Wildflowers in the Gold Country

Recently my husband and I visited the South fork of the Yuba River, just northwest of Grass Valley, California. It is only 500’ elevation, but features a whole different assemblage of flowers from where we live at ~ 300’ above sea level. I’d been waiting for the weather to warm up and it did – overnight – it was sunny and a bit hot.

Yuba River

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There is a wonderful flower trail that follows the river. These white globe lilies or fairy lanterns were everywhere: Calochortus albus (click above to view more).

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I don’t see this one often: Elegant Clarkia, C. unguiculata (which is hard to tell from C. rhomboidea, but I think I have id-ed correctly)

Elegant clarkia

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Another prolific flower in the area was this spider lupin, so named for the leggy form of the leaves. Lupinus benthamii occurs between the  Coast Ranges and the Sierra Nevada foothills , and is not seen in the lower elevations. 

Spider lupin

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Surprisingly ubiquitous was the endemic snakelily, also called twinning brodiaea (Dichelostemma volubile.) Note how the stems intertwine, almost like a vine.

Twinning Brodiaea

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The aptly named Pretty Face or Golden brodiaea (Triteleia ixioides) is not uncommon in these foothills of the Gold Country. I find the dark brown marks on the buds appealing.

Pretty Face

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The next day we ventured farther south down a dirt road to the north fork American River.  We discovered the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic but not to pedestrians.

N. fork American River

Pacific Asters – Symphyotrichum chilense – even though they are not found in Chile. A favorite of butterflies.

The temperature was at least 10 degree warmer here. Walking down to the river to dip our toes in the cold water, we came upon a lone prospector. Yes, they still pan for gold, mostly unsuccessfully, but this man was digging the coarse sand of the riverbank.  He had lugged down various tools and claimed he’d had modest success over a 30 yr. period.

These are one of my favorites, maybe because they are not found in profusion. Silene californica or Indian pink.

Indian Pink

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The yellow mariposa lily, Calochortus luteus, is another species endemic to California. Like many Mariposa Lilies it has “hairy” petals and grows from a bulb. Actual size of the flowers is less than 1-inch across

Milkweeds get their name from the sticky white sap that oozes from the leaves when they are damaged. Never judge a plant by its name: this North American wildflower isn’t really a weed at all and isn’t the color glorious? It is the main host plant for the struggling monarch butterfly. I encourage you to plant this easy care native if you live in Monarch country (realize they are winter dormant however).  Asclepias cordifolia . Notice the wild garden in the background in the first photo below – very often, when a couple of wildflowers catch your eye, there are different species to see when you get closer.

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Enjoy the spring weather and flowers!

Flowers and Fires

Finally it is spring again.  Last year we were ordered to stay close to home and parks were closed because of Covid, so I missed out on all my California wildflower outings.  I’m making up for it this year!

First hike: on the King Mountain trail just north of San Francisco April 1. All of the photos show indigenous species.

The views were nice too. Below is the northern part of San Francisco Bay.  In the distance is Mt. Diablo – a landmark for miles around. 

Below the bird, the peninsula jutting out next to the bridge is San Quentin Prison; at least they have fresh air and the sound of the birds – a few miles away is the prison of Birdman of Alcatraz fame.

Collinisia heterophylla, Chinese Houses – the petals ring the stem in bands evenly spaced around the stem, forming a “pagoda” – hence the common name.
Chinese Houses en masse at another nearby location.

A week later we drove north to Lake Berryessa where one of the huge fires burned last year. A silver lining can be seen in the hills and meadows: wildflowers and other natives can really make a come-back when European weeds are killed off and they don’t have to compete for sun, water and food. Fires also helps eradicate plant diseases and possibly serious insect infestations.


Golden poppies, Eschscholzia californica, taking over a burnt hill. This is not an uncommon sight.They provide vegetative cover that helps to reduce erosion on steep slopes after the protective plant cover has been burned off.  

  

Another survivor. How did this species survive a mega fire? These large Gopher Snakes (this one was almost 5-ft. long) mimic rattlesnakes, but are not poisonous.

Clematis ligusticifolia virgin bower. This is the native clematis vine.

Welcome sweet springtime – clad in Mother Nature’s jewelry!

More California Wildflowers 2019

The ubiquitous California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and a fiddleneck to the left.

Now that the drought has broken, California is bursting with wildflowers. These pictures were taken in two areas south of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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There were carpets of baby blue eyes (above) in Canada del Oro– although this is a subspecies that is white rather than baby-blue. Contrast the colour with this one from Pacheco Park.

 

 

Woodland star –Lithophraga affine. Flowers are approx. 3/4 in. or 1 cm. across.

 

 

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Pacheco Park also had hillsides covered in blooms. The dominant species were shooting stars and violas.

 

 

This species of shooting stars, Dodecatheon clevelandii, takes on different colours.

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“To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour” – William Blake

Anza Borrego Wildflowers: Part 1, northern section

There are many wildflowers in the northern section of Anza Borrego Desert Park… and many people vying to see them. When we came to the desert years ago – make that decades ago – we had the desert to ourselves. You just had to make sure you had enough water and gas and brought along some food. Today with social media, nature has become entertainment and people are well-informed as to when the flowers are blooming. To counter this we rented a four-wheel vehicle to go on the back sandy roads, but we weren’t the only ones who thought of that! Still it is a vast area and you only have to hike a little ways up a canyon wash to have the landscape yourself.

Anza B0rrego pse
                                                         photo by CCM

 

Desert lily  – a bloom you see after a wet winter.  It is found in nature only in the desert areas of the North American southwest – favoring Anza Borrego. Unlike most genera, Hesperocallis is a genus solely for this single species.  It is a bulb that can send a stem up to 4 feet high, although these are just getting started.  Native Americans used the bulb like garlic.

 

 

 

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Tall lupin (Lupinus arizonicus) with desert verbena (Abronia villosa) in the background.

 

Perhaps my favorite desert flower is the evening primroseOenothera.

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I’m really not sure if I have ID’ed the two species correctly but I think Oenothera deltoides is taller and Oenothera caespitosa blooms from a basal rosette of leaves. (if anyone has further information I would be grateful.)

Desert sunflowersGeraea canescens

 

The caterpillars are coming!  The sphinx moth caterpillars (and others) hatch shortly after the first wildflowers and begin munching on the delicate flowers and new shoots. They can decimate 100 acres in a few days.  They consider evening primroses (Oenothera) a particular delicacy.

 

 

 

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On the positive side when the sphinx moths hatch they pollinate the flowers – and they are attractive don’t you think?  I was standing in a patch of verbena and thought I was being buzzed by hummingbirds, but it was the hovering, swift flight patterns of the (2-3”) sphinx moths.

They were too fast for my camera so I gratefully borrow this beautiful photo of a sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) fr. Ronnie Pitman.

 

Verbena landscape with a few sunflowers sprinkled in.

Next week Part II – Central and southern Anza Borrego.

 (All photos by CCM unless otherwise credited.)

 

 

WILDFLOWER SEASON HAS BEGUN!

Catalina mariposa lily -Calochortus catalinae

California has been in a drought since 2011.  The 2018-19 rainy season has finally lived up to its name however and the drought is declared over.  There was decent rain in 2017, but a drought is gauged not only by the amount of precipitation, but also the snowpack, soil moisture, stream flow and how full the reservoirs are….
To me it also means a bountiful wildflower season.

This wild mariposa lily was a new find.  A rare native limited to small area in southern California. Yet we found them blooming by the dozens on a little patch in the Santa Ana Range west of Lake Elsinore. They were just waiting for the last 8 years for the rains (I’m not kidding).

Those who live in southern California have heard of the super bloom at Lake Elsinore. Unfortunately 100s of thousands of people from LA and other nearby cities went to see. Thus we didn’t stop-  it doesn’t make for a very wild experience if you are sharing it with crowds.  We could see the California poppies covering the hills above the freeway in the distance, however I didn’t take a photo as it was too hazy.  Here is one of many photos, posted on the internet,  I disapprove of – a couple sitting on the flowers:

So many people trampling the flowers. Over the weekend California officials declared an emergency due to the massive influx of visitors at Lake Elsinore and shut down the parking and freeway access!

But let me leave you  with one more photo of Calochortus catalinae. The male anthers are diagnostically pink – in contrast to other mariposa lilies. (“Mariposa” means butterfly.)

We are in route to the desert of Anza Borrego: my next post.

A Few Wildflowers

Here are a few photos of spring from parks in Marin County, California.

Delphinium – or larkspur (note the “spur” at the top).

 

Gilia capitata from Azalea Hill.

 

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Several views of Calochortus umbellatus – a small lily also known as the Oakland star tulip.

 

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Fritillaria sp. – or Mission bells from Mt. Tamalpais

 

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A few more lovelies

 

I came upon a small hill that was like a wild garden, covered with several species. Shown here are annual lupin on the left,  owl’s clover (out of focus) behind and the ubiquitous California poppy on the right.

A WILDFLOWER TRAIL ALONG THE YUBA RIVER

My husband and I drove up to California’s “Gold Country” last week, specifically to hike a trail along Buttermilk Bend on the South Yuba River.

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The dog  scared us by running downslope to swim.  I had visions of throwing myself into the raging water to save him, but he was smart enough to find a pool and avoid the rapids.

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The wildflowers were fantastic – both in the abundance of display and diversity of species.

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For over a mile you could hardly take a step without discovering something.

Even the pipevine swallowtail butterflies were having a field day – they were everywhere.

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More WILDFLOWERS

Most of these flowers are from Table Mountain, an “inverted” volcanic flow (which resists erosion and form a “table”, near Chico in northern California. The landscape is stunning in the spring (4 slides below).

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My companions, husband and golden retriever. (Geologists will recognize the basaltic rocks.)

 

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(4 slides above/5 below)

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…wait for the close up!

 

White meadow foam (Limnanthes douglasii) was abundant next to the streams (click to enlarge).

 

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Butterflies were having a field day (5 slides).  These are Pipevine butterflies, but the pipevines flowers were not out yet, so they pollinated brodiaeas. (Maybe the pipevines are just where they lay their eggs – I have seen the plants full of black and red caterpillars.)

Wildflower season is almost over now – unless I head for the mountains, but after growing up in the tropics I can appreciate what the seasons bring.  Have you walked in a field of wildflowers in spring?  If not put it on your bucket list!

 

There’s Gold in them Hills: Wildflower Season

It’s wildflower season again and after years of drought the blooms are making up for lost time.  I choose the Gold Country (California foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mts.) this year as a hot spot.  We started near Yosemite and made our way north on HW 49 – and various floriferous side roads. 

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica)  and gold fields (Lasthenia californica)

The discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history.  Prospectors moved from one strike to the next along rivers and streams .  Today there are remnants of diggings, rusting machinery, stamp mills and old camps. There are historic towns and wonderful plant diversity.  The California golden poppy has replaced the “gold in dem der hills.”

Gold fields a common sight in spring.

The small flowers above,aptly named “gold fields,”  are in the daisy family.

Sh star hw49_pse1196

Shooting stars- Dodecatheon hendersonii

I found a field of shooting stars too.

Numerous creeks flow out of the foothills of the Sierras and into rivers that eventually join the San Joaquin River, one of California’s largest. 

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Below is the Stanislaus River.Stanislaus_pse1230

Old bridge over the Stanislaus. A sign says it was covered to make it last longer.  In the foreground are the remains of an old stamp mill, which crushed rock for extraction of gold ore.covrd bridge Stanislaus_pse1232

Many wildflowers have evolved to root in serpentine soil and gravels – which are toxic to most other plant life.  This is Bitter root – Lewisia rediviva (named after explorer M. Lewis of Lewis and Clarke fame).Lewisia r_pse1185

I was hunting for one particular wildflower I’d never seen: a fawn lily,  Erythronium tuolumnensii – and was excited to find it….  The thrill of the chase.

FAwn Erythronium tu. pse1213

Fawn lily –  Erythronium tuolumnensii

 

Below: wait for it – it’s a brief  slide show ( or click if feeling impatient 😉 )

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Lupins and goldfields in front of snickering horse.

Is that horse sticking his tongue out at me?

    

horse grin_pse1224Yeah pretty funny trying to ruin my shot. (I did not photo-shop this horse – he really was mocking me.  So disrespectful!)

The one(s) that got away 😉 :  I had some fabulous photos of a place famous (with botanists anyway) for wildflowers near Yosemite Park.  That night I downloaded over one hundred photos to my laptop and was going through them, deleting those that were out of focus etc. and taking pleasure in the ones that were sharp.  Long story short, my laptop died and I’d deleted the photos in the camera card to make room for the next day’s findings.  I paid a computer guy to retrieve them and he found everything else – that I had already backed up, except those photos I had driven many hours to take.  Ah well another year, and excuse for another trip!

A TALE OF TWO LILIES

In spring, my blog becomes a forum for my “wildflowering.” On a hillside in northern California grow two rare Mariposa lilies, listed by the Native Plant Society as endangered.  Why are they so rare?  Why do they occur only in limited locales?

This one is Calochortus umbellatus or Oakland star-tulip. The species is found almost exclusively in the San Francisco Bay Area, although there are a few isolated populations to the north.  The flowers are tiny usually less than 2 cm. (about an inch) across.

Oakland star tulip - C. umbellatus

Oakland star tulip – C. umbellatus, CCM

C umbellatus_recm 762 I’ve been trying to get a good photo for years, but enlarging to that size requires perfect focus, no wind and steady hands (or a “ground” tripod).  That assumes I’ve driven to Ring Mountain at the peak time.  Happily this year I found dozens of them.

Ring Mountain lies north of San Francisco, on the Tiburon Peninsula of Marin County and is really more of a large hill than a mountain.

Map of SF Bay showing the location of Ring Mt.

Map of SF Bay showing the location of Ring Mt.

What makes it rather unique is its serpentine soil, derived from ultramafic metamorphosed rocks that have been brought to the surface by mantle driven tectonic activity.  Serpentine soils are chemically harsh and toxic to most plants, so that the plants that evolved there have developed a tolerance – or even a preference – for the minerology (high in metals like magnesium, but low in calcium and nitrogen).

 

Tiburon lily Ring Mt 5-13-08 015-2

Calochortus tiburonensis, Tiburon Lily. CCM

Several species occur ONLY on Ring Mountain and no where else on earth for this reason. Calochortus tiburonensis is an example.  This can be a difficult flower to spot and not only for its small size (little more than a centimeter across). You can be looking at it, and not see it.  (If you visit the mountain be careful not to step or sit on them!)  The gold-greenish-brown colors are camouflaged against grasses and rocks.

Calochortus tiburonensis - Ring Mt 013-2

C. tiburonensis, CCM

Aren’t they unique looking? I love their funny “beards.”  A fire or some other disaster and the whole species could be gone forever.  So I visit them every year and admire their view of the Bay.

C. tiburonensis overlooking SF Bay. Photo@ by Mary Gerritsen

C. tiburonensis overlooking SF Bay. Photo@ Mary Gerritsen