A hard-working crew of volunteers turned out on Saturday morning May 28 to care for the Native Plant Area on the southwest ridge of the park. Top priority was providing water to the three dozen native plants that Conservancy volunteers put in the ground late last fall. The seasonal rains, such as they were, helped the plants get established, and some of them have been blooming, but they’re still too young and fragile, many of them, to handle the current drought unaided. Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar made more than a dozen trips with a 5-gallon water tank from the faucet in the picnic area just northeast of the Native Plant Area to give the plants a needed drink.
Volunteers also cleared Ripgut Brome (Bromus diandrus) and Kikuyu Grass (Pennisetum clandestinum) from under California Bee Plant (Scrophularia californica) and other established natives planted by the DAWN pioneers in the mid-1980s. Thick stands of Wild Mustard also went on the plant debris pile. We also began clearance of a small number of dead and bone-dry Ceanothus bushes that had passed their normal life spans years ago. And, as the photo above indicates, we cleared thistles not only from plants but also from the fire hydrant on the southwest corner of the Native Plant Area. In these dry conditions we want that hydrant to be readily accessible.
Bob expressed thanks to Parks Department landscape garden supervisor Jacob Several and his staff for their part in hauling away the weeds, deadwood, and other debris that our work created. This Saturday stewardship day was another in a line of such events that began in June 2020.
About halfway through our morning, two park visitors called our attention to a baby opossum lying half dead on the grass a few feet from the paved walkway. The animal was still breathing and twitching its legs occasionally but was not able to get up. It had a puncture wound on one side of its jaw, as if a dog had picked it up. One of us carried it to a safer spot in the foliage at the edge of the Native Plant Area. A Park Department security staff member attempted to get Berkeley Animal Control to assist, without result. Its outlook was dim. This is the third unlucky juvenile opossum that I’m aware of. I saw one myself just about a year ago (“Good News, Bad News,” May 25 2021) and photographer Phil Rowntree reported another one a few weeks ago on the trail just north of the Native Plant Area. There must be an opossum mom in the area. Early death is not uncommon for possum juveniles. The mother may give birth to 20 or more pups, called “joeys,” but she has only 13 nipples in her pouch. Possibly this animal was playing dead (“playing possum”) but apparently that’s a skill that comes with growing up; the younger ones can’t do it. If they seem dead, they are.