Eager to discover the many species that benefit from the green space protected as our Heritage Apricot Orchard, a dozen folks joined me on a Saturday in April for the last in a series of guided orchard walks. They helped put the orchard on the map in the worldwide City Nature Challenge hosted by iNaturalist on this weekend following Earth Day. We pondered how one person’s weed is another person’s wildflower.
Most of the 40 species on the growing list for this site are travelers from other lands, each with a fascinating story to tell. Like a treasure hunt, each person looked for one species and shared a fun fact about it from a page in our species guidebook. For example, mallow migrated here from its native home in Eurasia and northern Africa. Although the flowers are pink, mallow yields the gift of a natural yellow dye. In the Old World, people cooked the young leaves in a stew or steamed them as a vegetable. They used seeds as a medicinal tea and made a poultice from the leaves. They wove flowers into garlands to celebrate May Day.
Easy to overlook, the one native flower we found was right at the corner of the walkway near the backdoor of the library. We recognized the common fiddleneck by its curved whorl of flowers resembling the scroll at the end of a violin. It is a wild relative of forget-me-nots.
We are only beginning to learn about the insects in the orchard. We easily found the seven-spotted lady beetle; yet it is only one of a handful of ladybug species. Flitting too fast for a good photo, we glimpsed our native common checkered skipper butterfly. We will be watching to see if it uses the mallow as a host plant. Then there were the fuzzy tufted western tussock moth caterpillars. Who could miss them dropping from the oaks and nestled in the bark of the apricots in one corner of the orchard?
We could share so many more stories of the species in our orchard. Each is like a book in a living library. You can explore those stories by joining us at iNaturalist.org. Search for the project “Apricot Orchard, Los Altos History Museum.” Snap a photo and upload it to contribute to the growing list of species in our green space. The iNaturalist app puts those fun facts right at your fingertips and links you with a worldwide network of folks who share the joy of discovery, asking questions and seeking answers.
Folks of all ages learned more about the species in our orchard during the Apricot STEM Fair BioBlitz (Google it!). A hundred kids recorded their discoveries on index cards, contributing to the list of at least 112 species identified in the orchard and museum garden. The most popular leaf litter critters were pillbugs (27 observations), followed by worms (20) and centipedes (11). Naturalists and their assistants uploaded observations to iNaturalist, where you can view the diversity of species. About one-third of the species were native. Species diversity was highest in the museum garden, due to the abundance of lovely cultivated flowers. So much more to learn and celebrate in nature!
Contributed by Jane Packard