Friday, March 18, 2016

The Perils of Arid Gardens

This "Bliss"garden was given to me for my birthday
many years ago when Vickie began weeding here at MuRefuge.
Can you find the flower stalk just beginning to emerge on the succulent on the right?
Succulents are now the rage here in California. The interest in these plants is fueled by the years of drought. Gardeners and landscapers are looking for plants that not only survive with little or no water but thrive. Often plants from desert areas around the globe are chosen rather than choosing native plants. As many of you reading this post and/or having visited MuRefuge know, I am a big proponent of planting natives. Planting natives indigenous to an area is essential to maintaining a balanced ecology where plants, insects, birds, microbial organisms, as well as below and above ground dwelling animals all live in harmony. Globalization has disrupted this “way” and humans are experiencing the consequences.

A plant frequently used in an arid garden.
Let me share with you a recent harrowing experience. Early this month Dwight, Shasta and I embarked on what we thought would be fun filled roadtrip to a part of the county we all love.  Since we wanted to maximize our time with long time friends in both Palm Springs and Phoenix, we chose to drive the shortest and fastest route: Interstate 5 through the California Central Valley. We stopped at a roadside rest to stretch our legs and eat lunch. Shasta had a great time chasing lizards in and through plants chosen to thrive in this naturally arid climate. When we returned to the car to resume our driving, we noticed Shasta batting at her muzzle. We did nothing. The entire drive to Palm Springs, which took almost twelve hours since we had to negotiate commute traffic through the Pasadena area, Shasta did not lay down to sleep but sat upright and her eyes drooped shut. We did nothing. The first morning in Palm Springs Shasta had a bit of difficulty taking her morning treats and still we did nothing. Finally the second full day we were in Palm Springs, I paid more attention to her attempts to eat and drink, both of which were hindered. By this time I could see Shasta’s muzzle was swollen as well as her tongue and all her tissues in and around her mouth, so we took her to the same animal clinic where our friend has long taken her many cats for care.

The vet that saw Shasta could clearly see something was amiss and her thoughts went to insects that could have bitten her in a desert climate. Her weight was almost 5# less than her last weight here locally. They gave her a bolus of IV fluids and of Benadryl. The vet thought her good to leave. We decided to stay an extra night in Palm Springs. We rechecked into the Downtown Motel 6, which by the way was a great place to stay, and set about to feed Shasta. She still was unable to eat or drink. To make this a bit of a shorter story, being unable to reach the vet, I made some choices about the take home medications and decided to wait it out until morning, at which time Shasta seemed marginally improved.

Midday we set off for Phoenix and by the time we arrived at our destination there, Shasta’s muzzle swelling was much less and I could see a bump on her muzzle. I continued her medications and we encouraged her to drink. She would spend over an hour lapping at her drinking water. We frequently changed the water which was very warm and filled with thick, tenacious mucus. As you could imagine she had little energy but we encouraged her to walk a bit at the local park so she could “do her business.”
YIKES! instead of brown stool it was mucus ridden with bright red blood so off to a local veterinary hospital that took emergency clients for $95. We drew a vet just a year out of school who not only misdiagnosed her but failed to talk with us about her findings of Shasta’s physical examination or the medication she prescribed until I raised a ruckus.

Shasta, as well as Dwight and I, was glad to leave that establishment. The following evening I had a very long telephone conversation with Shasta’s regular vet back here in Sonoma County. Janet Foley of Sonoma County Mobile Veterinary Hospital, as she does so well, listened carefully to Shasta’s story. And not to beleaguer this story, her recommendations were to
1. Resume the Benadryl at 50 mg./dose every 12 hours (canines unlike humans require 50 not 25 mg. to provide the work against the histamines, and the drowsiness abates after a few doses)
2. Feed a bland diet (cooked chicken and rice, but Shasta does not tolerate grains so
sweet potatoes were substituted)
3. Probiotics three times per day
4.Quiet Digestion also three times per day

Luckily, BEing a self pres. One, I had brought the latter along and the food was easy to prepare in the kitchen of the place we were staying.

The following morning Shasta clearly showed the most improvement we had seen in the past five days since the “event.” One of the major reasons for spending time in Phoenix was to visit with a dear friend, Shannon, and her husband who live in Tempe. Shannon is a nurse also and we spent time talking about Shasta and what might have happened. Both Shannon and I have been impaled by end of an Agave leaf. Both of us had a huge adverse reaction. I remember when it happened to me I called the 24 hour Poison Control line because my entire right arm swelled up and was hot to touch. The gentleman who spoke with me assured me that the end of the Agave leaf held nonlethal, but noxious toxins which my body would eventually deal with. 

Succulents covers a wide array of plants that in general need infrequent watering. Here in Sonoma County a nursery I frequent here in Sebastopol has a roof designed especially for succulents as does the Amy’s new drive through in Rohnert Park. There is a succulent grower who sells his plants at our local Farmer's Market. Most if not all of these succulents are of the Aloe family I think. And I grow Aloe vera in the greenhouse here at MuRefuge. This is probably the best know Aloe and is medicinal in nature: “extracts of the gel from the center of the succulent leaves are included in all manner of pharmaceutical preparations for the skin, treatment of burns and for ingestion. However, some people have allergic reactions to substances in the yellow sap under the epidermis.”

When I lived in Tuscon, many of this plant grew along the Eastern
side of my house. The flowers attracted many Verdin.
Then there is the Agave family. The best know of this group of succulents is Blue Agave (Agave tequilana), native to the Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit and Aguascalientes and the base ingredient of tequila, a popular distilled beverage many of us enjoy.

It is with this latter group that Shasta’s muzzle had a close encounter. The tips of the Agave have noxious pathogens of the fungi and/or bacteria variety which are part and parcel of the ecology of Agave plants in an arid climate.

Notice the tips on these leaves.
OUCH if one of the points puncture your skin or Shasta's muzzle
So as we chose plants for our garden, may we consider the consequences of our choices and, of course,

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