synthroid nausea all day

Roots and Riffs

How do you find people who love plants and heavy metal? It seems a stupid question – even asking it sort of implies the two are mutually exclusive (they’re not!). Phyte Club is a venue for people who want to geek out on botany and bang their heads to brutal music, who get the same sort of rush from interacting with the natural world that they do from rocking out to heavy riffs, who catch themselves playing air guitar in botanical gardens. The intention, ultimately, is to create a way to connect with other curious naturalists who have a desire to travel abroad to catch shows of wildflowers and touring bands alike. (Read the rest here)


Phyte Club Vacation

Oh, wouldn’t it be rad if this post were announcing a trip to, say, Maryland for the Death Fest, or Clissón for Hellfest, or to Germany for Wacken Open Air? Sign up here, for a tour of the United States Botanical Garden, the red poppied meadows of France, or the Black Forest, respectively? Someday, patronage pending. Promise.

white butterfly needles: Thujopsis dolabrata

sweetness, sweetness i was only joking.....Arbutus unedo

January in Big Sur: Cynoglossum grande (Hound's Tongue) on the Tanbark Trail

For now, though, Phyte Club has to take a brief hiatus, a vacation from vacations, such as these ones that punctuated 2011:

Anza-Borrego State Park

Big 4/Carizzo Plains National Monument/Joshua Tree National Park/Pinnacles National Monument

Los Angeles = Bastard Noise & Sleep

The [California] Sierra Nevada

Nova Scotia and Montréal

The John Muir Trail

The Pacific Northwest/Mendozza/High on Fire

Costa Rica

It is time to rejoin the working-for-wages world for a heavy duty spell. And time to recharge the inspiration, if mainly through purposefully avoiding it by default. As of right now, I’m not sure if Phyte Club will morph into a photo here and there, or random commentary, or full-on picked back up at some undetermined time.

if you could be in your favorite place all the time, would you still lust after it?

dive into purple

Let Me Be*Use Me*Feed Me: Three-bin compost system at Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica

I will definitely check for comments still, and will reply back. I can still be reached at

In the meantime, there are 153 published posts over the past 22 months. In addition to all the trip posts linked to above, here are a dozen of my favorite, from ancient thoughts to the youngest:

Environmetalist: High on Honeysuckle, Beer-Soaked Botany Ensues

Attention Deficit Disorder Botany in Pinnacles National Monument

The Passion Flower of Christ

Don’t Get in the Way of the Riffs!

Little Green Lover


Mushrooms, Part II: Aman-neatos and Friends

Broom-Rape, or A Banshee

Shitting, Naturally

Eschscholzia californica/California Poppy

Sex in the Garden: Botanical Tramp Stamps

Leaves too Cool to Leave Alone

a mighty big weiner, as seen from my favorite cacti-covered patio in Big Sur

Enjoy. Keep in touch. And, as always, get off the computer and go outside!

trucker hat pollination in Costa Rica



Gringas are Definitely Not Native

unknown species all over Costa Rica. check out the pink, petal-like "bracts" (modified leaves) and the tiny star-shaped flowers.

Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.

Yep, just started this post with a cliche. Forgive me, or don’t.

For instance, I’ll be hiking Mt. Sutro with a friend, who will say, “Oh, this is so gorgeous!” and I can only think, “No, it’s not. It’s an ecosystem that’s been overrun by two species, blue gum Eucalyptus and Cape ivy, uggg. All I see is creeping death.” Or I’ll be working below Inspiration Point in the Presidio and visitors will comment that the newly restored serpentine grassland, brown in the summer and fall and studded with the periwinkle, magenta, and golden otherwise, is ugly. Then I can only think, “This is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the state, supporting rare endemic species. Do you know how much seed collecting, baby-plant nurturing, and ecological knowledge was devoted to restoring this habitat? This is gorgeous.”

Such subjectivities were a topic of conversation recently in Costa Rica.

Take it from this dozing restaurant kitty, or from the insistently loving mama goat: Phyte Club isn’t morphing into a blog about Costa Rica. Plant-wise, I’m not even that in to the tropics. However, I did just spend the first couple weeks of December tromping the country’s slippery trails, which necessitates at least a few posts. The nature there is effortlessly extravagant. And though the ecological interdependency isn’t greater, per se, than in the Cali desert or coastal foothills, there’s a lot of different stuff going on. Be prepared for a lot of green. As the local “Ticos” say, “PURA VIDA”.

Initially, it was enjoyable to be totally ignorant of the what species were native or invasive in Costa Rica. What a relief! The politics get old, and viewing the landscape divided by plant loyalties does, too. But as I increasingly felt non-native as a gringa tourist, being a foreigner within the entire ecosystem started wearing on me. I was not “at home” in the world, couldn’t locate my “place” within the humid and slithery jungle. I needed some bearings, some names, some familiarity and community.

The native/exotic split was a useful dichotomy to begin understanding the terrain. When a friend I was traveling with asked what the big deal is about whether a plant is native or not, I quickly snapped, “Well, it just depends on whether one values

Not sure what Asclepias species this is, but many of this genus are vital host plants for monarch butterflies.

biodiversity or not.” Which is true, though I didn’t mean to sound like such a dogmatic jerk: An ecosystem with native plants and animals has been able to work on fine-tuning an almost infinite number of relationships over evolutionary history. These species are adapted to local conditions. Throw in a particularly aggressive species from another land, and it can make the whole system go out of balance.

a beautiful unknown

Predictably, we then got into a long conversation that became a humorous thread throughout the trip about what is “natural”. If humans are part of nature, and we fuck things up, isn’t that just “natural”? At what point do you stop playing god once you’ve started?

What about a sense of responsibility and stewardship to the biotic community, as part of the biotic community? And in terms of habitat restoration, there’s a whole ‘nother slew of politics — what gets “fixed”, who decides, what ecosystem is the reference point for the restoration, and can we even understand the complexity enough to model and construct a functioning natural system?

The “what is natural” conundrum can be circularly argued to infinity (don’t believe me? Ask any student of environmental ethics.). Perhaps arguing the meaning of “natural” is like debating the existence of “God”. There is no easy answer, and maybe there’s not “one answer” but instead, lots of grey areas to be negotiated as best as possible.  Here are, however, lots of photos of plants from Costa Rica — some native, some non-native, and others unknown. Pardon the philosophical delay!

Many of the non-native species were from tropical regions in Southeast Asia or India. Even bananas (Musa acuminata), Costa Rica’s historic and controversial cash crop, are originally from the East.

banana flowers provide nectar for these black bees

Torch ginger (Etlingera elatior), which was familiar to me from Maui and Kauai, was aflame all over Costa Rica. Again, it is indigenous to none of these places, but to Java and Malaysia. One ID book said this species is used in Costa Rica to delineate property lines. What a beautiful alternative to chainlink or barbed wire or even wooden fences.

butterflies are the natural pollinator of torch ginger, which makes sense considering they don't hover like hummingbirds, nor are small like many bees, so they need a substantial place to sit.

the parts that look like petals are actually "bracts", or modified leaves.

medicinally, torch ginger is used for fever, headache, bronchitis, and dysentary. In the kitchen, its stems can be chopped and added to curries or soups.

This Thumbergia grandiflora was vine-ing all over the place. The Bangladesh native is considered a pest in many tropical places.

some heliconias are native to tropical Latin American, and some aren't. Not sure about this species. These otherworldly flowers were everywhere, though.

Emilia fosbergii (aka "Florida tassleflower") is a dandelion that's not native to Costa Rica (it seems no one knows were, specifically, it's from beyond "the Old World"). Like so many dandelions, it's become a naturalized weed. It is used medicinally to treat high blood pressure.

Ixora cocinnea is from India. It grows as a shrub, and offers nectar for pollinating butterflies and fruits for birds. Its common names make sense -- "jazmin rojo" and "flor de fuego" -- given its resemblance to both jasmine and fire.

In terms of edibles, Costa Rica is lush with tropical fruits. Being rather ignorant, however, and not inclined to poison myself, I wasn’t going around sampling plant parts in situ. We did stay at a sustainable living center, where we ate lots of unfamiliar greens straight from the garden.

they called this "cranberry hibiscus". Not sure if it is native or not, but its leaves tasted tangy and were probably full of Vitamin C.

commonly known as "tropical asparagus" or "katuk", Sauropus androsynus was a succulent addition to salads and is a popular leaf vegetable in the tropics. It's native to Southeast Asia. Perhaps it will be the next arugala in chi-chi foodie restaurants?

hibiscus was one of the first flowers I saw and recognized upon arriving in Costa Rica. The center of this one is throbbing, psychedelic. I love the five fuzzy stigma pads emerging at the top of the style.

There are about 10,000 cataloged native plant species in Costa Rica, an area equivalent to the size of West Virginia or Nova Scotia. In the entire United States, there are about 30,000 indigenous species, only three times the amount found in Costa Rica in an area about 192 times the size.

The distinction for sexiest native Costa Rican plant has to go to Psychotria poeppigiana, commonly called “labios de mujer” or “labios de novia”. “Mujer” means “woman” and “novia” translates to girlfriend. “Labios” needs no further translation:


As with the aforementioned torch ginger, the red things that look like petals are actually bracts. The small yellow flowers in the center eventually turn into blue fleshy fruit. There are approximately 117 species of Psychotria in Costa Rica. I doubt they all look like lips, though that would be hot.

Along edges or in gaps of the tropical forest could be found Calathea crotalifera, or rattlesnake plant. Again, another example of bracts making the much smaller flower inside more noticeable. Rattlesnake plant has developed a complex trigger system to give and receive pollen to and from orchid bees, their main pollinator. This is an apt instance of the importance of native species. If an insect were to be introduced to that ecosystem and outcompetes the orchid bee, the rattlesnake plant could be affected because its pollinator would have disappeared. In turn, other species that depend on the plant for food or shelter would have to adapt or die.

Another commonly seen native was Centropogon granulosus, which blooms all year. Stachytarpheta frantzii, or porterweed, was all over, too, in shades from strawberry pink to a happy purple. Porterweed is a butterfly attracter with some significant ethnobotanical properties, as well, from stimulating menstruation to fighting bronchitis and eek, gonorrhea.

Centropogon granulosus

Stachytarpheta frantzii

Costa Rica's indigeneous people use the leaves of rattlesnake plant to wrap their dead prior to burial.

It’s a trip to walk around the tropical forest and see species you recognize as houseplants from thousands of miles away. These plants are perfect for the warm, low-light conditions of the indoors. About 62 species of Philodendron (“love” + “tree”) call Costa Rica home. These are part of the Araceae, or “aroid” family, which are often given away by their arrow- or heart-shaped leaves, as seen in the calla lily and devil’s pothos (perhaps the most common houseplant in the world, by my estimation; neither of those species are in the Philodendron genus, by the way).

an unknown aroid species growing up a tree

a Dieffenbachia species -- another Araceae. This genus is native throughout the tropical Americas, and is another common houseplant.

Monstera deliciosa, a.k.a. "swiss cheese plant" is another Araceae that was found everywhere in Costa Rica. There are 24 species of Monstera in the small country alone. Though I've never seen one fruiting, the fruit is edible and supposedly tastes like a combination of pineapple and banana.

Begonias were another plant common in shade gardens in North America that were growing wild all over Costa Rica, which boasts 34 species.

this little begonia was growing next to a huge buttress root in Costa Rica's first protected area, Cabo Blanco.

This final flower is definitely not native, though it was one of my favorites. It is most likely indigenous to China or India. Ethnobotanically, I found it very useful for relaxing after bathing, and as an anti-depressant.

Costa Rican maids have mad skills.




Life and Death’s Procession

stoner doodles from 10th grade geometry class: the cover of Death's Procession

Just realized the reason why I was still awaiting the release of Saviours’ fourth full-length album was because I’d missed it; when Death’s Procession (Kemado 2011) came out this past September 6, I was grueling and grinning on “Day 2″ of the John Muir Trail. Can’t say I’d trade places, though. The album was long-awaited on my part, but I still feel like I’m missing something. Sure, it has all the extremely satisfying, characteristic Saviours go-tos: galloping momentum (“The Eye Obscene”), dual guitars to make one’s spirit leap out of body (“To the Grave Possessed”), and even impressive vocal harmonies (“Crete’n”, “Walk to the Light”). Yet as a whole, it feels neither as creative nor inspired as their first two albums, Crucifire (Level Plane Records, 2006) or Into Abbadon (Kemado, 2008). The third album, the super thrashy Accelerated Living (Kemado, 2009), was just beginning to grow on me, its anthemic mantra, “We roam! Wasted!” transformed from a vision of bullshit dudes partying obscene to a triumphant rallying cry against yuppie scum, beers held high like Olympic torches of working class allegiance, for instance. Yet compared to the filler flatness of their latest effort, AL seems positively dynamic and racing wild. Hopefully this one will age well on my CD shelf as well, and new nuances will show themselves upon each future listening. In the meantime, Dan Obstekrieg’s opinion on MetalReview is pretty much everything I wanted to say but executed much better (including this brilliant line, “nature abhors indecision just as much as it does a vacuum”). Go there, here.

*photo by Raymond Ahner* 3/4ths of Saviours: Austin Barber, Sonny Reinhardt, and Chris Grande (who's since been replaced by Carson Binks)

From the botanical realm, Prunus cerasifera and Magnolias are already opening their buds. It’s a mid-January gift (for Californians, at least), post-Christmas, post-New Year. The holidays have settled, and more beauty awaits in the months to follow, even amidst drunkenly ruined pseudo-resolutions and sigh….Reality, whatever that signifies. Having faith in the unfolding petals of three flowering plum street trees helps, as does this celebratory Magnolia tree (species unknown), as seen on a street in Santa Cruz filled with quirky, trashy, kitschy, recycled, beautiful, tangled, sustainable, wayward, rainbow, freaky, comfortable, and challenging gardens. And really, would one expect Santa Cruz to offer anything less?

a California winter

Merry January

just the tip...? Loving this fuzzy cat-ear bud cover. From bud to flower to fruit, Magnolias offer gift upon gift upon gift.

And finally, a shack that’s truly made to rock out in. An appropriate use of recycled materials. Behind a white picket fence, to boot.


Jill Bliss-ed Out

I had my first Jill Bliss experience about six years ago. Really, I just bought one of her products, a blank journal, at my local Haight Street independent bookstore. But even the simple act of purchasing and opening a new Jill Bliss creation is a happening. Her colorful line drawings are intricate yet feel uncomplicated; her portrayals of snippets of the natural world, irresistibly attractive. From wall hangings to postcards, fabric designs to iPhone cases, Bliss’ work is a humble homage to ecology and community.

succulents eco-journal **

tres moderne **

CA honeysuckle poster *

Perhaps not surprisingly, Bliss grew up on a farm in northern California and now lives in the creative mecca of Portland, Oregon. This forested, near-the-coast stretch of Pacific Northwest bioregion is sweetly represented by her hand. She told me that when she lived in San Francisco, she once spent a month teaching herself about native plant species. This obsession comes across as a recurring theme in her art, as does her responsibility to the wild, support of local grassroots projects, and desire to create a useful product, often from reclaimed materials. Bliss was kind enough to set down her paper and pen to respond to this brief email interview. Really, what’s not to love?

Garden series, yum! **

You grew up on a family farm in Northern California. What are your early memories of being outdoors and interacting with the plant world there?

Because we had orchards and no one told me any better, some of my best friends were trees.

I don’t see a great difference between

humans, plants and animals!

But apparently other people make

huge distinctions between the three.

Drawing an object, especially something as tiny and intricate as a flower or sea anemone, offers a unique quality of attention and respectful observation. Have you found you’ve been able to understand parts of the natural world better through your work?

Yes, it’s all very meditative. I can only faithfully depict something I’ve interacted with, I can’t faithfully depict something drawn

Jill Bliss' native herbs journal has drawings of my favorite sage, Salvia spathacea

from photos alone.

Do you have a favorite plant to draw, or a favorite ecosystem?

native herbs journal--perfect size, perfect plants!

I have a deep appreciation for anything from the West Coast, as those are things I’ve interacted with my whole life. That being said, there’s plenty of species overlap in other bio-regions!

I was so happy years ago to buy a journal with hummingbird sage drawn on the pages. My favorite! Your work has such a bioregional influence, from California native plants to tidepools. Do you want to stick with this sort of allegiance to place, to the Pacific Northwest? Do you feel able to introduce people to your home habitat through your art?

My own bio-region is  how I begin to understand and interact with the world, but the more I travel, the more I encounter similar lifeforms in other regions!

And going further, do you use your work to try to inspire empathy with the natural world, too?

Of course! Growing up as I did, I don’t see a great difference between humans, plants and animals! But apparently other people make huge distinctions between the three.

There are certain patterns in nature, certain forms that are repeated over and over – spirals, honeycombs, meanders, concentric rings. I see these in a lot of your drawings, especially the “sea flowers eco journal,” where the anemones obviously have the same form as a lot of flowers, like Asteraceae. Do you notice this repetition as you draw, and do you have a favorite pattern in nature to visually represent?

underwater sunflowers *photo by Jill Bliss*

the sea anenomes of the land

Yes, this is what makes my drawing habit so fun, and so meditative. I don’t have a favorite pattern, but it is fun to look at an object and figure out what repeated shapes and patterns make up that object.

Wherever you are,

go for daily walks and make daily drawings or writings

related to what you see.

Who are the people – mentors, authors, musicians, other visual artists – who’ve influenced your combination of art and the natural world?

Unfortunately I’m working remotely this week and unable to peek at my bookshelf to answer this question properly (I’m terrible at remembering names!). Although I can tell you about a book I brought with me that has totally rocked my world this week: The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder.

stuffed seastars from her custom printed fabric! **

lichens from a display on the Oregon Coast *photo by Jill Bliss*

whoa, an iPhone with Jill Bliss flowers! (did they mean to set the time on the screen to 4:20?) **

Do you have any advice for people who want to start drawing plants, or just aspects of nature in general?

Wherever you are, go for daily walks and make daily drawings or writings related to what you see. This will help you begin to notice the [changing] details around you and become better grounded in your own community.

CA poppies are like little native art nouveau-styled lamps


Butt-Wipe Plants

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to contemplate some good intentions for the new year, and even better if they involve a commitment to being outdoors more often. Twenty twelve, after all, is not the year of “sitting behind your desk at your laptop, devising your next status update”. But being in the wilderness for more than a day or so, and being “at one” with it, necessitates

"Crap in Crap out" by David Tsai, from the Montréal Botanical Garden

pooping in it; unfortunately, you can’t put your digestive system on hold just because there ain’t a toilet around (I’ve tried, it definitely doesn’t work).

I’m not going to go into techniques for how to shit in the woods here, for Kathleen Meyer does an incredibly thorough job in her book of the same name, which includes chapters titled, “When You Can’t Dig a Hole” and “For Women Only: How Not to Pee in Your Boots”. However, what I can do is recommend some of the best plants with which to stay clean, comfortable, and conscientious, and others to keep far, far away from your nether regions. It’s wilderness TP so appropriate it’s almost

a really bad place to leave used TP

like a spa for your buttcrack. Well, maybe not. But, it’s certainly better than a rock (which I also know from empirical evidence doesn’t work). This isn’t just some ha-ha-funny intellectual exercise either: In a lot of places, such as high elevation mountains and deserts where it takes eons for anything to biodegrade, it is both illegal and ecologically rude to bury or burn one’s toilet paper. Thus, it either gets carried out or done without, both situations that are less than ideal.

But there’s a pretty major bright side, and it’s not just your big bright butt mooning the heavens. As Meyer’s writes: “…once successfully maneuvered, brushing one’s posterior with a snatch of biodegradable nature can provide a noteworthy experience whereupon one’s ecologically proscribed place in the universe may come vividly into focus. Or even puffed up with ecological pride or jubilant with primitive freedom, one might be startled to hear a rousing chorus of approval from the forest fairies.” Finding one’s place in the Cosmos? Communing with congratulatory winged creatures? It’s like a religious experience just from wiping one’s ass. Front-to-back freedom.

**And as in all wildcrafting, whether collecting herbs for teas or making sure you stay as clean and sanitary as possible, NEVER OVERHARVEST! Know the species from which thy take, and pay attention to the environmental conditions to ascertain whether or not it’s okay for the population to be messed with.


Of the top three best wilderness toilet papers, corn lily (Veratrum californicum) gets first prize. While hiking the John Muir Trail last summer amidst pokey conifers and lithe wildflowers, my hiking partner filled his pockets with this species whenever

Corn lily leaves = happy butt

we tromped through a patch. Its broad, alternate leaves can get up to 15 inches long, and you will know them by their prominent parallel veins, a characteristic of all plants in the Liliaceae family. V. californicum grows at higher elevations, from 3,500-11,000 feet, throughout much of the western United States, preferring moist meadows and streambanks. The large congregations of stems

Corn lily flowers: Oh so pretty, don't eat 'em

often fill in wetter areas and, faithful to the common name, are reminiscent of a field of corn. But remember! Just because you collect wilderness TP in one spot does not mean you drop a deuce there. The general rule is to pick a place at least 150-200 feet from water, as far above the water line as possible, and dig a hole at least six inches deep. Picking stellar wilderness TP is all about anticipation and preparation, virtues of any good backpacker. One caution: Consuming corn lily is toxic to humans and cattle. I am, of course, not worried about the possibility of snacking while squatting, but you wouldn’t want to mix, say, your TP pocket with your “edible herbs to add to the dehydrated black bean soup” one. I haven’t read any accounts of skin contact causing any reaction, and from experience this species has only proven a most wonderful plant-friend in times of desperate trailside need.

Second only to Veratrum californicum are various species of sage. I’m not talking the Salvias in the Lamiaceae family that are

Artemisia californica: check out how the leaf margins curl under, and how each leaf has two to four lobs like tiny chicken feet

native to Old World Europe and are used for cooking; those have tiny leaves that would hardly be up to the task, and they’re typically not found in the

screaming salvias: big and bilabiate

non-Mediterranean wilderness. Nor am I referring to the Salvias of the cloud forests of Latin America, with their gaping bilabiate mouths that would make even the biggest pervert blush. Rather, envision the “sagebrush” covering the foothills of coastal California mountains and dominating huge swaths of the Great Basin Desert in eastern California and Nevada. It’s the color that Las Pilitas Nursery down in SLO County calls, brilliantly, “evergray”. That’s the good TP, either Artemisia californica (a.k.a. California sagebrush)

Artemisia tridentata (common sagebrush) *photo from*

closer to the beach, or Artemisia tridentada (a.k.a. common/big/blue/black/mountain sagebrush) in the desert. Neither are true sages (a.k.a. Salvias); instead they are part of the sunflower, or Asteraceae, family. Next time you’re gathering the soft, grey-green leaves of Artemisia, check out the flowers: They have the disk and ray inflorescence as do all the flowers in this giant family, not the two-lipped form of the Salvias.

A busted but surviving statue of Artemis (Roman name, Diana) at Sutro Park, SF, with her totem deer

Sage is likely the heaviest wilderness TP you’ll encounter, in terms of mythological and cultural connotations. Named after Artemis, the Greek goddess of the wild animals (my favorite goddess! Love that bitch!) you will surely feel like your own little wild creature as you poop in a hole, with all of nature watching. And though these Artemisias are not the species used in Native American smudge sticks — that honor goes to Salvia apiana, or white sage — they are incredibly aromatic, due to the presence of major amounts of volatile oils (which could reportedly cause an allergic reaction in those more sensitive, though again, my collective empirical evidence has never shown this to be the case). So not only do you stay clean, but you will also smell fresh and your buttcrack will be purified of all bad energy while getting blessed by the coolest goddess. Could you have a more symbolic bowel movement?

Hikers are unlikely to encounter Pelargonium tomentosum, or pennyroyal/peppermint-scented pelargonium, outside of the sandstone soils of its native South Africa or cultivated gardens in other Mediterranean climates (*Note*: Phyte Club does not advocate pooping in people’s yards, except maybe those of a nemesis). Part of the Geraniaceae family, this species might be easily recognized as a “geranium”, though technically it is not, for the Geranium and Pelargonium genera are separate though in the same family. P. tomentosum may have the most velvety leaves of any plant. They are coated in a dense covering of tomentose (one of many official words meaning “plant hairs”), as the scientific name indicates. Not only are they evergreen, equating to a reliable supply of TP, but they also reek of mint. Having some leaves of P. tomentosum in hand will make for a very happy squat.

the palmately-lobed leaves can get pretty big, about four inches across. And they're 2-ply by nature!

the insane tomentosity of baby leaves

think you know this sweet little geranium flower? Nope! Psyke! (It's technically a Pelargonium, just for the record.)


Perhaps one of the most obvious plant species not to get near your genitals, much less any other part of your body, is poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobium). Not a true oak at all, P.O. is part of the Anacardiaceae, or cashew family. You know how some human families have generation after generation of no-goodnicks, of thieves and tweakers ready to make your life more difficult? In the plant kingdom, that’s the Anacardiaceae, a lineage full of species notorious for their ability to cause skin inflammation (dermatitis), such as sumac and poison ivy. The culprit is a compound called urushiol (oo-roo-she-all). In P.O., it

These leaves want your sweet, sweet skin.....

is found in the leaves and even in the bare twigs and branches — making the deciduous plant especially insidious in wintertime (the cream-colored, flowers, however, don’t contain the dreaded chemical, and neither do the berries. Wouldn’t want to discourage the pollinators and seed dispersers by poisoning them, after all). According to Wikipedia, upon contact, 50 percent of the urushiol is absorbed by the skin in a quick ten minutes, prompting some hikers to carry around a bar of soap while tromping through the wilderness. Though you’d hopefully never have to resort to using fruit as TP, chances are there are some Anacardiaceae in your trail lunch: Mangoes have urushiol in their skin, which is why some people will get an allergic reaction around their mouth if they are less than perfectly careful while maowing the juicy fruit; cashews contain urushiol in a liquid trapped between their two shells, which is why this nut is always shelled at the grocery store.

P.O. with fruit so it can make more P.O. bushes!

Poison oak and its urushiol doesn’t have such a gnarly affect of everyone, though, and some people have attempted to cultivate this this lucky immunity. I had an acquaintance in college who would put a tiny piece of new spring P.O. leaf in a glass of water with the intention of homeopathically vaccinating herself against it. Instead, she just got an itchy rash at the far end of her digestive system. This technique reputedly worked better for California Indians, who used P.O. in various capacities, from wrapping acorn bread in its leaves to using the black sap for dye in basketry and ink in facial tattoos (it is said, in the book Three Ways of Seeing California Plants, that none of these practices are very common anymore among CA’s indigenous communities). Regardless, I don’t think they used it as TP.

Just shy of the distinction of “worst common plant with which to wipe one’s ass” (see above) is Urtica dioica, commonly known as stinging nettle. As Amy Stewart writes in her book, Wicked Plants, there’s a reason why the medical term for severe hives is “urticaria”, derived from the Latin word for nettle, Urtica, and the name of the whole, painful family, the Urticaceae. Though the hairs, or trichomes, covering the leaves and stem of stinging nettle may look rather insignificant, they are actually miniscule botanical weapons. If so much as brushed against, the plant will inject various irritating compounds, including formic acid, a term you may recognize as a constituent of ant and bee stings. Hiking and realizing an Urtica is growing alongside the trail is a lot like walking in an alley in the Tenderloin and spotting used hypodermic needles tossed on the asphalt by litterbug junkies: You start paying attention, big time.

But though the searing welts subside slowly and the effects may be apparent for several days, nettles inspire more than fear; they are actually quite celebrated, especially in herbalist circles. First, there is often a plant growing nearby a patch of nettles that has the power to soothe the sting: Red elderberry (Sambucus callicarpa), and dock or plantain (both common weeds) can be crushed and applied to the site of contact. Nature planned that one pretty exquisitely. Second, nettles are full of health benefits, from strengthening the female reproductive system to relieving allergies. Cooking or drying destroys the stinging capabilities,

Urtica dioica: not a butt-friendly plant

look at those trichomes glistening with dew.....

but how the hell are they harvested to get to that more benign point? This video gives a comprehensive instruction, and here is a recipe for “Stinging Nettle Soup“. It’s cool to transform a scary plant into a helpful friend. Third, don’t forget that nettles, like poison oak as well, are ecologically important, providing ecosystem services such as shelter and a food source. This was made apparent to me one time when I helped transplant dozens of baby stinging nettle seedlings at Redwood Creek Nursery (next to Muir Woods) for streamside habitat restoration.

Lastly, the most terrible species to collect for this task is any one that is less than abundant, meaning any plant that is rare, threatened, or endangered. Know your TP! Any of the 5,689 plants listed as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature should not be picked at all, duh. (Find out what IUCN and its Red List is all about here, and go straight to the list here.) Can you imagine literally wiping out a species? Bum luck, little plant….What an asshole!

my favorite pee spot, close to poison oak (living on the edge, always!) and far from the Saturday evening Bridge-lock

Of course, now I want to hear your embarrassing wilderness stories, or your favorite wilderness TP, or any tips for shitting in the woods. Thanks for enduring this Beavis and Butthead post. Hey, did you know they’re back (I feel so happy, and old!)? Uh-huh, huh huh…..Great Cornholio, need some TP for your bunghole?


Bitchy Mother-in-Laws, Choadie Roadies, and a Cozy Winter Ahead

There were two noticeable changes greeting my return to San Francisco from Costa Rica and Christmas. One of the two used ‘n’ abused couches that reeked of cat piss and had been crowding the top of stairs for about two really awesome months was finally gone. And, my Sansevieria trifasciata had sent up a blooming spike.

I didn’t even know this could happen. Did you? Or at least, I never imagined what this species’ flowers would look like. See, Sansevieria trifasciata is a pretty harsh looking planttwo of its common names are “mother-in-law’s tongue” and “snakeplant” — with thick, pointed leaves that can reach four feet tall, pointed on the tips like serpentine spears. It’s classically low-maintenance, making it an incredibly common houseplant since it can thrive in places with practically no light and be watered as little as once every two months.

the spike's about a foot tall, so far....

In its native land of tropical west Africa, its connections with the human world are fierce, as well: According to Wikipedia, this plant is used as a protective charm against evil or bewitchment (much like “the moloch” passed down to a young Dio from his

see the "fasces" decorating the leaf?

Italian grandmother). Similarly, in Brazil, S. trifasciata is often associated with the Orisha of war, Ogun, and is used in rituals to remove the curse of the evil eye. And it has a strong, brutal, and practical use, too: The sword-shaped leaves offer a fiber used to fashion bowstrings. Even the etymological

origin is less than gentle: -fasciata comes from the Latin “fasces”, which referred to a bundle of rods tied around an axe, a symbol of the power of the State in ancient Rome and later the basis, of course, of the word “fascism”. There is one more benefit to add to its protecting against the evil eye and requiring about no attention is that Sansevieria trifasciata is reportedly one of the best houseplants to purify indoor air, notably helping take care of formaldehyde and nitrogen oxides.

But back to the flowers. Supposedly they smell good and strong, like jasmine. The ones on my plant have yet to open, but checking out this photo from a blog called Blue Daze, it looks like the small blossoms are dominated by long, skinny, cream-colored stamens. Something to look forward to in the New Year.

the buds

Sometimes even unexpected beauty isn’t enough to beat the winter/holiday soul-crud, though, which is where funny people like Dan Piraro, the man behind the genus Bizarro, come in. These were two of my favorites from December:

Did he call you on it? Yeah, me too. And what about this?:

Not to brag or anything, but I got something pretty cool under the sacrificial spruce tree this year, in addition to the following books:

While perusing these pages all winter, I’ll be snug under my new Phyte Club quilt, handmade by my mom. What a surprise! She printed photos from the site onto fabric and then went from there. A little self-referential, perhaps, but incredibly lovely and personal.

But before any reading gets done, the New Year must get celebrated. Frankly, I was surprised by the near total lack of good shows offered tonight. Black Cobra’s comin’ through, though, pummeling into 2012 with strength and simplicity.


Have fun tonight! If you’re going to drive, don’t drink but better yet just use your bike (and even then, don’t be a dumbass) or stay on a couch. Make sure you feel good enough in the morn to go on a hike or do something otherwise beautiful and soul-affirming so your year doesn’t kick off with you feeling like shit. Okay?



Rules of the Rainforest

Take it from this iguana, or from the red and ready labios de mujer: Phyte Club isn’t morphing into a blog about Costa Rica. Plant-wise, I’m not even that in to the tropics. However, I did just spend the first couple weeks of December tromping the country’s slippery trails, which necessitates at least a few posts. The nature there is effortlessly extravagant. And though the ecological interdependency isn’t greater, per se, than in the Cali desert or coastal foothills, there’s a lot of different stuff going on. Be prepared for mucho green. As the local “Ticos” say, “PURA VIDA”.

Available square footage is at a premium in tropical rainforests. No patch of soil goes unused, and beyond that, no surface goes unused: they’re the cities of the floral kingdom, with plants stacked on top of each other like urbanites in 20-story apartments, fighting and loving their way toward life and the cosmos in one seething system. It is interdependency in the extreme, and examples of cooperation, competition, and adaptations abound. Here are a few of the most notable.

Whenever a gap opens up in the forest, say, when a tree falls, it is quickly colonized and filled in by plants eager to access the rare streams of golden rays. Since the canopy is normally “closed”, sometimes several times over, by the multi-layered foliage of trees and tall herbaceous plants, rainforest species are constantly competing for available sunlight. It is one of the main limiting factors for growth in this system.

So, a lot of plants deal with this by having broad, bright green leaves, positioned perpendicularly to the sun’s rays in order to intercept as much solar radiation as possible.

dark green and broad


Or how about this plant dubbed “elephant ear” (Xanthosoma sp.) due, obviously, to the leaves’ resemblance to a pachyderm’s big floppy ears. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to place any object in this photo to give an idea of how big the leaves are in comparison — they were at least two feet long and a foot wide. Talk about surface area:

Cool pollination story: Around 6:00 p.m., the flower (not pictured) heats up to 107 degrees Fahrenheit and unleashes a menthol-like fragrance. This attracts scarab beetles, which then spend 24 hours hanging out in the base of the flower. The pollen is released and sticks to the beetles when they leave their flower hotel room the next day, off to find another elephant ear for the night.

Contrast this with a desert or chaparral system, in which leaves are reduced — sometimes to mere spines — and are tough, thick, and often silvery-colored to reflect the brutal, ever-present sun. Underneath an open sky free of almost any canopy cover, leaves are typically oriented so that as little plant tissue as possible is exposed to direct sunlight. Such was the case in a drier part of Costa Rica, along the Pacific Coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. The cacti and agaves tumbling onto the beach at Playa Ostional reminded me of Big Sur:

dry earth, open sky. love it.

Back to the rainforest….Another common thing to see in these verdant ecosystems are lianas, or woody vines. Just think of the public transportation for Tarzan and Jane, and you’ll envision a liana. Lianas use trees as support structures to climb ever higher toward the top of the canopy where they can access the sun. In doing so, they have both good and bad effects on other species. For example, they can suppress tree regeneration or eventually drag down host trees, but they can also physically link the tree canopy together, providing easier mobility for arboreal-dwelling animals. In an article in the New York Times last May, a biologist warned that lianas may be taking over in the tropics to the detriment of trees, which are much better at storing carbon in their massive trunks than are the skinnier woody vines.

a pineapple plant (Ananas comosus)

Throw a mango in the rainforest and, if you don’t hit a tree, you’ll probably strike an epiphyte. Just as the name says — epi (“upon”) phyte (“plant”), these are plants that grow on other plants. Rather than put roots in the soil, they use trunks and branches as support, deriving nutrients and moisture from the air around them (thus, another common name for them, especially at garden stores, is “air plants”). Roots are sometimes developed for better attachment. So are epiphytes parasitic, then? The typical answer is no: rather, they have a relationship with their host known as “commensalism”, in which one species benefits without having an effect, good or bad, on the other species. There is some controversy, though (a raging one, doubtless) as to whether they harm the host tree by competing for water and nutrients. the can grow quite large and eventually put stress on the tree from sheer mass. Others could argue they benefit the host by trapping water and nutrient-rich debris.

Regardless, they are important components of this ecosystem, providing shelter for insects, arachnids, and frogs to hide out, mate, bathe, and sleep in their leaves. They’re the condos of the rainforest. Lots of species in the Orchidaceae and Bromeliaceae (pineapple) families are epiphytic.

being epiphytic is another way plants try to get closer to the sun

hanging on to a tree-turned-living-fence

Epiphyte Club near Mt. Arenal

Whereas I used to compulsively turn over fern fronds to check out the pattern of spores on the underside (such as these gorgeous red ones from a post a long time ago), in the rainforest I couldn’t stop checking between the leaves of bromeliads to see if there are any animals taking up residence.



It is also common to see, or trip over, buttresses. These woody supports flanking many rainforest trees are adaptations in the root system, often seen in the ficus, or Moraceae, family. Having grotesquely expanded roots helps anchor the trees as they grow


a good example of a butt rest

tall, tall, taller trying to reach the top of the canopy and again, tap that elusive sunshine. Besides aiding their great heights, these trees often need extra anchorage because the soil in the rainforest kinda sucks. Yeah, contrary to popular belief — that the jungle is so full of diversity and quickly growing species because the soil is rich and filled with nutrients — the soil in the rainforest is actually quite thin and poor. The heavy duty, near constant rain causes the nutrients and humus to be continually leached out of the ground and away from the roots. Most of the minerals are stored in the insane amount of plant matter, not in the soil. Thus, buttresses serve another, related function — like arms extending out from the trunk, they collect leaf litter, creating tiny reservoirs of decomposable nutrients.

The high levels of moisture and warmth in the rainforest mean growth is on overdrive. But they also ensure that all this plant material, once dead, is recycled back into the system quickly, as well. As I used to tell kids at the Randall Museum when asking them if I could run a Costa Rican wood roach down their hands, if it weren’t for these animals’ role as “decomposers”, the planet would be buried in leaves and tree trunks and carcasses (and really, their golden wings, iridescent like soap bubbles, make these creatures — roaches, not kiddos — pretty damn beautiful). According to the University of Hawaii’s Botany department, in a tropical forest, dead organic plant matter can account for 60 tons per acre per year.

Enter fungi. With a network of mycelia spreading underground and the “fruiting reproductive bodies” of mushrooms announcing themselves above, fungi essentially eat dead organic matter, breaking down the sugars, cellulose, proteins, and etcetera other complex compounds. This both feeds the fungus and releases nutrients and minerals for use in the surrounding environment. If it weren’t for fungi, we’d be screwed, up to our suffering noses in death.

there's even fungus among us in a super fancy resort-room

hard at work decomposing a fallen tree in Santa Elena Reserve

Cookeina speciosa, pretty as all florescent orange hell

Fungi can also break down lignin, a tough, resistant compound that can only be broken down by certain species. Leftover lignin makes up the veins of leaf skeletons.

lingering lignin

Do you have any good tropical rainforest stories, observations, or knowledge? Do tell.

creamy fungus and epiphyte with hanging roots

fungus and epiphytes, sittin' in a tree

over time, even wooden signs break down



Green Roofs: They’re not just for houses anymore!

There are lichen that grow on rocks, organically painting their hard surfaces with a spectrum from fluorescent split pea to brick orange. Others are epiphytes, growing on branches and twigs and making them even more textured and green. Then there are some that colonize the top of a Volkswagen bus.

Yep, my daddy’s 1971 beat-up ride is becoming its own little ecosystem. I counted at least four different types of lichen growing

this love bug is not communicable

People may or may not care, Chevron definitely doesn't care, but this cute little pollution source cares. Look at that smile!

on it. This has been happening for years, and continues to make me very pleased. His bus sort of has celebrity status, up there with Herbie the Love Bug and that stupid Chevron “Techron” cartoon car (“ ‘Do people care? People….’ Ah, who are we trying to kid? Nope!”). Occasionally, when I visit my parents, people I’ve known for years will say, “Oh, that’s your dad? That guy with the moss [sic] growing on the top of his van?”.  He tells me tourists are always snapping pictures of it, nature photographers in their own right. The VW bus turned environmental education tool.

There are approximately 14,500 different species of lichen, according to my Introductory Plant Biology textbook (ed. Stern, Bidlack, and Jansky). Do I know what the ones on the bus are? Definitely not. Someday it would be fun to take a lichenology course. For now, though, it’s more important to know three concepts about lichens than the taxonomy: what they are, they three forms they take, and how they’re used and affected by humans.

Aside from maybe the other biggie – pollination — lichens are the quintessential example of mutualism in nature. Not only are they the result of two species co-existing, but this tiny life form is the embodiment of two species helping each other to live better. And in the case of one of them, perhaps even to live at all. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more hippie than plants self-propagating on a VW bus, we have this gushy mutual aid, this anarcho-communalism that actually works. So, the lichen lowdown? It’s a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and either a green algae or a cyanobacteria (see the difference here). The green algae or cyanobacteria plays the role of bread-winner, providing food for both organisms through photosynthesis. The fungi holds down the fort as the homemaker, protecting its photosynthetic partner from damagingly intense sunlight, absorbing and storing water and minerals for both species, and producing a substance that speeds up the rate of photosynthesis. Two separate kingdoms coming together for the good of the whole. If only politicians were more like lichen.

Because there are relatively few species of algae or cyanobacteria involved in creating a lichen, but each lichen has its own fungal species, lichens are thus ID’ed according to their fungal contributor. In a lab, it’s possible to isolate and grow the two species of one lichen separate from each other. When this is done, the algae or cyanobacteria grow faster than they do when partnered with the fungus, and the fungus grows into a totally different shape. Also, while the photosynthetic species can, in some cases, grow well independently of its lichen body, the fungal component is rarely found on its own.

Lichen are grouped into three growth forms. These are useful in their identification. All were easily found on the VW bus. In order from “shortest” to “tallest”:

  • Crustose These are the lichen that look literally like a crust, almost flush with their host surface, be it rock or tree, soil surface or windshield wiper. Of the three kinds, crustose are the most strongly attached to their substrate – some have hyphae (fungal filaments that extend underground) penetrating up to one centimeter into rock, absorbing water and minerals. They’re often brightly colored, making a plain old rock look like the canvas of a mad abstract painter.

crusty and rusty

  • Foliose Again, the name suggests the form: these are the leafy lichen. They are crinkled, overlapping, and growing slightly off the substrate. They are often a grayish-green. Foliose lichen are very loosely attached, and I feel like an asshole thinking of how many I’ve killed while absent-mindedly picking them off tree bark as though they were a skater’s scab or shard of stubborn Scotch tape.

see the leafiness adding a little dimension, as opposed to the golden and black-brown crustose form?

  • Fructicose These are the ones like witch’s hair, spindly fingers, crusty tentacles. The lichen with the most dimension, resembling little shrubs or hanging long and beard-like from tree branches, creepying up the forest should you be inclined towards the woodland spooks. You know Usnea? That’s a fructicose lichen. In the VW photos, the fructicose kind include the ones silhouetted on the roof, creating a 3-D mini-forest.

steel, rubber, fructicose lichen

Only a very few lichens parasite their host plant by digging their hyphae in too deep. Most are not taking anything, but just innocuously chillin’.

And humans? Where do we fit into all these partnerships? Do we give or take anything to or from the lichen realm? Ethnolichenology is the study of how people use lichens. Can you imagine: Oh, yes, I’m an ethnolichenologist! Throughout the

Letharia vulpina: pretty and toxic

ages lichens have been harvested and used as dyes. At the height of the Roman empire and into the 17th century, a purple dye known as “ochil” was extracted from a species called Roccella tinctoria, symbolizing power and regality even after humans decimated the mollusk populations from which a violet-colored dye was originally derived. A vibrant yellow hue comes from a species common on the west coast of the United States, Letharia vulpina. Not only was the toxic primary constituent, vulpinic acid, good for dying, it was also used to poison wolves and foxes (boo!), hence the species name. Lichens can also be potent medicine. One of the most well-known anti-biotics is Usnea, which can be found growing all over the world and is commonly called “old man’s beard” or “treemoss”. In traditional medicine, usnea is used to treat various fungal infections, for example. And, lest we forget the little people, lichen are commonly used by crafters as miniature shrubs and other landscaping in dioramas and dollhouses.

As the VW bus example illustrates, lichen are totally capable of living in less than ideal environmental conditions. Whether on arctic permafrost, desert rocks, or even manufactured substrates like glass or asbestos, these are pretty tolerant organisms. Lichen life can be harsh, and they’re very slow-growing as a result. They hang in there, though: some can live up to 4,500 years, according to my aforementioned textbook. Part of the reason lichen are so admirably tolerant is due to a gelatinous substance in their fungal body, which allows them to deal with spells of intense dessication in between wetter times. They can be unaffected by drought, becoming temporarily dormant and not photosynthesizing.

Yet one thing lichen can’t survive too well is air pollution. They’re especially vulnerable to sulfur dioxide, to the point that within a given area, the amount of lichen growing or disappearing corresponds to nearby sulfur dioxide emissions. I’ve always had a hard time owning old Volkswagens, since they don’t have catalytic converters and just spew pollutants out the tailpipes totally unabated. However, all the lichen thriving on the bus is alleviating my guilt a little — I mean, if these hypersensitive organisms can grow so close to a direct source of sulfur dioxide, it must not be all bad, right (I’m kidding…! Basically.)? Plus, as susceptible as they can be, lichens also have the power to destroy hard, solid relics — including Machu Picchu and Troy — through the action of their acids and tenacious longevity. Along with rust, lichens are slowly degrading my dad’s VW. Someday, there will be a pile of lichen-created soil on the side of Melrose Avenue where a hippie-mobile once resided. This, too, makes me feel a little better, a tiny victory for the argument that fixing up and reusing old cars is more “eco-friendly” than buying the newest, made-of-plastic trend in auto-efficiency every five years.

Because really, how “green(TM)” are you if your car doesn’t have lichen growing on it?


Synergy: Chai Cream Ale

My bad. I thought “synergy” meant, approximately, “two distinct things combining to equal a new product greater than the sum of its parts“. Yet according to Miriam Webster online, it actually refers to a “combined action or operation” or perhaps “a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (as resources or efforts)”. No “greater than” necessary, just two things put together and going relatively well. Like a relationship but, well, not necessarily that awesome of a relationship.

This was exactly what I was going to say about Central Coast Brewing’s Chai Cream Ale: Chai is good, ale is good, put ‘em together and they’re good. But not “blow your pants off” good. There wasn’t the synergy I was hoping for in combining these two beverages. There’s no third, magical element. But since I was wrong on the very concept, which is more lackluster than I’d always thought, I now have to argue that this is a synergistic beer. Confused? Yeah, me too.

I discovered this combo beer while visiting my family in San Luis Obispo County after reading a profile of its instigator, Joel Pace, in the local free weekly. Pace had already been making the organic SLO Chai for over a year. When a brewer approached

a mighty big glass for a mighty small gnome

him after overhearing him and his wife at lunch talking about the chai biz, they went into cream ale cahoots. He said the first recipe was too aggressive on the hops to be marketable to the general public (though I’d like to hear what the imperial IPA people have to say about this). He mellowed out the recipe and perfected his double-brewing technique, making the beer and chai separately but mixing them together before fermentation. Today, Pace runs Soel24 Beer Company, and has sold his chai business. Now he focuses on combining action and operations, a mediator of synergy.


Alcohol by volume (ABV): A mellow 4.5%

Color: Golden tangerine

Head: White

Style: Modification on a cream ale. Cream ales are an American style of beer. They are brewed as ales, meaning the yeast is fermented at the top of the vat and generally at a warmer temperature than lagers, which are bottom-fermented at a cooler temperature. But cream ales are related to pale lagers, being often finished off with a species of lager yeast as opposed to an ale one.

Body: Light

Nose: Slightly hoppy, even more slightly spicy

Flavor: Pace said, “I didn’t want the chai flavor to be over the top, but it’s in there. It’s refreshing and familiar, but with something a little more exciting.” This is an accurate description, from the maker himself. There’s a good amount of carbonation, adding to the light and thirst-quenching feel. The initial impression is one of bitterness — not nearly as targeted and ambitious as an IPA, but subtler, with the spices fighting their way through the astringency. The chai aspects linger on the tongue, but are in no way out of control. This is not my favorite beer ever, but I appreciate the hoppy heat and spicy warmth, and think I would’ve liked it better had I paired it with Tandoori chicken, samosas, and lots and lots of naan. Because food and beer? That’s synergy, too.

cream cups (Platystemon californicus)




Top 10: Phyte Club Holiday Gift List

Holiday shopping can be joyous, creative, and inspired. It can also completely suck. Here is a Top 10 list of suggestions for gifts for the types of folks who would be into something like, say, plants, metal, beer, and plants.

10.) Botanical Beauty: Garden Apothecary products from fellow blogger, gardener, and organic body product alchemist, Dirty

sugary, aphrodisiacal, smooth. What's not to love?

Girl Gardening. My favorite is the Eros sugar scrub — bergamont and ylang ylang essential oils, vanilla bean, anise star pod, and Vitamin E.

9.) Join the Club: Support the protection, propagation, and restoration of native plants! Get a friend a membership to the Native Plant Society in his or her state. Perks include discounts to events and access to a whole community of plant nerds.

8.) Design a Day: Do basically what I, once upon a time, tried to do with those Phyte Club hikes of yore (read about the first one, or the second). Find an excursion, typically a hike on a trail somewhere with plants, or maybe to a botanical garden or other flora-centric place. Bring some tasty beer for the tops of the hills, or fill your Camelback with it for constant sippage. Or, just wait and go to a neighborhood bar post-hike (don’t drive if you’ve been drinking, duh). Listen to some Sabbath in the car, or try to hit the Bruce Dickinson high notes from the peaks. Find a good jukebox, or best yet, cap the outdoorsy day with a killer show.


7.5.) Phyte Club Hat: If you want one, let me know. No promises, but I’m working on printing up another batch.

*photo from Ladies Brewing Club*

7.) Beer-making Kit: I have not been up, at all, on the make-yer-own-homebrew trend that’s been revolutionizing how we relate to our alcohol over the past five years or so. I think it’s a great movement, and have enjoyed many a friend’s delicious concoction. Maybe there are others out there like myself, who would if start mixing the yeasts and the malts and the hops and the water if there weren’t 500 other things they wanted to do, too. Why not jumpstart the learning process and get that lagger (lager? Heh heh) a beer-making kit, maybe from a place like Brewcraft in San Francisco? Perhaps one day the novice brewer will be experimenting with fun combinations like the Ladies Brewing Club does, such as Maple Stout and Lavander Honey Ale.

6.) Thematic Seed Collections: Go to a place like Alchemy Works, which has pre-assembled seed collections for all types of cool and useful gardens, including herbs for astral, lunar, witchy, and dyeing purposes. Or, create your own “garden design in a packet”. What about a plot devoted to herbs used in absinthe, or plants whose names are featured in metal songs (there are several species with varieties called “Ace of Spades”, for example, or take almost any song title from Botanist)? Or maybe plants that are good for detoxing the liver after a long night of partying or a whole tour of partying, such as milk thistle, dandelion, and dock.

5.) Coupons!: This is the perfect stocking stuffer for these shitty economic times. Remember when you were a kid and you’d give your parents a handmade book of coupons? “This is good for doing the dishes” or, “Use this and I’ll take out the trash”. Not that they wouldn’t just tell you to do any of those things anyhow. As adults the stakes are raised a bit. What about: “I will babysit your kids while you go to that metal show, since you haven’t been out for two years,” or “This is good for a long massage after you obliterate your neck headbanging,” or “Give me that 2XL Slayer shirt you haven’t been able to really look good in for years and I’ll take some scissors to it.” Cheap yet heartfelt.

Favorite books

4.) Books: For those in the Golden State, California’s Wild Gardens: A Guide to Favorite Botanical Sites (University of California Press, 1997) is a must-have for the wildflower enthusiast. It’s more like an atlas, deserving a permanent place in every Cali naturalist’s passenger-seat library, as it highlights over 100 botanical hot-spots from the Siskiyou Mountains near Oregon to San Diego’s vernal pools. For the beer-drinker with a green thumb, there’s The Homebrewer’s Garden (Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher, 1998), for why should a “beer garden” only be a space to drink beer instead of to grow it, too? This is a super usable guide to growing and using hops, malts, and flavoring herbs, complete with recipes. Or what about Ozzy’s new advice book, Trust Me, I’m Dr. Ozzy: Advice for Rock’s Ultimate Survivor (Hachette Audio, 2011). Surprisingly, it’s getting pretty stellar reviews, supposedly full of wit, previously untold rock ‘n’ roll stories, and arguable health recommendations. A blank journal, accompanied by maybe a set of watercolor pencils or local field guide, is always a good standby for the contemplative ecologist.

3.) Antarctica shirt: When people see me wearing this shirt, their reaction has three stages, without fail. Stage 1: “Fuck yeah! Metallica! Wooo!” Stage 2: Eventually, they recognize that what they thought said “Metallica” actually reads “Antarctica” but in Metallica font. Below is a picture of, what’s that? Some oddly shaped, dripping blue and white mass. And why does it say, “Farewell Tour”? Oh! A melting glacier. Ha ha! That’s fuckin’ funny! 3.) Oh shit, that sucks. Not very funny. Really lame and sad, actually. I LOVE this shirt. More people should have it. It’s like environmental education through a metal shirt and intelligent trickery.

so funny, so true, so fucked up

2.) Music, duh: Any one of dozens of new metal releases. This link has a long list of ‘em, plus some to look forward to in the new year. (Speaking of the New Year, here’s a personal resolution: Spend a day going through this list and exploring it as I would a mountain full of species, some new some old!)

1.) Tickets!: Slayer, Sleep, and the Melvins are all playing at All Tomorrow’s Parties in London the weekend of May 25th, 2012. A ticket to that would be rad, and a plane ticket, too, for anyone who doesn’t reside in or around London. Maybe we should all plan a trip out there for it, checking out some British flora along the way and getting wasted in pubs (I’ve heard old English gardens have bonsai-ed Ceanothus and Fremontodendron californicum planted in nooks in stone walls….Cool!). Oh wait. Is this my Christmas list?