Category Archives: wildflowers

Wildflowers among the charred manzanita.

Rosy Sandcrocus

Early this morning I had joked with my daughters about hiking alone today, saying that because it was Saturday I knew there would be plenty of other hikers around to see the event if a mountain lion dropped from a tree onto me. (None of them laughed at my joke.) Yes, there were many people on all the trails, but when I did have an accident it was during a minute when I was out of sight of everyone, and I was glad for that.

I couldn’t resist visiting another regional park this afternoon because I was in the neighborhood, having helped to care for my goddaughter Mary and her siblings all morning, a bit north of home. But I had forgotten to put my boots in the car, so I went with just my Merrells that are super comfortable and supportive, but still – they are just shoes.

The fires of last fall ripped through this area — that’s two years more recent than where I hiked on Tuesday, and the damage is striking. So many manzanitas are black, or black with copper leaves. But these wind-driven fires we’ve had will thoroughly burn one bush or tree and leave one right next to it unharmed. In the next picture I was trying to show the flowering bush, and the other close by that is singed and stressed. Maybe it will recover by next year – or maybe not.

Some trails in the park are still closed since the fire; I made note of that when I printed a map last month, but I also forgot to bring the map. So I wandered a lot and ran into two dead ends where the trail was closed, making it seem like I had walked for much longer than an hour. There were plenty of green trees and shrubs, and lots of new ground cover including several low-growing wildflowers. I was surprised to see so many on this last day of February; maybe the warm days we’ve had recently encouraged the bloom.

I made good use of that phone app: Seek, from iNature. I’m excited about it helping me to spend more time outdoors with the plants and less time in my cold corner looking at a screen to do my plant identification detective work. In that short time it helped me confirm the names of or learn for the first time eight plants and flowers. It didn’t matter to the app that the wind was blowing them blurry. It does matter to me, when I am posting pictures, so I will show you the clearest images I got.

Besides the charred oaks and manzanita in the photo above, you can see how the plant pictured in more detail below covers the slopes all over with its wavy leaves. When I pointed my phone at it I learned that it is appropriately named Wavy-leafed Soap Plant or Chlorogalum pomeridianum:

And this sweet thing (with the botanical name impossible to say without spitting) is the Rusty Popcornflower – Plagiobothrys nothofulvus:

The trails were mostly very gravelly, and what happened was, I slid in the gravel and went down. It wasn’t even a steep hill. I got back up and brushed myself off, looked around to see that mercifully, no one was rushing to my aid. I was more careful after that, especially when going downhill.

Besides the plants I’ve pictured here, I saw Blue Dicks; a yellow flower called Pacific Sanicle; Henderson’s Shooting Star; and a tiny and tightly furled white flower among leaves also folded close, but looking like clover — the app could make no sense of that one. But the most interesting meeting was of the Rosy Sandcrocuses. I saw most of them almost hidden in the grass, they were down so low, but this one had opened while still lying in its sand bed. Those long grass blades lying next to it are its leaves, which makes you understand why some people call it Onion Grass.

My favorite for beauty, the Pacific Hound’s Tongue. That phone app is up to date; it knew that the botanical name has changed to reflect what has been discovered about this flower’s genetics. These were smaller plants than what I’ve seen in wetter places, but their beautiful blue catches the eye. I’m thrilled to have seen one today, and reveling in the gorgeous springtime and all my flower surprises – also that I didn’t break a bone!

Modest milkmaids by the creek.

The main thing I brought back from my hike with friend Polly — our first-ever such outing together — was tired feet. We had walked on a hilly trail for a solid two hours, along an unnamed creek, around an unnamed pond, through areas that were burned in the fires of 2017 but are healing.

Or was that truly the main thing…? We didn’t have an exciting adventure, though Polly did spot a salamander and then a snake down in the grass where the sunlight dappled, and I managed to see them, too before they wiggled or slithered away.

The pictures I carried home in my phone were nothing extraordinary, because flowers are just beginning to appear in the oak forest. But this morning I began to identify the lily pictured at top, and for the first time opened the phone app “Seek” from iNaturalist. It showed me seasonal flora and fauna “species nearby,” and right there, in the first photo they showed me, were the modest and sweet blooms I had bent to peer at yesterday while Polly waited patiently. They are milkmaids, Cardamine californica, said to “invoke the promise of approaching springtime.”

It was a beautiful and sunny day, nearly 80 degrees, but most of our walking was in the shade. When we saw familiar clumps of leaves from which we know that heuchera flowers and iris will emerge in their time,  we agreed that it would be best to return every week to watch these developments. But neither of us wants to hike alone in these hills; we don’t want to be without a friend if we should happen to encounter a cougar or a crazy human or whatever. It remains to be seen if Polly and I can manage to hike together very often. If we do I’m sure you’ll read about it here.

The last thing I noticed just before we got back to the trailhead was a bay tree, and a healthy patch of newly leafed-out poison oak. Its leaves were still shiny and tinged with red, trailing down from the path to the rocky creek bed.

The tired feet I brought home are fully recovered, and now I see that I’ve gained less tangible but longer-lasting things from our outing, two plants with whom I’m more familiar by having names to go with them. The lily is a fritillaria, probably Mission Bells.

Another achievement of the hike was of a sort that needs to be re-gained frequently if it’s to be of much value, but it will endure a few days on its own. That is the good feeling akin to stacking firewood or swimming a half hour in the pool, the satisfaction of pushing myself and using whatever strength I can muster, hopefully without the injuries that so easily intrude and become their own challenge to recover from.

So I don’t know what the Main Thing was, that I gained yesterday, but I know it wasn’t the tired feet!

The balm of thistles and a mighty tree.

tarweed

“Mmm-mmm, star thistle and tarweed — the scents of fall!” That’s what my daughter Pippin said as we started out from the trailhead on our latest outing together. Every time I am outdoors with her I learn something new. I should say, I don’t remember being introduced to tarweed  before, and that feels as exciting as brand new.

Pippin and the Professor had come from their home in more northern California for the weekend. Saturday we hung around my neighborhood in the morning, and went afield in the afternoon.

Ivy adopted the doll Madeleine for the day and took her out to gather strawberry tree fruit. Scout dissected the ripest-looking dwarf pomegranate, and we decided it was almost sweet enough to be worth the bother. We walked along the creek path to the playground at the park, but probably the “playground” on the way was the most fun. In two places kids had hung rigging from big trees, from which you could swing out into the space where the ground fell away steeply toward the creek channel. Pippin was the only one with the strength and length to hoist herself up on to what seemed to be a launching platform. Jamie tried to be patient, but reminded us, “Let’s go, to the park!”

Our destination in the afternoon was a giant California bay laurel tree that may be the largest of its species. I had visited this particular tree at least twice before, but probably not since the 80’s.

Our short walk up the hill stretched out, as we stopped to observe lichens and poison oak, the tarweed and star thistle. Two of us had painful feet that slowed us down. We saw a wild buckwheat, Eriogonum, taller and bushier than the species we were familiar with. From my reading today I think it might be California Buckwheat. But as you can probably guess, the first photos below are of star thistle, a plant you never want to have to break a trail through.

Eventually we came out of the woods onto the grassy hilltop where lots of cows were grazing with their calves, and bellowing almost without stopping. There was The Tree on the horizon, and a smaller companion alongside.

Umbellularia californica is the only species in its genus, in Oregon known as the Oregon myrtle. It’s been called by several other names including pepperwood and balm of heaven. The flavor of its leaves is similar to the true bay leaves from Laurus nobilis, only stronger, and most of my life I’ve used leaves from the abundant local “bay” trees in cooking. For a long time I didn’t know they were not the real thing. The map shows its natural range.

Umbellularia californica range map.png

I hadn’t read that nickname “balm of heaven” before our outing, but standing under the massive canopy with thousands and thousands of leaves exuding their aromatic oil, I definitely felt the olfactory presence as a balm, its scent filling my nostrils as hugely as its image filled my vision.

The children right away began to climb, and to stake out their “houses” in the several neighborhoods that have been formed under branches as thick as big tree trunks, some of them weighing themselves down horizontal with the ground. The adults took pictures of the wide views of the landscape below. Pippin and I studied the tree’s flowers, trying to figure out where they are in their bloom cycle. If it hadn’t been late in the day it would have been the perfect place to have a picnic and linger a while.

In the last few years I’ve been buying the few bay leaves I need. But I brought home a handful of the mega-flavored, special California-and-Oregon pepperwood/balm of heaven leaves, and will simmer them in a winter soup. When I get a whiff of their essence in the steam that rises from my bowl, it will keep me connected to that magnificent tree until I can get back for a longer visit.

The seeds dropped out.

When my Landscape Lady suggested Delta Sunflowers for my front garden, she said they would reseed themselves year after year. Those in her own garden have done that, and she gave me my original plants from her excess of volunteers when they came up in May of 2017. My plants did make their own starts in succeeding springtimes, but not very many, which I think has something to do with the thick bark mulch. The seedlings that did emerge were not in the right places, so I had to transplant them.

Here I will insert three pictures I took on the dry east side of California’s Central Valley before I ever knew what these sunflowers were, or dreamed that this species would end up in my own garden. These shots show how well they do with no water at all, in temperatures often well above 100°, all summer long. They just keep going.

Last fall and this, I saved some flower heads from my plants, but I could not see any seeds in them. They are very stiff and prickly by the time they are dry enough to be certain the seeds will have matured. This year my second picking of them I set on the workbench as I was going into the house, and there they sat for a couple of weeks, where I walked past many times a day.

One day I noticed seeds under them – the hidden seeds had simply fallen out. I knocked each bristle brush flower hard against the wood and more seeds came out, so now I have a good collection. I can start them myself in the greenhouse and have some sturdy seedlings to plant in exactly the right spots next spring. 🙂