Saturday, July 1, 2017

California Spring Extravaganza 4. Cacti and cactus wannabees


Natural cactus gardens are common in the rocky slopes of Anza-Borrego.
No plants are more symbolic of deserts than cacti, and so they deserve a post of their own.  The cactus family consists of some 1750 species, almost exclusively inhabitants of the new world, and amply represented in the California desert.  So successful is the leafless, succulent habit of these plants, that regions of the world where the cactus family has not spread, have evolved their own cactus look-a-likes, or "wannabees" (want-to-be's) in the American slang.  In Africa, both the Euphorbiaceae and the Asclepiadaceae have produced their own cactus-like plants in great variety (see South Africa.8. Succulent Paradise, and others in the series).  And then there are the leaf succulents, Kalanchoe plus Aloe and their relatives in Africa, Agave, Sedum, in the new world.


The Ocotillo bush, Fouquieria splendens,
 superficially resembles a cactus.
In Anza-Borrego, a spectacular cactus mimic, ocotillo, is abundant. One can tell it is not a true cactus because after the rainy season its succulent stems are studded with small leaves, and the flowers are very different.  In the dry season, the leafless succulent stems could easily be mistaken for a thin-stemmed cactus.
In the rainy season, ocotillo sprouts small leaves.
Ocotillo flowers are produced in long racemes at the ends of the stems.



Ocotillo flowers are narrow-tubular, and pollinated by migrating hummingbirds that feed on their nectar.


The common beaver tail cactus in Anza-Borrego is
Opuntia basilaris.  A possible adaptive advantage
of the flattened stem segments is that the
noon-day sun strikes the surface obliquely.  This
may reduce the risk of overheating.
Like all cacti, the flowers of beaver tail cacti have
numerous petals and stamens.
Now for the real cacti.  Members of this family are leafless, except for some archaiec genera like Pereskia.  Actually, what were originally leaves in cactus ancestors were modified into spines, which occur in concentrated clusters along the stem,  Flowers in this family are large, with many petals and stamens, and an inferior (i.e. located below the petals and stamens) ovary with numerous seeds. So in flower, they are even more easily distinguished from their imitators. In Anza-Borrego several common growth forms are represented, including barrel cacti, cylindrical cacti, and beavertail cacti (having flattened, oval-shaped stem segments).

Mammillaria dioica is a small barrel cactus, and its stem is shaded by numerous long spines.



Cylindropuntia echinocarpa is one of the cylindrical cacti known as cholla.

Ferrocactus cylindraceus is another barrel cactus, here bedecked by a ring of flowers.
The flowers of Echinocereus engelmannii, a hedgehog cactus, resemble the beaver tail cactus that inhabits the same rocky slopes, but its stems are cylindrical. Photo by Gretchen Craig.


In this photo, the green stigmas of Echinocereus are seen in the center of the flower. Photo by Gretchen Craig.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

California Spring Extravaganza 3. Anza Borrego


The sand verbena (Abronia villosa) reached its peak in mid-March this year,
but there were still a few patches in the flats north of the urban pocket.
A desert is the last place you might expect to find luxuriuous carpets of colorful wildflowers, but
wildflower enthusiasts know that the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park provides one of the "biggest shows on Earth."  Under the right circumstances, that is.  The area is indeed part of the Colorado Desert, and by definition, a desert is an area of low rainfall that supports only a sparse woody vegetation and very brief appearances by annual and perennial herbs.  Most of the year sees no rain at all, but for a few
Coming into the desert from the west, the mountains are colored yellow by the desert brittlebush, Encelia actoni (Asteraceae).  We saw a similar, related species in the Santa Monica Mountains.


Encelia actoni, close up. Photo by Gretchen Craig.
months in the winter, rainfall can be abundant.  It is by no means consistent, but once every decade or so, Anza-Borrego gets a good soaking, and a large stock of dormant seeds, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes are awakened.

So it was in the winter of 2016-17.  After years of drought, southern California was hit by one of the rainiest years ever, so much so that damaging floods occurred in many areas.  The peak of the bloom comes earlier in the lower, warmer, Colorado Desert than in the Mojave and Antelope Valley to the north .  So by timing our visit to hit the wildflower extravaganza in Antelope Valley, we
Phacelia minor was also in the mountains as we
came across from San Diego.
arrived at the Anza-Borrego party a little late.  However a wildflower season is an affair lasting several months, and there was still much to see in the Colorado Desert. This time, we were joined by my sister Gretchen who lives in San Diego.
The desert chicory,  Rafinesquia neomeicana (Asteraceae) is one of the many
wild relatives of lettuce and dandelion found in California.

Finding  a delphinium  in the desert was a great
surprise.  I associate this genus with cool
temperate climates. This is D. parishii, adapted for
life in the desert, though it does only grow during
the winter and spring like most of the annual and
perennial herbs here.
Krameria bicolor (Krameriacae) is a shrub that is inconspicuous most of the year.
We did miss the desert lilies, evening primroses and much of the sand verbena that I reported on earlier (see California's desert in bloom), but we did get the peak of the cactus bloom, plus much  more, as compensation.  The cacti, in fact, deserve a post of their own, which will follow shortly.
The chuparosa, Justicia californica (Acanthaceae)  adds a rare
splash of red in the desert.































Peritoma arborea (Capparaceae) is called bladder  pod, for obvious reasons. 
Cryptantha sp. (Boraginaceae)
Senna armata, a shrub in the legume family.
Emmenanthe penduliflora, another member of the
prolific Boraginaceae.
Nama demissa (Boraginaceae)
Monoptilon belloides, the desert star.

Desert sunflower, Geraea canescens, puts on a big display in the Anza Borrego flats, even though a bit past its prime here.

Allionia incarnata (Nyctaginaceae), trailing windmills
Chylismia claviformis (Onagraceae), brown-eyed 
primrose, is a member of the evening primrose
family. 
The desert poppy, Eschscholtzia minutiflora, is a diminutive relative of the
California poppy.
The tiny desert monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii 
(Phrymaceae)
Psorothamnus schottii (Fabaceae), a shrub with deep purple flowers.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

California Spring Extravaganza 2. Over the mountains to the coast

The Sespe Wilderness features vistas of spectacular rock
outcrops.
As we started into the mountains, another species of Phacelia
greeted us.  This appears to be P. grandiflora. Photo by
Chung-shu Yang.
From Antelope Valley, we headed west over the coastal mountain ranges.  That
took us first through the spectacular Sespe Wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains. We were treated to marvelous granite outcrops and badlands-like areas of eroded slopes. And there were of course wildflowers - not the blankets of color we had seen in the open
fields of Antelope Valley, but here and there patches of color.  There were more flowering shrubs and vines here - morning glories, clematis, ceanothus and manzanita. But there were also flowering annuals and perennials tucked away in clearings between the shrubs.     These included poppies, lupines and phacelias, as well as varied members of the sunflower family.

Still another Phacelia captured by Chung-shu,
possibly P. curvipes, the washoe phacelia.

After a necessary passage through valley suburbs of L.A. we crossed the Santa  Monica Mountains and arrived at the Pacific Ocean.  This smaller range has much the same flora as the San Gabriels, until we got to the Pacific facing slopes where milder and wetter conditions prevail.

A wild relative of the tomato, Solanum xanti,
was common in the mountains.
Photo by Chung-shu Yang.

Manzanita bushes (Arctostaphylos sp.) were blooming
throughout the mountans, sporting nodding white flowers
similar to those of their blueberry relatives.

Clematis lasiantha is a common vine in the California chaparral.

A blue-flowered Ceanothus bush.


Some Ceanothus have white flowers.

A white-flowered morning glory vine in the genus Calystegia 
occidentalis was also common in the mountains.














Encelia californica was abundant in the mountains as we approached the Pacific coast. 
After witnessing great fields of wild mustard along the Pacific Coast Highway, we decided to spend the rest of the day at the Point Mugu State Park.  After passing through groves of Sycamores that had evidently suffered during the droughts of recent years, we found the trailheads for some great walks up the side of the mountain.  Here we found a spectacular wild garden of mariposa lilies, lupines, wild solanums, morning glories,  yellow legumes of the genus Acmispon, and many more. And this is what we saw in just one day in early April.  I envy anyone who has the opportunity to visit repeatedly during the spring, for there is probably much more to see.  



A bushy Solanum, possibly S. umbelliferum, is
common around the campground at Pt. Mugu.


A yellow form of the bush monkey flower, Mimulus aurantiacus. 
is common in the coastal mountains of California.

A field of Catalina mariposa lily, Calochortus catalinae  has emerged from a recent  burn area at Pt. Mugu.

The  Catalina mariposa lily is a star attraction at Pt. Mugu State
Park in April.
A tiny mat-forming member of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), Chamaesyce albomarginata, is almost overlooked amidst the colorful extravaganza around it.

A member of the legume family, Acmispon dendroideus.

A wild mustard plant(genus Brassica).

A relative of the dandelion, possibly Agoseris heterophylla.

A member of the phlox family, Linanthus dianthiflorus,  seems to be
all flowers.
Encelia californica and a species of Lupinus on the side of the mountain.


Sisirhynchium bellum, a tiny member of the Iris family.