To consider the local drought picture, we spent part of our Steward Day this week reviewing the impacts of the drought on the local plants and overall habitat. We made several observations on just how dry it is:
1. Plants like bush sunflower (Encelia californica) and California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) started putting out leaves late last year with the occasional days of moist weather that we had. Since then, the plants have put on the brakes regarding additional growth. Bush sunflower leaves are starting to shrivel and California sagebrush leaves are starting to wilt as they wait out the dry weather in hopes of rain.
2. There are almost zero blooming flowers in much of the habitat we explored. Sure, some areas where water gathers at the bottom of a hill, in a drainage, or along the side of the road are able to support blooming plants. Overall, however, the water needed to support plants in the high energy-requiring process of producing flowers and seeds is just not available. The blooms are just not going to be there and won't be if we don't get more rain this season.
3. There are very few weed seedlings on site. As part of our exploration, we reviewed photos of restoration sites around the bay during previous years when we've had rain closer to the normal averages. The sites in the photos are covered in broad green mustard leaves and little yellow flowers. Without the rain, not even the opportunistic mustard seeds are getting enough water to send up shoots and reproduce.
So, what does this tell us? It's very dry but not yet deadly. Our native plants have long been adapted to the drought cycles that are part of the climate where we live. They may just have to "take a year off" and focus on survival rather than reproduction. We'll have to wait and see.
It's time to consider some water conservation measures at home if you aren't already doing so. The Metropolitan Water District offers some tips here: www.bewaterwise.com/tips01.html. When you next visit the bay, have a look at the plants you see and keep an eye on their overall health as they endure this very dry weather.