include Box Elder trees, Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees and Freemont’s cottonwood trees (Populus fremontii). They now provide a partial canyon that protects the mid- to small-sized trees and the understory bushes from the harsh summer sun. Walking past one of these biological skyscrapers, one can feel the increase in humidity from their exhalations. In winter, their skeletons are ignored and when walking up-canyon during the cold season, one does not give them a passing thought.

At Guardhouse Gate, Black-headed grosbeaks and Lazuli buntings dominate. At picnic site 3, Song sparrows are prominent, and at third active zone of birds appears at milepost 1.1.

At seep below picnic site 6, the Starry solomon’s seal has, in seemingly a few days, been overrun by Western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii). It is now a deep green, and in the fall will turn a deep red (Sept. 23rd).

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 1st, 1852, he notes that rabbit’s foot clover is turning colorful, mulleins are turning yellow, wild roses are at their peak. He describes a white lily in depth. He hears a red-eye, oven-bird and a yellow-throat. On July 1st, 1854, he again notes that the edges of distant objects are distinct in clear air. He watches the shadows of clouds moving across the land. On July 1st, 1859, he notes white ranunculus is in bloom.

* * * *

Plants communicate with each other and with insects by volatile airborne chemical signals in order to coordinate defenses against herbivores (Hartley 2010, Hartley 2009, Alba 2012, Engelberth 2012, Heil and Karbon 2009, see Witzany and Baluska (ed) 2012). Experiments suggest that Box Elder trees, the Gambel’s oaks, the bushes of the understory, the Curly dock weeds, the Starry Solomon plants, the sagebrush, and the other plants currently active in the canyon are carrying on a conversation, unheard by human interlopers. Experiments have been done on plants outside species of the Gambel’s oak forest, but one example exists for communication between the sagebrush groves along east Bonneville Drive. In 2011, Shiojiri at Kyoto University, Karban at University of California at Davis and Ishizaki at Hokkaido University replicated and expanded Karban’s 2006 study on Great basin sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) plant communication (Shiojiri, Karban and Ishizaki 2011). They found that the neighbors of sagebrush plants mechanically damaged with scissors but allowed to spread VOCs suffered less damage from grasshoppers than sagebrush plants not allowed to receive VOC emissions from the damage sagebrush. In short, sagebrush plants talk with their sagebrush neighbors and warn them to start producing insecticides to ward off grasshoppers. In 2008, Mäntylä et al at the University of Bristol demonstrated that birch trees issue volatile airborne chemicals, not detectable by humans, when attacked by caterpillars. To control scents, they contained some damaged branches in plastic bags, but left other branches exposed. Birds preferentially visited and attacked branches where trees’ VOC scent was present. In short, their Great Britain birches talk to birds. Although the specific species in investigated in Great Britain are not present in the canyon, the canyon hosts Birchleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus Raf.). In 2011, Mäntylä et al demonstrated a similar effect in Scottish pines (Mäntylä et al 2011). Engelberth notes that some plants use VOCs to signal predatory insects, e.g. predatory wasps, that they have been damaged by insect herbivores that are preferred foods of the predator insect (Engelberth 2012).

Plant species talking between themselves, with other species of plants, and with insects and birds may have arisen by conferring an evolutionary advantage (Heil and Karban 2010). By alerting its same-specie and inter-specie neighbors, sagebrush, for example, can create a herd-like resistance to grasshopper attacks. Similarly, by talking with insects and birds, plants create co-evolutionary relationships that benefit both the plant and associated insect eating birds (id., Engelberth 2012). Through 2010, Heil and Karban summarize known examples of plant “talking” with VOCs (id). In this Great Basin canyon, such communication has only been shown specifically for Great basin sagebrush, but Heil and Karban also list known plant VOC demonstrations for families of plants whose cousins are also present in the City Creek Canyon, including willow trees, sugar maples, poplar trees and alder trees. That the other trees and other plants present in City Creek Canyon are talking to a each other seems a reasonable extrapolation, but demonstration of their VOC communication remains to be shown by future researchers.

Trees also may be talking with each via networks of fungi that permeates the soil beneath the trees. That tree roots make complex associations with fungi has been known for many years (Lanner, pp. 98-100), but with respect to canyon and Wasatch Front Mountain Range trees, this has only be studied extensively with respect to Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and even then, studies were performed principally in Washington State. When trees and fungi form associations, they are called mycorrhiza, and such associations are broken down into two parts. First, when fungi merge with interior of a root, they are termed arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), and second, when fungi form fungal mats underneath and around the roots, they are termed ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF). When AM or EM fungi connect between trees, they form a common mycorrhizal network (CMN). There can be more than 200 species of fungi that participate in arbuscular mycorrhizal association with a single plant. In this symbiotic relationship, fungi, for example with respect to Douglas firs, release additional nutrients from the soil that increases the firs’ ability to grow (Cline 2004), and conversely, the trees manufacture and provide unique nutrients to the fungi that they cannot obtain from the soil such as glucose. Thus, although trees can grow without an AMF or EMF, they grow slower and with less vitality (Cline). The CMN is formed by long hypae, or narrow primitive vascular tubes – that are characteristic of fungi. AMF or EMF associations occur in 80 percent of terrestrial plants.

A recent hypothesis suggest that the common mycorrhizal network of AMFs that provide a pathway by which chemical information is exchanged between trees (Barto et al 2012). Under this hypothesis, plants coordinate their defense against insects and disease using the CMN, and experimentally, this has been shown to occur in AMFs for three invasive grasses (id). Gorzelak and colleagues at the University of British Columbia extended this theory to EMFs (Gorzelak et al 2015). Once again, new modern biochemical and genetic analysis techniques provide insights into the complex life of seemingly simple trees. In 2015, Song and colleagues found in British Columbian forests where they artificially defoliated Douglas firs chemically signaled Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) through the EMF-CMN. The pines responded by issuing stress chemicals. Thus, two different species of trees “talked” with each other over a fungal network.

Both Douglas firs and Pondersa pine are found in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range generally, but not in the canyon specifically. Given that eighty-percent of species and over ninety-percent of families of pldants form AMF and EMF associations, many of the other unstudied trees with AMFs and EMFs in the canyon, like the oaks and maples, may also be talking between themselves over fungal networks. But this is supposition, a “just so” story, and confirmation of whether the canyon’s trees along the first road mile awaits future research by biologists.

* * * *

On July 1st, 2001, City Planning Director Stephen Goldsmith notes that a gate has been added at Memory Grove to control traffic (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 1st, 1997, a small grass fire broke out near Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 1st, 1925, a Salt Lake Telegram editorial approved of the City’s use of “hoboes, drunkards and indolent men” on the prison road work crew then working in City Creek Canyon. On July 1st, 1920, twenty-five service men convalescing at St. Marks Hospital will be given a picnic outing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On July 1st, 1919, a Salt Lake Telegram editorial reported that a large fire had been burning in City Creek for several days (Salt Lake Telegram). The Telegram reported rumors that the fire may have been started by I.W.W. members (id). (Famed I.W.W. organizer Joe Hill had been previously executed in Salt Lake City in November 1915.)

July 16, 2017

July 15th

The Homeless and the Canyon

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Bluets on Bulrush in City Creek Canyon at Seep (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328). Author taken July 2017.

3:30 p.m. True summer heat near 100 degrees Fahrenheit returns and the canyon air takes on oven-like qualities of later in the season. While I was born in the cold of the northeast, part of my adolescence was spent under the blazing sun of southern California deserts. My now heated adapted summer body takes the high temperatures easily. The pulse slows; veins and arteries expand; blood flows and cools in hands and legs. Limbs become flexible; muscles relax; and toxins escape through open pores. The mind becomes lethargic and meditative, but with exercise in heat, thinking remains clear.

The heat has emptied the first mile of road, and only a few joggers are present. The road becomes as empty as in the opposite side of the temperature scale, that is in the depth of winter (December 27th). As in winter, I no longer recognize in myself the person who ran through five degree temperatures.

The heat also affects mammals and insects. Counter-intuitively, it makes Rock squirrels active, and I count three in the first mile. Insects begin to succumb. On the road’s surface, Grasshopper (Melanoplus sp.) lays dead, baking on the road, and that carcass is followed by a Giant western crane fly. Next, I find a spent Cabbage white butterfly. This allows me to examine one this usually hyperactive insect with my hand lens. As their name implies, the Cabbage whites are white in color, but close-up their abdomens are jet black. Numerous white hairs cover that segment and make the butterfly appear all-white.

The earth has dried out, and turns the rare cases of stationary surface water in the canyon into oases. The oasis at the seep about 100 yards below picnic site no. 6 (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328) has reached an idyllic peak of diversity. In an ellipsis of sixty by twenty feet, Circumpolar bluets rest on Bulrushes surrounded by Indian ricegrass and fronted by Kentucky bluegrass. These grasses surrounds a water rivulet in which Western Yellowjacket wasps and White Admiral butterflies stop and rest for a drink. Giant cattails are flanked on one side by six foot tall Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia (Benth.) Kuntze), a.k.a. Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop or Nettleleaf Giant Horsemint, covered in Cabbage white butterflies. On the other stands five foot tall blue Chicory. Stands of Starry solomon’s seal are backed by a large grove of Western poison ivy and are intermixed and are intermixed with Common California aster. A cultivar Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) shades the up-canyon end of the glade.

A short-distance downcanyon, three rare butterfly visitors are seen with orange wings, a black circumferential band and white wing spots. These are Mexican queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus strigosus), and they are usually restricted to New Mexico.

Up-canyon, this season’s teasels (Dipsacus sylvestris) have risen to four feet in height below the Red Bridge. For some weeks, the great two foot triangular leaves of the Burdock (Arctium minus Berhn) invasive weeds that line the canyon road have been raising two and three foot vertical stalks, but their purple flower heads have yet to open.

Today, I place three sponges in the lower canyon. The first is in the stream below the pond at picnic site 5. The second is in the seep 100 yards below picnic site 6, described above, and the third in at the watercress stand at the tunnel seep 50 yards below picnic site 6. I will retrieve these in a few days to see what mirco-life has become trapped or grown in the sponge’s cavities.

The intense Sun has boiled huge summer cumulus clouds from the reservoirs that line the eastern side of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and the clouds frame the north and eastern ridgelines of the canyon as I reach the Gate. Those reservoirs provide the valley with most of its drinking water. In the parking lot, an elderly gentleman, who each day leaves a homeless concentration zone at 500 West and 200 South in the City to seek the canyon’s cool breezes, sits on a bench eating a sandwich.

* * * *

The homeless have long had a relationship with City Creek Canyon. In addition to the homeless person who spends the day at a picnic parking lot, another homeless individual frequents the canyon during the winter, but spends cold nights in a local supermarket. Sometimes in the depths of winter, I have taken the homeless who come to the canyon with the intention of camping overnight back to the city and advise them that they have underestimated the sub-zero temperatures of canyon winter nights. Some are obviously mentally ill. They talk to themselves and their mental illness is either the result of the stress of becoming homeless or an effect of their pre-existing mental illness. For many years, there was a small homeless tent city near the parking lot gate off the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, but in recent years, the County and the City cleared the camp out. Now the watershed patrol vigorously patrols the canyon and takes any homeless citizens back to the concentration zone on the valley floor citing the fear that persons in a homeless camp might set the canyon’s grasslands on fire. While that is a legitimate concern, I suspect the City also quickly acts to remove any homeless from the canyon in part because middle-income citizens simply do not want the homeless there. They fear the homeless as potentially violent and secretly they fear becoming homeless themselves in an uncertain economy.

Salt Lake citizens struggle with the moral ambiguities created by their city’s homeless concentration zone. City residents have long resisted building sufficient facilities to house the homeless on the unsupported theory that building more beds will attract more homeless, and residents, like most other major United States cities, have long avoided building enough affordable housing. The City also struggles with the practice of surrounding communities and hospitals shipping their destitute and ill residents to into the City’s concentration zone. In the 1980s, Salt Lake City took the lead on homelessness by opening Utah’s first homeless shelters. Rather than expending monies addressing their own homeless problem by building their own shelters, for years, neighboring cities have shipped their destitute to the concentration zone citing that Salt Lake City was the only municipality with facilities to house them. Although the concentration zone has become a state and national embarrassment, city residents prefer to keep the homeless out-of-sight and away from other areas of the city, including out of the canyon.

The homeless’ relationship with the canyon goes back farther than this: the homeless built the canyon’s infrastructure. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the City dealt with its homelessness problem by shipping the destitute to the canyon. An early Utah statute permitted cities to impress the destitute and mentally ill convicted of the crime of vagrancy into road work gangs (Utah Code Ann. 10-8-85). In the early 1900s, when the City wanted to build a wider, graded road up City Creek Canyon to promote the new automobile tourism, it began systematic sweeps of the city, arresting the homeless for vagrancy as needed to supply laborer for building the canyon’s road (e.g., Salt Lake Herald, Sept. 26, 1910; Salt Lake Telegram, Nov. 11th, 1913). The city police were sophisticated in their sweeps. For example, in 1908, the road gang needed an experienced “dynamite man” to handle explosives used to break up rock ledges along the canyon road’s path. The Police Department did a sweep of vagrants seeking to arrest one with necessary skill (Deseret Evening News, April 24th, 1908). Unemployed miners got wind of the scheme and fled the city. A particularly racist cartoon, by modern standards, in the August 14th, 1904 Salt Lake Tribune shows who was working on road gangs and what residents’ attitudes were towards the poor. The gangs consisted of elderly unemployed men, persons with alcohol addiction, and minorities. On April 28th, 1908, Mark Aaron, a prisoner serving a 90 day sentence for vagrancy, was shot to death in the canyon will attempting to escape the road gang (Deseret Evening News). The officer claimed that he was aiming for Aaron’s legs, but missed and instead the bullet entered Aaron’s head. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared vagrancy laws unconstitutional.

This darker era in Salt Lake’s past provides some instruction for the City’s modern homeless problem. What the destitute need to restore their dignity is a roof over their heads and paying employment, even if that means government provided make work. If at night there are any ghosts wandering the canyon, they are probably of homeless men rattling their work gang chains.

* * * *

On July 15th, 2015, Mayor Ralph Becker proposes a “Connecting to Nature” plan in which $125 million USD bond would fund park renovations and new land acquisition (Deseret News). On July 15th, 1938, hard oil surfacing of the scenic drive along Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue was nearly complete (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 17th, 1915, the U.S. Weather Bureau installed an advanced stream flow measuring gauge at the High Line Water Tanks in Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On July 15th, 1891, the Red Bird Mine reports opening a four foot wide vein that may contain 1,000 ounces of silver (Salt Lake Times). Fifteen men are working at various prospects in City Creek Canyon (id).

April 25, 2017

April 20th

Filed under: Long-leaf phlox, Mallard, Poison ivy, Weather — canopus56 @ 7:19 pm

Biophilia – Part II – Nature Liking Studies

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Snotel Snow Pack at Louis Meadows. Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service. (2017).

4:30 p.m. It has rained for most of the morning, and a brief interlude of sunlight breaks the coldness. As I start today’s jog, the Sun is replaced by the cloud shelf of the next approaching rain front. It is raining as I start today’s jog; this turns to hail near mile 0.8; but then the returns to a slow drizzle. Even in this inclimate weather, there are about ten people walking or running through the cold spring rain. The rain and snowmelt has surged to a new highest level accompanied by a deafening roar, but at the Zen Rock which I use to determine stream height, in a small rock protected calm near the shore, a single mallard sleeps while the stream gently rocks it back and forth. The stream lulls the bird to sleep. I would have missed the mallard since it was visible only through a thick of trees, but by turning its head around and resting it on its back, the mallard’s iridescent green neck made an incongruous flash of color against the otherwise grey and brown shoreline. The stream’s loudness may not continue because the mid-level snow pack is spent. The SNOTEL station at Louis Meadows, elevation 6,700 feet, reports that the snow pack is gone, but the Lookout Peak station at 8,200 feet near the canyon’s headwaters record about thirty-two inches water-equivalent snow left on the ground, or perhaps as much as four or five of snow feet once the air-content is included. This higher elevation snow might continue to feed the overwhelming white noise of the stream through most of May.

In the glade above picnic site 3 that holds purple Long-leaf Phlox, late blooming yellow poison ivy flowers have opened. The glade is also punctuated by shafts of dark horsetails, and it is framed above by orange complex inflorescences of a blooming river birch tree and on the sides by the new green leaves of small trees.

* * * *

In 1984, Nobel laureate E. O. Wilson proposed another explanation of humans’ attraction for nature by re-purposing Fromm’s biophilia term that may also explain my fascination with nature. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis stated that modern humans have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to and to be fascinated by nature, and this predisposition is the result of eons of years of natural selection acting on pre-history humans (Wilson 1984, Wilson 1993). Humanoid precursors that paid close attention to nature would have had a higher probability of surviving and of passing their genetic material to latter generations (id). Thus, my attraction to nature and stream noise is driven my genes.

The biophilia theory was subsequently was developed by many evolutionary biologists and in 1993, Wilson, with Stephen Kellert at Yale and Roger Ulrich at Texas A and M published a review of its development (Kellert 1993, Ulrich 1993, Wilson 1993). In that review Ulrich discusses evidence supporting the hypothesis based on studies done by many researchers. Types of studies include biophillic (liking nature and positivistic), biophobic (fear of nature and negativistic), and genetic heritability. The body’s biophilic reactions are more difficult to measure behaviorally and are less susceptible to behavioral conditioning. Thus, biophilic studies provide less definitive evidence for a genetic basis for human attraction to nature. Biophilic studies involve viewing images containing various degrees of natural through urbanized settings. Participants rate their preference for each scene. Several biophilic studies found that across cultures, people express a preference for viewing savannah-like open forests (Ulrich, 90-96). This is interpreted as indirect proof of a genetic preference formed as early man evolved on the African plains. A recent liking study replication reaching similar results is Han (2007).

Hence, I and other moderns are attracted to being in the canyon because our primitive ancestors grew up in such an environment. But liking studies are a weak sign for the genetic liking of nature hypothesis, a point that Ulrich concedes, because it is almost impossible to develop an ethical controlled experiment that tests the theory or that separates cultural conditioning for its genetic component. This indirect proof of a genetic compulsion could just as easily be caused by a purely sociological and psychological reaction where city dweller seek relief from a stressful modern life. Such indirect proofs, although tempting to believe (and I want to believe them), may be what sociobiology’s critics like Stephen J. Gould, called another “just so” story.

A more recent theory that extends and stretches the limits of the biophillia hypothesis is oceanographer Wallace J. Nichols’s Blue Mind Hypothesis (Nichols 2014). The blue mind hypothesis poses that humans are compelled to be close to water because of a genetic predisposition that associates water with survival. And indeed, forty percent of the world’s population does live within 100 kilometers of a coastline. The proof that he offers is mostly of the indirect liking survey type, and simpler alternative explanations exist. For example, more people may live closer to coast lines because the access to a larger economic network that water travel provides makes getting a living easier.

* * * *

On April 20th, 2006, Ensign Elementary plans its annual fund raising walk up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

October 18, 2016

October 18th

Hidey Poison Ivy

6:45 p.m. When driving from my home towards the canyon, trees in the domesticated Avenues are now turning and when driving towards Guardhouse gate along Bonneville Drive, all of the Gambel’s oaks have turned. In the far distance on the high west slopes of canyon, groves of Gambel’s oak all look grey and possibly leafless. Towards evening a storm band held back by the heat of the day moves over the canyon and on to the Wasatch Front mountains. The wind comes and goes in pulses, and this strips more leaves off of the trees in an incremental process. As one runs up canyon, if you are lucky, one of these pulses of wind blows twenty or thirty leaves off of a tree, and you then run through a gentle falling “rain” of of leaves. After-work runners and bicyclists, who exercise with purpose and efficiency, have come and gone, and I am alone as I reach Pleasant Valley at mile 1.5. The lower half of the canyon, the part that I am in, is dark and foreboding under the front clouds, while the Black Mountain is in the light of the setting Sun. I am treated to a display of swiftly changing light and darkness as the Sun descends. The upper canyon is in mist, while a single light cloud moves at 30 or 40 miles per hour over the top of Black Mountain. While jogging out in twilight, I surprise two mule deer as they are crossing the road. It is only three days to the start of the main deer rifle hunt.

Western poison ivy along the road has all turned. Poison ivy is a chameleon plant. In the canyon, western poison ivy dominates along the stream bank above the flood line along with scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale), and now almost all the ivy has changed from its earlier bright red to bright yellow and then to a light-brown. Western poison ivy has an oval leaf that stands either singly or in groups of three on the end of a straight three or four foot tall stalk. Eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is also present in the canyon. Eastern poison ivy has the star-shaped, jagged-edge tri-leaves, and grows in creeping flats. This is the ivy that most of us associate with the words “poison ivy”. It is also present in the canyon, but more frequently in the spring. Now, in the autumn across from picnic site 6, one spread of Eastern poison ivy at the base of a Boxelder tree blazes red, and only one vine climbs up and wraps around the trunk displaying bright red leaves. At only one tree in the lower canyon, Western poison ivy has climbed up along the tree’s trunk to a height of ten or more feet, and its tri-oval leaves hang mimicking its Eastern cousin, the vine.

September 23, 2016

September 23rd

Contrasts in Color

5:30 p.m. Yesterday’s storm and cold continues through most of today, and it still rains during this afternoon’s jog. The storm is driven by a low pressure system that has stopped directly over Salt Lake City and the canyon. The clouds that soaked me last night have had time to travel around the circular storm track, and I feel same clouds that soaked me last night have returned for another try.

Some trees respond immediately to the rain and cold. River or water birches (Betula accidentalis H.) turn a bright yellow almost overnight. At the guardhouse gate at mile 0.0, the horsechestnut trees begin to turn. Their leaves become brown around the fringes and the color works towards the center of each leaf. The Gambel’s oaks have begun to turn in response to the cold. When they turn, the leaves go directly to a shriveled tan color.

The rain and diffused overcast light emphasizes the brightest color leaves, and the canyon is a study in color contrasts. The deepest red comes from western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) and a chokecherry tree hidden behind a clump of Gambel’s oaks at picnic site 10. At that location, a sole Box Elder tree has also half turned, and with one-half green and one-half yellow leaves, the tree stands out with a bright light green hue. The brightest red-orange comes from a few select maples. A light blue and light purple are found in a few remaining roadside weeds, including some tansyasters. The brightest yellows come from two immature narrow leaf cottonwood trees and clumps of dried milkweed stalks. Most larger cottonwoods have not yet begun to turn.

It rains continuously through the night and into the half of the next day.


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