Russian Ridge loop wildflower hike

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Last spring I did a wonderful wildflower hike in Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and I’d decided to return again this year. Since I wasn’t available to join a specific docent-led wildflower hike, I tried to take the same route on a different day. It was a nice 3.8-mile loop from the main Russian Ridge OSP parking area near Skyline Blvd (CA-35) and Page Mill and Alpine Roads in the hills above Palo Alto. The wildflowers were a bit less intense this year, but I think I saw – or took note of – more types. I continue to be amazed at the variety of wildflowers that can be seen at Russian Ridge even on a relatively short hike.

I began at the main parking area and took the path that leads away from the park entrance, following the Ridge Trail to a junction near the vista point parking on Skyline. At the junction I turned left to go to the Alder Spring and Ancient Oaks Trails, then back to the main parking area. The start and end of my hike are denoted by the orange dot on the GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail climbs steadily but gently from the parking area, topping out on Borel Hill before descending to the Ancient Oaks Trail, only to climb again before the final descent back to the parking area. The total elevation gain was only 740 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The very beginning of the hike included sightings of several wildflowers I had not noticed in previous visits. The first was the broad-leaved filaree (Erodium botrys), a small and delicate-looking light purple flower. There are many of them along the trails.

image of broad-leaved filaree

Broad-leaved filaree

Next was some woodland star (Lithophragma), also delicate-looking, at a particular spot less than 0.2 mile from the trailhead.

picture of woodland star

Woodland star

I saw a few fiddlenecks (Amsinckia menziesii), which have generally been difficult for me to photograph. This time the flower heads did not fade into the surrounding grass and other plants, and I was able to get an in-focus photo that shows the detail of these distinctive flowers.

photo of fiddlenecks


I noticed some patches of quite small yellow clover-like flowers just by the side of the trail. They are shamrock clover (Trifolium dubium). The yellow color is somewhat unusual for clover.

image of shamrock clover

Shamrock clover

The trail makes a small jog to the left, and in this area I noticed some yellow flowers I’d seen the previous year but elected not to try to identify. Sure enough, they were in the same location as last year! I think they are monolopia, possibly woodland monolopia (Monolopia gracilens).

picture of woodland monolopia, possibly

Woodland monolopia, possibly

There was common yarrow (Archillea millefolium) throughout the hike. The distinctive leaves make this wildflower easy to recognize in different stages of its flowering cycle. I’m not sure, but I imagine that the small white mass near the main stem is an egg mass for an insect.

photo of common yarrow

Common yarrow

I soon noticed a small yellow ball-like flower that I’ve seen in other parks but had not yet identified. It turns out to be pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea). Thanks to the zoom on my camera, you can see that the balls are actually a little bit pointy!

image of pineapple weed

Pineapple weed

Amazingly, I found all of the preceding wildflowers before I got to the beginning of the actual loop, only 0.6 mile from the trailhead. I also had seen poppies, mule’s ear, buttercup, lupine, smooth vetch, blue-eyed grass, scarlet pimpernel, red maids, and thistles, among others that I forgot to note.

Along the short stretch of trail leading to Borel Hill I was pleased to find johnny jump-ups (Viola pedunculata), which are one of my favorites at Russian Ridge. The dark-colored veining at the throat of the blossom is exquisite.

pictgure of johnny jump-up

Johnny jump-up

On the shoulder of Borel Hill there are tidy tips, blue dicks, checkermallow, and clusters of owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta).

photo of owl’s clover

Owl’s clover

From Borel Hill there are views both of San Francisco Bay to the east and toward the Pacific Ocean to the west. The day of this hike there was a bit too much coastal fog to see the ocean. However, the view of Mindego Hill was pretty.

image of view of Mindego Hill from Borel Hill

View of Mindego Hill from Borel Hill

Shortly after making a left turn at the junction near the vista point parking (at the top left of the GPS track) I noticed a few purple salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) flowers near the trail, now the Charquin Trail.

picture of purple salsify next to the Charquin Trail

Purple salsify next to the Charquin Trail

I continued about 0.3 mile on the Charquin Trail to a T junction, with the Alder Spring Trail coming in from the right and the Charquin Trail continuing to the left, headed for the Ancient Oaks Trail. Just before I reached the junction a buckeye butterfly paused briefly on a plant in front of me before continuing to another farther away. The trail enters a more forested area and passes a moist area near a small stream, with ferns and horse tail along with winter vetch and a few other wildflowers. Some of the understory plant leaves were decorated with water drops from the overnight fog that had just recently lifted.

photo of water drops glistening in filtered sunlight

Water drops glistening in filtered sunlight

After another 0.3 mile there is another trail junction, this time bearing left to go on the Ancient Oaks Trail. This section was a pretty change from the open hillsides of the first part of the hike. The elevation is a little lower, and the namesake ancient oak trees provide fairly deep shade. On the ocean side of Russian Ridge, the micro-climate is generally moist, and the trees have what I call furry moss on their trunks and lower branches. Along with poison oak, there were other moisture-loving plants, including a non-blooming trillium. There was yet another yellow flower, with a larger center and shorter outer rays. It is a gumplant, either a Great Valley gumplant (Grindelia camporum) or coastal gumweed (Grindelia stricta), which seem to be very similar. Some of the pre-bloom flower heads had a thick white covering called an exudate.

image of Great Valley gumplant or coastal gumweed

Great Valley gumplant or coastal gumweed

At a curve in the trail there is an amazing, massive tree with several trunks radiating from the main trunk. Although perhaps not obvious, the base of the trunk is several feet in diameter.

picture of impressive tree along Ancient Oaks Trail

Impressive tree along Ancient Oaks Trail

After passing a side trail (Bo Gimbal Trail) to the left, the Ancient Oaks Trail continues toward Alpine Rd, where there is a junction with a spur trail that goes out to the road. Just past this junction I noticed some small, very light flowers. They are apparently related to Chinese houses and are called white blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia bartsiifolia).

photo of delicate white blue-eyed Mary flowers

Delicate white blue-eyed Mary flowers

From this junction the trail climbs up 100 feet or so to close the loop. After emerging from the woodsy area I came across another pretty butterfly busy feeding on a dandelion-like flower. It remained perched on the flower for at least a minute, gradually completing a full 360-degree rotation.

image of colorful butterfly feeding on a flower

Colorful butterfly feeding on a flower

After completing the loop I returned to the trailhead. As I drove home I made a point to stop along Page Mill Rd as it passes by Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, where I’d noticed a patch of distinctive yellow flowers on my way to begin my hike. When I could stop and loop at the flowers more closely, I realized that they were yellow bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus).

picture of yellow lupine along Page Mill Rd next to Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

Yellow lupine along Page Mill Rd next to Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

I had not seen yellow lupine before, and this seemed like a nice punctuation point to an amazing wildflower hike at Russian Ridge.

This entry was posted in Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, San Mateo County, wildflower hikes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Russian Ridge loop wildflower hike

  1. Cindy says:

    Even in a drought year, Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve has a great variety of flowers. Although there may not be hillsides of color this year, there are plenty of different micro-habitats with diverse types of flowers which make for a wonderful hike. The yellow flower is not a Monolopia but is a spring-blooming variety of common madia (Madia elegans) which has all yellow petals and is sometimes referred to as spring elegant madia. Later on in the summer, you can see the other variety, summer elegant madia, blooming on Page Mill Road with yellow petals with a red center. There you go, more amazing flower diversity.

  2. Pingback: Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve: Mindego Hill Trail and Ancient Oaks Trail extension | trailhiker

  3. Pingback: Ridge Trail Cruz 27-mile hike | trailhiker

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