The North Coast of Santa Barbara County

The superbloom is in full swing in California’s deserts, so for my trip today of course I headed in the complete opposite direction.  I did find some sand though!

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These are the Guadalupe Dunes in the Northwestern corner of Santa Barbara County–due east of Bakersfield. Don’t worry–I’ll be back to the desert soon.

I hiked around the dunes all morning, and I’ll give them 10/10, would botanize again. Coastal Dunes–never a common habitat to begin with, have suffered much habit loss through coastal development. This was the largest dune complex I’ve been to in the state, and other than a couple of invasive species, it was amazingly pristine. In addition to many more familiar species, I found four rarities here, all of which only occur on coastal dunes.

Erysimum suffrutescens (Woody Wallflower, Brassicaceae). Wallflowers have made a habit of speciating in sandy places–for instance there’s a species in the Santa Cruz Sandhills and another on the Monterey Peninsula. This one is found at scattered populations from San Luis Obispo County (the county north of Santa Barbara) south to the Long Beach area, and as it’s name would suggest, it was impressively bushy.


Malacothrix incana (Asteraceae). This might be my favorite common name for a plant ever–Dunedelion! It was the only one I found all morning, so I felt pretty lucky.


Monardella undulata (Wavyleafed Coyote Mint, Lamiaceae). A species only found on the Southern San Luispo and Northern Santa Barbara Coast. You can see the characteristic wavy leaves in the upper right. This genus usually blooms later in the season, but because the coastal climate is more constant than inland, many coastal species have longer bloom periods. This one blooms from April through November.

Mondardella undulata

Cirsium rhothophilum (Surf Thistle, Asteraceae), with surf in the background! Another very rare plant (with the same range as the Monardella). This plant is still in bud–you can see the white flower head starting to stick out on the left side).

Cirsium rhothophilum 2

After a morning hiking around on the dunes, I headed several miles south to spend the afternoon in the coastal chaparral and prairie at Point Sal State Park.

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This was also a very successful stop, with three particularly noteworthy species.

Ceanothus impressus (Santa Barbara Ceanothus, Rhamnaceae). I try to look up all the potential rarities for the spots I’m going to, but this species somehow wasn’t on my radar. However, I knew Ceanothus is very diverse , and I hadn’t seen this one before, so I made sure to snap a picture and grab a small branch to identify later. It turns out, it’s only found in a few spots in Western Santa Barbara County


Scrophularia atrata (Blackflower Figwort, Scrophulariaceae). This one I did know was here. It’s a relative of the way more common Scrophularia californica but the flower differs in having a much more constricted opening and that dramatic dark reddish-brown color.


Amazingly that wasn’t the only flower with a very dark color palate that I found today. Fritillaria biflora (Chocolate Lily, Liliaceae). This is a fairly uncommon plant that I’ve been wanting to meet for a while, but it’s actually the most common species in this post. It was a good day!



Anza Borrego

Spring is here in Southern California, and it’s high time I begin botanizing and blogging. My plan is to search for flowers most weekends for the next 3 or so months. The combination of a wet winter (finally!), my proximity to some amazing wildflower hot spots, and a bit time on my hands should lead to some great flower finds. I got started this past weekend with an overnight trip to Anza Borrego State Park in eastern San Diego County.

Anza Borrego is the largest state park in California covering 600,000 acres of beautiful desert mountains and flats. It forms the western edge of Sonoran Desert, which extends into Arizona and Northwest Mexico. Most of the plant species found in the park occur throughout the Sonoran Desert, and many also occur to the north in the cooler Mohave Desert (cooler being very relatively here, as Death Valley is in the Mohave! Basically it doesn’t freeze that often in the winter in the Sonoran Desert, while it does in the Mohave). Further east, the Sonoran Desert is home to the famous Saguaro Catus (Carnegiea gigantea), but that species doesn’t occur in California’s part of the Sonoran (somewhat confusingly called the Colorado Desert). Instead the distinctive dominant plants are Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens, Fouquieriaceae) and Desert Lavender (Condea emoryi, Lamiaceae). The flowers of the latter were in full bloom:


The Ocotillo was mostly still in bud. You can see this plant in the background below, they are the green twisty sticks in the upper left. Also in this photo, you can see some flowers in bloom, but the desert floor is like this in many places now- a green carpet of with budding annual plants. We are about a week away from an absolute explosion of color, as the Sonoran Desert Superbloom hits in full force. If you can make it to Anza Borrego in the next three weeks, do it!


Despite being a bit early, many of the common Sonoran wildflowers were beginning to bloom, and there were already impressively large displays in places. Here’s a shot of a particularly pretty hillside of Eschscholtzia parishii, Eschscholtzia minutiflora (Desert Poppies, Papaveraceae) and Mimulus bigelovii (Bigelow’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae), with a close-up of the later.


I’ve already posted photos of some of the most abundant flowers last year, as they overlap with the Death Valley flora. But here are some additional species that were starting to cover large areas:

Dithyrea californica (Spectaclepod, Brassicaceae), blanketed the lowest desert flats (the common name refers to the strangely shaped seed pods). Fagonia laevis (California fagonbush, Zygophyllaceae) formed large clumps in rockier areas. Oenothera deltoides (Desert Lantern, Onagraceae) glowed in sandy spots. Lupinus arizonicus (Arizona Lupine, Fabaceae), was blooming on the most exposed hillsides, but was largely still in bud.



Palafoxia arida (Spanish Needle, Asteraceae) Mentzelia invulcrata (Bracketed Blazing Star, Loasaceae), and Mohavea confertiflora (Ghost Flower, Plantaginaceae) are three beautiful species that were just beginning to flower.



My biggest identification surprise of the trip was this Nicotiana clevelandii (Cleveland’s Tobacco, Solanaceae), a somewhat uncommon species that I found in the shade of a Fan Palm Oasis. I had assumed it would be the more common Nicotiana obtusifolia (Desert Tobacco, but the unequal sepals (which you can see in the picture) and the unlobed leaf bases (which you can’t) give it away. This is why you always check the keys!


Flowering catci are one of the best features of the desert spring, and two of the several species in the park were blooming: Ferocactus cylindraceus (California Barrel Cactus, Cactaceae), and Mammillaria dioica (Fish hook Cactus, Cactaceae). They look somewhat similar when placed side-by-side, but the former is the largest cactus in the park and can grow taller than a person, while the latter is an adorable little plant only 20 centimeters tall.


My favorite plant of the trip was the one I was most specifically targeting, the Desert Lily, Hesperocallis undulata (Agavaceae)


This plant has shockingly large, pleasant-smelling flowers, and was amazingly common in desert flats. A field of desert lilies is worth the price of admission alone (the park is free, by the way). It’s a perennial related to Agave, that stores water and nutrients below the soil in a bulb. I dug one up so you can see the whole plant–most of the stem is underground (don’t worry, I replanted it after!)


Okay, round two next week.

Lake Michigan

Before the new school year begins, I took a trip eastward to visit family and friends. While only a small portion (for me) of my trip  was spent botanizing, I did manage to find a few interesting plants along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, and so I’ll write a bonus blog post. This area is interesting botanically for a couple reasons. First, it’s at the border between the extensive deciduous forests of the east and the prairies of the mid-west. Therefore it has floral components from both biomes in addition to some unique Great Lakes endemics. Second, the sand dunes here–particularly the Indiana Sand Dunes which I visited, were the location of the first thorough study of ecological succession. By observing the relationship between the ages of soils and the plant communities growing on them, Henry Cowles developed his ideas of how communities change over time. Published in 1899, this work and its breakthrough idea of substituting space for time is still extremely relevant in the studies of ecology and conservation biology.

Okay, so what did I find? Well, most of the species I photographed are fairly common. I don’t know the flora very well here, and so it’s tough to know what plants to train the lens on. Nevertheless, I did capture some pretty cool-looking flowers, many of which were new to me. Here are 14 of my favorite shots. I’ll go alphabetical this time. In addition to the common name and plant family, I’ll briefly describe the habitat where I found it and the range of the species.

Desmodium canadense, Showy Tick-Trefoil, Fabaceae, edge of woods, northeastern US and eastern Canada).


Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake-Master, Apiaceae, wet prairie, eastern Prairie States and scattered in the southeast US



Hypericum kalmianum, Kalm’s St. John’s-Wort, Hypericaceae, wet area between sand dunes, mostly just along the shores of the Great Lakes. This was the most range restricted species I found.


Liatris cylindraceae, Cylindrical Blazing-Star, Asteraceae, Sandy Field, Great Lakes region and the northern Mississippi Floodplain.


Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinalflower, Campanulaceae, swampy woodland, common across the East and South, but no less beautiful for it!


Lobelia kalmii, Bog Lobelia, Campanulaceae, carpeting the ground in a wet area between sand dunes, throughout the northern third of the US and much of Canada.


Ludwigia alterniflora, Seedbox, Onagraceae, edge of a marsh, Eastern US. The “seedbox” (persistent sepals that fold around the fruit) is in the upper left corner of the photo.


Lysimachia quadriflora, Four-Flowered Loosestrife, Myrsinaceae, wet area between sand dunes, most common in the Great Lakes States


Mimulus ringens, Eastern Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae many wet areas, eastern US


Monarda punctata, Horsemint, Lamiaceae, open wet areas, Great Lakes area and the Piedmont (coastal lowlands of the Southern and Gulf States)


Oenothera gaura, Biennial Gaura, Onagraceae, edge of Woods, Illinois to Massachusetts and south through the Appalachians


Sabatia angularis, Rose Gentian, Gentianaceae, wet area between sand dunes, eastern US excluding New England


Scutellaria galericulata, Marsh Scullcap, Lamiaceae, a marsh (of course!), across the northern 2/3 of the US and Canada. The only species of these that naturally occurs in California, although it’s rare there (I’ve never seen it).


Tradescantia ohiensis, Bluejacket, Commelinaceae (a plant family completely absent from the native California flora), woods, eastern US


Okay, that’s likely it until I catch up with some early Desert Bloomers this winter.


Trinity Alps

I went on a four day backpacking trip to the Trinity Alps in Northwestern California to look for some rare plants. The Trinity Alps are part of the Klamath Mountain Range–a large set of mountains that sits at the north end of the California Coast Ranges and west of the Southern end of the Cascade Range. There are three regions in the Trinity Alps, the Green Trinities, which are wetter, lower elevation mountains in the West, the White Trinities, the tallest, mostly granite mountains in the center of the range and the easternmost Red Trinities, primarily formed from Iron-rich Serpentinite. I hiked in the Red Trinities which has the most rare plants due to these strange red serpentine soils. Most the hiking was between 5,000 and 7,500 feet in elevation. While many of the mountains there looked like this


There was also plenty of granite, which looked like this


I took a crazy number of plant photos, but I’ve chosen my twenty-one favorites. I’ll start with some more widely distributed species, before getting to all the rare goodies. I’ll also give a bit about the habitat of each species

Corallorhiza mertensiana (Pacific Coralroot, Orchidaceae). A parasitic (non-photosynthetic) orchid that was common in dense conifer forest, this species only makes it into Northwestern California, but is also found throughout much of the rest of the west.


Frasera albicaulis (Whitestem Frasera, Gentianaceae). These were at the lower elevations of my hike in open forest and chaparral. Check out the cool fringed nectary on each petal (the green spot).


Collomia grandiflora (Large-flowered Collomia).


and Leptosiphon nuttallii (Nuttall’s Linanthus).


Both of these plants in Polemoniaceae have broad distributions on my hike I only found them in one area (the former in a meadow with granite soils and the later at a gravelly pass).

Dicentra pauciflora (Few-flowered Bleeding Heart, Papaveraceae). A tiny plant that was common throughout rocky alpine and subalpine slopes


Two species that I only found on Granite Rocks: Penestemon deustus suffrutescens (Hot-rock Beardtongue, Plantaginaceae.


and Lewisia leeana (Quill-leaf Lewisia, Montiaceae).

The sepals are fringed with red glands, which you can see in the right photo. I found several other species related to both of these, including the rare Lewisia cotyledon heckneri, which was unfortunately finished flowering.

Orthocarpus cuspidatus (Copland’s Owl’s Clover, Orobanchaceae). A common plant on my hike, this little guy covered many subalpine meadows in pink.


Narthecium californicum (California Bog Asphodel). The only California species in the Nartheciaceae family, it blanketed some marshy meadows in yellow, but was strangely absent from others


Lilium pardalinum shastense (Shasta Lily, Liliaceae). Amazingly common along streams.


The rest of the species I’ll show are pretty much only found on serpentine soils. That starts with two uncommon white lilies: Lilium washingtonianum purpurascens (Purple-flowered Cascade Lily)


and Lilium rubescens (Chaparral Lily)


These two both occurred in chaparral and while most individuals were easily distinguishable from each other (the former had  larger, more horizontal flowers and a style that stuck out past the anthers), some plants seemed intermediate, leading me to think there may have been some hybridization going on.

Next, two small, white, uncommon flowers of open conifer forest on serpentine soil, both in the Caryophyllaceae

Minuartia nuttallii gregaria (Nuttall’s Sandwort)


and Silene campanulata glandulosa (Campanulate Catchfly)


I struck out on finding another, super rare Silene with salmon-colored flowers.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this trip was to see the bizarre Darlingtonia californica (California Pitcher Plant or Cobra Lily, Sarraceniaceae). I saw this plant of serpentine bogs in Northern California and Western Oregon, at several spots on my hike. The strange flower has a specialist bee pollinator, but the Cobra-shaped leaves are designed to trap insects, being filled with water and flesh-eating bacteria. The decaying bugs supplement the plant’s intake of nitrogen, which can be limiting in nutrient-poor bogs.

But while uncommon, the Cobra Lily was not nearly the rarest plant on my hike. These last six plants are only found in the Klamath Mountains. Two of these were sunflowers (Asteraceae) that I found in a couple marshy streams: Raillardella pringlei (Showy Raillardella).


And Rudbeckia klamathensis (Klamath Coneflower)


Two others were tiny plants growing in wetter gravelly areas along an alpine pass. Allium siskiyouense (Siskiyou Onion, Alliaceae)


And Phacelia leonis (Siskiyou Phacelia, Boraginaceae)

The latter was particularly adorably small.

I happened to run across Epilobium siskiyouense (Siskiyou Willowherb, Onagraceae), growing in a scree slope (loose rocks) above a beautiful alpine lake.


While I found the willowherb by chance, I specifically sought out my favorite plant of the trip, Howellanthus dalesianus (Scott Mountain Phacelia, Boraginaceae)

I know many of the other plants in this post are showier, but in addition to being super rare, this species is the only one in its recently recognized genus. I love its round fuzzy leaves and bright purple anthers. It’s a real plant-lover’s plant. To find it, I hiked 5 miles out of my way down a little used trail. The trail was so bad, that I lost it for about half a mile as it traversed some wet meadows, and had to do some pretty serious navigation. What’s more, it was raining. I was super excited when I finally came across a giant patch of it growing on a conifer forest-covered ridge-top.

With that, my botanical adventures may be coming to an end for the year. The flowering season is winding down here in California, and I have a new job in Bakersfield starting next month for which I need to prepare. However, my new Southern California locale should put me in  range of a whole new set of wildflowers next year, so the rambles will continue.

Central Sierras

Here’s a  quick post from a whirlwind two-day trip to the central sierras. I was focused on collecting tissue from plants in the Onagraceae family from three genera: Camissonia, the miniature sun cups, which pretty much all look like this Camissonia sierrae alticola (Mono Hot Springs Sun Cups, which is a super rare plant),


Gayophytum, the Groundsmokes, which pretty much all look like this Gaypohytum eriospermum (Covelle’s Groundsmoke, locally common in the central and southern Sierras)


and Clarkia, which are super diverse in appearance. This Clarkia williamsonii (Fort Miller Clarkia), is in my opinion, the showiest species in the Farewell-to-Spring group (formerly in the genus Godetia), and is currently blanketing the roadsides of the central Sierran Foothills.


I didn’t have a ton of time to botanize for fun, but I will always stop for Polemoniaceae. Three highlights from this family with three-lobed stigmas: Ipomopsis aggregata bridgesii (Bridges’ Scarlet Gilia)

Ipomopsis aggregata bridgesii

Polemonium californicum (California Sky Pilot)


Navarretia viscidula (Sticky Pincushionplant)


And, sticking with threes, here are three other plants that caught my fancy, all of which are common in the Sierras.

Streptanthus tortuosus (Mountain Jewelflower, Brassicaceae)


Pectiantia breweri (Brewer’s Miterwort, Saxifragaceae)


Collinsia tinctoria (Tincture Plant, Plantaginaceae)


The Tincture Plant is covered in glands that stain your hands brown.

Lake County Fire

A few days ago, I headed up to McLaughlin Reserve and the surrounding area to do a little late-season botany. Last summer, a series of fires burned large portions of Lake County, in California’s inner North Coast Ranges. While wildfire can terrible because it destroys homes (about half the town of Middletown burned in these fires) and plans (a few McLaughlin researchers lost field experiments last year), it is a natural part of the ecosystem. In fact, there are many species of plants called “fire-followers”. These plants are rare or non-existent most years but can occur in spectacularly large numbers in the  few years after a fire. Why? Fire clears out the larger plants, reducing competition and giving smaller plants a chance. Additionally, fire quickly releases carbon and other nutrients in the soil that were previously bound up in wood and evergreen leaves. Fire-followers may be adapted to take advantage of this nutrient pulse. Finally, fire changes the hydrology of an area. Because there are fewer roots to absorb water, there is more runoff into seeps and streams, which means more permanent water later into the summer.Some fire-followers make sure they take advantage of these favorable conditions by having seeds that rely on a smoke or heat cue to germinate. Once they bloom and set seed, their offspring will remain dormant in the seed bank until the next fire, which may take decades.

While I was a bit late for the peak bloom, I did manage to catch a number of fire followers. Navarretia linearifolia pinnatisecta (Pinnate-leaved Navarretia, Polemoniaceae) was covering the areas along burned serpentine seeps, where in previous years I found only a couple plants (see last May’s post for more about serpentine).


On a burned non-serpentine area, we found a patch of Nicotiana quadrivalvis (Indian Tobacco), a hawkmoth-pollinated plant only recorded on the reserve right after fires.


Some of the burned hillsides were absolutely covered with the strange Ehrendorferia chysantha (Golden Eardrops, Papaveraceae).


Finally, there was a decent number of Argemone munita (Prickly Poppy, Papaveraceae), which as far as I know had never been recorded on the reserve before this year.


Interestingly, this species is not a fire follower elsewhere in California–I saw plenty in non-burned areas in Southern California.

On a tip from a fellow botanist, after a couple days at McLauglin, I headed North, down a back road through some nice serpentine habitat that I hadn’t previously explored. I found some wet meadows (swales) that still had lots blooming, including Packera clevelandii (Cleveland’s Ragwort) and Cirsium douglasii (Swamp Thistle, both Asteraceae in the first picture), and Astragalus clevelandii (Cleveland’s Milk Vetch, Fabaceae).

The two species named for Daniel Cleveland are rare habitat specialists only found locally, while David Douglas’s species is more widely distributed.

On this drive, I found a couple of cool plants that I struggled to get a great photo of. The first, Nemacladus capillaris (Threadplant, Campanulaceae), was tricky because it’s so darn small. The whole flower is only about a millimeter long.


The second, Harmonia hallii (Hall’s Harmonia, Asteraceae) was cool because of the overall shape of the plant, which was really hard to capture in one picture

Harmonia is a genus of five plants, all of which are rare and only found in North-west California.

I did manage to get a good picture of my favorite plant of the trip, Orobanche valida (Howell’s Broomrape, Orobanche).


All Orobanche are entirely parasitic plants–they don’t photosynthesize, and thus don’t have any green parts. Rather they tap into the roots of other plants (usually shrubs) and steal their nutrients. While some species, like Orobanche fasciculata (Clustered Broomrape, below, also found on this trip) can parasitize a few different genera of shrubs, Orobanche valida is a specialist on Garrya (Silk-Tassel Bush) and is only found very locally.


We are getting pretty late in the year for lower-elevation flowers, so I guess it’s time to head to the mountains!



Searching for Evening Primroses

I’ve been out botanizing a bunch over the past week and a half. First I visited a fellow grad student, Karen’s, newly acquired property in extreme southeastern Alameda County (East Bay area). Karen has been going up there pretty much every weekend this spring and had some really cool plants to show me including the fairly rare Lessengia tenuis (Spring Lessengia, Asteraceae)


And the extremely rare Delphinium californicum interius (Hospital Canyon Larkspur, Ranunculaceae).


I then botanized a bit on the San Mateo coast North of town, tracking down, among other things maybe the most Southerly population of Allium dichlamydeum (Coast Onion, Alliaceae), a specialist of dry clay soils on sea cliffs.


Finally I took a longer trip into the interior of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur and the Western Transverse Ranges in Ventura County. Despite expecting things to be a bit late in the season, the bloom there was still going strong. Many of the flowers were new to me, as I hadn’t really botanized these areas before. The interior Transverse Ranges were particularly good. Highlights of some common but beautiful plants included Penstemon grinnellii (Grinnell’s Beardtongue, Plantaginaceae)


Phacelia brachyloba (Shortlobed Phacelia, Boraginaceae)


Stanleya pinnata (Prince’s Plume, Brassicaceae)


and Toxicoscordion brevibracteatum (Desert Death Camas, Melanthiaceae)


The main purpose of these trips were to track down members of the Evening Primrose Family (Onagrads) to help construct a phylogeny. Knowing how these species are related will allow us to model how traits such as herbivory and floral scent evolve. I did track down lots of Onagrads, including Camissoniopsis intermedia (Intermediate Sun Cups)


and Clarkia bottae (Punchbowl Godetia).


But honestly, many of the species on my target list look pretty similar to each other and their small, yellow flowers don’t photograph well. Instead, the rest of these photos are pairs or trios of plants in the same genus. Sometimes congeners look extremely similar, like Malacothamnus fremontii and Malacothamnus jonesii (Fremont’s and Jones’ Bushmallow, Malvaceae)

The Bushmallows are particularly tricky to identify. Karen and I spent along time keying out the left plant, and we’re still not completely satisfied. These species can hybridize, making identification that much more challenging. Another genus that is beautiful, but presented some identification problems is Mentzelia: Mentzelia dispersa (Bushy Blazing Star) and Menzelia veatchiana (Veatch’s Blazing Star, Loasaceae).

The former intergrades with the closely related Mentzelia affinis, and while it keyed to M. dispersa, some traits are intermediate between the two. Astragalus is an extremely speciose genus in the pea family Fabaceae (over 2,500 species worldwide and around 100 in California alone). I found around 5 species recently, but again many the flowers of the different species can look pretty similar. One standout was the rare coastal marsh specialist, Astragalus pycnostachyus (Marsh Milkvetch).


Astragalus fruits can actually be more distinctive than the flowers. Check out the cool inflated and mottled fruits of Astragalus letiginosus nigricalycis (Blackhair Freckled Milkvetch).


Late spring is a great time to look for Mariposa Lilies. I’ve posted pictures of these beauties before and I’ll do it again. Calochortus clavatus (Club-haired Mariposa) and Calochortus splendens (Splendid Mariposa, Liliaceae)


Okay, lets go triple time. Eriastrum is a small genus in one of my favorite plant families (Polemoniaceae), almost all of which are found in the drier parts of California. I managed to find four of the 16 species during the past week and a half, including the only perennial, Eriastrum densifolium (Giant Woolystar),the particularly wooly Eriastrum pluriflorum (Manyflowered Woolystar), and the tiny and range-restricted Eriastrum abramsii (Abrams Woolystar)

Leptosiphon is another genus in Polomoniaceae, and it seems to be particularly abundant this year. Three of these several species I found were Leptosiphon ambiguus (Serpentine Flaxflower), Leptosiphon pygmaeus (Pygmy Linanthus), and the stunning Leptosiphon aureus (Golden Linanthus).


And finally, I found three very tiny Mimulus species, Mimulus fremontii (Fremont’s Monkeyflower), Mimulus pilosus (Downy Monkeyflower), and Mimulus rattanii (Rattan’s Monkeyflower).


Whew, that was 26 flower photos for your viewing pleasure! Next, I’ll have to follow the bloom into the mountains to keep the plants coming.

San Francisco and Marin

Now that I’m done TAing Supercourse, I have a bit of free time. Therefore I headed up to the city to visit friends. Our plan was to spend most of the time birding, and do a little botany on the side. The birding was a bit slow, but the flowers more than made up for it (it was also a good mammal trip highlighted by long-tailed weasel and river otter). Both the San Francisco Peninsula and the Marin Headlands just over the Golden Gate Bridge from the city have a surprising number of rare and beautiful plants. Most of the goodies are either serpentine or coastal bluff specialists–both habitats that I have written about previously on this blog. We visited two serpentine locations. The first was Ring Mountain on the Tiburon Peninsula. The prize in this beautiful serpentine grassland is Calochortus tiburonensis (Ring Mountain Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae):

Amazingly this species, despite having large showy flowers and occurring next to a large city, was only discovered in 1971. It is quite common on Ring Mountain, but is found nowhere else in the world.

Two other rare species were blooming in abundance on the “mountain” (it’s really just a hill): Hesperolinon congestum (Marin Dwarf Flax, Linaceae) and Allium lacunosum  var lacunosum (Pitted Onion, Alliaceae).

The flax is restricted to the serpentine grasslands of the Bay area. The onion is a bit more widely distributed, with Ring Mountain being its Northernmost occurrence.

After our Ring Mountain stop, we headed for the Serpentine Chaparral and Rocky Outcrops of Mount Tamalpais. Here we found another Onion, Allium amplectens (Narrow-leafed Onion):

And I could get my Phacelia fix with Phacelia divaricata (Divaricate Phacelia, Boraginaceae)


We managed to scare up a rare fern, Aspidotis carlotta-halliae (Carlotta-Hall’s Lace Fern, Pteridaceae)


Interestingly, this serpentine specialist is a hybrid species, formed from a cross between the two other Lace Fern species that occur in the area. Neither of the parent species generally occurs on serpentine. This pattern of speciation, where a reproductively isolated hybrid colonizes an edaphic soil type that neither parent can occupy is surprisingly common in plants, but unheard-of in animals.

We also found plenty of Streptanthus glandulosus pulchellus (Tamalpais Jewelflower, Brassicaceae)


Amazingly, there are actually two Jewelflowers found on Mount Tamalpais and nowhere else. The other, Streptanthus batrachopus, we unfortunately did not come across. Among other differences, it wouldn’t have the hairy leaves and stems that you can see in the second picture.

While the serpentine habitats are nearing the end of the flowering season, it was peak bloom along the coast. Here are my five five favorite Coastal Bluff species we found in Point Reyes and the City of San Francisco itself. All of these except the first (which is occasionally found a bit further inland) are more or less restricted to the Central California Coast:

Phacelia californica (California Phacelia, Boraginaceae)


Castilleja wightii (Wight’s Indian Paintbrush, Orobanchaceae)

Castilleja wightii

Erysimum franciscanum (San Francisco Wallflower, Brassicaceae)


Cirsium quercetorum (Brownie Thistle, Asteraceae)


Clarkia davyi (Davy’s Clarkia, Onagraceae)


Not too bad for a birding trip, huh!


Blue Oak

Okay, here are my favorite photos from Blue Oak Reserve in Santa Clara County, which looks like this (Lasthenia californica, Goldfields, Asteraceae, Triphysaria eriantha, Johnny Tuck, Orobanchaceae, Lupinus bicolor, Annual Lupine, Fabaceae):


Some of pictures are favorites because the plant is cool and some are favorites because I like the composition.

First two pairs of congeners:

Gilia clivorum (Purplespot Gilia) and Gilia achilleifolia, (California Gilia, Polemoniaceae)

Nemophila heterophylla (Small Nemophila) and Nemophila menziesii (Baby Blue Eyes, Boraginaceae)


A couple  low-quality photos of tiny, but adorable plants:

Castilleja attenuata (Valley Tassel, Orobanchaceae), and Ranunculus aquatilis (Whitewater Crowfoot, Ranunculaceae)


A couple high quality photos of common plants:

Penstemon heterophyllus (Foothill Penstemon, Plantaginaceae), and  Drymocallis glandulosa (Sticky Cinquefoil, Rosaceae)

The lovely Papaver heterophyllum (Wind Poppy, Papaveraceae)


And finally, the extremely rare Lomatium observatorium (Mount Hamilton Biscuitroot, Apiaceae).


Whew! All caught up.







Big Creek

The Supercourse spent a week and a half at the Landels Hill Big Creek Preserve on the Big Sur Coast of Monterey conducting their final projects. In between helping students design some really cool studies (only one of the seven groups focused on plants, but that’s okay), I tracked down some flowers, a few of which are only or predominately found in the Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur. I’ll share eight plants, arranged from largest to smallest range size.

Delphinium nudicaule (Red Larkspur, Ranunculaceae). This favorite of hummingbirds is found in woodlands throughout the northern half of the state and into Oregon. Its a showstopper–if it’s blooming, people notice.


Antirrhinum multiflorum (Chaparral Snapdragon, Plantaginaceae). It’s range heads the opposite direction from the previous species, going from the SF Bay Area south through the Coast ranges into Mexico.


Clintonia andrewsiana (Bluebead Lily, Liliaceae). We are already on to species with fairly restricted ranges. This species is an uncommon Redwood Forest specialist that reaches its southern range edge at Big Creek along with the Redwood.


Mimulus aurantiacus grandiflorus (Bigflower Sticky Monkeyflower). This is an especially showy variety of a much more common species. It has a funky distribution, occurring only on steep, rocky hillsides the Northern South Coast Ranges and in the Northern Sierra Foothills.


Sanicula hoffmannii (Hoffmann’s Snakeroot, Apiaceae). This is the first truly rare plant of the post, found only in a few shrubby areas along the Central Coast of California and a couple of the Channel Islands. Okay, it has boring flowers, but I think it’s leaves are pretty cool.


Pedicularis dudleyi (Dudley’s Lousewort, Orobanchaceae). This is actually the rarest plant on this post in terms of number of individuals, but the few populations are widely scattered along the Central Coast from San Luis Obispo to San Mateo. It’s past flowering in this picture (the bottom part of the photo shows the ripening fruits), but we made a special trip to see it, so it’s worth a shout out.


Arctostaphylos hooverii (Hoover’s Manzanita, Ericaceae). This is a true Big Sur endemic, one of many extremely range-restricted species of Manzanita found along the central coast of California. It’s recognizable by its dense glandular hairs on the stem and large berries


And finally, Abies bracteata (Bristlecone Fir, Pinaceae). This is the iconic tree of the Big Sur Wilderness–only found in isolated groves on steep hillsides where fire doesn’t reach.


I’ll post a few flowers from the Supercourse home base of Blue Oak reserve in a bit. And then who knows from where the next flower will come!