Modini Mayacamas Preserves wildflower exploration – part 2

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This post is a continuation of my previous post about a recent visit to the Modini Mayacamas Preserves in Sonoma County, for the purpose of exploring for wildflowers.  It was a docent-led visit, and we saw so many wildflowers that I decided to create two posts.

As mentioned in my previous post the entire group of visitors basically caravanned up Pine Flat Rd into the preserves, stopping at various locations for either quick explorations or short hikes away from the road.

Around the middle of the visit we walked along a dirt fire road, basically a side road from paved Pine Flat Rd.  We saw quite a few wildflowers during this excursion.  One of the wildflowers was hayfield tarweed (Hemizonia congesta); in fact, we saw quite a few of these tarweeds during the visit.  This particular individual flower was being visited by a native moth as we approached.  The moth kindly remained in place long enough for me to get a few quick pictures.  The blossom is about 1/2 inch in diameter, and the moth had pretty markings.

photo of hayfield tarweed and native moth

Hayfield tarweed and native moth

Another interesting find was some long-rayed brodiaea (Triteleia peduncularis).  It is similar in appearance to wild hyacinth (Triteleia hyacinthia), which I have seen elsewhere, but has longer stalks; in addition, the ribs are less prominent on the long-rayed brodiaea.

photo of long-rayed brodiaea

Long-rayed brodiaea

Along this dirt road we saw other related flowers: ookow (Dicholestemma congestum), harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans), and Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa).  In addition we saw some winecup clarkia (Clarkia purpurea) and checkerblooms (Sidalcea diploscypha).  Actually, there are many checkerbloom species in the region and they are said to be difficult to distinguish; this is the identification provided by our docent.

A pretty flower we would see in several locations was slender centaury (Centaurium tenuiflorum).  Each main stem supports at least a dozen small flowers, which are just 3mm or 1/8 inch in diameter.  Take special note of the yellow tops of the stamens.

photo of slender centaury

Slender centaury

In a shady area one of the group spotted a few rein orchids (Piperia sp.).  These pretty flowers come in several varieties, which I have yet to learn to distinguish.

photo of rein orchid

Rein orchid

In a sunny spot there were a few cream sacs (Castilleja rubicundula).   These interesting flowers are in the same genus as paintbrush and owl’s clover.

photo of cream sac

Cream sac

As the day warmed up, in sunny areas we could virtually smell before seeing both hayfield tarweed and turpentine weed (Trichostema laxum), both of which have been named for their fragrance.  The turpentine weed flowers have an unusual structure in which very long stamens form a dramatic arch over the main part of the blossom.  I’m sure the stamens dangle just the right height over the entrance to the nectar source to ensure that the pollinator – I assume one or more species of bee – successfully pollinates!

photo of turpentine weed

Turpentine weed

Our last find along the side road was California skullcap (Scutellaria californica).  The blossoms are reminiscent of snapdragons.  California skullcap is endemic to California, with a range extending from approximately San Francisco to Trinity Lake in low-elevation mountains (i.e., not in the Central Valley).  Our docent was familiar with the flower but told us he had seen it only once before in the Modini Mayacamas Preserves.  So it was a lucky find.

photo of California skullcap

California skullcap

One of the targets of the hike on the side road was mariposa lilies.  A few days prior to our visit there had been 3 or 4 still blooming in an area along the road.  We all looked very carefully but were unable to find any.  Our docent knew one other location to look, so we proceeded to drive there after returning to the cars.  The area was another grassy hillside.  Our initial survey did not turn up any mariposa lilies, but it did reveal a larger species of centaury: charming centaury (Zeltnera venusta).  The species name means beautiful, graceful, charming, and handsome, and seems to be an apt description of this flower.  In contrast to the slender centaury, which is a non-native, the charming centaury is a California native.  The charming centaury is a big larger: about 1/2 inch in diameter.  The stamens are quite distinctive, very long and corkscrew-shaped.

photo of charming centaury

Charming centaury

While the group examined the charming centaury our docent continued a hundred yards or so over a small rise, and suddenly we heard him exclaim “Aha! I found one!”  As we hurried over, he found a second coast range mariposa lily (Calochortus vestae) nearby.  At least, we think they were coast range rather than superb mariposa lilies (C. superbus).  These two species are a little tricky to differentiate, as the definitive distinguishing characteristic seems to be the shape of the hairy area near the base of the petal.  I tried to get a good picture including the hairs in order to revisit later if needed.  In either case, it was a new species of mariposa lily for me, and that is always exciting.  Apparently this is the end of the 2017 blooming season for them.

photo of coast range mariposa lily

Coast range mariposa lily

The finding of the mariposa lilies essentially ended our exploration up Pine Flat Rd, and we then began to descend back to our meeting point.  As we passed a sign for one of the pullouts, labelled MM 7.3, I realized that we had traveled at least 8 miles up the road, perhaps farther.  We made a few more stops on the way down.

At one of the stops – I think we stopped to check out some possible frying-pan poppies – we found a tiny pink primrose with petals so deeply lobed that the 4 petals look more like 8.  I think it is a spike primrose (Epilobium sp.) or possibly called willow herb or boisduvalia; there may be several possibilities.  In any case, it is a pretty flower.

photo of spike primrose, maybe

Spike primrose, maybe

Another stop, which I specifically requested, was to appreciate a clear view of Mount St Helena, roughly 10 miles away.  Previously I’ve only seen Mt St Helena from the other side – and it is always a treat to have a clear view of a well-known peak from a different perspective!

photo of Mt St Helena

Mt St Helena

We needed to walk up the road for the view from the closest pullout.  As we returned to the car we noticed some turkey mullein (Croton setiger), also called dove weed.  It often grows in mounds or clusters – the cluster we found was 2 or 3 feet across.  The leaves are fuzzy, and the flowers feature tall stamens that rise above the rest of the blossom.

photo of turkey mullein, or dove weed

Turkey mullein, or dove weed

At the edge of the pullout, on a nearly vertical hillside, we found a single plant of a dark purple jewel flower.  I happen to think jewel flowers are pretty special, so this was another exciting find. It was difficult to see, since it was several feet up the hillside and conditions were unsafe to try to get closer.  This was my best picture, a bit over-zoomed and grainy.  I think it is a bristly jewel flower (Streptanthus glandulosus), based on prevalence in Sonoma county as reported on the Calflora web site, though it could be Brewer’s jewel flower (S. breweri).

photo of bristly jewel flower or Brewer’s jewel flower

Bristly jewel flower or Brewer’s jewel flower

Later on we stopped for something else and found some sedge and some tall cyperus (Cyperus eragrostis), also called tall flatsedge.  So far I haven’t tried to learn sedges, but I thought the structure was distinctive and interesting.  Also, I think many sedges are brown, so it was interesting to find a green one.

photo of tall cyperus

Tall cyperus

After this exploration we made it back to the meeting point without further stops.

My first visit to the Modini Mayacamas Preserves had been very interesting – and productive, in terms of getting introduced to many new wildflowers.  I look forward to a future visit, perhaps earlier in the spring when a different collection of wildflowers will be blooming.

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Modini Mayacamas Preserves wildflower exploration – part 1

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Recently I learned of the existence of an open space preserve in Sonoma County that is open to the public via docent-led hikes and wildflower walks, and I signed up for a wildflower walk.  The preserve is called the Modini Mayacamas Preserves, and it is one of four preserves managed by Audubon Canyon Ranch, an organization dedicated to “protecting natural and human communities through land preservation, nature education, and conservation science” (text quoted from the web site).

The Modini and Mayacamas Preserves property is located northeast of Healdsburg and roughly 10 miles northwest of Mt St Helena, which is shown in the banner picture for this post.  During the visit we saw numerous wildflowers; some were familiar but many were new sightings for me.  There were so many interesting species that I decided to create two posts for the visit; here is a link to the second post.

In order to learn as much as possible from our docent I tried to take complete notes, particularly about the new species.  As an example, one of my new species was western spicebush (Calycanthus occidentalis).  It’s actually not especially unusual, but I had never encountered it before.  The color contrast between the green leaves and deep red blossoms was stunning.

photo of western spicebush

Western spicebush

For the docent-led activities the meeting point is at the junction of Pine Flat Rd and Red Winery Rd.  We collected in the smallest possible number of cars – which happened to be just 2 – and basically caravanned up Pine Flat Rd into the nearby hills.  Although we did several short walks away from the road to visit interesting wildflower hot spots, most of the distance we covered was by car, and I didn’t record a GPS track.  However, I reproduced the driving route in Google maps since Pine Flat Rd is a public road.

driving route through the Modini and Mayacamas Preserves

Driving route through the Modini and Mayacamas Preserves

Basically we stopped whenever any of the following happened: the docent, Dave, or anyone else in his car saw something that looked interesting; or we came to a known location for finding an interesting plant or wildflower.  It was invaluable to be traveling with a local expert!

We stopped frequently, always using pullouts along the narrow road.  At the first stop we found some Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) growing in cracks in a dilapidated building.  This is not actually an ivy, but rather a toadflax, and the flowers resemble snapdragons.

photo of kenilworth ivy

Kenilworth ivy

In the same area we found western spicebush and swamp thistle (Cirsium douglasii), a native thistle. So many thistles I have seen are non-native, even considered invasive, it was nice to find an actual native thistle.

photo of swamp thistle

Swamp thistle

Not far away there was Indian pink (Silene lanciniata ssp. californica), which is actually red.

photo of Indian pink

Indian pink

At the next stop there was Sonoma clarkia (Clarkia gracilis ssp. sonomensis), which is found primarily in Sonoma County with smaller populations in Mendocino, Lake, Napa, and Marin Counties.  The red spots are unusual for a slender clarkia (C. gracilis), and they could easily be seen from the outside of the blossom.

photo of Sonoma clarkia

Sonoma clarkia

At the same stop we found Fuller’s teasel (Dipsacus sativus), a non-native wildflower, in bloom.  This was the first time I’ve seen teasel blooming.  On some flower heads the blooms were in a narrow band, rather like a tutu.  In this case the tiny flowers covered the top half of the head, a little like a fuzzy head of hair.  The first time I saw a teasel I gave it a descriptive name – lampshade plant – for the long bract-like structures that resemble those used to attach a lampshade to old-style lamps.

photo of Fuller’s teasel

Fuller’s teasel

There was also rabbit’s foot grass (Polypogon monspeliensis), another non-native, which seemed like an apt name.

photo of rabbbit’s foot grass

Rabbbit’s foot grass

Before we left this area we also saw some native dandelion and one yellow mariposa lily (Calochortus luteus) that was well past its prime.

As we got higher into the hills we came to a location where we needed to walk a couple hundred yards across a grassy hillside in order to reach a rock outcropping where we were promised a nice wildflower surprise.  On the way there was a lovely view of grape vineyards below and grassy hills in the background.

photo of view from Pine Flat Rd in the Modini Mayacamas Preserves

View from Pine Flat Rd in the Modini Mayacamas Preserves

As we walked across the hillside we could see a bit of native grasses amid the more predominant non-native grasses.  Most of the native grasses are bunch grasses, but there were also some grasses that grow as individual plants.  Near the road there was some brilliantly purple thistle, probably bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare), which is a non-native that is considered to be moderately invasive.

Yet another non-native in this area was bristly ox-tongue (Helminthoteca echioides).  The flowers resemble dandelions and, like dandelions, are in the aster or composite flower family and have only ray flowers without disc flowers.  The flower gets its name from the shape and texture of its leaves, which do indeed resemble ox tongues.  Native to the Mediterranean basin, ox-tongue has become widespread across North America.  If you see a dandelion-like flower on a tall plant with branching stems, look more closely at the leaves on the long stems: you may have found some ox-tongue.

photo of bristly ox-tongue

Bristly ox-tongue

When we approached the rock outcropping we could immediately see what had been hinted at: a nice cluster of redwood bush penstemon (Keckiella corymbosa).  And there was even more around a corner of the rock, out of sight from our initial approach direction.  This is just one small group of the beautiful red blossoms.

photo of redwood bush penstemon

Redwood bush penstemon

Among the penstemons I suddenly noticed a single plant, or cluster, that seemed to be growing – like the penstemons – in a crack in the rock.  Evidently there was enough water and nourishment to support this plant.  It was difficult to photograph, and this is my best shot.  The small flower heads are about a half inch in diameter.  The petals appeared to be very light purple.  This flower is a mystery, and was a mystery to our docent as well.

photo of mystery flower growing in a crack in the rock near the redwood bush penstemons

Mystery flower growing in a crack in the rock near the redwood bush penstemons

After enjoying the penstemons we headed back to the cars and continued up Pine Flat Rd.  We made a special stop to admire some red thistle (Cirsium occidentale var. venutum), also called western thistle, that was growing next to the road and caught my eye.  It turns out that this type of thistle is endemic to California: it is not found outside the state.  In the picture the flower head looks almost pink, but it was actually red; other flower heads looked even darker red.

photo of red, or western, thistle

Red, or western, thistle

At this stop we also saw yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus auranticus), coyote mint (Monardella villosa), and a couple of chicory (Cichorum intybus) plants.

At one location we parked the cars and walked less than a half mile up an informal dirt road with a locked gate (but we could walk around the gate).  Along this road we found several flowers we had not yet seen on our adventure.  One was foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus), which is what I think of as a more typical purple color for penstemon.  The petal tubes are a bit pinker on the outside, and at the mouth of the flower, if you look carefully, you can see the so-called runway markings that guide pollinator insects to the flower’s nectary.

photo of foothill penstemon

Foothill penstemon

In a shady area there was western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), somewhat common but always beautiful.  How appropriate that the species name formosa, which comes from Latin via Portuguese, means beautiful.

photo of western columbine

Western columbine

There was also some wild blackberry, in this case Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus).  As the species name suggests, it is thought to be native to Armenia (as well as northern Iran, as it turns out).  It has been widely naturalized, and some consider it to be a noxious invasive.

photo of Himalayan blackberry

Himalayan blackberry

Yet another non-native found along this dirt road was St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is notable for its lavish sprays of stamens that seem to burst from the center of each blossom.

photo of St John’s wort

St John’s wort

In partial defense of such non-native wildflowers, I will note that they clearly serve as nectar sources for various insects.  They survive, and in so many cases thrive, in part because they successfully attract pollinators.  In some cases such non-native plants provide nectar sources during times of the year when native sources may not be available.  In this sense they may well provide a positive contribution to the overall health of local ecosystems.

Our wildflower adventures in the Modini Mayacamas Preserves are continued in part 2.

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Indian Tree Preserve to Big Rock

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Most years I try to go on a special hike to celebrate National Trails Day on the first Saturday of June.  The National Trails Day tag line – hit the trail, make new friends, find an adventure – appeals to me.  This year I had the opportunity to participate in a group hike that covered both private property and public open space in Marin County.  The publicly accessible portion of the hike was mainly in Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve with a short section in Indian Tree Open Space Preserve.  Both of these preserves are part of the Marin County parks network.  The section of trail within Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve is also dedicated as part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The hike featured some beautiful views of Marin County, as well as a surprising number of wildflowers still in bloom.  Although there had been above-average rainfall for the first time in several years, a situation that produced wonderful wildflower spring blooms, the local hillsides had already changed to the typical summer golden hue, suggesting that the wildflower season might be nearly complete.  So it was a pleasant surprise to encounter a nice variety of wildflowers.

The stars of the wildflower show were clarkias, which are often called farewell to spring since they bloom late in the season.  I saw two species of clarkia during the hike, but perhaps the “true” farewell to spring is Clarkia amoena, with delicately colored petals with a darker splotch on each petal.  If this is an annual farewell to spring wildflowers, it is certainly a beautiful one!

image of farewell to spring

Farewell to spring

The hike was organized as a point-to-point hike.  We met at the ending point at Big Rock on Lucas Valley Rd and were bussed to the beginning point at the edge of Indian Tree Open Space Preserve, shown as the orange dot on the GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

After just a half mile of hiking we had passed through a corner of Indian Tree and entered the privately-owned Hill Ranch.  Our hike leader had obtained clearance for our group to hike across the ranch to Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve.  The hike through the ranch was a gradual ascent to a ridge with stunning views.  From the ridge-top we hiked down through Lucas Valley to our waiting cars at Big Rock.  The total distance for the hike was 9.1 miles, with a little over 2000 feet of climbing.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

On the way to and through Indian Tree Open Space Preserve we almost immediately found several yellow mariposa lilies (Calochortus luteus); this one was being visited by a couple of small insects.

image of yellow mariposa lily

Yellow mariposa lily

We also saw yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus auranticus), rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima) growing among ferns, and, as we climbed, our first views across golden grassy hills.  There was also some Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa), also known as Wally basket.  The blossoms grow in clusters, each blossom on a leafless stem.  In general the Ithuriel’s spear we found was unusually intense in color, like this example.

image of Ithuriel’s spear

Ithuriel’s spear

A related wildflower that we saw throughout the hike is harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans).  The plant’s growth pattern often has the appearance of single stem with a single flower.  The shading of the petals from green to white to purple, as well as the line down the center of each petal, is typical of this species.

image of harvest brodiaea

Harvest brodiaea

A short distance, perhaps 0.25 mile, after we entered the Hill Ranch property we reached the end of the initial climb (see elevation profile above).  From this spot we had a great view of Mt St Helena about 40 miles away, due north.

image of Mt St Helena

Mt St Helena

From the same location we could also see Mt Diablo in the East Bay, a similar distance away to the southeast.  We would see Mt Diablo again later (see below).

For the next 2.5 miles or so we followed ranch roads, generally heading toward a higher ridge with communication towers on top.  The topography is what I call gently rolling, without significant ascents or descents.  In this section we passed a field where a donkey and a horse were grazing and playing with each other.  We also passed miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor), hedge nettle (Stachys sp.), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and paintbrush (Castilleja sp.).  In addition there were several areas with winecup clarkia (Clarkia purpurea), with intensely colored petals.

image of winecup clarkia

Winecup clarkia

In several places along the trail we encountered a plant with clusters of pretty, bright pink blossoms: slender centaury (Centaurium tenuiflorum).

image of slender centaury

Slender centaury

About 3 miles into the hike we had a nice, though a bit hazy, view of San Pablo Bay.  After that the trail began to climb, gaining almost 900 feet in about 1.5 miles.  We saw some peak rushrose (Heliathemum scoparium), which I recognized from a recent hike at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve in the South Bay.

We also passed quite a bit of chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), a common chaparral shrub.  Chamise is characterized by slender heads of tiny white flowers at the ends of the branches.

image of chamise


Around midway up the climb there was a spot where we could see, right in front of us, how the trail would climb right up the side of one of the hills.  The communication tower in the background at the right was at the location where we would go over the ridge, Buck’s Ridge.

image of trail climbing a hill in Hill Ranch

Trail climbing a hill in Hill Ranch

As we climbed this hill I stopped to photograph some golden yarrow (Eriolhyllum confertiflorum).  The very similar flower I’d seen at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve may be a related species that is sometimes called seaside golden yarrow.

image of golden yarrow

Golden yarrow

During the climb the “lead” hikers stopped from time to time to wait for others to catch up, since we were supposed to stay more-or-less together as we hiked in Hill Ranch.  In one place, about 1650 feet elevation, there was a large rock outcropping from which there was a nice view across San Pablo Bay.  (Apparently there was a place on the back side of the rock where it was a fairly easy scramble to the top!)

image of view toward San Pablo Bay

View toward San Pablo Bay

There were more farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) in this area, indeed nearly throughout the hike.  In some of the blossoms the spots were especially brilliant.

image of farewell to spring

Farewell to spring

Five miles from the starting trailhead we reached the top of Buck’s Ridge and quickly found a perfect spot for a lunch break.  We enjoyed a great view of Mt Tamalpais and a fog layer extending over most of San Francisco.  Just outside the left side of the picture is Tiburon Peninsula.  The banner photo for this post is a panorama taken from the top of the ridge, with Mt Diablo at the left, Mt Tamalpais at the right, and San Pablo Bay, Tiburon, and the north San Francisco Bay between.

image of Mt Tamalpais and fog over San Francisco: view from Buck's Ridge

Mt Tamalpais and fog over San Francisco: view from Buck’s Ridge

Near our lunch spot I noticed a type of low thistle, which I think is brownie thistle (Cirsium quercetorum), and a few California poppies (Eschscholzia californica).

Our lunch spot was essentially on the border of Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve, near the top of Buck’s Ridge.  After lunch we began the descent down the south side of the ridge, on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, toward Big Rock.  Along the way there were nice views down the side of the ridge, in one area overlooking a portion of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch movie sound production facility.  (By the way, Lucas Valley is named after a different Mr Lucas!)

I also found a cluster of purple sand spurry (Spergularia rubra) next to the trail.

image of purple sand spurry

Purple sand spurry

There was also some narrow-leaved mule’s ear (Wyethia angustifolia) as well as bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida).

image of bush poppy

Bush poppy

About halfway down from the ridge, around 1100 feet elevation, there is a horse trough that is maintained by a local equestrian group.  Here there were several types of wildflower, including seep spring monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus).  Shortly after this the trail crosses two bridges across the same stream (there is a switchback between the bridges).  Near one of the bridges there was a beautiful California buckeye (Aesculus californica).  Later on there were several spots from which you could look back up the hill generally toward Buck’s Ridge.

A bit farther along I found some beautiful late-season blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum).

image of blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

Approaching the end of the trail we passed a father and child who were flying kites in the breeze.  The kites were rather spectacular: colorful eagle-like birds with long colorful streamers.  The child was doing especially well flying one of the kites.

image of kite-flying not far from Big Rock

Kite-flying not far from Big Rock

The Big Rock trailhead is easy to find along the road: besides being located at a small summit, the rock itself is quite impressive.

image of Big Rock

Big Rock

Leading to the trailhead parking, basically a wide shoulder along the southwest side of the road, a culvert passes under Lucas Valley Road providing safe passage for hikers.  The Bay Area Ridge Trail continues over the next ridge, Loma Alta, to Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

It was a special treat to be able to hike across privately-owned property connecting two open space preserves: a great way to enjoy National Trails Day with a group of fellow hiking enthusiasts.

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Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

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Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve is a small (552 acres, a bit under 1 square mile) reserve managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Santa Cruz County, in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The reserve protects one of only a few areas of a unique habitat referred to as the Santa Cruz Sandhills, which are covered with outcrops of Zayante soil.  This special soil evolved from sediment from a 15 million year old former.  The soil is coarse sand and incorporates a variety of marine fossils.

I learned about the reserve in the context of its unique flora and fauna.  Because the soil is low in water content and nutrients, the ecosystem is distinct from the surrounding typical moisture-loving coastal redwood and mixed evergreen forest.  Two endemic subsystems include sand chaparral, with shrubs including manzanita, and so-called sand parkland, with sparse stands of ponderosa pines and an understory that includes native wildflowers.  The Santa Cruz Sandhills are home to at least four plant species and three animal species that are endemic: found only there.

Intrigued, I created an opportunity to visit.  There are a few trails, all of which emanate from a single entry point into the reserve.  Off-trail exploration that could damage sensitive plants and animals is discouraged.  Across the road from the entry point there is a modest staging area with a small map of the reserve.  Portions of the reserve were damaged in the 2008 Martin Fire, and the reserve re-opened in 2009.  It is only open to walkers.

It was easy to find the trail entry point at a small break in the modest barbed-wire type fence along the side of the road.  Immediately upon entering the reserve the sandy trail passes through chaparral, with wildflowers in evidence.  An immediate highlight was a low-growing plant with clusters of small pink flowers: Ben Lomond spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana), one of the plants endemic to the very localized area and habitat.  For this reason the Ben Lomond spineflower is listed as federally endangered and as rare, threatened, or endangered in California.  Within the reserve it is common, and I think it is very pretty.

photo of Ben Lomond spineflower

Ben Lomond spineflower

The GPS track shows an overview of my exploration of Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve; the orange dot shows the location of the staging area across the road.  Within feet a trail splits off to the right, to the south.  I decided I would explore the northern portion of the reserve first, so I continued straight for about 0.2 mile to a T intersection, where I initially turned left.  It is my understanding that volunteers help keep the (informal) trails sufficiently open for walking, but in three locations on the eastern part of the reserve I turned around when it became difficult to continue due to branches or simply thick growth across the trail; this was after the trail left sand chaparral and entered sand parkland.  After that I explored in the southwestern portion of the reserve, with my turnaround points determined to some extent by time considerations.

GPS track

GPS track

My entire hike was only about 5 miles but took me over 4 hours.  This was mainly due to stopping to admire and/or take photographs.  My walking pace was also slower on the parts of the trail that were very sandy.  The elevation gain/loss was quite modest, about 600 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

A very common plant in the reserve is peak rushrose (Helianthemum scoparium), a small shrub that grows in sandy areas, generally in hills or low mountains.  The flowers are bright yellow with five petals.  Like the Ben Lomond spineflower, this was a first-time observation for me.

photo of peak rushrose

Peak rushrose

Another common plant is yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum).  I have seen yerba santa in a variety of other places, mostly if not always in dry conditions.

photo of yerba santa

Yerba santa

According to one description of the reserve, Bonny Doon manzanita (Arctostaphylos silvicola), or silverleaf manzanita, is the dominant plant of sand chaparral.  I saw quite a bit of manzanita during my walk, and I presume it was all this species, which is another of the four plants endemic to the local area.  From a distance it looks generally like many other medium-sized manzanitas, though the leaves are more of a silvery-grey color.

photo of Bonny Doon manzanita

Bonny Doon manzanita

Yet another early find, also found throughout the reserve, was bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida).  This is a shrub with bright yellow flowers that certainly look like poppies, e.g. they have 4 petals.

photo of bush poppy

Bush poppy

I took a very short detour on an informal side trail, and just as I was ready to turn around I found a cluster of spiky plants less than 12” tall.  I think it is everlasting nest straw (Stylocline gnaphaloides), or possibly California cottonrose (Logfia filaginoides).  I’ve never seen either one before, so I am not positive about the identification.  Both of these plants are listed on the iNaturalist site for the reserve.

photo of everlasting nest straw, or possibly California cottonrose

Everlasting nest straw, or possibly California cottonrose

In addition to new finds, in the first part of the trail I also saw more common wildflowers, including blue dicks (Dichelestemma capitatum), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus auranticus).

All of these observations were made before I had reached the T intersection barely 0.2 miles into my hike.  It took me almost a half hour to get that far!

This is a typical view of the trail in the sand chaparral area.  The sand was sufficiently deep that walking required a surprising amount of effort.  I had brought – and I used – hiking poles to help make walking a bit easier.  The hill in the background is in the far north of the reserve in an area that is closed to the public.

photo of trail in sand chaparral area of Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

Trail in sand chaparral area of Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

After turning left at the T intersection I walked generally north, then east, climbing about 100 feet before turning around.  In this section of trail I found one, or possibly two, species of paintbrush (Castilleja sp) and even some ferns that seemed happy to grow in the sunny, sandy, and dry habitat.  In addition, I found some wartleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus papillosus).  The species name papillosus is in reference to the knobby structure or texture of the leaves.  Similar to other ceanothus, the individual blossoms are quite small, only a couple of mm across.

photo of wartleaf ceanothus

Wartleaf ceanothus

An interesting find was some horkelia, I believe either wedgeleaf horkelia (Horkelia cuneate) or Point Reyes horkelia (H. marinensis); both are on the iNaturalist list for Bonny Doon.  The leaves, in another photo, look somewhat more like Point Reyes horkelia, but not quite like any of the pictures on the Calflora site.

photo of wedgeleaf horkelia or Point Reyes horkelia

Wedgeleaf horkelia or Point Reyes horkelia

I was particularly on the lookout for Santa Cruz wallflower (Erysimum teretifolium) but did not find it.  Instead, I found quite a few of another type of wildflower with clusters of yellow flowers on a long stem.  These “mystery” flowers appear to be composites, with 5 pairs of ray flowers and numerous disc flowers in the center.  If you look closely at the picture you can see distinctive structures within the disc flowers, each with a pair of circular loops on a single stalk.  (I’m not using proper botanical vocabulary here.)  The Santa Cruz wallflower is yellow but, like other wallflowers, is not a composite and has 4 petals.

Update: While researching a very similar flower observed on another hike I have concluded that this is probably seaside golden yarrow (Eriophyllum staechadifolium), sometimes called lizard tail, or possibly golden yarrow (E. confertiflorum).

photo of seaside golden yarrow, I think

Seaside golden yarrow, I think

Finally, in the sand chaparral I found, among Ben Lomond spineflowers, an example of variable linanthus (Leptosiphon parviflorus).  This small flower is usually white, but is occasionally yellow.

photo of variable linanthus

Variable linanthus

Particularly in the sand chaparral part of the reserve, there is ample evidence of the 2008 Martin Fire.  Although to me the chaparral itself looks like it has recovered nicely, perhaps even fully, there are numerous charred trees that serve as a reminder of the fire.  The fire started within the reserve and is thought to have been started by trespassers in the off-limits northern area.

photo of charred tree is a reminder of the 2008 Martin Fire

Charred tree is a reminder of the 2008 Martin Fire

After returning to the T intersection I continued to the southeast into a sand parkland area, where the trail passed through much denser chaparral, with a mixture of trees.  In some areas the trail was barely wide enough for me to walk comfortably without worrying too much about what types of plants I was brushing against.

photo of trail in sand parkland area of Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

Trail in sand parkland area of Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

Some of the trees in this area include Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, which is common in the Sierras but uncommon near the coast, a few types of oak, and coastal redwood.  There was a group of taller trees that towered above the surrounding forest.

photo of group of tall trees

Group of tall trees

In the northern area of the preserve I found a tarweed, possibly grassy tarweed (Madia gracilis), or woodland madia (Anisocarpus madioides) – these two wildflowers look quite similar, so I might be missing another characteristic that would distinguish them.  I also found California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum) and chaparral pea (Pickeringi montana).  At a moment when I was dealing with my hiking poles and camera on the narrow clear portion of the trail, I managed to knock my GPS unit off my waist pack and onto the ground.  By the time I noticed it and raced back to find it, it turned into a 20-minute detour and nearly a mile of extra hiking that is not included in my hiking distance.

In any case, after exploring the trail further and encountering essentially-blocked trails, I retraced my original path back to the side trail nearly at the beginning of my hike.  Instead of completing a loop as originally planned, I hiked south from the entry point, initially near the road.  After about 0.2 mile and crossing a dirt road I came to a Y intersection, where I initially took the left fork.  I proceeded about 0.5 mile, slightly past a small creek crossing, where I found some western azalea (Rhododendron occidetale).  The blossoms have beautiful yellow markings and long reproductive parts that extend well past the petals.

photo of western azalea

Western azalea

There were several other moisture-loving plants nearby, including common monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), a type of hedgenettle, and pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula).  There was also a quite pretty flower with a striking long lower petal.  Although not showing clearly in this picture, there were a few darker spots deep in the throat of the flower.

photo of white wildflower with long lower petal

White wildflower with long lower petal

I had thought the two paths from the Y might form a loop I could hike around.  However, after photographing the white wildflower I decided to return to the Y and explore the other branch of the trail.  I only covered about 0.3 mile on this trail before returning to the trailhead due to a time constraint.  Along the way I heard, and then saw, a spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) about 15 feet up in a tree perhaps 10 meters off the trail.  My best picture is still a bit grainy due to the extreme zoom I needed to use, but it’s good enough for the identification.

photo of spotted towhee

Spotted towhee

This section of trail also passed close to a tiny creek where there were moisture-loving plants.  I was startled to suddenly see both purple and white forms of purple foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).  Although the plants are poisonous the flowers are quite pretty, with lovely purple spots on the inside of the petals.

photo of white form of purple foxglove

White form of purple foxglove

After this sighting I returned to the trailhead, with a California poppy and a few lupines along the way.

When I planned my visit to Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve I had targeted the four plants that are endemic to the Santa Cruz Sandhills, along with two others that are only slightly more widespread in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Of my six target plants I only saw two: Bonny Doon manzanita and Ben Lomond spineflower.  Perhaps another time I will be able to find Santa Cruz wallflower, Ben Lomond buckwheat, Santa Cruz cypress, and Santa Cruz monkeyflower.  It would certainly be fun to try!

Posted in Santa Cruz County, wildflower hikes | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

March for Science San Francisco

Shortly after the widespread Women’s Marches were held on 21 January 2017, I began to hear hints that a March for Science was being organized for Washington, DC, to be held on 22 April 2017, Earth Day.  This march was promptly endorsed by numerous scientific organizations including my primary professional society, the American Physical Society, as well as national and local chapters of other organizations, such as my local Palo Alto chapter of the Association of Women in Science.  I wasn’t prepared to travel to Washington so I was glad to hear that there would be marches in San Francisco as well as several other locations in the Bay Area.

When all was said and done, it has been reported that there were some 600 satellite marches in cities on six continents, in addition to support from scientists in Antarctica.  The stated goal of the organizers was to champion and defend science and scientific integrity.  Because the marches were held on Earth Day there was a close connection to related topics such as climate change.

I decided not to make a sign, but instead to wear my pink “pussy hat” and a pink jacket that I had worn for the women’s march in January.  The San Francisco event was scheduled to begin with speakers at Justin Herman Plaza, followed by a nearly 2-mile march down Market Street to Civic Center Plaza, where there would be a science festival.  Due to another commitment I arrived at Justin Herman Plaza about 30 minutes after the speeches had begun.  The crowd had already overflowed from the plaza into the perimeter areas.

From my vantage point I could see that it was a good-sized crowd, although I could not actually hear the speeches due to a lack of loudspeakers anywhere near where I was standing.  Someone near me commented that she’d been worried that she would arrive and find only a few dozen other participants. I commented that there is such a large population of scientists in the Bay Area that that would not be a concern.  However, I noted that there only seemed to be a few signs, mostly around the edge of the crowd (see left picture).  Shortly after that the emcee, who was introducing the speakers, apparently encouraged the crowd to raise their signs – and suddenly there was a virtual sea of signs filling the plaza (see right picture)!

image of pre-march crowd at Justin Herman Plaza, as I arrived (left) and later when the emcee asked marchers to raise their signs (right)

Pre-march crowd at Justin Herman Plaza, as I arrived (left) and later when the emcee asked marchers to raise their signs (right)

After all of the scheduled speakers it was time for the crowd to make its way to Market Street to begin the march.  From my location across the plaza it took about 25 minutes just to reach the street, which was still quite congested.  The march simply continued along Market Street to Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall, as shown on the GPS track.  The orange dot denotes my location for the speeches.  The route to Civic Center is about 2 miles with virtually no elevation change.

GPS track

GPS track

The march itself was friendly and upbeat.  At times a cheer would start and make its way like a wave through the marchers.  At other times chants began: “Science, not silence” or “Let’s go science,” the latter followed by a clapping version of the cadence that follows the home team chant at a ball game.  In fact, in this chant “science” sounded a lot like “Giants.”

The nature of such a march is that there are signs, and some of the signs have a political message.  Here is one regarding science funding.

image of “Fund science, not walls”

“Fund science, not walls”

There were numerous calls to make something great again; this one had an Earth Day theme.

image of supporting the Great Barrier Reef

Supporting the Great Barrier Reef

There were many signs that were supportive of science.

image of “we love science”

“We love science”

There was even a large banner.

image of science banner

Science banner

Of course, many signs were at least slightly political as well as scientific. On this sign I appreciated the incorporation of science in the letters.

image of “in science we trust”

“In science we trust”

Other ways to support science included statements of achievements made by science.  Many of those achievements were facilitated by funding at such an early stage of research that the target result had not even been identified.  A funding culture too focused on specific results, or too focused on immediate results, or significantly reduced funding levels, will have negative consequences down the road.

image of polio prevention

Polio prevention

There were other signs about smallpox: “Remember smallpox?  Neither do I” that referred to cures or prevention (e.g. vaccines) discovered through funding of science.  Of course, there were many other examples of achievements across the scientific spectrum.

I noted several individuals and small groups wearing lab coats.  Some of the lab coats themselves were signs.  I especially liked this one, since our future progress critically relies on young people choosing to embark on scientific careers.

image of lab coat sign: “scientist in training”

Lab coat sign: “scientist in training”

Because of the Earth Day connection there were numerous signs that would normally be found at Earth Day celebrations.  And of course it is difficult, in the current national political climate, to completely avoid making a political statement.

image of “I’m with her”

“I’m with her”

However, this flag may have succeeded: no words needed.

image of Earth flag

Earth flag

The message on this sign tied together the main themes of science and Earth.

image of “for my grandchildren and their children”

“For my grandchildren and their children”

And then there were a few silly signs, like this one.

image of sign at the March for Science

Sign at the March for Science

I confess that, as a scientist, I especially appreciated that there were a large number of nerdy signs. Yes, scientists can be, in spite of stereotypical depictions, resistors as well as transformers.

image of resistors and transformers

Resistors and transformers

In some cases it helped to know enough science to appreciate the word play.  (Schist is a type of rock.)

image of schist happens…

Schist happens…

I thought this support of alternative energy was quite clever.

image of (wind) power to the people

(Wind) power to the people

And finally, one of my favorites included a great mathematics-inspired word play.  (The square root of minus one is imaginary, in case you’ve not studied enough math to encounter this concept.)

image of alt facts are…

Alt facts are…

These pictures represent only a sampling of the signs I saw, which were in turn only a fraction of all of the signs. I appreciate and admire the creativity behind so many of the signs, as well as the diversity of the messages.

I have not yet found reports of attendance at the San Francisco or other March for Science events, but I hope that appropriate publicity continues to raise public awareness about science and the benefits it provides to society.

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Tahoe Donner snowshoe hike to Hawk’s Peak

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This was not the first time I’ve snowshoed up to Hawk’s Peak, at the Tahoe Donner Cross-Country Ski Area (see here for another post).  However, it was the first time I went all the way up, and part way down, using the new network of snowshoe-only trails.  I thought I would write a short post to highlight this new trail network.

Hawk’s Peak is, at 7729 feet elevation, the highest point within Tahoe Donner.  For those who enjoy a view, it’s a nice reward at the end of a nearly 1100-foot climb.  Here is a sample of the view from high above the Alder Creek Adventure Center at the base of the ski area.

photo of view of the Carson Range

View of the Carson Range

The GPS track shows my route, beginning at the orange dot which denotes the Adventure Center.  I had decided in advance that I would go as directly as possible up to Hawk’s Peak and then come down by a more circuitous route, depending on which of the other snowshoe trails I could find.  (My previous snowshoe hikes have been along the groomed trail system; this was my first time trying a trek on snowshoe-only trails.)

GPS track

GPS track

For the uphill trek I started out from the Adventure Center on Tim’s Trek, which begins next to the parking area and traverses to intersection 3, Moondance Hut.  From Moondance, Snowshow basically goes straight uphill toward Hawk’s Peak, crossing some 7 groomed cross-country ski trails along the way.  Below 7000 feet elevation (the 4th trail crossing on Snowshow) the grade is noticeable but reasonable, at 7%.  Above this elevation Snowshow gets much steeper and averages over 23% grade the rest of the way up to the top.  At elevation, that’s a pretty good workout!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Regarding wayfinding, I found that it was easy to find and follow both Tim’s Trek and Snowshow.  Although not nearly as well-defined – or wide – as the ski trails, the snowshoe trails seem to have been marked by some kind of small groomer.  In areas where the trails wind among trees, there are discreet signs that mark the way.

photo of signage along a snowshoe-only trail

Signage along a snowshoe-only trail

The signage along the gloomed ski trails is a bit different.  On the previous day I had cross-country skied and noticed that many of the signposts were buried in snow almost up to the signs themselves.  This was on the closing weekend of what had been a well above average snow season.

photo of sign, nearly buried in snow, marking a groomed cross-country ski trail

Sign, nearly buried in snow, marking a groomed cross-country ski trail

Snowshow is mostly on open slopes and, as noted, was easy to follow.   Although a little hard to see in the picture, on the left are swooping tracks left by a skier descending off-piste between two of the many groomed trail crossings.

photo of Snowshow heading up to Hawk’s Peak

Snowshow heading up to Hawk’s Peak

I have noted previously that sometimes the shortest hiking distance between two points is not a straight line, but rather the trail.  In the case of Snowshow, these two paths were actually the same.  Of course, relatively few hiking trails are built with a 23% grade, because there are usually gentler options.  This hike demonstrated that, when the snow is in good condition, showshoeing up such a steep grade is not as difficult as I thought it would be!

Snowshow tees at a relatively new groomed ski trail that goes right up to the rocks that mark the top of Hawk’s Peak.  So the last hundred yards or so was easier going.

The views from Hawk’s Peak are always impressive.  Perhaps my favorite is what I consider to be one of the iconic views of the Pacific Crest, featuring Tinker Knob at the center of the picture.

photo of Pacific Crest view from Hawk’s Peak

Pacific Crest view from Hawk’s Peak

On this occasion I did not linger at Hawk’s Peak, though I usually stop for a snack while enjoying the marvelous views.  It was quite windy up top, and I was kind of flirting with a wind advisory, so I felt it was prudent to begin descending fairly promptly to lower elevations.

Instead of following Snowshow straight back down the hill I had decided to follow Crazy Horse and Dogs in Space, both groomed ski trails, to another viewpoint.  In order to get there I followed the new groomed trail, I think Drifter, past the top of Snowshow and across Andromeda to intersection 11.  From the intersection I followed the lower part of Crazy Horse to Dogs in Space.  Along the way I noticed some pretty pine boughs, like this one, here and there along the edge of the groomed ski trail, each bough in its own small depression in the snow.

photo of pine bough in the snow

Pine bough in the snow

The viewpoint on Dogs in Space is quite nice.  There was much less wind than at the top of Hawk’s Peak, so I spent some time enjoying the view of the Carson Range to the east.  The “banner picture” for this post is a panorama stitched together from 4 separate photos taken here.

I should also note that there is now a network of the lower-elevation cross-country ski trails where dogs are allowed.  This viewpoint is the highest point of the dog trails, though on this visit I had the views to myself.  There is even a picnic table under the trees.

A bit farther along I noticed several young pine trees with an unusual characteristic: in addition to the usual needles (long ones, in groups of three) along and at the tips of branches there was an array of needles around the trunk, almost like a tutu.  I don’t remember ever seeing that before.  I presume that the tree is either a Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) or a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) , more likely a Jeffrey pine due to the elevation.  In addition, I was on my way to a place where I hoped to find the Jeffrey Pine snowshoe trail.  I wonder if the “tutu” phenomenon only occurs on young trees.

photo of young pine tree with a tutu of needles

Young pine tree with a tutu of needles

After leaving the viewpoint on Dogs in Space I continued downhill to intersection 6, where I found Jeffrey Pine, another snowshoe trail.  It had quite a bit of the helpful yellow signage as it wound among the trees on the lower part of the hill that eventually goes up to Hawk’s Peak.

The trails in the Cross-Country Ski Area cross several creeks, some named and some not.  As the snow melts there will be ample water flowing in these streams throughout the spring.  I actually took this picture the previous day while cross-country skiing in the Euer Valley; I believe it’s Coyote Creek, since it’s near a location called Coyote Crossing and the Coyote Hut.  In any case, it seems to be a subsidiary of Independence Creek, which winds its picturesque way along the valley floor.  This was the prettiest of the creek crossings I encountered in my two days at the Tahoe Donner Cross-Country Ski Area.

photo of Coyote Creek, in Euer Valley

Coyote Creek, in Euer Valley

After following Jeffrey Pine for most of its length I left the snowshoe trail and finished my trek on the Rough Rider, Practice Hill, and Night Hawk ski trails.  Most of the route for this hike was on trails I had not been on previously, and I was glad to have had the opportunity to explore several of the relatively new snowshoe-only trails.

Posted in snowshoe hikes and cross-country skiing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Wildflower interpretive walk at Sutter Buttes

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Most first-time visitors to the northern part of California’s Central Valley take special note of the Sutter Buttes and wonder what they are.  They look like – and are – a mountain range that simply rises from the valley floor in northern Sutter County near Yuba City.  More specifically, the Buttes are a circular formation of volcanic lava domes about 10 miles in diameter, sometimes called the world’s smallest mountain range.  Although there is a small parcel of land that belongs to California State Parks, this park parcel is not open to the public.  The remainder of the Buttes is private property and is accessible to the public only through Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes, which leads hikes and interpretive walks.  My visit, with a group of fellow wildflower enthusiasts, was made possible via a docent-led wildflower interpretive walk.

The wildflowers are especially plentiful and beautiful in the spring, after winter rains and before summer heat sets in.  The Central Valley is notoriously warm in summer, and the heat is magnified in the Buttes.  After the plentiful rains of the 2016-17 winter season the hilly areas of the Buttes have become a lush green wonderland.  Much of the land is grazed by cattle or sheep, and the grassy hills are dotted with oaks, many blue oaks (Quercus douglasii).

picture of lush green landscape of the Sutter Buttes in spring

Lush green landscape of the Sutter Buttes in spring

The walk was basically a loop with an extension, totaling just over 4 miles.  The orange dot on the GPS track shows the starting point.  There are no formal trails in the Buttes, though there are a few ranch roads and informal trails.

GPS track

GPS track

Although the initial climb up to a small ridge was steep enough to get everyone’s circulation going, the elevation gains were relatively modest (less than 800 feet total gain) and moderate.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The walk began with an introduction to the native Maidu people and their culture (see, for example, this article).  As visitors to a relatively undisturbed part of their land, including the mountains with special significance, we were encouraged to treat the area and its natural resources with appropriate respect.  Some of the numerous rocks were probably acorn grinding rocks.  Also, rock walls may have defined land parcels later owned by European immigrants who began the ranching activities that continue to the present.  Near one of the rock walls was a sign noting “snake xing,” a reminder that in warm weather rattlesnakes are active in the area.

picture of rock wall in the Sierra Buttes

Rock wall in the Sierra Buttes

In other areas of California (for example, Anza-Borrego State Park and Carrizo Plains National Monument) the spring 2017 wildflower blooms are being characterized as super-blooms, with acres and miles of colorful carpets of flowers.  The Sutter Buttes wildflowers are perhaps more typical of spring wildflower blooms, with more subtle colors and a preponderance of smaller-sized blooms.  We saw a nice variety of wildflowers: some familiar to me and some new ones.  It’s always a good wildflower day when I find and identify – sometimes with assistance – a few new species!

Some of the familiar species included filaree (Erodium sp.), seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys sp.), miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata or C. parviflora), and blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), as well as a few early Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa) and ookow (Dichelostemma congestum).  An interesting note: the several filaree species are all non-natives, and most have long, pointed “bills” to which the seeds are attached.  I have seen these many times, and the bills are typically about 1 inch long; the ones we saw here were more like 3 to 4 inches long!

The initial hillside we walked up was a treasure trove of flowers, though many were small and so you needed to pay attention to what was nearby.  We took our time: in fact, we spent an hour and 20 minutes just walking about a half mile to the top of the ridge!  One of my favorites was wild carnation (Petrorhagia dubia), also called hairypink or pink grass.  Although it is a non-native, the detail in the petals is exquisite.  The pink color is even more intense than it appears in the picture.

picrure of wild carnation with exquisite detail in the petals

Wild carnation has exquisite detail in the petals

Scattered here and there was fiddleneck, probably common fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia) based on the coloration of the blossoms.  I am beginning to appreciate that the differing colors of fields of fiddleneck are due to the differences in the coloration of the individual blossoms.  These blossoms were mostly yellow, with subtle orange highlights.

picture of common fiddleneck, I think

Common fiddleneck, I think

One of the “new” species was valley tassel (Castilleja attenuata), also called narrow-leaved owl’s clover.  The blossoms on this plant were only beginning to develop the small spots that give rise to the owl-like appearance, which can only be appreciated up close.  Note the filaree “bill” in the background.

picture of valley tassel

Valley tassel

Another “new” species was Sierra mock stonecrop (Sedella pumila), also called dwarf cliff sedum.  The blossoms are less than 1/2 inch in diameter.

picture of Sierra mock stonecrop

Sierra mock stonecrop

We saw others on the hillside that I did not successfully photograph, including pretty face (Triteleia ixioides), rose clover (Trifolium hirtum), cowbag clover (Trifolium depauperatum), and baby star (Leptosiphon bicolor).  The last two were first-timers, and I was a bit disappointed that I did not get any good pictures – but they were also hard to photograph!

We did take occasional breaks from the wildflowers to appreciate the scenery around us.  The weather forecast for the day had been unsettled.  We were fortunate that there was no rain, but some low clouds created a misty feel around some of the rocky formations.

picture of mist around a nearby rock formation

Mist around a nearby rock formation

As we continued up the hill, we noted some phacelia.  Because of the location it is tempting to identify it as rock phacelia (Phacelia egena) but there are other possibilities that are difficult for me to distinguish, especially since I was not careful to note the leaf shape.

picture of phacelia growing next to a lichen-covered rock

Phacelia growing next to a lichen-covered rock

Another favorite is Douglas’ violet (Viola douglasii).  The back side of the petals is a dark maroon/purple color, as is the pretty and delicate pattern on the front of the petals.

picture of Douglas’ violet

Douglas’ violet

We also found some fringepod (Thysanocarpus curvipes, I think) or hairy lacepod.  I think the picture shows seed pods rather than blossoms, but they illustrate the origin of the common name lacepod.  They were hard to photograph, and I was lucky to get this picture!

picture of fringepod, with delicate holes

Fringepod, with delicate holes

Finally we reached the top of the hillside, after finding what seemed like an amazing variety of wildflowers, and descended as we continued on our loop route.  Soon we found our first cluster of baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).  This blossom held a couple of drops of dew or rain, and the petals looked as though they had been a small snack for a critter.

picture of baby blue eyes

Baby blue eyes

During the course of the walk we encountered several gray mule ears (Wyethia helenioides).  I thought the size of the central cluster of disc flowers, compared to the ray flowers, was impressive.

picture of gray mule ears

Gray mule ears

A bit farther down the hill we found two interesting types of clover.  First was tomcat clover (Trifolium wildenovii), which I’ve seen a few times previously.

picture of tomcat clover

Tomcat clover

A few minutes later we found some white-tipped clover (Trifolium variegatum), which happened to be a new species for me.  Note that the colors are similar, but the patterns different, for these two species of clover.

picture of white-tipped clover

White-tipped clover

In a few places we found lupine: relatively small plants, perhaps 8-10 inches tall.  The blossoms had white areas with small purple spots.  There are many species of lupine, and these characteristics – along with the location and month – most likely narrowed the possibilities to sky lupine (Lupinus nanus) or bicolor lupine (Lupinus bicolor).

picture of sky lupine or bicolor lupine

Sky lupine or bicolor lupine

A special find was California plantain (Plantago erecta).  In some geographic areas, this plant is a critical food source for certain endangered butterfly species.  I am not aware that there is a similar situation in the Sutter Buttes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some local butterflies favor it.  The plant is quite small, perhaps 3 inches tall with the flower head about 1/2 inch tall, and is usually very difficult to photograph since it often grows among other grasses and plants.  Someone had pulled one of the plants to pass around for us to view using magnifying glasses, and this facilitated my picture.

picture of California plantain

California plantain

We also found some woodland star.  I have seen this flower many times before, but as a result of this walk I learned that there are several different species that can be difficult to distinguish – at least, for me.  I think this is either common woodland star (Lithophragma affine) or Bolander’s woodland star (Lithophragma bolanderi).

picture of woodland star

Woodland star

We passed a nice example of an acorn granary: a dead oak tree in which acorn woodpeckers had stored hundreds, if not thousands, of acorns by making rows of holes and storing an acorn in each hole.

Where the GPS track shows a right turn we again began to climb.  Throughout the walk we came to fences separating either property parcels or grazing areas.  As we approached one such fence we had a nice view of a formation known as Twin Peaks, less than 2 miles away.

picture of Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

On the out-and-back portion of the walk we were in search of a few specific things.  One was a small cluster of Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla), with beautiful purple and white petals.

picture of Chinese houses

Chinese houses

Another was some canyon larkspur (Delphinium nudicaule), which were even more of an orange color than the picture shows.

picture of canyon larkspur

Canyon larkspur

After reaching a fence where the informal path we were following became quite overgrown, we turned around, retraced our path downhill, and completed the loop to our starting point.  For most of us it was a first-time visit to the Sutter Buttes, and we were pleased that we had seen so much variety in the wildflowers – and that we had not been rained upon.  Several of us were already making plans to return some other time, either for another wildflower walk or for one of the guided hikes.

After I left Yuba City and was on my return to the Bay Area, I noted numerous sunflower-like plants growing next to the road’s shoulder and stopped to take pictures.  It turns out that they are common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), most likely escapees from the local farming areas, which typically rotate crops (sunflower is one of the crops).  The profusion of ray flowers is the key characteristic for identifying this sunflower species; all candidate sunflowers typically bloom later in the year, so this was a bit of a surprise.

picture of common sunflower along the road

Common sunflower along the road

Somehow, a surprise wildflower sighting seemed a fitting end to a day full of wildflower finds.

Posted in Central Valley, Sutter County, wildflower hikes | Tagged , , | 2 Comments