By Wendy Langhans
To the casual observer it’s a funny-looking tree – gray patches of bark flake off the trunk like a bad case of psoriasis. Not to mention the brown and prickly spherical balls dangling from the branches, like a cheap imitation of a Christmas tree.
But to the birds and butterflies, a California Sycamore tree is a bountiful sight, chock-full of gifts. Red-tailed hawks build their nests high up in its branches, all the better to see the small mammals that live nearby in the riparian (streamside) habitat. Yellow Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on California Sycamores, because the leaves provide a favorite food for their caterpillars. And Hummingbirds feast on the nectar from the tiny red flowers that are packed into dense, dangly, spherical ball. Later in the year, when these flower balls go to seed, they provide food for goldfinches and other seed-loving birds.
The California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) is a big tree, growing maybe 60-90 feet tall with a spread of 30-50 feet. It’s also a fast growing tree – growing over 2 feet per year in height. To the ecologist, a grove of mature California Sycamores is a sign there’s water nearby. These trees can often be found growing in moist sandy soil near intermittent streams, the kind of streamside habitat we find here in the Santa Clarita Valley.
California Sycamores grow best when water table is about 35 feet below the surface. So they grow a little further away from the streambed than other riparian trees such as cottonwoods.
That’s just one of many reasons why the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has proposed a “Stream Protection Ordinance” for the City of LA, which calls for a 100 foot buffer zone of native vegetation. This 100 foot buffer zone is measured starting from the top of the bank, the point where the height of land is ½ the distance from the bottom of the streambed. So the flatter the slope of the land, the wider the buffer zone will be.
But a 100 foot buffer zone is really only the beginning. Riparian habitat is rich in wildlife; 25% of all California land mammals depend on it. And there’s not much left in California; only about 3-5% remains. We ought to preserve what we can while we can.
I wonder…are we so wealthy we can refuse the gifts a Sycamore tree offers to the animals that live among us?
For more information about Riparian habitat in the Santa Clarita Valley, check out Friends of the Santa Clara River by clicking here.
Upcoming Outdoor Events: (Remember, heavy rain cancels MRCA-sponsored events)
Late winter is a good time to visit Vasquez Rocks, which is owned and operated by the County of Los Angeles.
Directions: heading east on Hwy 14, take the exit at Agua Dulce Canyon Road and turn left at the off ramp. The road makes an abrupt right turn and later an abrupt left turn, but the park entrance is straight ahead at 10700 W. Escondido Canyon Road. For more information call (661) 268-0840.
Saturdays, March 8 and 22, and every Wednesday, 8:00 am. Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.
Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout. For more information call Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Saturday March 8, 4:00-6:00 pm at Towsley Canyon. Twilight Hike. Join us on an easy hike to see how the canyon makes the transition from day to night.
For directions and a trail map, click here.
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to www.LAMountains.com.