Saturday, March 31, 2012

Augury of Spring

Three reasons to slow down on Page Mill Road - sharp curves, bicyclists on the road, and wildflowers.
There is a curve on Page Mill Road that is covered with blossoms of Warrior's plume (aka Indian warrior, Pedicularis densiflora) for a few short weeks every spring. It is blooming right now, a bold announcement that the spring wildflower season has started.

Warrior's plume along Page Mill Road
This location is in the small preserve Foothills Open Space Preserve, not to be confused with the adjacent City of Palo Alto's Foothills Park.  The former is open to everyone, every day of the year from sunrise to sunset.  The later is only open to residents of Palo Alto unless you walk in from some of the new trails on the backside.  The flowers don't care, they are in both parks.

Warrior' s plume has peculiar flowers.  Much of the bright color is actually from red bracts rather than the actual petals.
Warrior's plume has a reputation as being hemiparasitic - producing food by photosynthesis in its fernlike leaves, but also tapping into the roots of other plants for nutrition.  I have always been curious as to how anyone knows that a plant is hemiparasitic.  Did they dig it up and discover roots attached to other roots?  I want to do some research on this but it is quite possible their short bloom period will be over by the time I figure it out, so for now, you get the photos and the mystery.  More later.

What might the open oak canopy have to do with the dense concentration of Warrior's plume at this particular location?


  1. Beautiful. And I love the last photo -- oaks and oak woodland ecosystems are near and dear to my heart. What California must have looked like, 200 years ago...

  2. I saw some roadkill indian warriors on a fallen oak last year. The roots had been washed off by the heavy rains that dropped the tree, and you could see how the plants are directly growing off the oak roots, as if they were just an offshoot of the root itself. Amazing.

  3. RT: that an amazing bit of investigative reporting - warrior roadkill indeed! I think I'm starting to understand the "randomness" of your truth.

  4. That's too cool re: what random truth said. I, like you, am also super intrigued by the whole parasitic plant, hemiparasitic, things that folks thought relied on the host plant (say, pine trees) and now they realize the parasitic plant relies on the fugus that grows on the pine tree roots. It's all super interesting to me, and one thing I learned when investigating it (via the internet, mind you, when I found ghost orchids (totally white plant and flowers)) is that it's COMPLICATED and ideas are evolving. And lots of data out there is outdated.

    Good luck =)

    What I learned is here:

  5. Jeeze, I forgot to say what I was originally going to say. THANK you for the vocab moment: had to look up augury. NICE. =)

  6. Yes, CA is a place where a naturalist's observations can easily look quite random. ;)

    It also caught me because I've seen roadkill indirect hemi-parasites, ala Piperiads, and they just have fine rootlets that seem to weave around the area of the host plant's roots, and only touch at the fines with the micorrhiza creating the connections.

    Vs. the warrior which had a pencil-thick stalk jutting out of the root side and then turning up toward the sky.

    Plants are so cool.


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