By Wendy Langans
I was driving in the mountains in the Angeles National Forest the other day, when a patch of red caught my eye. So I found a safe spot and pulled over to take a look. There, about 10-15 feet up the steep rock wall, were several patches of Canyon Liveforever (Dudleya cymosa) that had managed to establish themselves among the rock’s nooks and crannies.
It was an inhospitable site. The steep slope of the canyon wall meant drainage would be swift - not much water available. Any soil that collected on that wall would be shallow - not very nourishing. The open exposure meant any plant would receive intense sunlight during the summer and freezing temperatures during the winter. Not a good spot at all, except for peculiar plants like Canyon Liveforever . These plants shout, “Bring it on”!
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They SEEK OUT inhospitable sites. According to one local native plant nursery , they “do best in rock gardens and “should be planted at an angle to prevent them from rotting”. They can handle the direct, hot sun. They can handle the cold - to about zero degrees. And they’re drought tolerant. Their thick leaves are bunched close to the ground and covered with small hairs to reflect sunlight - structural designs that help the plant conserve moisture.
But it’s what goes on inside that makes them even more peculiar. Like most plants, Canyon Liverforever engage in the plant equivalent of baking bread - photosynthesis - a biochemical process that uses the sun’s energy to convert water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen (O2) and sugar (CH2O). But just like there are three main types bread recipes (yeast, non-yeast/quick, and flat), there are three types of photosynthesis: C3, C4 and CAM. Most plants use the C3 recipe. But there is a downside with C3 - when the plants open their stoma (leaf portholes) to take in carbon dioxide, moisture escapes.
But Canyon Liveforever uses the recipe known as “CAM Photosynthesis ”. I’m not going to overwhelm you with the biochemical details, but I do want to share one physiological tidbit: “CAM” plants open their stoma at night to take in CO2 and close them during the day. Because the temperature is cooler at night, the plant loses less moisture that way. The next morning, when the sun is shining, the plant uses the stored CO2 to engage in photosynthesis. We use a similar strategy when we open the windows at night to let the cooler air in the house and then close them during the hotter parts of the day.
Hanging out (literally) in harsh and unwelcoming habitats. Being open when the much of the world is closed. And marching to a different photosynthetic drumbeat. That certainly describes a most peculiar plant.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, March 12 - Sunday, May 29, SCV Search & Rescue Trail Challenge 2011: 12 Weeks/12 Hikes. Click here  for more information.
Saturday, June 12, 7 - 9 PM, Moonlight Stroll at Towsley Canyon. Wander the trails under our nearly full moon. Uncover which plants and animals are adapted to this transition time and maybe even see a few elusive nocturnal animals. Meet at the Towsley Canyon front parking lot. For directions and trail maps, click here .
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org  for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, June 1, 8, 15, 22, 29.
Saturday mornings, May 28, June 11 & 25.
For a glimpse of our local flowering plants, check out the Facebook page, “90 Days of Santa Clarita Valley Wildflowers ”.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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