City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 18, 2017

July 17th

Seed Dispersal, Porcupine and First Trout

2:00 p.m. Although the canyon is still in the estival and not the serotinal season, I have inadvertently stepped into a patch of common Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum L.), and my shoes are covered its spikelets. I pause to remove about twenty out. The serotinal season, which begins on August 15th, is the time of maximum seed production and dispersal. Although a native plant, Foxtail and like the invasive Cheat grass disperse by animals. Dispersal by animals is particularly effective, which explains why many invasive and weeds move their seeds by spikes and velcro-like surfaces that grab onto mammal fur and bird feathers. Others use animals. Along the road today around the cultivar crabapple trees (genus Malus) in the first mile, there are half-eaten rotting fruits. Birds have been pecking at them and consuming both the sweet pulp and seeds. Mule deer have already consumed the fruit on the lower branches. I have often wondered at the inefficiency of other plants like Gambel’s oak and Box Elder trees. Both produce large prodigious amounts of seeds at a great expense of energy, but only an infinitesimal portion of the seeds can ever be reasonably expected to reach maturity. The oak drops its seeds vertically by gravity, where they cannot do not sprout in the shade. Presumably the oaks are helped by Rock squirrels (Spermophilus variegatus) that move and store the acorns in their burrows. The Box Elder is covered in is catkins of helicopter seeds that by its aerodynamics float a short distance from its parent. Cottonwoods, Western salisfy (Giant dandelion), and Fireweed, respectively, produce pollens and seeds that parachute away from their parent suspended below a feathery pappus. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) fruits and floats down the stream to establish new colonies. How watercress moves upstream is unclear. Perhaps small crushed leaves fall off the lips of deer that browse on it. Dandelions, who favor the stream’s banks, moves its seeds upstream on the wind and downstream by floating on the water. Other plants like the Gambel’s oaks and aspen trees increase their range asexually by extending tubers underground.

6:00 p.m. The heat of the Sun bakes the water out of the land, and afternoon thunder clouds, born from the Great Salt Lake and reservoirs covers the valley. The great cloud tops are only threats, and pass with leaving any life-giving water to the city or to the canyon. It has been several weeks since I last remember any rain falling in the canyon. Checking weather records, the last rainfall above a trace amount was about one-tenth of an inch on June 13th.

8:45 p.m. I take a second late-evening run thorough the cool air and fading light. In the pond at picnic site 5, the first Brown trout (Salmo trutta) of this season has returned to the lower-canyon stream. A brushy tree limb has been removed, so the trout does not have the same cover as last year (Oct. 21st), but there is a bare six inch diameter tree trunk in the pond’s bottom. The trout uses this scant cover and goes for a hiding place in between the bottom of the log and the stream bed. The presence of the trout is related to shade provided by 100 foot canopy trees like Box Elder and Narrowleaf cottonwoods (Lanner 1984). Trout prefer cool water and the exposed stream, the flood retention ponds both below Guardhouse Gate and above at mile 3.0 may have become too warm for them. Now they seek cool pools shaded by the forest and where the stream has deep, vertical banks.

As I pass the watercress field in the tunnel seep below picnic site 6, I notice two eyes starring back from the darkness. A small North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is sitting at the edge of the seep, contentedly grazing on the watercress. I have not seen a porcupine in the lower canyon for about two decades, and I had thought most of them to be driven out of the upper canyon above mile 4.0 by the increasing drought (Nov. 2nd). This porcupine, like its species, is docile and unafraid. Because of it quills it has few serious natural enemies, although quills have been found in mountain lions, coyotes and bears. Eventually, it becomes wary of me and effortlessly climbs a nearby forty feet tree. They eat green plants, like clover, leaves, and the bark of trees (Hayward 1948 at 494, Spencer 1964). Such discoveries of old animal friends raise my spirits. They have not been driven from Salt Lake canyons. In the fading twilight, bicyclists streak out of the canyon illuminating their way with blinding LED lanterns.

* * * *

There are four primary methods of seed dispersal: by wind, by water, by gravity, and by animals. Animals move seeds by several methods. Epizoochory is the movement of seeds, like the Foxtail, by attaching to the outside of an animal. Endozoochory is the movement of seeds by animals internally, i.e. – eating of seeds by birds and mammals followed by the seed’s excretion distant from the parent. More recently anthropochory, the movement of seeds by humans, has radically changed the canyon and western habitats, by moving seeds across oceans and continents.

In 1993, now Utah State University of Utah botanist Eugene Schupp noted that the benefit to a plant that an animal disperser provides is a probability function of the quantity of seeds dispersed and the quality of the seeds produced (Schupp, Jordano, and Gómez 2010, Schupp 1993). Quantity of dispersal depends on the number of disperser visits and the number of seeds dispersed on each visit. The quality of seeds produced depends on either its treatment in an animal’s digestive tract or quality of seed deposition, i.e. – some animals are sloppy eaters and drop seeds close to the parent and others efficiently eat all seeds and move them a significant distance from the parent. Combining these factors gives a seed dispersement effectiveness index, and that single dimensional index can be used to relatively rate the importance that the many animals that consume a plant’s seeds contribute to the plant’s reproduction. For example, any single tree species many have five or ten bird species that eat and disperse its seeds.

Seed dispersal matters to the recuperation of forests. Where forests, like the canyon’s Gambel’s oak chaparral or stream-side association, are long-lived and mature, bird dispersers have little effect on a forest’s health. But when a forest is disturbed, for example by fire or clear-cutting, a forest cannot re-colonize unless it also supports a healthy bird population that can distribute its seeds (Howe and Miriti 2004, Martínez and García 2017). This process works in reverse. Bird dispersers can be lost, and eventually this may lead to the loss forests that they visit (Howe and Miriti). This underscores the need to preserve bird habitats on a continental scale, since the avian distributors of seeds that will help City Creek Canyon’s oak and montane forests recover from a future fire, may overwinter in Central American forests (May 22nd, May 23rd and May 24th).

* * * *

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 17th, 1908, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that the city prison road work gang had labored for 18 months to improve City Creek Canyon Road. On July 17th, 1888, ten families had set up tents for cool summer camping in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On July 17th, 1887, the Salt Lake Herald reports that several families have moved into tents in and for the cooler air of City Creek.

June 23, 2017

June 21st

Growth Spurts

6:45 p.m. In the cool of the late evening, I jog towards Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. A Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches near the gate. Near mile 0.3, a flash of bright yellow on the outside of a tree catches the eye. It is a Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia). At mile 1.1, I mistake plaintive calls for raptor chicks, but it is only the squawking of a pair of Western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica).

The summer-like heat turns flowering plants. The leaves of Wild carrots (Lomatium dissectum), a.k.a. Fernleaf biscuitroot, are browning, and their seeds are turning a light purple. Curly dock weeds (Rumex crispus) have turned a deep brown. I admire Curly dock. It grows, flowers, and dies over only for a few weeks in the spring, but then its rich brown color accents the canyon throughout the rest of the year. Only in the early spring, does it finally succumb to winter’s weather, and then in a few weeks, it begins to regrow. Even the seeds of yesterday’s Milkweed have turned from a light green to a subtle purple in a single day. Foxglove beardtongues (Penstemon digitalis) that have delicate bell-like flowers have deepened in color from white to streaked pink.

Other plants respond to this initial summer heat with a growth spurt. Starry solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum stellatum) have reached almost two feet in height. At the seep below picnic site 6, watercress (Nasturtium officinale) has grown four inches in height in just a few days. Scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) along the road stand erect and have also reached two feet in height. At lower Pleasant Valley field, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda) is two to two and one-half feet high. Heat drives this rush.

Hovering other the Pleasant Valley field, a fleet of twenty Common whitetail dragonflies dart back and forth and play tag in the evening breeze. Their miniature relatives, Circumpolar bluets (Enallagma cyanigerum) line the first mile roadside. Returning down-canyon, a Pinacate beetle (Tenebrionidae eleodes) is running down the road. This is the first time that I have seen one fast motion, and usually they standing with their abdomens pointed into the air and ready to launch a chemical spray on predators. When running, its oversized rear legs make its large black abdomen comically waive back and forth. Since cars are banned from the canyon today, many bicyclists streak by not heeding caution for speed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 21st, 1852, he notes that adder’s tongue, a fern, smells like snakes. He hears a cherry bird. He sees a field with snap-dragon and he notes that lupines have lost their blooms. He hears thunder when there are no clouds in the sky. He collects morning glories. On June 21st, 1854, he notes the many smells in the air, including may-flowers and cherry bark. He compares how a stream bank has grown from a low covering of brown in spring to a thicket of weeds in summer. He finds a small pond with two pout fish and a brood of small fry. He describes a sprout forest – a forest of small sprouts that grows from fallen trees. He sees wild roses. On June 21st, 1856, he sees night hawks, and on June 21st, 1860, he observes pine pollen covering the surface of water.

* * * *

On June 21st, 2000, Mayor Rocky Anderson held a press conference urging Congress to pass a bill that would designate a portion of offshore federal oil revenues to fund improvements in local parks like City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1995, Rotary Club members repainted benches at Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1994, a 19 year-old man was robbed at knife point by his passenger after they drove to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1934, Street Commissioner Harold B. Lee referred a proposal by former City Engineer S. Q. Cannon to employ road crews to widen City Creek Canyon Road to the Depression Federal Emergency Recovery Act Bureau (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 21st, 1912, City Parks Commissioner George D. Keyser proposed a circular scenic boulevard be created up City Creek, along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas, then to Sugarhouse, and then returning to the City’s center (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). The route would be lined with trees (id). On June 21st, 1906, City Engineer Kelsey reported that 100 miles of sidewalks will be completed in the City this year and another 25 miles of roads will be paved or graveled (Salt Lake Telegram). A minor $1,000 project will construct a bridge in City Creek Canyon (id).

April 15, 2017

April 15th

More Blossoming

2:00 p.m. Several cultivar cherry trees blossom. They range in size from small bushes to two specimens with the first quarter-mile that are between twenty and thirty feet tall. In these larger trees, the gray birch-like pattern to their bark in addition to their bright white flowers are the keys to identification. More Box Elder shrubs have bloomed. One of the three horsechestnut trees at the Guardhouse gate parking lot have exploded, and each bud reveals a radial pattern of leaves surrounded by a cone-shaped green compound set of ovaries. Red ozier dogwood bushes that have leafed out have grown small compound blossom heads that look like heads broccoli. Chokeberries have resumed blooming and one near mile 0.2 is festooned with hanging flowerless blooms at the end of multiple heads at the end of long thin stems. Two immature rock squirrels betray themselves as their run over dry crackling leaves above the roadbank. A shadow across the road reveals to small hawks racing over the road. Their flight is so fast that identification is not possible, but front-wing line has a rounded shape. One seeking to increase its diving speed, folds its wing in to transform itself into a bullet shape. In an instant, they are gone around a ridge. Painted Lady butterflies are joined by a another cousin: a small dusky black butterfly that deep black triangular wing-tips with white spots. After yesterday’s warmth, the snow-melt fed stream today flows at it highest level.

The parking lot is overflowing with cars and their are sixty or seventy people along the road. The watercress gleaners have returned (October 16th) and they are carrying out bags of this edible that they removed from the seep below picnic site 6. I have changed my opinion on this practice: watercress is an invasive that chokes the stream, and if it is overharvested to the extinction, the stream may improve for native fish.

As I jog up-canyon, two young men bicycle down-canyon. They are wearing packs with hi-tech two-part snowboards strapped to the back in a triangle formation. They have ridden to the end of road and then hiked up to Grandview Peak for spring skiing. I did a similar 17 mile road trip ski tour and hike in the 1980s, and it is heartening to see the next generation of young men who would test themselves not in the arena of commerce or in sports against other men, but against the power of the nature. I give the trailing rider a big thumbs up, acknowledging what they have done. But he sees not as a kindred spirit, but only an old man on the lower road to which he gives no return glance.

* * * *

On April 15th, 1909, a brush fire broke out at four miles above Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News). On April 15, 1906, boxer Young Corbett trained in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). This was probably Young Corbett II, who later became the world Featherweight boxing champion. On April 15, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association planned to assist in planting trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 15, 1896, negotiations between the City and the Salt Lake and Ogden Gas and Electric Light Company broke down, prompting the City to further consider constructing an electric power station in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

February 12, 2017

February 12th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Mule Deer, People, Watercress — canopus56 @ 4:53 pm

Tough Plant – Part III

1:00 p.m. Today has a truly warming sun of latter winter. The air in the canyon has a sharp, cold crispness, but the low midday Sun is bites on the skin in infrared. The result is ones spirits are lifted in anticipation of the coming spring and from relief from winter’s oppression. As a consequence, the road is filled with runners and numerous families strolling with young children. A sign of advancing technology is that one young boy is not walking; he is riding a wheeled hoverboard up the road. I estimate their density within the first mile as close to eighty persons. Ice forms in small pockets of water by the side of the road and as rime on branches that hang above the stream, but unlike in the depths of winter, this ice is a clear glass. At winter’s peak, ice is a milky white. Between the rain and the melted snow, the ground is saturated and no longer holds water. The stronger Sun has also started to melt the snow in the upper canyon, and the stream now runs four to six inches deeper. At picnic site 3, the flock of six Black-capped chickadees again plays in the trees. I hear three more in the brush. Their joy and constant antics is mimicked in the play of the children walking up the road. Although I enjoy the company of children, by mile 1.2 I am ready for solitude and decide to run back down the Pipeline Trail although I know it will be muddy this time of year.

The Pipeline Trail is a patch work of drained soil, tracks of two inch deep mud, and in the much shaded portions, snow covered ice. The varied terrain provides a good training reminder for trail running later in the season. A fresh circle of mule deer dung marks the passing of the deer that I saw last-night at the meadow up-canyon. A tree snag has fallen across the trail, but it is too large for me to push it aside, and near trail mile 1.0, where a seep crosses the trail, there is a patch of bright green watercress. The trail is about seventy-five feet above the road at this point, but somehow this non-native species has managed travel uphill to this isolated spot.

I hear a crow cawing. Searching the sky, one is up canyon circling at about three-hundred feet above the meadow at mile 1.3, but there are no air rising air currents this time of year. The air is still, and the crow is flapping strenuously while circling in order to gain more altitude and is cawing loudly in complaint. Although the crow is almost one-half mile away, its voice travels through the cold still air with amazing clarity. It sounds like it is only a few hundred feet away. After recent about six hundred feet above the canyon floor, it resumes its journey and quickly glides out-of-sight in a straight line up-canyon.

The evolutionary narrative that emerges from this tale of two species of Gambel’s oak and their hybrid (Quercus gambelii, Quercus turbinnell and Quercus gambelii x turbinnell) is that both existed along the banks of ancient Lake Bonneville. When the lake receded to its current levels as the climate warmed 9,000 years ago, Quercus turbinnell was unable to adapt to extreme droughts of the new Utah summer climate, and turbinnell receded southward. Quercus gambelii remained, became more abundant, and started to reproduce asexually. Isolated pockets of Quercus turbinnell remained in northern Utah, but they hybridized into Quercus gambelii x turbinnell.

Pockets of Quercus turbinnell have been found at This is the Place Monument at Cottam’s Grove (Warchol), at Dry Fork Canyon near City Creek, and at Red Butte Gardens. I make a calendar note for next summer to look for this Quercus turbinnell in City Creek Canyon.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 12th, 1854, he remarks on how white birches trees next to a pond spread in a pleasing manner. The same is true for water or river birches found in along the stream in the canyon. On February 12th, 1857, he observes another frozen caterpillar, and when he thaws the insect, it comes alive again. On February 12th, 1860, he finds the earth partially free of snow and a yellow-brown color, and it contrasts with the blue sky and white patches of snow. He describes a spectacular sunset and states that in winter, “the sunset sky is double.”

From Feb. 12th to Feb. 20, 1986, massive flooding began in Northern Utah, including in City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 30, 2000).

January 23, 2017

January 23rd

Filed under: Watercress, Weather — canopus56 @ 11:38 pm

The White Tangle

5:00 p.m. As another storm front passes over the valley, great winds beat tree and building alike, but no rain or snow arrives until the afternoon. As I enter the canyon, another foot and one half of snow has fallen and the storm continues with a heavy sheet of white. All of the branches are covered with a thick coat; whiteness is everywhere; the canyon is a white tangle of chaos. The snow banks rise to two feet in the lower canyon and in some spots to three. I see a thousand hues of white and grey, except for one break at the spring below picnic site 6. There, the spring water is filled with a green mat of the invasive watercress (Oct. 19th). Because the watercress is surrounded only by white, its color is luminous. But it is not cold.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 23rd, 1857, he records a -8 degree temperature and on January 26th, 1857, -24 degrees. On January 23th, 1858, he records that the ground is bare and snow free. On January 23rd, 1859, Thoreau again sees snow fleas.

On January 23rd, 1904, City Engineer Kesley again proposed a 5,000,000 gallon storage tank be built at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram and Salt Lake Herald, Jan. 24th). On January 23rd, 1901, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the City had received a proposal to purchase 240 acres of land in City Creek owned by an eastern bank. On January 23, 1896, the Red Bird Mine at the City Creek-Morgan County divide was leased in order to restart the 1,300 foot tunnel that already existed at that mine. On January 23, 1896, the Salt Lake Herald published two rumors: first, that placer gold had recently been found in City Creek Canyon, and second, of a long-time Salt Lake City shoemaker who in the 1860s purportedly had a hidden gold mine in City Creek. The miner died without revealing the location of the now lost mine. The Herald predicted that by spring, “the mountains east and north of Salt Lake [would be] fairly covered with prospectors and miners and are confident that within six months the mountain sides will be pierced with shafts and tunnels and the canyons lined with sluice boxes and tail races.”

November 28, 2016

November 28th

Insect Death; Winter Storm

3:30 p.m. It has rained most of the night; in the afternoon, a major winter storm comes through the valley; and there is six inches of snow in the canyon, as I begin my jog into moderate falling snow blown by a strong wind. The stream is swollen and watercress formerly along the stream bank are now all waving from under water. A squall line is crossing the canyon, and even though the road is newly plowed, a fresh layer of snow covers it. My footsteps are soft and muffled. But the jog is not a cold one. Clouds, which allow only a third of a mile in visibility, make a roof over the canyon, and this keeps the what heat there is in.

Even in this near white-out, there is color, and the white snow emphasizes color where ever it can be found. At two water seeps on the west side of the canyon, the green of the watercress more vibrant. The light brown of the catkins hanging from Box elder trees are radiant. By the time I reach the Pleasant Valley meadow, snow is falling vertically. All is quiet with solitude. The tan of parched summer grasses contrasts with the newly fallen snow. One or two chickadees are heard in the distant trees.

I am not alone. A regular runner is exiting the canyon as I arrive. A lone man strolls using an umbrella to keep the snow at bay. Although I am alone for almost a mile, as I go down canyon, a young confident runner speedily goes by and disappears into the falling snow.

It is the third day of low temperatures with some snow on the ground. Today is or yesterday was the next marker of the change of seasons of Summer to Fall: the insects are gone. Other markers were the peak of leaf turning (September 13th), the first light snow (September 22nd), the Yellow Tube of leaves (October 11th), the Brown Tube of leaves (October 21st), the day of last leaf fall (November 10th), the first major snowfall and the White Tube (November 24th). This second major storm is a killing storm. There is no freeze, but insects will not survive. The nest of the Bald-faced Hornets at picnic site 9 is in tatters. It has lost one-half its volume as the rain and snow have progressively removed its outer layers.

November 8, 2016

November 8th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Meadow Mile 1.3, River birch, Sounds, Stream, Unidentified, Watercress — canopus56 @ 11:13 pm

Birding Season Starts

2:30 p.m. On this warm, clear fall day, the first mile of the canyon is now leafless, and this has opened up the lower canyon. In the spring and summer, the first mile is green tube. One can see only a few feet into the surround thicket of Gambel’s oaks and River birches. At most, vision penetrates 20 or 30 feet, and this provides good cover for birds. In the summer, you can hear many birds behind the leaves’ screen, but it is fruitless to wait and try to catch a glimpse of them. Now with the leaves gone, you see 100, 200, and even 300 feet into the forest and around trunks and branches. The stream is also past its summer minimum; it is a few inches higher, as can been seen by some of the watercress that is now submerged. Since the leaves now longer muffle or block the sound of the stream and the stream makes more noise because of its higher flow. The stream, and not crickets, are the main background sound of in the first mile.

At mile 1.3, I hear an unfamiliar bird call – a series of short chirps. A mid-sized bird with a blue back (it is not a scrub jay) flutters in the middle of a scrub oak copse, but now I can see the bird. I follow it with my monocular as the bird flits from branch to branch, but it is too quick to make a positive identification. But this is a good omen. It marks the beginning of birding season, and things will only improve until next spring. During the coming winter, the cold weather will drive birds closer to the road, where they can be seen, and in the spring, when migrants first return to nest, there will be no leaves to hide them.

October 26, 2016

October 26th

Filed under: Dogwood, Gambel's Oak, Horsetail, Light, People, Sea gull, Watercress, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 4:04 pm

A Horse’s Tale

1:00 p.m. In the spring and summer, foliage obscures the stream and its banks, but now, with the leaves stripped away, the stream is visible. Low-angle shafts of late afternoon light strike into its depths and illuminate individual pools and rocks. The scouring rush horsetail dominates these dappled stream banks for the first five miles of the canyon. It shares the banks with western poison ivy, occasionally with wild watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and, further from the bank, with Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii) and the red-osier dogwood bush. These are surrounded and overshadowed by a variety of trees, some of which like the cottonwood reach 100 feet in height.

Horsetails are the sole survivor of Paleozoic forests that covered the Earth until the rise of flowering plants 250 million years ago. But how did the eighteen inch horsetail evolve into a 100 foot tall cottonwood tree? Here again, another “just-so” evolutionary story will have to suffice. In the canyon, the horsetails occupy the banks at the stream’s spring water line. In the spring, they are flooded, which is consistent with their evolutionary roots as a marsh plant. Thus, they do not need and do not issue deep roots. In the summer, their roots are just sufficient to reach the stream’s water table, but in years of drought, they must grow deeper. Drought fosters evolutionary selection that makes them grow larger and deeper. The larger they grow, the further their seed can spread away from water, and then their descendants must grow even larger to reach down to water. In years of extreme drought, the smaller predecessors may die off all together, leaving only their taller progeny. Over a hundred million years, one can see how this self re-enforcing loop can transform the horsetail into a giant narrowleaf Mountain cottonwood next to the stream or into a Gambel’s oak that drives deep roots and that survives on little water far from the stream.

It is an unusually warm day in the seventies. The leaves of the Wood’s Rose bushes near picnic site 1 have turned a brilliant red. Four sea gulls soar 800 feet above the canyon floor, and they are followed by a distant raptor. There are about twenty walkers and runners, some of who have taken their shirts off, and a group of about 40 first or second graders. To prevent the prisoners (I mean students) from escaping (I mean wandering off), each child is dressed in a bright red T-shirt. Their voices are loud and boisterous until I out-run and leave them behind on the road. But there is only one hunter car on this Wednesday, which is expected. Insects are present, and an array of six types spanning about 30 individuals is found in the first mile. Four blue dragonflies, probably Blue-eyed Darners, fly by at mile 0.6. Several injured grasshoppers are on the road, and they provide a meal for a flock of six Mexican scrub jays.

October 19, 2016

October 19th

Watercress Foraging

1:00 p.m. During a post-storm cold but sunny day, four insects are on the road: a Praying mantis, immature Eastern Boxelder bugs, a Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, and an unidentified bee. The bee was possibly a domesticated honey bee with equal spaced black-dirty-yellow bands on its abdomen. While all trees have turned color, about fifteen percent of the trees along the road are now completely leafless.

Below picnic site 6, watercress beds line the north side of the road where a water seep runs year round. Watercress is also found there on the south side of the road in beds in the stream itself. The beds look mangy, but not because it is Fall and cold. Their tops are still uneven and chopped. In June, an extended family from one of the Southeast Asian countries came to the canyon over three weeks and harvested watercress in great leaf bags. It was a great family affair involving several generations – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and young, playful, smiling grandchildren. Some of the elders were in traditional dress, and the children wore heavy metal tee shirts. It was unclear whether they were gleaning out of economic necessity or as cultural practice as they all piled into a large luxury SUV at the end of their gathering. But they took too much; the watercress beds have never fully recovered; and this is a metaphor for non-sustainable consumption that undercuts our confidence in modern post-industrial lifestyles.

According to local experts, and I am not one, there are many edible wild plants in the canyon in addition to the fruit tree cultivars. Pine needles and wild mint (Mentha arvensis) from the upper canyon can be used to make tea. Wild onion (Allum acuminatum Hook) and wild carrot (Lomatium dissectum) can be found in the spring. Blue elder berry bushes can be found along the upper canyon trail (Sept. 8th). With much labor, the bitterness of Gambel’s oak acorns can be leeched out, and the flour turned into pancakes. Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) and thistles can be boiled and then used as greens. Mountain dandelion (Agoseris glauca Raf.) greens can be added to salads. Some say even oak and maple leaves are edible. Barnes notes that the Ute indians ate these and also the root of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) that grows profusely on the ridge between City Creek and the Avenues and on the west side of the ridge between City Creek and Ensign Peak (“Four Seasons”, Sept. 1st). The bulb of the state flower, the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttalli) is edible, and the Sego can commonly be found on the high-slopes and ridges of either side of canyon during spring. But not being skilled in plant identification and since some edibles are easily confused with look-alike poisonous plants, I have not tried any of these.

With next spring’s growth, the watercress beds should become even thick mats again.

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