Take a walk around the Galena Creek Recreation Area, and you might notice this odd-looking, red plant. They're starting to pop up around the park, and often they are found next to last year's stalks!
Pinedrops are a peculiar species in that they do not contain Chlorophyll - the pigment that makes plants green and allows them to photosynthesize. This means that Pinedrops must steal their nutrients from surrounding species to survive; in other words, they are a parasitic plant. When the plant initially sprouts, it first "digs" into the soil in search of a "host" - typically fungi and the roots of nearby trees - and then shoots upward to begin bearing fruit. This is why Pinedrops are found in close proximity to larger species such as pine trees.
Pinedrops can be identified by their tall, skinny frames and bulb-like fruit. They can be found growing throughout the park between June and August, though the strongest stalks make it through winter and are still common even this time of year. Come for a walk around the Galena Recreation Area and see how many Pinedrops you can find!
If you are motivated to hike a moderate to difficult-level 6-mile path then the journey to Church’s Pond via the Jones-White Loop Trail is worth your time! Although it is heavily trafficked, it offers beautiful scenic views while being engrossed entirely in a well-shaded forest. This trail is journeyed by hikers, nature trips, and snowshoers. The first half a mile up the trail offers the calmest leg of the journey, along a peaceful creek, before ascending the mountain side via multiple switchbacks. If you turn around at 2.5 miles of the trail into the clearings you can see the full range view from Reno to Washoe City. While most people do stop here and turn back, you can continue on another 0.7 miles and reach Church’s Pond, if you are the more adventurous-type.
Church’s Pond is named after James Church, who was a University of Nevada-Reno professor that figured out how to measure the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in 1909. The pond is a still, small snow-melt basin below Mt. Rose that sits on top of the 2,000+ foot trail. Even though this peaceful pond may look somewhat inviting from a distance, if you dare to get in, watch for leeches!
Say you are on a hike and feel dehydrated and run out of water, but you come by a reasonable water source. You gather some water in your water bottle and replenish your thirst. In a couple of hours you get an upset stomach and pass the amoeba-infested water by diarrhea and feel better shortly afterward. This is a natural process of a parasitic relationship. Both animals and plants can be involved in this kind of relationship. If you have ever seen an abnormal-looking part of a plant that resembles a tumor, you are not seeing things. These strange formations are called “galls,” growths on plants that are caused by parasitic organisms. More specifically, the plant tries to separate the parasitic larvae from the rest of itself by forming this tumor-like cavity where the larvae can live and grow. The gall-maker gets protection and food from the gall, while the plant spends its tissue and energy forming this gall. There are over 1,000 species of gall-forming insects, mites, nematodes, bacteria, and fungi that produce these formations as part of their regular life cycle. The galls can be formed on any part of the plant, including roots, stems, fruits, and leaves. While scientists are still studying how the organisms cause the plant cells to divide abnormally to make the galls, biochemical secretions are believed to play a crucial role in gall formation.
You may have noticed a sudden increase in the amount of storms gathering around the Reno area. What causes these storms, and why do they always appear around the same time of year.
Summer storms are the result of heat and moisture. On a hot day, the sun heats the ground and surrounding air enough to cause that air to rise extremely quickly; and with it, all of the moisture that is contained in that air. Once the hot air rises high enough to reach the cooler regions of the atmosphere, it condenses to form clouds. Although this process occurs throughout the entire year, the mid-afternoon heat along with the high heat of the later summer months combine to cause this process to occur so quickly that the clouds don't have time to disperse. The result is storm clouds, or thunderheads.
Thunderheads, like the one pictured, can be spotted from a distance and usually indicate an incoming storm. They are identified by the large column of "cloud" rising vertically (as oppose to spreading out horizontally).
As the clouds sweep across land, pushed along by the wind and gathering moisture, they also gather "charge" which builds up and is eventually dissipated by a lightning strike. The same phenomenon can be observed when you touch a metal door knob after walking around on carpet.
Now that you know a bit more about storms, try predicting if this afternoon is going to yield some thunder! If it is a hot day, and you notice thunderheads already building up over the mountains by early afternoon, it's likely that a thunderstorm is approaching.
Bats are nocturnal flying mammals. In Nevada we have 23 bat species, some of whom live alone in places like trees and bat boxes while others live in colonies in caves. These wondrous creatures are a vital part of many ecosystems and contrary to popular belief only less than 0.5% of bats contract rabies (Nevada Department of Wildlife). Most bats only bite out of self-defense, unless they are one of the three species of vampire bats out of 1,000 of other bat species. Bats often try to avoid people and other animals to protect themselves and in turn don’t easily contract diseases like rabies. Still, never handle a bat; they are delicate, vulnerable creatures that will be afraid of you and might try to bite, and regardless, they probably just don’t want to be held.
Most bats are insectivorous, eating mosquitos, moths, locusts, beetles, and grasshoppers. Without them we would have to add more pesticides to crops to fight off insects, and people would be more susceptible to diseases that are carried by mosquitoes. Possibly worst of all, imagine summer camping trips with 20% more mosquitos. Bats also pollinate crops, flowers, and other plant species; your favorite fruit was most likely pollinated by a bat. Out of the 23 bat species in Nevada only one is currently listed as threatened through the Endangered Species Act; the Spotted Bat (Euderma maculatum). Unfortunately, 50% of the United States bat species have declined or become endangered (Nevada Department of Wildlife) and Nevada is no exception. To protect bats in the United States, organizations like Bat Conservation International have been protecting and restoring bat habitats, finding solutions to White Nose Syndrome, a deadly fungus for bats brought into caves by miners and explorers, monitoring populations of bats, and educating the public. You can get involved by building a bat box in your backyard (basically free insect control!), participating in bat-monitoring surveys, or learning more about bats and threats to bat species and sharing this information with friends and family.
NV Bat Brochure
Bat Conservation International Bat Box Information
People from indigenous communities have been one with the land for thousands of years. They have learned not only how to survive in nature, but also how to thrive. Part of being able to thrive is integrating art within your lifestyle.
Weaving is not only used as a tool for indigenous people but also as a way to express oneself through art. Being able to strategically integrate the fibers of a plant into another form is what makes the art of weaving so useful. The Washoe people were able to find and use many different plants to weave with. One plant that they commonly used was sagebrush. The art of weaving can result in a lightweight form of containers, clothes, shelter and more.
Dat-So-La-Lee (a native Washoe woman) is famous for her basket weaving abilities. After meeting Abe Cohn in 1895, he began to sponsor her and manage her baskets. Dat-So-La-Lee is still known for her beautiful handcrafted woven baskets today.
Sagebrush is a large part of Nevada's ecosystem. Its scientific name is Artemisia tridentata, comes from the Greek goddess: Artemis. A unique characteristic of this plant is its medicinal purposes that were used by the Native Americans of the area. Some medicinal benefits from the leaves of sagebrush include treating headaches, colds, internal bleeding and lessening the effects of infected wounds. While the leaves are edible, it gives off a very bitter and pungent taste. Not only did the Natives use sagebrush for its medicinal benefits, but the bark could also be used to weave mats and other materials.
Another reason that sagebrush was determined as the state flower is because it is so apparent to the area. Due to Nevada’s dry climate, the soil is very sandy and cannot hold water well. This makes perfect conditions for sagebrush to thrive.
With the historical background and importance of sagebrush, it makes sense that it has been determined the state's flower. It also appears on the state’s flag as well as the state’s song!
Many of you may have heard of the beetle infestation that has devastated North American forests over the last decade. It may surprise you that this infestation is directly linked to our mis-management of wildfires over last century.“Fire suppression” was the leading forest-management strategy of the 20th century, where any and all wildfires were treated as unnecessarily destructive and immediately put out. However, by squelching every wildfire, we have effectively allowed wood (fuel) to stockpile, leading to the inevitable, uncontrollable, and devastating series of wildfires that we have been enduring for the past decade.
We have since learned that wildfires are a critical step in the cycle of a healthy forest system. Native Americans were fully aware of this fact, and used wildfire as a tool to promote the growth of desired plants in subsequent seasons. Without fire, forests become overgrown. Overgrown forests are more susceptible to massive fires since they hold more fuel, and induce drought by increasing competition among plants for a limited water supply. In short, an overgrown forest is a weaker forest.
Enter: the bark beetle. There are several species of bark beetle that have contributed to the recent infestation and all are native to the southwest. Bark beetles perform the critical ecological duty of sending weakened trees back into the cycle of decomposition, essentially “thinning” the forest of unhealthy trees. However, when the entire forest is weakened through drought (both natural and unnatural), there is no barrier to the beetle’s expansion. So what can we do? We can’t just let every wildfire burn!
New forest-management tactics have recently been implemented which cater to the needs of both people and forests. In areas farther away from human activity, professionals use “controlled burns” to maintain forest health in a natural way; while near inhabited areas, “ecological thinning” is used to manually clear forests of excess growth.
Fire ecology is a prime example of how human ingenuity can often fall short of understanding how interconnected our ecosystems can be. There is still so much that we do not know, and hopefully, by being more cautious about how we tamper with our ecosystems, we can avoid such destructive consequences.
One of the structures in the southern section of our park is the Galena Creek Fish Hatchery, an attempt to rebuild the local ecosystem after the devastation caused by the mining during the mid-1800s. Overfishing and water pollution and common side effects of mining and lumber, and the Truckee River Watershed was no exception. The Galena Creek Fish Hatchery was used from 1931 to 1949 to restock the local waterways with fish, both Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout, to restore the ecosystem and provide recreational fishing opportunities. This hatchery is a good example of the combination of ecological restoration and recreational development. The fish hatchery ceased operations in 1949, when the Boy Scouts began using the site. Washoe County took over the area again in 1949 and they are currently available for public use. Marilyn’s Pond is a popular fishing destination for young kids, providing an easy and reliable catch.
Officially named the “Antelope Bitterbrush”, the Bitterbrush is extremely well adapted to live in desert environments, which is why it is one of the most common species in this area of Nevada. A closer look at the leaves shows that they have a waxy coating, and are covered in tiny hairs which diffuse sunlight - both of which help prevent water loss. The plant also grows roots that have been found to be up to 15ft deep, allowing the plant to access water stored deeper in the soil. Individuals range in size from shrubs to small trees, and most live to be several decades old; though, some of the most successful have been found to be over 100 years old.
Bitterbrush provides a crucial habitat for many small animals, namely rodents, snakes, and lizards. The plant has a symbiotic relationship with these creatures: lizards will defend the plant by eating insects that are after its leaves, while the plant’s seeds are a crucial source of food for rodents. Rodents will bury a “cache” to store food for winter, and when some of these caches are inevitably forgotten, the planted seed is left free to germinate and begin the process anew.
Take a walk anywhere in the greater Reno area and you will notice that Bitterbrush is also one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. Individuals that have direct exposure to the sun will already have bright yellow, flagrant flowers, while those that are more shaded should bear “bulbs” that will bloom within the next few weeks!
This blog is managed by the staff and volunteers of Galena Creek Visitor Center. We write about parts of the natural world that we find fascinating and want to teach others about, as well as keeping you updated on the Visitor Center and park. If you want to learn more, please sign up for our monthly newsletter, where we share upcoming events, updates on the ecology of the park, and highlights from each month.