Plant Trail Reports, San Bernardino / San Jacinto Mountains for 2006

7 July 2006: Devils Slide Trail (see Devils Slide Trail Plant Guide)

I celebrated the end of my 1.5 year concentration to the Santa Rosa Plateau by returning to one of my favorite trails, the Devils Slide Trail. I was ecstatic to be back in the mountains and see some old friends! I was also looking forward to seeing some new species to the plant trail guide found by Michael Charters and an anonymous reader who had alerted me to two of them, one of which I'd never seen before anyplace.

Don't get me wrong; my 1.5 years at the Santa Rosa Plateau was very interesting, enjoyable, and scientifically profitable. But 1.5 years anyplace gets old after a while, and you miss all the other places you used to enjoy. (I didn't actually spend the entire 1.5 years at the Santa Rosa Plateau; I spent most of November 2005 - January 2006 at the Anza-Borrego Desert, and worked in Brodiaea trips here and there.)

I wasn't sure how I'd do on the trail today, since I was no longer accustomed to hiking steep trails and I had no acclimatization to higher altitudes prior to this trip. Despite this uncertainty, Rolf Muertter accompanied me today. The weather prediction was for temperatures in the high 70s, partly cloudy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon.

The temperature was as advertised, 79 in the shade as we started at a bit after noon. Shortly after we began, we received some wonderful unexpected cloud cover, which made the hiking quite comfortable. Even better, there were only a few annoying flies, and only a few deerflies. I had no trouble at all hiking the first part of the trail, especially at a botanical pace, and was looking forward to making the top of the trail.

We were at the Jolley Spring drainage at mile 0.94, studying all the new species there, when we heard thunder. Uh-oh, I've been here before!

It soon began to rain. I pulled out the magic poncho, which usually has the immediate effect of making the rain stop. No magic this time; the rain came down HARD! There were even tiny balls of hail that would hit the ground, bounce, and then immediately melt.

We tried to wait it out, since summer thunderstorms are often brief, but we just got wetter and wetter. After ten minutes or so, noting that the trail had become a flowing creek with more water than was flowing in the Jolley Spring drainage before the storm, we decided it was prudent to return to the trailhead.

Our hike out was amazing. The dry trail we took on the way up had become a creek along most of its length, and we were hiking in the middle of the creek. In the places where water wasn't flowing along the trail, the water was flowing perpendicular to the trail, creating thick sections of mud or washing a mini-ravine into the trail.

Even more amazing, given the hundred degree heat in the neighboring lowlands, we were freezing. Our hands were quickly becoming very cold from the wet cool rain and evaporation.

As expected, the rain mostly ended by the time we got to the trailhead, but all non-poncho-covered parts were absolutely soaked, so there was no desire to see if the rain would actually completely end and try to return to the trail.

We went back to the ranger station in Idyllwild to change shoes and socks, and "demand our money back"! The ranger cheerfully replied to fill out a form requesting our money back, and "they would get back to us in 15 days".

We were just kidding of course, and asked the ranger when the weather service changed the forecast from "sunny" to "thunderstorms". He checked the webpage; it was still predicting "sunny". (:-)

On the drive home along SR74 toward SR371, I drove through another heavy downpour, and very much appreciated enjoying this one from the car. (;-)

Botanical highlights: I was very pleased to finally see the milkweed in bloom, as well as bloom remnants on the perennial lupine, so I could finally get their identifications. I was amazed at the Jolley Spring drainage to see all the species there I hadn't seen in previous years, since most of my previous trips to this trail were in late summer. I plan on returning to this trail soon and pick up where I left off.

10 July 2006: Devils Slide Trail (see Devils Slide Trail Plant Guide)

James Dillane, Michael Charters and I had a fabulous time botanizing the trail along its entire length, and best of all, it didn't rain one drop on us. (;-) The weather was nice, and I had no elevation problems. The deer flies were a bit more abundant than they were on 7/7/06, but still not much of a problem. I only killed something like five of them, although a few more never landed so I could kill them, too.

We found a number of treasures we had no idea existed here, since most of our previous botanical experience on this trail was in September and October. Some of the highlights were:

I also checked all the Galium angustifolium, which all seemed to fit ssp. angustifolium better than ssp. jacinticum, since most of the leaves were shorter than 11 mm, and the infl were always many-flowered. I later looked up ssp. jacinticum; it is only found at lower elevations.

There was apparently a big forest service field program going on for the next few days. Kerry Knudsen, the lichen expert, got up at 2 a.m. to hike up the trail at something like 5 a.m. this day!

We met two groups of SnBr Forest Service people botany / biology staff on the trail heading to the camp for this activity. The first group were biologists heading to the top for several days to do flying squirrel, reptile et al surveys. (flying squirrels were known to exist there before about 10 years ago, but they have received few reports since then. Apparently, some non-native animals (starlings?) Are crowding their range. But they are nocturnal, so surveys are the only reliable way to find out their numbers. But my question is: how do they see while they are flying if they are nocturnal?? (;-) )

Michael was very pleased to meet these biologists, and got the id of his black rattlesnake he saw on 6/29/06.

Amazing, just a bit later we met Kate Kramer, the SnJt forest botanist, and an intern heading back down the trail. They had escorted Kerry Knudsen up the trail at 5 a.m.!

We just had time to rest a bit at the top, and explore the PCT a bit, and then headed back down, getting to the car at sunset. On my next visit, I think I'll go looking for the lemon lilies at mile 0.47 on the willow creek trail.... (;-)

14 July 2006: Devils Slide Trail, Willow Creek Trail (partial) (see Plant Guides for Devils Slide Trail and Willow Creek Trail)

Today I was on my own for botanizing, so I did some relatively boring work to which I wouldn't have subjected any companions. (;-) I GPS'd the first occurrence of every species on the trail, and recorded the bloom status of each.

Also, I photographed every wet drainage and made a separate list of the most common species in each. I'll put this online as a reference material, since it is hard to always keep track what is found at which drainage.

The probable reason I was on my own was that other people were more rational. The predicted temperature was 89° F at the trailhead, with a 20% chance of rain! Fortunately, the temperature was a bit less than that, 86-87° F in the shade near the beginning of the trail at 1:30 p.m. It declined to a pleasant 75° F when I reached Saddle Junction at 4:45 p.m.

I got a late start because I stopped in Garner Valley to meet the botanists working on the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Program. It was nice meeting them and going over some of their unknowns with them.

Since I had just done the Devils Slide trail twice completely in the last eight days, I didn't expect any surprises. But I found one, a plant of little prince's pine, Chimaphila menziesii, in full bloom that we had missed on both of the previous trips. It was hidden by a rock, and could only be seen if you looked ahead on the trail near the dirt of the trail itself.

The GPS'ing of the trail was not nearly as good as outside of the pine forest. The accuracy quoted by my ETREX was only rarely in the 20 to 30 foot range that is achieved elsewhere. It often was a terrible 60-80 feet, and a handful of times, when the trees were the densest and the mountain took away most half the sky, it lost all the satellites and gave up. With that terrible accuracy, I found that the internal trip odometer gave much lower readings than was correct, since it attributed a lot of the change between each reading to the poor accuracy.

At the top, I took the Willow Creek Trail and worked on its plant list. It was fabulous seeing that trail again, and finding a species new to me, western bistort, Polygonum bistortoides. The other highlights were seeing and smelling both lemon lilies, Lilium parryi, in full bloom, and short-flowered monardella, Monardella nana ssp. tenuiflora, ending its bloom, but still with some good displays. Of course, it is always good to see pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum, in full bloom as well.

As I was returning on the Willow Creek Trail, it struck me that many of the plants endemic here (at least in southern California) had subdued colors. The San Jacinto lupine, Lupinus hyacinthinus, is a light blue-purple that looks a bit faded even at full bloom; the changeable phacelia, Phacelia mutabilis, found primarily here in southern California, is such a soft lavender that the flowers hardly stand out from the calyx and leaves; and the San Jacinto Mts. Keckiella, Keckiella rothrockii var. jacintensis, is a soft brownish-yellow and salmon color. They stand in sharp contrast to the more widespread lemon lilies, penstemons, and ranger's buttons.

I would have thought that flowers endemic to deep shade might be more colorful rather than less colorful, but perhaps it was more efficient to attract pollinators in other ways, such as with scent. Or perhaps the pollinators have "dark-adapted" eyes, and these flowers are just as colorful to them as the more-flamboyant flower colors.

The flies were a bit annoying on the way up, but more than a little annoying on the way down, even though I was hiking much more rapidly then. I had to wave my hands continuously or else the flies would annoy me at my face.

I met two large groups on the way down, consisting of mostly teenagers and young adults. The first group had about 30 people, and was strung out over at least a half mile of trail. Some of this group were going to be hiking by flashlight on the way up. The second group was at the bottom of the trail, and didn't leave until 8:00 pm, the time of sunset. The leader told them they'd be at Saddle Junction by 9:00 pm before the last sunlight went away; I'll be shocked if that actually was true. Even more surprising, he told them they could drink the water in all the springs along the trail! To his credit, he did say you had to get it at its source, which is easier said than done, especially when you have only an hour to hike 2.5 miles with 1600 feet of elevation gain at altitudes of 6500 - 8000 feet!

19 July 2006: Devils Slide Trail, Willow Creek Trail (partial) (see Plant Guides for Devils Slide Trail and Willow Creek Trail)

James Dillane and I met Michael Charters once again at the trailhead, and it only took seconds for James to spot a species not on the Guide, the mistletoe on the incense cedar, on a specimen in front of the car. We quickly found one off-trail for the Guide itself, but never found one on trail. I was surprised that the incense cedars were mostly confined to the beginning of the trail, with only very scattered trees at higher elevations.

Rounding switchback #2, we were shocked to see fresh rosette leaves of white-veined wintergreen, Pyrola picta, that had not present earlier at that location! The summer rains of the last several weeks had apparently stimulated this rosette. It was all the more surprising since later on the trail was a leafless plant in bloom.

The temperature was significantly cooler than the predicted 87°; it was only 81° F at 12:40 p.m., but it felt hotter than the previous 86° on 7/14/06 since the humidity was higher today. The temperature dropped nicely after we got about halfway up, and was just 69° at Saddle Junction at 3:12 p.m.

The sharp eyes of James spotted two teeny-tiny brittle bladder ferns, Cystopteris fragilis, in the moss-covered drainage at mile 1.35; the plants were only 1 cm across at most!

We spotted a prickly lettuce, Lactuca serriola, which resolved a mystery I had from my last trip here. On that trip, I had found a mostly-eaten plant that just had its lower stem left. The stem was prickly, unlike any plant I remember seeing here before, and was exactly this species. It seems likely that this species, along with a few others that are similar waifs on this trail, are brought in by horses or possibly hikers' boots. This is the only non-native species on the trail; we pulled it out. (:-)

The hike along the Willow Creek Trail was beautiful. Willow Creek itself was gorgeous. I was especially pleased to see cows clover, Trifolium wormskioldii, a species that I rarely see. It was obviously a perennial, forming large mats. It seemed to come in two forms. There would be mats of small leaves, with mats of large leaves next to them, and there were intergrading leaves only over a very short distance.

We puzzled a bit over the single specimen of pink-bracted manzanita, Arctostaphylos pringlei ssp. drupacea, which looked kinda like that species, but kinda not. Work on it at home confirmed that identification; the difference must be the very different habitat here. This specimen is sitting on the east-facing slope of angle ~20° in the dense pine-forest shade; the specimens on the devils slide trail are in much more sun, on a west-facing slope of angle closer to 60°.

All too soon, we had to turn around, having made it to about 0.4 miles to the next drainage with water.

The most surprising find of the day was western polypody, Polypodium hesperium, spotted by James on the way down. He found this fern hiding in a crack between two boulders, hidden by other boulders except for one very tiny viewing angle, viewable only while coming down the trail as you approach it. The fern is almost impossible to see when you are right next to it; you have to move your head to the right inside a rock outcrop next to the trail and look to the left. There is just a very narrow position where you can see this fern, which is above your head. Neither of us knew about this rare fern in southern California found only in rock-ledges and crevices in the montane coniferous forest, so this was a real treat.

The bugs seemed definitely better on this trip, but I ended up with three mosquito bites that weren't evident until the next day. I had seen mosquitoes on this trip, but obviously missed them when they were biting me.

26 July 2006: Devils Slide, Pacific Crest, South Ridge, Little Tahquitz, Caramba Trails (see Plant Guides)

En route to Idyllwild, James Dillane and I stopped along SR79 east of Temecula to identify the white Asteraceae we had seen on all of our previous trips in the last month. The plant hangs from the road cuts on the north-facing slopes. My 55 mph guess has always been Malacothrix saxatilis ssp. tenuifolia.

Up close, they didn't look anything like the M.s.t. in the San Gabriel Mountains! The basal leaves were all dried up, and the heads were much smaller and less showy than i remembered. But that indeed was the identification; I vouchered the sample since the heads are indeed significantly smaller than given in the JM.

We met Jay Sullivan at the Ranger Station and continued on to Humber Park.

Our main priorities for the Devils Slide Trail were to look for two species vouchered to be in the area that were not yet on the Plant Trail Guide. One of them was Ponderosa Pine, and I was astounded that the parking lot was littered with Ponderosa pine cones that I had never noticed before! (Ponderosa pine cones are noticeably smaller than those of Jeffrey pines, and have prickles that stick out instead of ones that are generally perpendicular to the scales. Hence the term prickly Ponderosa, gentle Jeffrey. [Note added 12 October 2007: it turns out the prickly Ponderosa, gentle Jeffrey mnemonic is almost useless; see Jeffrey pine, Pinus jeffreyi and ponderosa pine, P. ponderosa.]

However, there is no tree on the Trail that could be 100% connected with any of those pine cones by observing the cones on the tree, since the trees are so tall. There was an off-trail tree that was surrounded by Ponderosa cones, but it is difficult to know for sure where the cones came from due to the steep slope there. The bark of that tree didn't have the vanilla or butterscotch smell of the first Jeffrey on the trail, but neither did that Jeffrey today. [Note added 12 October 2007: much to my chagrin, it turns out I had misidentified this tree using the flawed prickly Ponderosa, gentle Jeffrey mnemonic; all the trees at the trailhead are ponderosas; see Jeffrey pine, Pinus jeffreyi and ponderosa pine, P. ponderosa.] (It is odd how the odor varies with time. Sometimes the vanilla odor is so strong I can smell it just walking on the trail; other times, like today, the odor eludes even an up-close-and-personal smell.)

As we started up the trail, I measured the temperature as 76°, 3-11° cooler than on previous trips. However, it was by far hotter today than on those trips due to the humidity. We saw dark clouds swallow the Marion Ridge, and soon heard thunder. We then weren't sure what to wish for - more heat and humidity, or a brief cooling shower!

As it turns out, we got the best of both worlds - some cooling breezes and a drop in temperature, but no rain.

We were totally shocked when we got to mile 0.88, the location of the rosettes with dense stellate hairs that are probably Streptanthus bernardinus. We have been monitoring them, since we've never seen those particular rosettes ever bloom. Today we found out why - they were mostly gone because something had eaten them! As a result, those poor plants never seem to get a chance to bloom.

The rabbitbrush also surprised us. There were essentially no buds at all seven days ago; today the buds were 5 mm long or so. Perhaps the heat spurred their development.

As we neared the top, we began to look for our second objective, little-leaf mock orange, Philadelphus microphyllus. The location of the voucher we had found was several hundred yards below summit of Devil's Slide Trail, so I was planning a serious hunt for this species at mile 2.33. But at mile 1.98, James spied a bush that looked a bit different about 50 feet off-trail, and went over to check it out. By golly, it was a mock orange in full bloom! Furthermore, the plants were all over the massive rock fortress above the switchback (words from the guide). But they were all too far away to be at all obvious, even in full bloom, unless you knew what you were looking for. It turns out the mile 1.98 location is almost directly below the mile 2.33 location, and is 260 yards directly below the summit of the trail, close to the location advertised by the voucher.

The Philadelphus looks in form and leaf almost exactly like the zillions of Symphoricarpos rotundifolius found in this area, but it is sure different in bloom. Those big white blossoms have the distinct mock-orange odor, but you have to stick your nose in them to smell it.

It was quite fortunate that James found this plant, since our search at mile 2.33 turned up no other specimens, nor did we find any more on the rest of our route.

We stopped at the switchback at mile 2.16 for some reason, and James immediately noticed that the base of the Arctostaphylos patula there looked funny, like there were a bunch of pine cones stuck upside down in the ground. After only a moment, we realized we had found groundcone, Boschniakia strobilacea, which I had never seen before.

Amazingly, Hall didn't list this in his flora, and doesn't have a voucher of it from the San Jacinto Mountains! In fact, there is only ONE voucher from Riverside County, a 1908 voucher by Reed from San Jacinto Mountains, s side Tahquitz.

At this point, we had already had enough botanical treasures du jour that I wouldn't have minded much if it rained at that point. But the clouds began to lift, and never threatened again.

At Saddle Junction, the temperature was a pleasant 67°. After a short break there, we botanized the PCT to Chinquapin Flat. We picked up a few species for the guide, but this portion of the trail remains as one of the most depauperate in terms of the number of native species among my 90-some trails. The reason is that the trail stays in the same habitat all along its length, almost entirely in the heavy shade of pine trees. I have at least one trail in the San Gabriel Mountains that is similar.

Jay had to turn around when we got to Chinquapin Flat; James and I continued on to Tahquitz Peak. We got to see the last blooms of the shaggy-haired alumroot, Heuchera hirsutissima, feel its soft leaves, and admire its beautiful habit amidst the rocks. A special bonus was finding an inflorescence on the unk grass with only two small blades; it turned out to be a species I've been dying to see: rush blue grass, Poa secunda ssp. juncifolia.

We looked hard for the RARE Tahquitz ivesia, Ivesia callida, found only on Tahquitz Peak, but none were seen.

At Tahquitz Peak, we decided to go through Tahquitz Meadow on the way back, even though it might mean a bit of flashlight hiking.

We had to hike rapidly, not only due to the fading sunlight but also due to the abundant mosquitoes. But we were rewarded for our decision by finding pussytoes, Antennaria rosea in full bloom. We only had to hike the last mile by flashlight, a very worthwhile tradeoff to "drive-by" botanize the extra section of trail.

2 August 2006: Devils Slide, Pacific Crest, South Ridge Trails (see Plant Guides)

This was one fabulous trip. We not only saw two rare San Jacinto endemics; we discovered a new population of one of them, increasing the number of known locales from two to three!

James Dillane, his cousin Claudia, and I did a car shuttle to do this one-way hike from Devils Slide to the base of the South Ridge Trail.

Our first goal was to survey the Devils Slide Trail for mistletoe. We had two mistletoes on the guide previously, but were missing oak mistletoe, Phoradendron villosum, and we had no dwarf-mistletoe, Arceuthobium sp. at all.

Despite carefully surveying the oaks, we found no mistletoe at all. P. villosum is a honking mistletoe, and is not easily missed. For example, we found a clump of it while driving from the South Ridge Trailhead today.

The lack of P. villosum here is perhaps not surprising. The Jepson Manual gives it only up to 2100 m = 6900 feet, and vouchers for this area are all at lower elevations. The dwarf-mistletoe, on the other hand, is hard to see since it is so small and we may just have missed it.

We continued to search for any mistletoe at all on the PCT and South Ridge Trail, since we had not previously found any for those trails, but found no specimen other than some A. cyanocarpum on a limber pine on the South Ridge Trail that was at eye-level close to the trail.

We found none at all on the sugar and Jeffrey pines. The absence on the sugar pines might be due to the high elevation; the JM only gives it up to 2000 m = 6600 feet. But A. campylopodum, on Jeffrey pines, has been vouchered from Tahquitz Ridge, so maybe we just missed it.

Overall, we were quite impressed by how clean all the trees were from mistletoe, especially compared to the many clumps of P. pauciflorum on the white firs at lower elevation on the Devils Slide Trail. In this case, it isn't because the fir mistletoe is confined to lower elevations; the JM gives the fir mistletoe as going up to 2500 m = 8200 feet. Surprisingly, Hall does not list this in his flora, and there is only a single online voucher of this from the San Jacinto Mountains, at Humber Park from 1995. Could it really be that this is the only location with the fir mistletoe at San Jacinto?

Our second goal on this trip was to survey all the prickly phlox, Leptodactylon, to look for L. jaegeri, a San Jacinto endemic known only from Tahquitz Peak and Surprise Lake. In past years, I had looked at all the plants on the Devils Slide Trail without finding it. It is easy to recognize without flowers, since it has opposite, pinnately-lobed leaves, and L. pungens has alternate, palmately-lobed leaves. In flower, it is yet more distinctive, with floral parts in 6's instead of 5's.

Oddly, given all the new species Hall found here, he missed describing this as a new species, and doesn't mention the opposite leaves. This species wasn't recognized until 1932, by Munz.

On the Devils Slide Trail, we went over to see the mock-orange, Philadelphus microphyllus, which was still in glorious bloom with its heavenly scent. James planned to survey the rock cliffs in that area for interesting plants such as the L. jaegeri, and it only took a few seconds to find one. He spotted a Leptodactylon growing from the cliff, and I went over to check it. Bingo! It had opposite, pinnately-lobed leaves, very different from all the L. pungens on the trail. This is a third location for this species, containing a population of at least 12-15 plants hanging from the cliffsides.

It is not every day that one finds a new population of a rare species! (:-) As an extra bonus, there was a population of Polypodium hesperium growing right next to it.

There were no surprises on the PCT. At Tahquitz Peak, we were very surprised that the Leptodactylon by the Lookout was L. pungens, instead of the L. jaegeri expected from Hall's Flora.

We began the plant guide to the South Ridge Trail below Tahquitz Peak, and were soon greeted with a single off-trail plant of L. jaegeri with a single bloom, showing off its 6 petals.

We hit the jackpot for groundcone, Boschniakia strobilacea, on this trail. There were hundreds of plants in quite an extensive section of trail, many of which were growing as far as 10 feet from the dripline of the nearest Arctostaphylos. Clearly, it prefers south-facing slopes and / or ridgelines, which explains why we only saw it on the single somewhat-similar ridgeline on the Devils Slide Trail. This is the only location in Riverside County with an online voucher for this species.

At the base of the switchbacks below Tahquitz Peak, we went looking for the San Jacinto Ivesia, I. Callida, which is known only from this spot and another one two miles away. We followed the guidance of Ken Berg in his Fremontia article of April 1983, and had no trouble scrambling up the gully to find them in full bloom. How wonderful!

By the time we finished admiring the Ivesia, it was 7:30 p.m., and sunlight was fading. We quickly began hiking downhill, still recording new species we came across, until it became evident that botany would have to cease to make it to the car without using flashlights. As it was, we ran out of daylight, but the quarter moon gave us enough illumination to make it to the car at 8:30 p.m.

What a day!

7 August 2006: South Ridge Trail (see Plant Guides)

I was on my own recognizance today, with the simple task of completing the plant trail guide of 2 August 2006, from the top, that was interrupted by darkness. I also made a plant trail guide for the way up.

The South Ridge Trail is generally not recommended for mid-day and afternoon ascents in the summer, because the south-facing slopes heat up significantly and because there is little shade on this ridgeline trail. I chose this trail today only because the weather was fairly cool, with a predicted Idyllwild high temperature of 79°. Even so, I was glad I was botanizing, and not attempting to hike rapidly, since it was still pretty warm. I measured 79° in the shade at 12:21 p.m. Unlike the Devils Slide Trail, the temperature did not decrease noticeably as I ascended, but remained roughly the same. It only became cooler in the upper half of the trail, where the trail finally became somewhat shaded.

Within feet of the trailhead, with my eyes riveted on the plants, I noticed out of the corner of my eye an old friend, Mr. Rattlesnake, slithering down off the trail to get out of my way. I had met him, or a relative, back in 1999, the last time I hiked this trail.

I was very surprised that at the trailhead there were remnants of chaparral, including bush monkeyflower, Mimulus aurantiacus and chaparral whitethorn, Ceanothus leucodermis.

This is not a good trail for altitude-challenged hikers like me. Since I can't both digest food and go uphill at altitude, and due to my slowness in going uphill at high elevation, I had to go five hours without eating (four hours on trail and one hour beforehand). Thank goodness for the liter of Tang I drank along the way!

At Tahquitz Lookout, the view was clear and the Tower was staffed by a friendly volunteer who was just finishing a three day stay at the Peak. I appreciated discussing the peaks with him, and getting accurate identifications of Hot Springs Mountain and Mt. Wilson through his use of the Osborne Fire Locator.

As seems typical now, the bugs were fairly bad on the way down in the several hours before sunset. I had to wave my hands constantly about my face to prevent annoyances.

The trip was good; nothing spectacular, just a good day's botanizing.

11 August 2006: Devils Slide Trail, Caramba, Little Tahquitz Trails to Little Tahquitz Meadow (see Plant Guides)

James Dillane and I were joined for the first part of this trip by two other people. On the Devils Slide Trail, we looked hard at some manzanitas that had been troubling me for some time. On some days, using some characteristics, they appeared to be Arctostaphylos patula; on other days, using other characteristics, they appeared to be A. pringlei.

Today, while discussing these manzanitas with everyone, it suddenly dawned on me that these might be hybrids between the two species. Analysis of leaves and fruit found that found that each putative identification of a pure species (A. patula or A. pringlei) failed on five separate characteristics. This was consistent with a hybrid hypothesis.

At the top, James and I headed for Tahquitz Meadow, and were delighted to study all the different plants, mainly grasses, there. However, we noticed that one grass appeared to have taken over vast stretches of the meadow, behaving much like a non-native. This was quite surprising, since there are virtually no non-native species up here.

I puzzled for some time over the identification of this grass, which is either the native Elymus lanceolatus or the non-native Elytrigia intermedia. The identification is not absolutely clear; the plants have five characteristics that fit only E. intermedia and 3 to perhaps 4 characteristics that fit only E. lanceolatus. Neither of these species has been vouchered from this area, and Hall didn't report finding any similar dominant grass in this meadow.

The most likely suspect seems to be E. intermedia, which was introduced into the U.S. in 1932. This nicely explains why Hall didn't see it, and also why it acts as a non-native invasive grass. The Forest Service probably introduced this sometime after 1932 here to "improve" conditions for deer or other animals. What a shame that this pristine meadow has been seriously disturbed by the willful introduction of a non-native invasive weed! (:-(

It is amazing how ignorant we humans were of biology and ecology until recently. The introduction was well-intentioned, but we just didn't know better at the time. Many humans still are not well-educated in ecology; wild turkeys were introduced to San Diego County as late as 1993 by the California Department of Fish and Game and are currently becoming the non-native invasive pest du jour.

Just before we had to turn around, James got on his belly and peered through the dense vegetation into the bank of the creek in Little Tahquitz Meadow. To our great surprise, he found brittle bladder fern, Cystopteris fragilis, there!

16 August 2006: Devils Slide Trail, PCT north from Saddle Junction (see Plant Guides)

My first task today was to measure 20 characteristics of 2-3 specimens of each of the three different-looking manzanitas taxa on the trail, to try to find out just what the troublesome manzanitas were. The results were clear-cut; the troublesome manzanitas turn out to be hybrids of Arctostaphylos patula and A. pringlei. This of course converts the "troublesome" manzanitas into "very interesting" manzanitas! (;-)

See Hybrids of Arctostaphylos patula and A. pringlei in the San Jacinto Mountains for the full scoop.

At Saddle Junction, I turned left on the PCT and botanized it to the ridge just above 8800 feet elevation. The only surprise was finding a single specimen of Elymus trachycaulus, a species I had never seen before.

26 October 2006: South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz Peak (see Plant Guide)

First, the smoke report.

Dave Stith and I both were concerned when we woke up this morning and saw smoke in the skies. We had planned on doing this trip today, and Dave was planning on spending the night at the Tahquitz Lookout and working a volunteer shift on Friday. But we of course would cancel the hike in a moment if there was any danger or if the hike looked like it was going to be smoky.

From Fallbrook in north San Diego County, there was a northwest-southeast smoke cloud at 7 a.m. that appeared to be over the Temecula - Palomar Mountain area. I was greatly surprised to learn from Dave that this smoke was due to a fire just south of Cabazon in Banning Pass! The Esperanza Fire broke out at 1:15 a.m. and quickly produced a lot of smoke due to the Santa Ana winds.

It seemed safe to do our planned hike, since the winds were blowing the smoke and fire to the west. In Temecula, I could see that San Jacinto Peak was in the clear, despite a tremendous amount of smoke to the west (see picture taken at 9 a.m.; San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peaks are visible on the extreme right.) The bulk of the smoke now was in the expected place, west of the fire. It was interesting that the main smoke cloud came down to the ground in what looked like the Winchester area, and that this main smoke cloud was completely disconnected from the northwest-southeast high cloud.

The sun was a fiery red shining through the high cloud. It made every oncoming car look like they had red flashing lights on top!

It was somewhat windy in Temecula, but the winds became lighter as I traveled on SR79 and SR371. In Anza, the winds were from the east. But in Garner Valley, the winds were from the north near SR371, and then died completely through most of the Valley. In the hills just west of Lake Hemet, the winds reappeared briefly, but with no definitely direction. In Idyllwild, the wind was absent.

I was noticing the wind direction because Dave had reported the surprising finding that the wind at Tahquitz Peak Lookout is nearly always from the north. I had checked the book California Surface Wind Climatology and found its maps also showed that no matter what season, or what wind pattern, it showed winds from the northwest in that vicinity, supporting Dave's interesting observation. (Such maps only show general patterns, since weather stations are so sparse, so their northwesterly flow is consistent with Dave's northerly flow.)

Dave and I watched the smoke to our northwest as we climbed. It varied erratically, sometimes billowing high to the sky, and sometimes appearing to be sheared off by winds from the north. We detected the faint smell of smoke at times, but it never was more than faint.

We also watched a very small part of the smoke curl around Tahquitz Mountain. Whereas the trail was all clear most of the time we were hiking uphill, near the end, starting around 2 p.m., a light haze covered the lower part of the trail. At the Lookout, we watched the smoke appear to creep into Garner Valley and eventually seem to cover it entirely.

The view from the Lookout showed a fairly sharp change in clarity approximately on a north-south line. To the east, it was crystal clear; even details of landscape on the far edge of the Salton Sea were easily visible. To the west, it was hard to see much past Idyllwild.

I hiked down from 3:15 to 5:20, and although the air was hazy, didn't even really smell smoke, nor did I suffer any problems from it, despite my sensitivity to smoke. Hence the smoke concentration in the air was only enough to make it hazy, and not smoky.

But I was shocked when I drove into Garner Valley; there wasn't any smoke in it! The smoke was just on the west entrance to it (see picture taken from SR74 just north of Lake Hemet).

We had been fooled by the smoke curling around the Lookout into thinking the smoke was much farther away from us down on the distant ground. We got fooled for an excellent reason: there is no easy way to tell how far away smoke is from you when you are in the smoke.

Now, the botanical report!

I had three goals on this trip:

All three goals were accomplished.

No hybrids of A. pringlei x A. patula were found. Interestingly, this lack of observation strengthens the case that the other observed hybrids are actually hybrids! Can you think of how a lack of observing hybrids here could produce this surprising conclusion? See below for the answer.

The Galium angustifolium was quickly determined to be ssp. gracillimum, in agreement with what I found on the Deer Springs Trail. There were no leaves to be seen on any of the plants except shriveled ones, and the inflorescences were indeed sparse.

Back in 1997, Jon Keeley very perceptively noticed that Arctostaphylos pringlei is apparently the only manzanita that doesn't produce its buds for the next spring in the previous summer or fall. But no one had ever followed individual plants to find out precisely when the buds were developed. Hence beginning this trip, I started studying the development of these buds. In addition to surveying the plants by eye, I also took lots of pictures to document their state.

I examined dozens of plants; all showed the same pattern. They had ~4-6 buds, one each in the axils of the upper leaves on most of their twigs. Some of the lower buds on a few plants at the highest elevations had begun to develop small leaves.

The "state of the bud" established, I then examined the inflorescences produced earlier this year. On every twig, it looked like the top two or three of the buds from the previous year had each grown into this year's inflorescences. Each of those inflorescences had ~8-10 leaves below them.

Hence my inference is that only the uppermost 2-3 of the 4-6 buds will develop into next year's inflorescences. Presumably, the lower buds are back-ups in case something happens to the upper buds. Further observation will pin down the time over which they develop.

Now, back to the observation that there are no hybrids of A. pringlei x A. patula on this trail strengthening the case for such hybrids on other trails. The reason there are no hybrids on this trail is because this is the only trail I have surveyed so far in which the parent species aren't found together! If mommy and daddy don't get together, there won't be any babies. (;-)

On the two other trails, the plants overlap in their ranges and sometimes are growing right next to each other. I'll add information from this trail to Hybrids of Arctostaphylos patula and A. pringlei in the San Jacinto Mountains in the near future.

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Copyright © 2006-2007 by Tom Chester.
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Updated 1 July 2007.