Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hanging Out with California Natives

Blue oaks (Quercus douglasii) have large gaps in their canopy through which you can see the stars. Growing only here, blue oaks are California natives.
I'm working on this idea that it takes a long time to know a place. So if you want to know California better, you better hang out with California natives, not just the native plants and animals but also the people who were raised in this state.

Also, if you are studying a species on the edge of its range, it is good to visit its habitat in the center of its range to observe that species' appearance and behavior in its stronghold. And vice-versa. We've got a big state here, go for a trip.

It's not a fabulous year for spring wildflowers due to the dry weather, however, some plants are still blooming especially right now and over the next few weeks.  After all, California natives are adapted to occasional drought.

Gray pines (Pinus sabineana) at sunset. Growing in dry places and full of resins, their forked trunks - often burnt and leaning - are endemic to California. 
One of the best ways to get to know the California wildflowers is to go to the annual spring wildflower show of your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS).  In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of CNPS is having its annual spring wildflower show on Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28, 2013 from 10 am and 4 pm at Mission College in Santa Clara. They will have hundreds of flowers on display all labeled with their names and organized by plant families. Information tables and vendors have books, photos, and a limited amount of native plants for sale. There are classes on both days and I am definitely going to Cate Huick's class on Saturday. She leads many great wildflower hikes in our region and takes fabulous photos. Attendance at the event is free (just make sure to follow the parking instructions at the weblink above) and so are all the classes.

Gray pines (Pinus sabineana) at sunrise. The burnt pine on the right probably dropped large seeds to the ground after the heat of a wildfire caused the semi-serotinous cones to open.  Young gray pines in the foreground. Looking northeasterly from Walker Ridge in Lake County, California, what is that circle of peaks? Sutter Buttes? I really don't know. Any help from you California natives?
Have you ever stood on a ridge with someone and they've been able to tell you the name of every mountaintop in sight? That's native knowledge. Take a native Californian to the wildflower show or on a hike or a trip, and learn something new that is old.

Put your hands on the wheel
Let the golden age begin
Let the window down
Feel the moonlight on your skin
Let the desert wind cool your aching head
Let the weight of the world drift away instead

-The Golden Age, Beck, lyrics by Craig Mackenzie Armstrong and A.R. Rahman

Political debates around the campfire - just howling at the moon


  1. Nice night shots. I think you're correct on Sutter Buttes. But then, I'm lousy at remembering geography. I even labeled my Lassen photo as Shasta at first.

    Wonderful Beck lyrics, too. Here's a complementary refrain from Morcheeba that similarly inspires me:

    With the moonlight to guide you
    Feel the joy of being alive
    The day that you stop running
    Is the day that you arrive
    And the night that you got locked in
    Was the time to decide
    Stop chasing shadows, just enjoy the ride
    Stop chasing shadows, just enjoy the ride


  2. The Monterey CNPS Chapter had its WFS 4/19-4/21. I've helped set up in years past, but this was the first time I was asked to help collect and ID. It was an interesting experience and absolutely exhausting. Our unofficial blooming plant count in the show exceeded 714 species, the second highest count on record in the 50+ years our show has been going. I've found there are pockets of intense spring wildflowers this year that are jaw dropping. Its quickly fading, though.

  3. Katie: 714 species, wow. A friend was visiting from Florida on the weekend of the Santa Clara Valley show and she was surprised that so many flowers were blooming at one time. Guess it is a combination of our diversity of habitat types but also the concentration of the spring rainfall.

  4. It's weird about the rain, huh? Everyone was expecting it to be a small flower year, except me - I have a signature flower I look for and I found it this year. The final tally isn't in yet, but I'm guessing it'll be in the 720's. We had some obvious no shows like sun cups and CA buckeye - they seem to be blooming late this year. I think the highest ever was close to 735 spp. Usually we hover around the high-mid 600's. It's a ton of plants to vase, tag with IDs, and refresh. Monterey Co. covers a large geographical area with an incredible range of habitats. I'd be curious to know what other CA counties experience with regard to diversity.


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