I visit the Stanford Dish Trail fairly regularly to enjoy a hilly training walk in the hills just above the Stanford University campus. Recently I took a slower-paced hike on The Dish trail and the nearby Matadero Creek Trail to enjoy the spring wildflowers. I think it is a good thing to occasionally slow down to enjoy the scenery and/or wildflowers, because on a true training walk I typically don’t stop for anything, and this hike has shown me how much I may be missing. I have been both surprised and delighted this spring with the variety of wildflowers. I think I may have been too focused on walking briskly and not enough on enjoying the beauty around me. Lesson learned, I hope!
All of the wildflowers highlighted in this post were observed along The Dish, though many were also seen along the Matadero Creek Trail; the habitat is very similar, sometimes classified as hill and valley grassland. Although I had taken a few pictures in early March, most of the wildflowers shown below were present in mid-April. I decided to create composite images with 2 or 3 flowers each, in order to keep the actual number of images to a reasonable number, while calling out some 28 or 29 species.
For my mid-April hike I started at the main entrance to The Dish area, along Junipero Serra Blvd at Stanford Ave. The GPS track shows my path, with the orange dot denoting the main entrance. Once I reached the loop proper, I went around clockwise, as I usually do. One full loop to and from the main entrance is about 3.6 miles with a little under 600 feet of elevation gain and loss.
My usual route actually starts at a different entrance, sometimes called the back entrance, along Alpine Rd. This route comes in from the left (west) and intersects the loop about halfway along the western leg, at the location of the large radio telescope dish. It’s a longer access route, and most visitors begin at the main entrance. Near the back entrance there is a shady area and a stream crossing, and there are a few plants not seen in the grassland areas. First, on the left, is miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), which blooms fairly early, beginning in February, after which the distinctive circular leaf remains visible and recognizable into the summer months. In the center is a hedge nettle, most likely either bugle hedge nettle (Stachys ajugoides) or marsh hedge nettle (Stachys palustris). The flower on the right is a mystery: the leaves and stem put it in the mint family, along with hedge nettles, but I have not yet been able to find an identifying picture with the same kind of blossom. The mint family and Stachys genus are both quite large.
Next is a trio of small pink flowers, all members of the geranium family. On the left is broad-leaf filaree (Erodium botrys), in the center is white-stemmed or green-stemmed filaree (Erodium moschatum), and on the right is dove’s foot geranium (Geranium molle). I saw the filarees in profusion along both the back access trail and around the loop first during March training walks, and I needed to slow down and take a closer look to confirm that they are indeed different species. (The blossoms are only about 1 cm in diameter and I was viewing them from a distance/height of at least 5 feet while moving at a speed of over 4 mph.) I first noticed the dove’s foot geranium a few weeks later, in early April, and took note of its different foliage. My camera has some trouble rendering pinks and purples accurately: the white-stemmed filaree is pinker than the broad-leaf filaree, and the dove’s foot geranium is a very bright pink.
There were other small flowers as well: Here I show bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculata) on the left, clearly a member of the pea family. In the center is scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis), really an orange-colored flower with scarlet/red at the throat. And on the right is pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), which seems to like to grow immediately next to the paved trail where the other vegetation is low; I’ve seen it in many other parks literally within unpaved hiking trails.
I found two types of flowers named buttercup: on the left is the California buttercup (Raununculus californicus) and on the right is Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae). I should point out that oxalis is actually in the wood sorrel family and is not very closely related to true buttercups – and the structure of the flower is quite different.
There were some other wildflowers in the yellow color range, notably common fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia) and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). The fiddleneck at the left was photographed in early March, and the blossom coil is very short. As the blooming season progresses the coil unwinds, always with just a few blossoms at the top. The picture in the center was taken in mid-April, and the uncoiling appears nearly complete. This year the poppies did not seem profuse to me, but they were pretty, as always. In some areas around the trail there were poppies intermixed with fiddlenecks and others, such as lupine.
Near the highest part of the loop, about 0.85 miles from the trailhead at nearly 500 feet elevation and near the southernmost part of the trail, there is a lichen-covered rock that reminds me of rocks often found in serpentine soil areas. I don’t know that the soil is actually serpentine there, but I was interested to find a couple of clusters of popcorn flowers, which I tend to associate with serpentine soil; sometimes this is called an affinity. The plants in the left photo were at least a foot tall, comparable to the height of the surrounding grasses in mid-March; I think they are common popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys nothofulvus or P. fulvus). By mid-April the grasses were taller, and these flowers had finished blooming – or were crowded/shaded out by the grasses. Not far away I found a different type of popcorn flower, possibly valley popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys canescens) just off the trail pavement. This plant is much lower to the ground, though the flowers themselves look very similar to common popcorn flower. I have read that it is tricky to distinguish different species of popcorn flower. The center photo is clover that was abundant around The Dish loop in mid-April. I think it is rose clover (Trifolium hirtum), based on the shape and configuration of the individual flowers in the flower head. The genus name, trifolium, of course refers to the familiar 3-leaved characteristic.
There were several types of wildflower growing among the grasses in sunny areas. On the left is a type of wild onion, perhaps narrow leaf onion (Allium amplectens); I confess that I didn’t walk off-trail the necessary 10 yards to examine the foliage. In the center is what I believe to be sky lupine (Lupinus nanus). Although clearly a lupine, the exact identification was confounded a bit by conflicting naming in a couple of trusted and well-respected wildflower resources. I have read that, when in doubt, an effort should be made to use the correct Latin name, since the same common name is sometimes used for multiple species. On the right is Mediterranean lineseed (Bellardia trixago), which is considered an invasive species: too bad, since I think the flowers are pretty.
Of course there were quite a few thistles: these, too are considered invasive but have become so widespread that it is by now unfeasible to eradicate them, I suspect. On the left is Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), which has smaller, lighter-hued flowers that typically appear several at a time on each stem. On the right is milk thistle (Silybum marianum), which has larger, purpler flower heads that grow singly on thick stems with large bracts and large variegated leaves.
Two types of vetch are easily found along the trail. I noticed more spring vetch (Vicia sativa) along the west (higher elevation) side of the loop and more winter vetch (Vicia villosa ssp. varia), also called smooth vetch, along the east (lower elevation) side of the loop. The blossoms of the spring vetch clearly place it in the pea family, and the leaves of these two vetches are similar.
There were several types of relatively tall blue flowers in addition to the lupine shown above. Here are a few, coincidentally all containing “blue” in their names. On the left is blue dick (Dichelostemma capitatum); I think the species name capitatum refers to the head-like cluster of flowers. In the center, blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) is famously neither blue – it is more like purple – nor a grass; it’s actually in the iris family (Iridaceae). On the right is blue witch nightshade (Solanum umbelliferum), which is actually a small shrub. I saw these blossoms in passing, perhaps 10 yards off-trail, in early March and promptly returned for photos. Even though the blooming period is rather long (Jan through Jun), within a couple of weeks I could no longer find this example even though I knew exactly where to look. Sometimes individual flowers are rather fleeting!
About midway down the long descent at the north end of the loop I found a single pair of what appeared to be white blue-eyed grass. It turns out that there is, in fact, a species in the Sisyrinchium genus that is white: Nevada blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium halophilum). A photo on the Calflora web site looks – to me – exactly like this one. The only problem is that the range of Nevada blue-eyed grass seems to be in Mono County and northern Inyo County, over 200 miles from The Dish. So I am hesitant to make this identification.
Finally, I saw two types of brodiaeas: on the left is Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa) and on the right is dwarf brodiaea (Brodiaea terrestris ssp. terrestris). Ithuriel’s spear typically has a long main stem, topped by a cluster of several flowers, each on its own stem or peduncle. What struck me about the dwarf brodiaeas was that they were very short, only a few inches to the top of the single blossom. The blossoms are also a bit pinker than Ithuriel’s spear. The reproductive structures inside the blossoms are also different, and helped guide my identification of the dwarf brodiaea: not harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans), for example.
Although none of these wildflowers – except the white blue-eyed grass – are rare or unusual, it was a delight to see so many different species on such a short walk. It was a reminder to me, and perhaps to others as well, to at least occasionally slow down and look carefully at – if not stop to smell – the flowers.