Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eastern Sierra Wildflowers

Recently, I have been having a grand time driving around and hiking the hills of California looking for native wildflowers and photographing them. Then after spending hours trying to identify the plants in my photos, I use Google's Picasa to label them for posterity. These photos were taken in April several years ago when my husband and I hiked in the Alabama Hills just outside of Lone Pine, CA. That's Mt. Whitney in the photo above, the highest peak in the clouds. I have long been in the habit of taking a photo of any plant that interests me when I travel. Unfortunately, it has taken me four years to get around to identifying these particular photos. Because of the harsh climate and high altitude, they include some very interesting and very beautiful plants and I thought you might enjoy seeing them

An ugly name for a beautiful and striking flower—the purple ones. A lot of these desert plants have coarse, vulgar names. Locoweed anyone? The term fleabane is used for several plants and apparently comes from the fact that when burnt, the smoke drives away fleas.

These sweet little blooms have practically no stem (or leaves) and grow right on the ground. One has to be very careful where one steps. But they make quite a display when there are a lot of them—a carpet of purple and white. This plant is endemic to California alone.

Another plant that hugs the ground. "Woolly" refers to the tiny hairs that cover the leaves and stems. And this is one sunflower with no rays!

The queen of plants.

These flowers have no petals either. It's the bracts that turn pink.

Yes, ephedra... These plants have no flowers at all. They are gymnosperms like pines and junipers. Those yellow things are cones that form at the joints of the stems.

And as usual, there is one plant that I just can't seem to identify. I think this is an Astragalus (Locoweed), but which one?

Monday, April 20, 2009

More Native Plants at OCNC

Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum

Since I have been babysitting for Master C. quite a bit the last few weeks, it has given me plenty of opportunity to go down to the Oak Canyon Nature Center and see the spring blooms. The scene has been changing almost daily from the wet, lush, green vegetation of late February and the beginnings of the appearance of wildflowers, to the profusion of blossoms in March, to the sudden hot dry conditions we are having now which dries out the tender spring plants but brings on the summer flowers exemplified by the Cobweb Thistle at the bottom of this post. I have found and identified many new plants for myself which has been a lot of fun. A new book recommended by Yvetta called, Flora of the Santa Ana River and Environs by Oscar F. Clarke, has been very helpful (order it from Canada while the supply lasts), but as always, there is plenty of room for argument on some of the identifications.

Since I have been commenting about the difference between Sugar Bush and Lemonadeberry (Rhus ovata and Rhus integrifolia), here is a photo of a beautiful branch of Sugar Bush blooms.

Sugar Bush, Rhus ovata

One of the identifications I have really had trouble with is this phacelia below. In March, I found one lone plant and now there are hundreds along the trail called Road Runner Ridge. They have posted a sign at the beginning of the trail showing photos of the wildflowers in bloom along the trail and they identify this phacelia as Sticky Phacelia, Phacelia viscida. But after much research on the web and in my books, I am sticking with my identification of Parry's Phacelia, Phacelia parryi. The color (rich, deep purple), the five white spots in the center and lack of a well-defined white area, and the fact that the leaves and stems are not "sticky" (the leaves felt more like velvet to me) are my reasons for making this identification. BTW, touching this plant may cause dermatitis, which I didn't know at the time, but I suffered no ill effects.

Parry's Phacelia, Phacelia Parryi

I found two more lupines (yay!), one of them so tiny I almost missed it, Miniature Lupine or Lupinus bicolor. The other one, by contrast, is quite large and covered with lots of hairs giving it the name Nettle Lupine, Lupinus hirsutissimus. Hirsutissimus was growing right on the side of the path amidst all the weeds, so it got whacked with a weed-whacker when they widened the path, poor thing. Since I took close-up photos of both these lupines, you really can't appreciate the difference in size, but you can see the narrow leaves of the miniature lupine and the wide, flat leaves of the nettle and its hairy stem.

Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor

Nettle Lupine, Lupinus hirsutissimus

Below are some of the other plants that were either new to me or that I found very interesting. Deer Weed is the favorite plant of the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly. Its flowers turn orange with age. I love the dark red flowers of the California Figwort. It's a very striking plant. The photo of Caterpillar Phacelia shows how it got its name. There is a yellow pincushion flower besides this white one (Chaenactis artemisiaefolia) and both are represented at OCNC although the white one is more abundant. I didn't know that California had its own Wild Morning Glory. There is a similar, non-native morning glory called bindweed that is an annoying pest, so I find calling the native plant a "false bindweed" rather humorous. You can tell them apart by the position of the bracts at the base of the flower which look like tiny leaves. In the native plant, the bracts are right under the flower, in the bindweed they are further down the stem. And finally is the Cobweb Thistle, Circium occidentale, which gets its name from the cottony hairs that cover the plant.

Deer Weed, Lotus scoparius

California Figwort, Scrophularia californica

White Chaenactis, Chaenactis artemisiaefolia

Caterpillar Phacelia, Phacelia cicutaria

Wild Morning Glory, Calystegia macrostegia

Cobweb Thistle, Cirsium occidentale

Friday, April 10, 2009

Master C. Has a New Baby Sister!

Master C.'s new baby sister arrived early Wednesday morning and Master C. is very excited and eager to help out. When Baby M. woke up crying to be fed, he ran downstairs to get a baby spoon out of the drawer to feed her. A minute later he was back for a bowl and some cereal. When we told him that she is too young to eat cereal ("She has no teeth yet,") he decided he would have the cereal himself.

Everything went well, but all of us adults are exhausted.

Friday, April 3, 2009

El Camino Star Party

This is a reminder that the El Camino Star Party will be held this Saturday, April 4th, to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy and the 100 Hours of Astronomy program. The forecast currently is for clear skies. The Star Party will take place near the Marsee Auditorium in the parking lot of the El Camino College Campus, off the corner of Crenshaw and Redondo Beach Blvd, with Marsee at the West end of the lot. Party hours are 7:00pm to 8:30pm. Notice of the event was sent to the Reporter and the Easy Reader so besides Marsee attendees the club is hoping for good attendance by the public.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


This is my March report for Lunada Canyon. We took our monthly walk on the 14th, but I am just getting around to posting the photos. Remembering how beautiful everything looked last spring, I was looking forward to getting back to the canyon after missing so many months. To my surprise, it was a mess! It has become so overgrown with weeds and aggressive non-native plants that you cannot even find the path. There is supposed to be a path through the center of the photo below with native plants on either side that were laboriously planted by volunteers under the direction of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy (PVPLC). You can see a Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla) plant on the left, but the path is covered with Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) and wild Oats (Avena fatua). Now the Cocklebur is a native (the one with the broad leaves) but it is a pest. The Wild Cucumber (Marah marcocarpus), also a native and also something of a pest, was overgrowing everything, too, but not as badly as last year.

The lower path was overgrown with Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) that was so tall, you could get lost in it. Believe it or not, there was a visible path through this stuff.

The mustard was intermixed with the Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus) that seems to have spread everywhere from the small area of growth that we saw last year. I have to admit it was pretty. This is an area that by law they have to plow under before June every year due to fire danger. Maybe that's how the lupine spread.

We found the "other" lupine across the dry stream bed on the other side. I am still not sure of the identification of this one. It looks to me like Bush Lupine (Lupinus longifolius) but I guess it could also be Silver Bush Lupine (Lupinus albifrons) which has been found on the Peninsula. Or maybe it's something else entirely. I couldn't get a good photo of the whole plant because it was growing in a thicket so here are separate photos of the leaves and blooms for comparison with the Arroyo Lupine. I love its silvery blooms with a touch of pink at the bottom of the stalk and only a faint hint of bluish-purple in the middle. The photo of the leaves shows the "pea" pods as lupines are in the pea family.

But getting back to my topic, maintenance seems to be the most difficult thing for projects like this canyon restoration. There is usually a lot of enthusiasm for getting started. I'm sure there were plenty of volunteers and lots of donations to the conservancy when they proposed setting aside this land and restoring it to its native condition. But now the much more difficult task of keeping it in good shape and not allowing all the hard work in planting new and more desirable natives go to waste confronts them. I was struck by the comparison to Oak Canyon which has a staff on site every day and paid mainenance crews coming in whenever the paths or other facilities need repair. The PVPLC obviously cannot afford to do that with every property under their care and so must rely on what help they can get and otherwise let nature to do its job. We've made our report to them now we'll see what happens in the next few months.