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.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

California Spring Extravaganza 1.The Golden Fields of Antelope Valley




When I heard about the succession of big rainstorms in California this winter, I
couldn't resist returning to my old stomping grounds. The news media were predicting the biggest wildflower display in years, and my gut was telling me the same thing.  Southern California, like South Africa is a rugged, dry land, with hot rainless summers.  Rain falls in the winter, and when adequate and consistent supports a rich and varied array of spring wildflowers.  One never can be sure exactly when the peak display will be, so making flight reservations from Florida involves some educated guessing.  Having been out before in March, I choose the last weekend of March and early April for the trip.  I wasn't disappointed.
California poppies (Eschscholtiz californica, Papaveraceae)
were at peak bloom, but on this day a strong cold wind
prevented them from opening fully.

Arriving in LA in the morning, my wife and I grabbed our rental car and headed north.  We stopped briefly to pick up our friend Chung-Shu who had flown in from New Jersey the night before, and then made a bee-line for the Antelope Valley State Poppy Preserve.  Though having seen California poppies many times before  (see For the love of poppies), I had not seen this preserve and wanted to check it out.  Chung-Shu had become an avid bird-watcher after retirement, and hearing about our trip, decided he'd like to see what all the hub-bub about wildflowers was about.

He was not disappointed, and may have picked up another hobby as he turned his birding camera toward the brilliant blooms.  Poppies were out in force, but a strong cold wind that day was shaking them violently, preventing them from opening fully and making photography a challenge.

"Goldfields," Lasthenia californica (Asteraceae) paints the
valleys and hillsides of the Antelope Valley a bright yellow.
Although the star attraction at Antelope Valley is the California poppy, there are other species that help to paint the valleys and hillsides in different shades of yellow and orange, hence the subtitle "the Golden Fields of Antelope Valley." Equally conspicuous in spots is a plant actually called "goldfields" (Lasthenia californica) which is in the sunflower family.
The compound flowers of Lasthenia feature a
puffy mound of disk flowers in the center.

Adding a subtler touch of orange or yellow was Amsinckia tessellata, whose small flowers appear over time on coiled, fiddlehead- like inflorescences.



Amsinckia tesselata (Boraginaceae) is locally abundant, though the small flowers are individually
inconspicuous.




















Yellow and orange were dominant, but not the only colors present.  The brilliant blue Phacelia tanacetifolia flooded some pockets along the hillsides, and the tiny Lupinus bicolor seemed to be everywhere.  The purple heads of Dichelostemma capitatum  could be seen lifted high above the fields of Lasthenia, and the tiny cranesbill, Erodium cicucutarium  (Geraniaceae) was everywhere.
The yellow-orange flowers of Amsinckia
tesselata 
open in sequence from a coiled
inflorescence.

Phacelia tanacetifolia (Boraginaceae), or Lacey Phacelia is abundant in small patches. Photo by Chung-Shu Yang. 
The flowers of Phacelia are in tight coils, and are
in the same family as Amsinckia.
Lupinus bicolor is one of the smallest lupines, and easily overlooked.
We passed the poppy preserve again the next day, hoping that the winds would have died down,  but they hadn't, so we continued west, our goal to cross the mountains and have a look at coastal wildflowers. We thought, like the thousands of other tourists, that if you've seen the poppy preserve, you've seen all that the Antelope Valley has to offer.  Wrong!

































Dichelostoma capitatum (Asparagaceae) waves its purple heads above a field of Lasthenia.






















The flowers of Dichelostoma capitatum superficially
resemble crocuses, but are more closely related to Asparagus
Like other members of the Geranium
family, Dicranum has peculiar, long,
pointed fruits, that when dry curl and
twist to help dril the seed into the
soil. 
The small flowers of Dicranum cicutarium
would be our companions throughout
southern California.







































The Arthur B.Ripley Desert Woodland State Park contains
some fine stands of Joshua tree and juniper.
A short way down the road is a delightful little preserve called The Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park.  One doesn't see fields of colorful wildflowers here, but lots of more subtle treasures, like some fine old Joshua trees, junipers, and the odd gymnosperm, Ephedra. Asian species of Ephedra are the source of the drug ephedrine, but this is lacking in the American species, some of which were used to make "Mormon tea."

Salvia columbariae blooming at the Ripley Park.
There were to be sure wildflowers at the Ripley Preserve, but more perennial shrubs than ephemeral herbs. We found several members of the Asteraceae, and a beautiful blue mint, Salvia columbariae.

Lupinus longiflora.
Oenothera deltoides. A tiny specimen of Lupinus bicolor is
just to the left of center.













But the biggest surprise was yet to come. As we moved further west toward the mountains, we entered another region of spectacular wildflowers.  We found another lupine, Lupinus longifolia, and the white evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides, growing along the roadside, and then a spectacular sight.  Finally we found that the hills at the west end of Antelope Valley were painted with another brilliant shade of yellow, not from goldfields or California poppy, but from another member of the Asteraceae, Coreopsis bigelovii.  Perhaps I should have subtitled this segment "Fifty shades of yellow."

With our expectations more than met, we happily started across the mountains toward the Pacific Ocean.



At the western end of Antelope Valley, Coreopsis bigelovii, adds brilliant patches of yellow.

The sunflower-like blooms of Coreopsis.