Saturday, April 30, 2011

Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve - Wildflower Hotspot #2

Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve, Redwood City, California
Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve balances on the edge of San Francisco's suburbs and the rugged, undeveloped mountain valley that stores water for the 2.5 million humans living along the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay.  Once it was scarred by motorcycle trails and destined to become another golf course.  But a stubborn group of local botanists kept finding small, unusual plant treasures there and reversed the fate of this county park.

Edgewood Park is the most consistent and reliable place to see the spring wildflower display in the Santa Cruz Mountains and it can be easily reached from any city between San Francisco and San Jose by taking Edgewood Road east from Highway 280.  Highway 280 is sometimes described as one of the most beautiful highways in the world, and in addition to the darkly forested slopes to the west often crowned by great banks of cascading fog, the bright patches of Edgewood wildflowers to the east are likewise visible from the highway each spring and subtly remind the speeding motorists that they are following the course of a major faultline between two giant sliding landforms.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Coyote Ridge - Wildflower Hotspot #1

As you travel on Highway 101 between San Jose and Morgan Hill, you may have noticed bright patches of spring color on the hills to the east - this is Coyote Ridge.  Serpentine rock, part of our unique California fault-shaped geology, forms Coyote Ridge and soil high in some minerals and low in plant nutrients.  Some California plants have evolved to be tolerant of these conditions.

Poor soils often make for good wildflowers.  Coyote Ridge supports a colorful spring bloom of wildflowers including more than a dozen rare species.  It is also one of the few remaining habitats for the threatened bay checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha bayensis) which is dependent on a few small native plant species for adult nectar and caterpillar forage.  Increased deposition of nitrogen from the air, probably primarily from automobile exhaust, is changing the unique soil conditions that create the serpentine grasslands and is allowing European annual grasses to spread on Coyote Ridge and outcompete the colorful native color that also supports the rare butterfly.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wildflower Hotspots of the Santa Cruz Mountains

On cloudy days, some flowers stay closed.
I will be making a presentation Wildflower Hotspots of the Santa Cruz Mountains on Sunday, April 24, 2011 from 11:00 to noon at Mission College in Santa Clara, California for the 39th Annual Wildflower Show of the California Native Plant Society - Santa Clara Valley Chapter. Below is my list of 20 wildflower hotspots. Each has a link to the park website with directions, trails and other logistics.

Many generous local plant people have nominated their favorite hikes and allowed me to use their wonderful photographs which I will be sharing at the show.  Over the next few weeks, I will be posting some of those photos here with more details on spring hikes, giving you tips on how to find and enjoy wildflowers and providing links to some of these great photographers.  Go to the "Search This Blog" window in the middle of the right-hand column and enter "wildflowers" or "hikes" to find the updated posts about wildflower hikes.  Please add your observations and check the comments for the most recent information.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

It's Sssspring

Santa Cruz gartersnake cruising over yellow starthistle seedling.
This subspecies has a whitish to lemon-yellow throat.
While surveying for thistle seedlings on Friday at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, I crossed from the Carboniferous period to the Permian period.  That is, I witnessed the seasonal emergence of scaly-skinned animals with eggs that have protective shells (reptiles) while slimy-skinned animals that lay their eggs in moist environments were slipping into their summer hideaways (amphibians).  Reptiles are kings of the summer, while coastal California's amphibians are more active in the winter-wet period.

Draped over a yellow starthistle seedling, I saw the first snake of the year - a Santa Cruz aquatic garter snake.   Sunning on the new section of the White Oaks Trail, this was probably a young-of-the-year snake only 8" long and 1/4" wide.  Aquatic garter snakes are born in late August to mid-October.