Plant Trail Reports, San Diego County, 2007

11 December 2007: Anza Borrego State Park: Panorama Overlook Trail, Fonts Point Wash (see Flora of Borrego Badlands)

It was great to be back in the Anza Borrego Desert!

This was my first visit of the 2007-2008 season, and I was looking forward to seeing how the plants responded to the first good rain of the season. Borrego Springs received 0.88 inches of rain from the 11/30/07-12/1/07 storm, 10-11 days before my visit. (Prior to that rainfall, Borrego Springs received just a few tenths total rainfall since July 1. The 12/7/07 storm contributed only 0.04 inches of rain.)

And what a response there was!

Here's what the perennials were doing along the route from the Visitor Center to the Panorama Overlook:

The ocotillos were all in full leaf. A volunteer ranger told me it took only 48 hours for that to happen. Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa, had rosettes of 3-4 small leaves at the tip of each stem (at least on the live plants; see below). Pima rhatany, Krameria erecta, and burroweed, Ambrosia dumosa, had leaf buds just beginning to form leaves. California fagonia, Fagonia laevis, had a few leaves out on some plants.

The other perennials weren't much changed from their usual late-summer appearance.

At the Visitor Center itself, perhaps with the aid of some water in the past, these species were blooming: wire-lettuce, Stephanomeria pauciflora (full bloom!); Orcutt's woody-aster, Xylorhiza orcuttii (beginning); chuparosa, Justicia californica (beginning); and Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa (full). (I didn't do a complete survey in the Visitor Center garden.)

But it was the annuals that were the star of the show as far as I was concerned; it's been two years since I've seen baby annuals there. In flat areas, common phacelia, Phacelia distans, was everywhere! Many shrubs had a carpet of green underneath them from this lovely species. Even the dead (above-ground) rosettes of small-seeded spurge, Chamaesyce polycarpa, were greening up from common phacelia. I found one place completely out in the open where a cluster of common phacelia seedlings were coming up. (Boy, are they going to be surprised.)

The slopes that had dead remnants of desert plantain, Plantago ovata, now had baby desert plantains, with several leaves, all over. Areas at the base of rocks had baby popcorn flowers, Cryptantha sp., as well as several other baby annuals I could not confidently identify. From the habitat I suspected one of these was Emory's rock-daisy, Perityle emoryi.

I took lots of baby pictures. (:-)

Unfortunately, the annual non-native grasses are up as well, and I saw at least several mustard cotyledons that were probably Asian mustard, Brassica tournefortii. I didn't yank any out, since we have a native mustard that probably has similar cotyledons.

I even saw a single winged ant, so they must have rushed to reproduce when it rained. (I found winged subterranean termites in my Fallbrook yard soon after this rain as well.)

After our severe drought all over southern California last year, it is such a pleasure to go outside and be delighted instead of saddened.

The drought wasn't forgotten, however. I estimated half to two-thirds of the brittlebush plants from previous years are now dead, showing no signs of leafing out at all even though neighboring plants had 3-4 leaves. But brittlebush is such a prolific seeder that it will come right back with a decent rainfall year.

One desert trumpet, Eriogonum inflatum, had flowers on a few inflorescence branches on a plant on the Overlook Trail. Another had a very healthy rosette of full leaves.

I continued past the Overlook for about two-thirds of the way up the immediate next ridge, but decided to turn around when the footing got poor, since I was by myself.

As I was coming back, it occurred to me that this was the perfect time to check Southern California's Most Unusual Wildflower - Thurber's pilostyles, Pilostyles thurberi, to see if it was blooming.

So I drove over to Fonts Point Wash, and immediately went to check the plant right at the corner. I was dismayed - it was dead! (:-(

However, I wasn't too discouraged. Plants in washes don't live long, and new ones come back quickly.

In fact, I was quite encouraged, since nearly all uninfected nearby host plants, Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi, were just beginning bloom. If I were a parasite hidden inside another plant, I'd use the host plant's blooming signal to trigger my bloom, too.

Since I hadn't planned on looking for pilostyles today, I didn't bring my locations, so I headed right for the plant I and plant co-conspirators saw blooming in late 2005. Amazingly, I remembered exactly where it was two years later. (This from a person who usually can't remember anything from the previous week.) There it was, alive, healthy, blooming, with new buds of pilostyles just about to bloom! (It even still had the same dead Asian mustard stems entangled in it.) In fact, the pilostyles might be in bloom, but might bloom only at a different time of day, since the buds showed the sepal lines clearly.

Since I didn't have my locations, I didn't bother checking other plants in this area for blooms, since I already had the key piece of information that my plant co-conspirators desired. Instead, I took off up the wash to explore for new pilostyles locations.

Much to my surprise, the host plant was nearly absent above this point, at least in the portion I covered. I saw perhaps only ten total plants in the 1.2 miles further up-wash I covered. Furthermore, none of those ten were infected. However, this is not statistically significantly different from the 2.7 ± 1.6 plants expected from the rate near S22.

Since there are infected and non-infected host plants at Fonts Point itself, and the habitat varies continuously between the wash near S22 and near Fonts Point, I suspect that the host plant only likes some of the rock formations in the Badlands (see below for one formation almost no plant likes). Since the formations are tilted significantly, one encounters new layers within a short distance.

The walk up the wash itself was fabulous. I'd always wanted to hike through the badlands, so this gave me a taste of it.

I was very surprised to come across an almost totally-barren area, nearly absent of plants, due to high salt content. The only place I'd seen this before was at Death Valley, and by golly, the next plant I saw was desert holly, Atriplex hymenelytra, the same plant that was seen frequently at Death Valley in those conditions. This area was very impressive, with uniquely-sculptured terrain.

I would have gone farther, but at mile 1.4 my legs started telling me that they weren't used to walking on sand, and that they would register a formal complaint tomorrow if I kept going. So I turned around. (:-)

On the way down, I looked at the surroundings instead of surveying for Psorothamnus emoryi. I was very surprised to come across an area where the underlying exposed formation is much-folded, yet the formation immediately above it is flat. Although the linked picture appears to show that the folded formation is in front of the flat formation, which it may well be, the section to right appears to be just one sequence. I had thought all of these rocks were deposited at the same time, but this is apparently an erosion interval (an unconformity) between those two formations.

According to the Fonts Point Field Trip guide in Remeika and Lindsay 1992, Geology of Anza-Borrego: Edge of Creation, p.109, the lower folded exposure is of the Mammoth Cove sandstone member of the Ocotillo Formation, with the contact paleomagnetically dated at about 700,0000 years in age. The upper flat exposure is of consolidated sandstones, red and greenish-colored mudstones and claystones of the Inspiration Wash member of the Ocotillo Formation, recently assigned a paleomagnetic date of less than 500,000 years of age

The flat upper formation also has what appears to be a burrow preserved in it, which may in fact be a sand blow caused by an earthquake forcing up some of the sand.

There were a fair number of species in bloom: Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi (beginning); California croton, Croton californicus (beginning); alkali goldenbush, Isocoma acradenia (some plants were in nearly full bloom; others were mostly in seed with a few blooms); fourwing saltbush, Atriplex canescens (beginning); wire-lettuce, Stephanomeria pauciflora (beginning). In addition, desert holly, Atriplex hymenelytra, was in bud.

15 December 2007: Anza Borrego State Park: Fonts Point Area, Borrego Palm Canyon (see Flora of Borrego Badlands)

See Wayne Armstrong's pictures from this trip.

Wayne Armstrong and I first checked the pilostyles in Fonts Point Wash near S22, and its buds looked exactly the same as they did four days ago. So apparently this is only in bud, and not yet in bloom, since we got there much earlier in the day than when I was there four days ago.

We then drove to Fonts Point. My two wheel drive Chevy Blazer had no trouble negotiating the sandy road, although there were a handful of spots with deeper sand in the upper half of the road that required attentiveness.

Fonts Point was just as stunning as I remembered it from my only previous visit. Badlands are such interesting places! The complex landscape is a visual treat, unlike simpler landscapes usually seen. The soft rock formations are dissected on many different scales, with only a small amount of order imposed on the dissection by the ultimate drainages. The different colors of the separate formations add another dimension to the complexity. And the realization that one misstep at Fonts Point, or one slope failure of the soft rock, could fatally plunge you into the landscape brings your senses into sharp focus.

Slope failures happen often here, as you might expect in any badlands area. Remeika and Lindsay (1992) report that the 1968 Borrego Mountain Earthquake removed over six feet of rock at the tip of Fonts Point. The 1987 twin earthquakes made cracks near the cliff edge noticeably larger. Another five feet went during the Landers 1992 earthquake. If you are near Fonts Point and feel an earthquake beginning, or see lots of dust raised by rockfalls elsewhere, do not go to the rim to get a better view! (;-)

Our plans were to first survey for pilostyles in the area near Fonts Point, and then to make a plant list for that area. But as we began surveying for the host plant, Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi, we quickly realized we weren't seeing any specimens, and so decided to begin the plant list while continuing to survey for P. emoryi. This turned out to be a wise decision, since we found only a handful of P. emoryi, about half with pilostyles, all in a single location at Fonts Point, and it didn't take much time to write down the few species found here.

We were shocked at how dry this area was, and how stressed the plants were. For example, the ocotillos near the Visitor Center, ten miles west, were in full leaf from the top to the bottom. But here the ocotillos had only a few small leaves near the top of their stalks! Many annuals had germinated near the Visitor Center, but essentially no annuals had germinated here. We found only a single clump of what were probably non-native Asian mustard, Brassica tournefortii, seedlings. Although there was clear evidence in the washes here that water had flowed in them recently, it must have been significantly less rain than fell ten miles west.

We surveyed a total linear distance of 2.0 miles, 0.9 miles from Fonts Point down the road to just east of Inspiration Point, then 0.7 miles up a wash that ended at the rim 0.4 miles east of Fonts Point, and back to Fonts Point.

We found only 24 species in the two miles surveyed, a very low number. Of course, our survey is incomplete for annuals and perennials, but 24 species is still a very small number for a surveyed distance of 2.0 miles. See Flora of Borrego Badlands for our species list.

We did find some amazing variations in the plant compositions along our survey. Most of the area we surveyed was fairly uniform, with the same species everyplace. However, the wash we ascended was strikingly different, almost surely due to being of a different rock type, mostly soft mudstone.

The immediate sides of the wash contained large numbers of desert holly, Atriplex hymenelytra, not found elsewhere on our loop. But the surroundings of the wash were almost devoid of plants in places, due to the very alkaline environment. Those places were essentially a monoculture of desert trumpet, Eriogonum inflatum! We had never seen such a dense concentration of this species before.

Furthermore, the old terraces of this wash contained abundant cryptobiotic soil, aka biological soil crusts (see picture). We took great pleasure that so much intact crust abounded here, and took great care not to step on any.

We had intentionally decided to explore this wash on the way back, thinking it would lead us to the rim east of Fonts Point, which it did. However, we failed to consider that this wash might steepen too much at its top to actually achieve that rim!

Fortunately, we were able to clamber out of our wash with no trouble. However, if we had been in the wash to the east, we would have had to turn-around since its walls were too steep to safely climb.

However, even at the top, it wasn't obvious we could actually go along the rim back to Fonts Point. The drainage immediately to the west seemed too deep to cross at its head. Fortunately, it steepened so much at its head that we were able to follow the Rim, albeit with senses again highly sharpened by the yawning abyss to our left. We quickly picked up the use trail along the Rim, and then knew we could make it without having to down-wash.

As for the pilostyles distribution, we were very surprised and perplexed that P. emoryi apparently has a very bizarre, hard-to-understand distribution: a handful of plants at Fonts Point, with no plants found in the 0.9 miles below them (from today's survey); then a large number of plants in ~0.15 miles in the lowermost portion of the wash near S22, with no plants in the 1.0 mile above it (from previous surveys). If the species can live at the top of the wash, and the bottom of the wash, why can't it live in the middle elevations of the wash???

At home, I checked the floras. The habit of this species is desert flats, washes, dunes; < 700 m (2300 feet) in the Jepson Manual; and dry open places below 1000 feet in Munz 1974.

Aha! Could it be that this species only really likes to live at elevations below 1000 feet, and there are only scattered populations above that elevation? The elevation of Fonts Point is 1294 feet, and the elevation of the part of the wash near S22 is 700 feet, so this could nicely explain the apparently-weird distribution.

A quick examination of vouchers finds that seems to be the case. Most vouchers are found near sea level, with almost linearly-declining numbers above that elevation; only 13% of the vouchers are found above 1000 feet. Furthermore, most of those vouchers are from the Mojave Desert.

Confirming this conclusion, the nearby Deep Canyon, Santa Rosa Mountains Flora gives the elevation range for this species as 0 to 700 feet.

So now the distribution makes some sense. The species simply likes to live mostly below ~800 feet here, with only scattered populations above that elevation. Presumably this species is quite sensitive to frost, and locations above ~800 feet are usually too cold for it unless they are in frost-protected locations.

On the way down, we stopped at the folded sandstone layers discussed in the previous report above, and to our amazement found that only a roughly 3 foot high layer was folded. The beds above and below are flat. Now I really don't understand what caused the folding.

Afterwards, we went to Borrego Palm Canyon to show Wayne the stark contrast in the current state of the plants between the Badlands and the Borrego Springs area, and to take more baby pictures. It was hard to believe these places were just ten miles apart!

I found several different baby annuals I hadn't seen on my last trip. Some of these are hard to identify, having just cotyledons. I plan on returning to see what each of these babies grows up to be.

22 December 2007: Anza Borrego State Park: Fonts Point Wash, Alcoholic Pass Trail (see plant trail guide)

See Wayne Armstrong's pictures from this trip (scroll to Alcoholic Pass).

Wayne Armstrong, Philip Erdelsky and I first went to Fonts Point Wash, and parked at the side wash about one mile below Fonts Point, so that Wayne could photograph the lichens of the cryptobiotic soil found near there.

We then drove on to Fonts Point itself, since Philip had never been there. With my new knowledge gained from last week's report about how often these cliff faces fall, I photographed two areas that were "ready to go" in the next earthquake, with obvious cracks separating them from the rest of the cliff. I'll return after the next earthquake here and see if there are any changes!

We then drove to Alcoholic Pass Trail, to begin a plant trail guide. As expected, this area was much richer than the Borrego Badlands. Wayne and I found 42 species there, almost twice the number found last week near Fonts Point.

This area showed more recent rainfall than Fonts Point. Many of the ocotillos had leaves. Annuals had germinated in the flat top of the trail, but not elsewhere. There were even a few species in bloom: a few ocotillos, a few desert lavenders, and a few sweetbushes; and the woolly lipfern, Cheilanthes parryi, had come back to life.

The trail has a very odd profile, following the cross-section of Coyote Mountain at this point. The trail is very steep in the initial 0.7 miles (850 feet / mile), nearly flat for 0.33 miles on top, and then has a very gentle slope (220 feet / mile) for the 2.5 miles down to Rockhouse Canyon Road.

Trying to understand this profile is probably impossible, due to the complex forces at work here, although perhaps an examination of the geology might shed some light on this. Coyote Mountain is an uplifted block between two strands of the San Jacinto Fault; the uplift alone is therefore quite complicated. Furthermore, erosion of Coyote Mountain will depend on the elevations produced along the Fault strands at some distances from Coyote Mountain, as well as the rock types there. Since these forces are probably not easy to understand in detail, the morphology of Coyote Mountain probably cannot be easily predicted. For example, in the area of the peak of Coyote Mountain, the profile is nearly symmetric.

The flat area near the Pass was quite beautiful, with large boulders, many of them heavily coated with desert varnish. At the Pass itself, the drainage to the north beautifully frames Clark Valley and the desert end of the Santa Rosa Mountains (see Wayne's pictures).

Toro Peak towered over the landscape as we hiked down the wash. Evidence of the San Jacinto Fault was seen in the twice-truncated alluvial fans of those Mountains that were very different from the uniform alluvial fans on the south side of the fault.

27 December 2007: Anza Borrego State Park: Palo Verde Wash (see checklist), Alcoholic Pass Trail (see plant trail guide)

See Wayne Armstrong's pictures from this trip.

On the previous trip on the Alcoholic Pass Trail, we had found a fairly large clump of Engelmann's hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus engelmannii, big enough to entertain the possibility that this plant might be a different species. Wayne immediately raised the possibility that this might be cottontop cactus, Echinocactus polycephalus.

Cottontop cactus is primarily a Mojave desert species; one of its common names is Mojave mound. In the Sonoran Desert, there are only a handful of known locations, including only one in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park that is ten miles away from this location. The other locations are Coyote Mountains in southwest Imperial County (unvouchered; mentioned in Cacti of California by Dawson); the southern Chocolate Mountains in southeast Imperial County; and near Yuma in Arizona.

I had never seen cottontop, but Wayne had seen and photographed it at Death Valley. We both had a vague recollection, from the name, that something about the plant must look cottony. (;-) Since we saw no "cotton" at all on the plants, we concluded this plant must just be large hedgehog cactus. As a result, we didn't even bother to take a picture of it.

At home, I looked up a pix of cottontop cactus, and it seemed pretty similar to what I "remembered" seeing in the field. Both species come in clumps, and the top of each stem for both species is a darker color than the rest of the stem. Compare, for example, these two pictures: Echinocactus polycephalus and Echinocereus engelmannii. You can see how someone with a weak memory like me might begin to think the plant I saw in the field might be the other identification. Even Wayne thought this as well.

Furthermore, the cotton in cottontop apparently comes almost entirely from the fruits hidden among the spines at the top of the plant, so our observation that the plants were not cottony no longer ruled out a cottontop determination. One of the online pictures even shows the exact same habitat of our plants, even though it was taken near Baker, CA.

Clearly, we needed to see some real cottontop plants and then return to the specimens on the Alcoholic Pass Trail to make sure of their determination.

So today's trip, with Wayne Armstrong, James Dillane and Erik Blume, was devoted to cottontop cactus.

I vaguely recalled that there was a labeled specimen at the Visitor Center, so we headed there first. I quickly located the specimen, but it was a very young plant, and mostly dead. However, it was good enough to immediately see that any potential confusion of species would be between cottontop and barrel cactus, as mentioned in several references, and not between cottontop and hedgehog cactus. This gave us our first clue that the plants on the Alcoholic Pass Trail were indeed the hedgehog cactus we took them to be in the field.

We then headed off to the known nearby location at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. We had rough voucher locations, as well as two fairly detailed prescriptions of how to find them.

We first tried to find cottontop using the following detailed prescription from the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association's excellent webpage Mohave Mound, Echinocactus polycephalus var. polycephalus:

A good place to look for Mohave Mound is north to northeast of Mile Marker 32 on County Road S-22 just south of the Santa Rosa Mountains. If you scour the area with field glasses, you should be able to find clumps of these plants in the distant hills.

We stopped at mile marker 32, scanned to the north with binoculars, and came up empty. (We later realized that if we had done this at something more like mile marker 32.4, this would have worked fine.)

Since we didn't find any plants with binoculars, we didn't go looking for the plants to the north here as the website suggested.

The other detailed prescription was from Jerry Schad:

Start hiking north along Palo Verde Wash. At about 1 mile, make a short side trip to see cottontop cacti. Look for them on the low ridge spurs west of Palo Verde Wash. One amazing specimen spans 5 feet.

Schad, Afoot and Afield in San Diego County, Trip 5 Rock Tanks Loop, p. 339

We began hiking up the wash, and at mile 0.43, bingo! We spotted the first ones growing on the south-facing slope of the hill in front of us. We walked up the ridge to the first one, and immediately knew our "eyewitness testimony" had been tainted by the pictures we later had seen; these plants looked nothing like the specimens on the Alcoholic Pass Trail.

But we were ecstatic our memories had fooled us, since otherwise we would have made this trip to see this interesting species. (;-)

We continued up to Schad's one mile point, and there indeed were many specimens on the older alluvium to the west that is now being dissected. I mapped a dozen or so specimens, and all of us took many pictures. The dried fruits did indeed have abundant cotton on them, but the rest of the plant did not. This is contradictory to what Munz says - stems clothed with a dense mass of wool or naked at apex; but the Jepson Manual only says the fruit and stem tip are woolly.

There were a fair number of multiheaded barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus, around as well, ranging from three to six heads that could be confused with cottontop (the vast majority of the barrel cactus were indeed single-headed). Most of these could be easily distinguished by their fruits lacking hairs.

On the way down, we created a plant checklist for this area, and I later compiled the vouchers for the southeast Santa Rosa Mountains; both are here.

As at Fonts Point Wash, there were very few annuals that had germinated here.

We then drove the Rockhouse Canyon Road to the Clark Valley bottom of the Alcoholic Pass Trail. This was the first time I was on it, and I was impressed how smooth the gravel road was until just before Clark Dry Lake. I'm sure this has something to do with the sand and gravel company, both in supplying gravel for the road and in smoothing out any washboarding due to their large trucks. But even the rest of the road was still much less washboard-y than the Coyote Canyon Dirt Road, presumably due to less traffic.

I was glad I had a GPS estimated point for the bottom of the Alcoholic Pass Trail, since otherwise it would have been some work with the topo map to make sure we were at the right place.

We headed up the wash, and soon verified that our plant was indeed hedgehog cactus. As a bonus, we picked up several species for the Trail Guide, since we hadn't surveyed the bottom part of the trail before.

James and Erik continued to Coyote Canyon, while Wayne and I returned to the car and drove around to pick them up. It took us a full 30 minutes to get to the end of the pavement at Di Giorgio Road. Soon afterward, we came across two people walking the Coyote Canyon Dirt Road toward us. James and Erik had wisely continued walking, to prevent freezing to death waiting for us to drive to the trailhead.

30 December 2007: Anza Borrego State Park: Desert Gardens, First Crossing (see Flora of Desert Gardens and First Crossing, Coyote Mountain Area)

Rich Schilk and three other members of the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society met me at the Visitor Center, and we drove to Desert Gardens to create a plant checklist for that area.

Desert Gardens is on the alluvial fan of Coyote Mountain, and has a fairly high density of ocotillos and chollas, so it is fairly dense with large plants. But we found only 25 species in a one mile loop that we walked. This is a surprisingly low number, very similar to the number of taxa found in earlier surveys in the Borrego Badlands. For comparison, the first 0.01 mile at the end of the pavement at Di Giorgio Road contains 28 species. One mile on the Coyote Wash Loop beginning from that point contains 71 species.

Of course, the comparison to the Coyote Wash Loop is not a fair comparison, since that trail has been surveyed at optimum times after good rainfall. But we did find six annual species that had germinated here, along with the perennial desert lily coming up. Time will tell if better rainfall will lead to a significantly-larger number of species.

A better comparison is to the Alcoholic Pass Trail, surveyed a week earlier. That trail has only 34 species in its first mile, despite going through a number of different plant habitats compared to Desert Gardens.

The only explanation that immediately comes to mind for the small number of species for both areas is that these are relatively-dry locations, and the number of species in the desert is directly proportional to the amount of moisture in an area. The alluvial fan here, and the southern part of the Alcoholic Pass Trail, are both hot south-facing areas. They are also both below ridges of Coyote Mountain, and hence far from a significant drainage. In fact, the presence of a large number of ocotillo may be an indicator of such dry areas. I have long been a bit surprised by the absence of ocotillo on the moister, species-rich Borrego Palm Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, and California Riding and Hiking Trails; this would explain its absence there.

But it is clearly premature to conclude anything about the species density here until the trail is surveyed under better conditions.

From our survey, Desert Gardens was remarkable for two other things. First, it had almost no non-native annuals coming up. We found only a small number of redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium, plants, and an even smaller number of what looked like Schismus species.

In contrast, zillions of popcorn flowers, Cryptantha sp., and zillions of what looked like Fremont pincushion, Chaenactis fremontii, were up. Thus this area seems relatively pristine in terms of non-native species.

In fact, if we can get some more rain, this area will have a beautiful display of both of the above species. The northeast-facing slope of hill 1045 is dense with baby Fremont pincushion plants, with almost no other annual interspersed.

Second, I was flabbergasted that when we encountered different habitats, we found no new species. We walked up a small wash, and only found two new species there. We explored the lowermost rocky slopes above the alluvial fan, and found no new species there. We explored the north-facing slope of hill 1045; still no new species there. It was very puzzling.

It was also odd that we found no common phacelia, Phacelia distans, seedlings here at all. It is possible that it requires more rain than we received here so far in order to germinate.

We then drove to First Crossing, where Coyote Creek had a pretty good flow of water. We were delighted to find a handful of native species in bloom: spectacle-pod, Dithyrea californica (blooms and fruit); burroweed, Ambrosia dumosa; desert twinbugs, Dicoria canescens; button encelia, Encelia frutescens; desert needle, Palafoxia arida; and Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi. I looked hard for any Pilostyles, but found none.

Unfortunately, there was the usual high density of non-natives along the water as well, several of which were also in bloom: common cudweed, Gnaphalium luteo-album; Oriental mustard, Sisymbrium orientale; and sow thistle, Sonchus oleraceus.

We decided to walk up the road, continuing to survey for plants. The number of new species quickly dropped off. When we entered Coyote Canyon, we made a brief excursion to the nearby base of the San Ysidro Mountains and quickly picked up two species: jojoba, Simmondsia chinensis, and common phacelia, that were found only in that single location. We found one more species in bloom farther up the road, wire-lettuce, Stephanomeria pauciflora.

We turned around after about a mile, pleased in having seen some plants in bloom, in having explored an area we'd never been to before, and in having done some good botanical work.

The highlight of the trip came after I got home. There was one grass growing along the water that I didn't recognize, and I mentally noted its characteristics in the field. At home, I looked on my recently-created Flora of Coyote Mountain Area, and was extremely pleased to find a good candidate for the identification: the native Mexican sprangletop, Leptochloa uninervia, that I had never seen before. It is always a great day in the field when one finds a native species that one hasn't seen before!

Amazingly, I was able to key out this species from memory, since it has spikelike inflorescence branches and keys out in only four couplets that happened to contain the four characteristics I noted in the field. That doesn't happen very often! (;-)

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Updated 5 January 2008.