Category Archives: Flora

Nature’s Geometry in Succulents—2020 speaking schedule so far

Nature's Geometry: Succulents by Russel Ray

Having published my book, “Nature’s Geometry: Succulents” in October 2019, I’m now on the speaking circuit for cactus & succulent clubs throughout the nation.

Here is my current “Nature’s Geometry in Succulents” speaking schedule.

Come see me if I’m in your area!

  • February 11 – Bakersfield Cactus & Succulent Society, Bakersfield CA
  • February 13 – San Gabriel Valley Cactus & Succulent Society, Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia CA
  • March 14 – Visalia Succulent Society, Visalia CA
  • May 10 – South Coast Cactus & Succulent Society, Palos Verdes Estates CA
  • June 7 – Atlanta Cactus & Succulent Society, Atlanta GA

I will be driving to all locations, including Georgia.

Consequently, I’m contacting the cactus & succulent clubs between
San Diego and Georgia to see if I can get some more engagements
on the schedule for June.

Raindrops on an aeonium

Sometimes you just need in your life….

….a flower.

Passion flower

….a hummingbird sitting among the flowers.

Hummingbird sitting among the flowers

….flowers cheering you on.

Cheerleading flowers

….an arctic fox.

Arctic fox

….a sunset in the east.

Sunset in the east

….a spider.

Spider

Sorry about that last one there…………..

San Diego’s 9 seasons

People say that we don’t have seasons here in San Diego. Ha! We have more seasons than anywhere else in the United States. In my 26½ years here,
I have experienced many seasons:

          1. Spring—January 1 to January 31 (It was 74°F yesterday.)
          2. Summer—February 1 to October 31
          3. Fall—November 1 t0 November 30
          4. Winter—December 1 to December 31
          5. Tourist season – Friday before Memorial Day to Tuesday after Labor Day
          6. Rain season—November 16 to December 15
          7. Mudslide season—November 16 to December 15
          8. Fire season—August 1 to October 31
          9. Margaritas at On The Border in El Cajon, CaliforniaMargarita season—January 1 to December 31

Because the Fall season is short, and we don’t have a lot of deciduous trees, and we don’t have a lot of cold weather which is necessary for deciduous trees to be their most colorful, it’s difficult to get good pictures of colorful trees here in San Diego. That doesn’t mean they are not here. It just means one has to search for them. Recently I found one, a Gingko biloba looking absolutely beautiful in the midst of eucalyptus and oak trees:

Tommy Geta Memorial

Notice the bench to the left of the tree? It was calling to me, and when I got over there, I found additional information about this little site. I’ll have more about it in my next post. Still researching everything about it.

I think I have stumbled

Cover of "Nature's Geometry: Succulents" by Russel RayI had so much fun three months this past summer while I was writing my book, Nature’s Geometry: Succulents, that I decided recently to write another book, tentatively titled SSS: Southwest Succulent Staycation. However, in order to write that book, I have to visit quite a few places in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah to take pictures.

If I’m going to leave home and drive for a long distance, I would prefer to do a lot of things on the same trip. For example, to get to Utah, I have to go through Nevada. I’d rather not make one trip to Utah and then another trip to Nevada.

That started me thinking, which always is dangerous with me.

PR flyerI decided I would simply catalog all the pictures I do have to make it easier to decide what areas I actually need to go to take pictures. While I’m doing that, I also can send my Nature’s Geometry: Succulents flyer to all the horticulture clubs, plant clubs, gardening clubs, and cactus & succulent clubs in those four states in an effort to get invited to make a presentation to their clubs.

If the Ogden Garden Club invites me, I could turn that into a photographic journey and visit a lot of places in Utah on the way to Ogden.

A presentation to the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society would allow me to visit Organ Pipe National Monument, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and so many other treat places in Arizona that are on my list.

All of that is well and good, but that would mean I wouldn’t be writing a book until 2021 or 2022. I could be pretty bored between now and then. As I was cataloging some pictures, I got the idea for a shorter book that could be written immediately. Then the mail arrived, bringing three books that I had ordered; two of them pretty much are useless for my purposes. The third, however, confirmed my idea. It’s titled Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.

Growing Patterns

The book is only 32 pages and the text is in a half-inch font. Very little text, mostly pictures. In other words, it’s a children’s book.

A-ha! (not the group).

A children’s book! It would be much easier to write and I could begin immediately after a few more dreams…. Yes, dreams.

Whenever I need to think deeply about something, I go to bed when I’m not tired. Thus, I won’t fall asleep. I’ll simply dream about what I want to do, and additional ideas pop into my mind.

I guess it’s a form of daydreaming since I’m what the medical community calls a polyphasic sleeper. In other words, I never sleep more than three or four hours, and that’s very rare. Usually I take a 30-60 minute nap and then work for 3-4 hours. Repeat throughout the day, every day, 24/7, 365 days (except in leap years, 366 days).

I have had several dreams about this idea so far and I’m almost settled on what I want to do: A children’s book titled (tentatively) Numbers, Letters, Colors & Shapes: Nature helps your child learn.

I’m thinking for ages up to 8. I’ll entertain comments about the age.

Stapelia grandifloraNumbers could be the numbers of petals in a flower, number of plants in a landscape, number of tree branches….

Letters could be apple, bear, cat, dog, elephant, fox, goat, horse, igloo….

I could get flora and fauna representing every color on a color wheel….

There are so many shapes in flora and fauna: circles, stars, triangles….

Since it is a children’s book, it should be rather short. Letters would need to be at least 26 pages, so maybe this idea could morph into four children’s books:

        1. Nature Teaches
          Numbers
        2. Nature Teaches
          Letters
        3. Nature Teaches
          Colors
        4. Nature Teaches
          Shapes

Gyrfalcon at Hawk Watch in Ramona CA on 1/5/19I might be able to make this into 8 books:

        1. Animals Teach
          Numbers
        2. Animals Teach
          Letters
        3. Animals Teach
          Colors
        4. Animals Teach
          Shapes
        5. Plants Teach
          Numbers
        6. Plants Teach
          Letters
        7. Plants Teach
          Colors
        8. Plants Teach
          Shapes

I think I might have stumbled upon a way to use the billions of pictures I have!

The Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Garden—A Review

The Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Garden
A Review

Hippos at the Los Angeles ZooI became a fan of zoos after my first visit to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, in summer 1966. If I had never seen a giraffe, or an elephant, or a rhinoceros, or a hippopotamus…. I never would have taken such an interest in their plight in the world.

Chimpanzees at the Los Angeles ZooA couple of years later, a real live monkey showed up in our yard. My wise old grandmother told me to give it a banana. I though that was only in cartoons. The darn thing ate it. And as with just about any animal, if you feed it, it’s yours.

That monkey stayed in the trees in our back yard for several months. I named it Cheetah.

Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical GardenThen, one day, people showed up to take Cheetah. They were people from the San Antonio Zoo. A monkey was considered an exotic pet, and exotic pets were not allowed in Kingsville, Texas. We had to let them capture Cheetah and take him away.

When San Antonio hosted Hemisfair in 1968, I convinced my wise old grandmother to take me to San Antonio. Sure I wanted to go to Hemisfair, but more importantly to this little boy, I wanted to go to the San Antonio Zoo to see Cheetah.

Serval at the Los Angeles ZooI don’t know whether or not Cheetah recognized me, but to this day I believe he did. All one has to do is watch YouTube videos about animals recognizing those who rescued them, fed them, and cared for them, even after being separated from them for weeks, months, and, in one case, 11 years. Yeah, our animals that we care for know who we are.

Los Angeles ZooYesterday, Jim and I went to the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Garden. I had never been to the Los Angeles Zoo, but since I have been going to the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park on a regular basis for 26½ years, I already knew that the Los Angeles Zoo didn’t have anything that I had not already seen. Thus, my main interest was in the Botanical Garden aspect of the zoo with the possible intent of including a section in my forthcoming book, SSS: Southwest Succulent Staycation.

Ostrich at the Los Angeles ZooThe Los Angeles Zoo opened in 1966, so it’s about fifty years younger than the San Diego Zoo. However, at 133 acres, it is 33 acres larger. However, there are only about 1,400 animals residing at the Los Angeles Zoo. After walking the whole zoo yesterday, I would guess that about 70 acres is simply unused land. Jim and I always are tired after a trip to the San Diego Zoo. We didn’t experience that after walking the Los Angeles Zoo.

Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical GardenI was disappointed in the zoo but I might be unreasonably comparing it to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. The L.A. Zoo was quite busy yesterday. However, it needs a serious cleaning, including a parking lot renovation. The asphalt probably is the original asphalt from when the zoo opened in 1966. The whole place was overgrown with weeds. Deciduous trees had dropped all their leaves; unfortunately, all over the exhibits, making a mess of them, making a mess of any horticultural exhibits beneath the trees, making a mess of the various play areas for children.

Notwithstanding all the problems, there were several things that made the visit worthwhile:

      1. I now have been to the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Garden.
      2. The birds show was excellent because it featured birds that you won’t be seeing in your back yard: two African vultures (huge birds!) and a California Condor (another huge bird!)
      3. Although many of the botanical gardens were weedy and covered with leaves, I did get enough good pictures for my book.
      4. The giraffe feeding line was very long, and having fed the giraffes at the San Diego Zoo, I can tell you that feeding giraffes is quite an experience. This final picture shows a little girl feeding a giraffe. I believe this little girl will grow up with an appreciation of wildlife—my appreciation of wildlife started by feeding a monkey. Perhaps this little girl will get a college degree in wildlife conservation, maybe even work in a zoo providing this type of experience to the next generation.

Feeding a giraffe at the Los Angeles Zoo

All pictures in this post were taken by me
at the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Garden
on December 29, 2019.

I’m well on my way before I even start!

Flowers in Russel's cactus garden

Ever since I joined my first cactus & succulent club in February 2017, I had been wanting to do a presentation of nature’s geometry using the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…..). It’s an additive sequence, meaning that the next number in the sequence is the sum of the two previous numbers.

The program chairperson for the first club told me in April 2018 that they had just had such a speaker a year ago, that he was very good, and that I would be hard-pressed to follow him. I told him that, since 1973, I had been studying the Fibonacci numbers and how they are expressed in nature, so I wouldn’t be hard-pressed to follow anyone. However, having a speaker just a year ago meant that having another speaker on the same subject the following year probably would not go over well. I got the name of the previous speaker, and it turns out that “a year ago” was defined as “five years ago.” More importantly, though, I since found out that the program chairperson for that club doesn’t schedule anyone who is not already on the cactus & succulent club speaking circuit. That, of course, begs the Catch-22 question, “How do you get on the speaking circuit to begin with?”

Turns out that one has to make contacts in a club which will take a chance on you, and that happened in June 2019 for me with the Palomar Cactus & Succulent Club of Escondido, California.

I recently found out two other ways: (1) write many articles throughout the years and have them published in reputable books and magazines, and (2) to publish a book, which I did in October 2019:

"Nature's Geometry: Succulents" front cover

Nature's Geometry: Succulents back cover

My book is for sale at my Etsy shop, $30 with free shipping to United States locations: etsy.com/shops/russelrayphotos

Many decades ago, being an author of a book was a pretty good indicator of expertise. In today’s world of self-publishing, not necessarily. That’s a problem that I dealt with with my own head when looking at publishers.

I wanted desperately for the Texas A&M University Press to publish my book since Texas A&M University is my alma mater, Class of ’77. However, the cost of having the Press publish it would have been about $44 per book, so I would have wanted to sell it for $50 to make at least a little money. The only books that are 174 pages that sell for that much money are academic books by academic publishers. So that was out.

The other problem was the time frame. It would have taken up to 18 months to publish the dang thing.

So self-publishing it was…. inexpensive and as fast as I wanted it to be. I chose BookBaby because they are a print-on-demand service. I can have one book printed, hundreds of books, or thousands of books. Of course, the more books one has printed, the less expensive the cost per book.

I could choose to have BookBaby completely involved in everything, or nothing. I chose nothing because I have been doing writing, editing, graphic design, book and magazine design and layout, and publishing all my life.

If I used all of their services, the cost would have been right up there with the Texas A&M University Press, and the lead time would have been up there, too. By buying an ISBN number from BookBaby and then using their printing services, I kept the cost low and the lead time short.

I am extremely happy with BookBaby’s printing, paper, and binding.

Having a book published immediately got me on the cactus & succulent club speaking circuit. I’m also exploring many other speaking circuits, including horticulture clubs, gardening clubs, community retirement homes (I had no idea that so many of them have regular programs; two already have expressed an interest), and city and county libraries, many of which have up to five programs each week.

The reception of Nature’s Geometry: Succulents also has me looking at doing another book. My two immediate choices are Nature’s Geometry: Flora and Nature’s Geometry: Fauna. However, my main goal is to stay on the cactus & succulent speaking circuit where I already know my intended audience and their likes.

I have noticed that a great majority of the cactus & succulent speakers give presentations on their travels to foreign countries. The Atacama Desert region of Chile and the Oxaca region of Mexico are two of the most popular. That, though, caused me to think that maybe, just maybe, the southwestern United States has a lot to offer.Fishhook barrel cactus

There are a lot of cacti & succulents that grow in our region, many of which are found only here. Carnegiea gigantea (the saguaro) comes immediately to mind, but there also is Ferocactus wislizeni, the Southwestern barrel cactus (picture at right), Agave utahensis (which, you might guess, occurs in Utah), Ferocactus cylindraceus, the California barrel cactus, and Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua tree.

Knowing this, I have decided to do a second book, tentatively titled
SSS: Southwest Succulent Staycation. For my purpose with this book, I will define “southwest” as California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

United States SSS map

During 2020, I will be endeavoring to go to all the national parks, national monuments, botanical gardens, zoos (many zoos in the southwest also are botanical gardens), state parks, and cities with a population of at least 50,000. There will be exceptions, I’m sure. I already have a few million photos from excursions in the southwest, so I’m well on my way before I even start!

The nice thing about this second book is that, for people back east, going to the southwestern United States can be very much like going to a foreign country, so I might be able to get on cactus & succulent speaking circuits outside of my home territory of the southwest.

Your Christmas poinsettia

Did you know?

It’s the time of the year when poinsettias invade our lives.

Scott #1256 Poinsettia

Scott #2166 Poinsettia

Did you know that the poinsettia is a succulent? Yes! It’s true! It’s scientific name is Euphorbia pulcherrima. The genus Euphorbia has over 2,000 species, making it one of the largest genera of flowering plants.

Did you also know that those red leaves are not flower petals. Those simply are modified bracts, or colored leaves. They help draw bugs and insects in to the flowers for pollination because the flowers themselves are very small.

Here in San Diego, poinsettias grow year-round and bloom year-round, and they can get to be a small tree or bush about fifteen feet tall. Here are a couple that I see on a regular basis:

Poinsettias at San Diego State University

Euphorbias are spurges. They have a white, milky sap called latex. That latex has varying amounts of diterpenes and oxalates in it, which can cause skin irritation. If it gets in contact with mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and mouth, the result can be extremely painful inflammation.

If you get this stuff on you, wash it off immediately and thoroughly with an emulsifier such as soap, or even milk. If inflammation occurs, get emergency medical help because permanent blindness and kidney damage can occur.

Consequently, because these things are so beautiful, children like to touch them and smell them. Don’t let them! Pets also are attracted to them, so keep them out of reach of those jumpers and chewers.

My wise old grandmother had several poinsettias growing along the driveway in Kingsville, Texas. My basketball court was the driveway, and sometimes we’d lose the basketball in the poinsettia bushes, which had broken stems at that point. I’d often notice inflammation and itching whenever I got the sap on me but never made the connection. I mean, it was South Texas, full of bugs and such, so after playing basketball for a couple of hours, one expected to be a little itchy.

It was until my second year living with my wise old grandmother, in 1967, that I was tasked with pruning the poinsettias. If you cut them back in October, they will be absolutely gorgeous in December. After pruning them one day, I spent the night in the hospital. I was one great big ball of inflammation. That was back in the days before the medical industry in South Texas understood euphorbia latex, and that incident was my last experience with poinsettias. I have never had them in my house at Christmas time.

Another plant that my wise old grandmother had a lot of as the Crown of Thorns. Notwithstanding its many thorns which make it look like a cactus, it is not. It is a succulent, a spurge, a euphorbia—Euphorbia millii. I do have many crown of thorns because the thorns act like an early warning system, making it easy to keep the sap off my skin. Most of my Euphorbia millii are hybrids, with big, beautiful “flowers”:

Euphorbia millii

Euphorbia millii

Although I have been growing cacti and succulents since 1968, it wasn’t until January 1, 2017, that I started learning their scientific names. Turns out that my gardens are full of euphorbias. Always have been, and they all have that caustic latex. Not all people experience the worst from the euphorbia latex, but I do.

Except for my crown of thorns, my euphorbias are small with large bodies rather than stems, making them easy to care for and easy to keep the sap off me. Here are some of the euphorbias in my gardens:

Euphorbia anoplia
Euphorbia anoplia

Euphorbia spiralis
Euphorbia spiralis

Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’
Euphorbia trigona 'Rubra'

Euphorbia stellata
Euphorbia stellata

As an aside, 50% of the world Christmas poinsettia market is produced right here in the Encinitas, about 20 miles north of downtown San Diego.

Poinsettia