Monday, February 13, 2012

Let the Spring Begin

Western leatherwood (Dirca occidentalis), a rare native California shrub, has distinct sprays of bright yellow flowers in the late winter.  Notice the sharp point behind the flower.  This feature often remains behind the flat tip of the branch after the flower falls and is one way to distinguish this plant from the similar osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis).
Spring has begun almost without a winter.  The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) has several hikes coming up that will feature the earliest of the spring wildflowers.  If we don't get more rain this winter, we may have a short wildflower season, so get an early start and shake that rain stick.  Select "Read more" below for info and links on these hikes.

The Bill and Jean Lane Education Center tells the story of Edgewood Park's ecology in colorful displays.
Next Saturday, February 18th will be a plant hike with Ken Himes to Edgewood Park and Nature Preserve highlighting all the good work to control invasive plants which in turn promotes the native wildflower bloom.  Don't forget to stop by the beautiful new education center with colorful displays describing the ecology and history of this serpentine treasure.  I've featured Edgewood Park and Nature Preserve as Wildflower Hotspot #2 - check the link for more details on this easy-to-reach natural area near Redwood City.

It may be a little early for many wildflowers but surely the California poppies will be out.
Next Sunday, February 19th, will be a CNPS-members-only plant identification hike to Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve (you can join CNPS at the trailhead).  I've featured Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve as Wildflower Hotspot #4.  The recent precipitation may have brought out some interesting plants on the rocky outcrops alongside Woods Trail, and you'll get an early jump on remembering all those tips and terms for identifying the ephemeral flowers of these vernal months.

A rare shrub found only in the San Francisco Bay region, the western leatherwood hides in cool, shady forests. This one is along Sawyer Camp Trail in Crystal Springs near San Bruno.
If you want to join a hunt for a rare plant, check out the walk in Stevens Creek County Park on Saturday, February 25th to find the western leatherwood (Dirca occidentalis) and the mystery of why it has that funny name.  Today, I got a report that these lovely flowering shrubs are nearing the end of their late winter blooming period at Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, so you should be able to see some of the soft yellow drooping flowers in the cool canyons of Stevens Creek County Park on this hike date.  As the leatherwood petals fall to the forest floor, the simple, delicate leaves bud out to capture the dappled light along the trail edges of the shady forests.  This is a good hike to return to in the heat of summer, and if you become familiar with leatherwood's other traits now, you can find it tucked into the forest later without its unique flowers (hint: see photo at top and also notice the elegant coloration of the bark on the older stems).

More information on these hikes can be found at the CNPS - Santa Clara Chapter website.

A lupine (Lupinus sp.) capturing fog drip.


  1. Cindy, leatherwood is blooming now at Rancho -- saw it today.


  2. Thanks Jane. I also got a report that it was blooming at Jasper Ridge two weeks ago, at Windy Hill on Saturday 2/2/13, and I saw it blooming at La Honda on 1/25/13. Love that butter color yellow.


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