Assertive Californian seeds

Graphite drawing of a filaree seed

In southern California, there are a few seeds that assert themselves in late summer as things get drier. A lot of prickly, pointy things that stick to you or make themselves known in more painful ways.

Graphite drawing of dried burclover

A few of them were fun to play with as a kid. If you pick at the center of a dry burclover seedpod and pinch the end of it in your fingers, you can pull it away until all that’s left are a few seeds and one long coil of tiny spikes. Filaree seeds wind up tight to make a little drill when peeled away from the plant. And you can make foxtails travel on their own if you put your forearms together from wrist to elbow, hands facing up, and then have a friend place one on your wrists with the point facing you. Rub your forearms back and forth and it will travel down your arms.

Graphite drawing of puncturevine or Goats Head seed

But some seeds were just annoying. If you went for a walk through a field, chances are you’d come out with your socks and shoelaces absolutely covered in hedge parsley hitchhikers. Sandbur and puncturevine were the worst. Puncturevine has a few other nicknames. Goat’s Head, for the shape of the seed pod sections, and caltrop. It often grows on the dry, sandy areas near the beach making it particularly perilous for the bare-footed.

On palm trees, one in particular

Photo of RAT beach taken by Piper Haywood in 2009

RAT Beach in 2009. RAT = Right After Torrance

When I was very young, I developed a sustained, irrational fear of the palm tree that stood near the southwest corner of Deelane Street and Anza Avenue in Torrance, CA.

This fear is one of my earliest memories. The palm was cartoonish and stereotypical. It was spindly and swayed even on very still days. I lost my four-year-old mind every time we passed it on foot, convinced that it would fall over and pile drive me in to the ground.

The palm tree no longer exists. It was probably removed just after we moved away in 1993.

Satellite view of Deelane Street and Anza Avenue (Torrance, CA) in 1980 and 1994

Satellite view of the corner of Deelane Street and Anza Avenue in Torrance, CA. Left image was captured in 1980, right image was captured in 1994. Source for both images is USGS via historicalaerials.com

I picked up “Edges of the Experiment – The Making of the American Landscape” from the Fw:Books table at Offprint a couple of weekends ago. It is a two-volume publication designed and edited by Hans Gremmen focusing on the landscape of the American West. The first volume features photographs by Marie-José Jongerius and is punctuated with essays. The second is more text-based and includes a curated selection of media; historical photographs, anecdotes, facsimiles, essays, etc. The photos by Jongerius are what originally drew me to the publication. They are incredibly true to the place.

Last weekend I started reading volume two, including an essay titled “The infrastructure of trees in Los Angeles” by architect Warren Techentin. I learned that the palm tree is a disappearing southern Californian icon:

Considering that the average lifespan of a palm tree is 70 to 100 years, and that most of the palms visible now were planted to beautify the city for the 1932 Olympics, the bulk of Los Angeles’s palm trees will disappear within a decade or two.

Warren Techentin, “The Infrastructure of Trees in Los Angeles”, Edges of the Experiment: The Making of the American Landscape, Vol. 2, Netherlands: FW:Books [2015], p74.

The city isn’t replacing most palms that are removed. Apparently they were never a great ecological or economical choice.

So my childhood nemesis was likely removed due to old age. It’s kind of sad. I haven’t found any photos of that particular palm tree.

I can’t emphasise enough how much I have enjoyed “Edges of the Experiment”. One particularly lovely spread includes the first page of Techentin’s essay alongside one of Hans Gremmen’s graphics illustrating water usage in California. Water is touched upon in many if not most of the texts in “Edges of the Experiment”, and its presence (or lack thereof) is notable in many of Jongerius’s photos.