Plant Guide to Backbone Trail, Stunt Road to Saddle Peak

This is a working list, about which we make no guarantees at all until we officially release it. Use at your own risk!

The preliminary identifications might be worse than a normal first-time guide since some of them were from dead plant remnants or young plants.

Introduction and Explanation of Plant Trail Guides

Highlights of This Trail
Fieldwork Dates and Summary of List Changes With Time
Botanical Trip Reports
The Plant Guide
Comments On Specific Species


Directions to the trailhead:: From the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, take the 101 to the Mulholland Drive / Valley Circle Blvd. exit. Go left on Mulholland Drive for about 0.5 miles to Valmar / Old Topanga Canyon Road. Take Valmar / Old Topanga Canyon Road to its end at Mulholland Highway, about 1.0 mile, and turn right. Take Mulholland Highway about 3.5 miles to Stunt Road, and turn left. Take Stunt Road for 2.8 miles to the trailhead on the right.

Note the confusing existence of TWO roads with the name Mulholland in them. We strongly recommend you look at a map to avoid confusion.

Getting back on the freeway is no piece of cake either. The entrance to 101 "south" (actually east, of course) is immediately before the freeway on the right. The exit is the second right at the intersection, which comes just as the overpass begins to rise over the freeway. The sign makes you think it is farther away. By the time you realize it isn't, you are over the freeway, with no easy way to get back to the entrance.

Parking is along the road from the trailhead to mile marker 2.9. The trailhead is not very visible; one primarily notices just a chainlink gate without an obvious identifying sign. There is a small sign, obscured by overgrown vegetation, that is visible only when driving the other direction on Stunt Road.

Thomas Brothers map #589; the trailhead is in D7.

Highlights of This Trail

The botanical highlights of this trail are:

The Unique Taxa On This Trail

The following histogram gives the number of trails in our database that contain each taxon on this trail. We had 73 trails in our database when this histogram was made; of those, this is the only trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. A number of "1" means the taxon has only been found on this trail among the trails in our database.

Number of Trails
Containing A Taxon
Number Of Taxa
On This Trail
% of Taxa
On This Trail
Total Taxa114100%

We found 14 additional species not in the above table, since they have not been identified yet. The unidentified ones are marked with ? or sp in the id? column in the guide, and have no entries in the #all column.

The taxa that are truly unique to this trail, out of our 72 trails on 5 January 2004, are (this has not yet been updated for later fieldwork):

Latin NameCommon NameDistribution
Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosaEastwood manzanitaSupposedly, in the JM and from Wells book, the Manzanitas of California, this subspecies occurs only from the San Francisco basin north, but it is the only subspecies given in the SMM Flora, and we have verified the identification. Recent floras such as the San Mateo Flora by Steve Boyd also list this subspecies.
Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatusbuck brushAlthough this is given as CA-FP in the JM, it appears only in the SMM and the Cuyamaca / Laguna Floras in our database. In the SMM, it is only found in the Malibu Creek State Park Flora of Bob Muns, and not in his other five SMM subarea floras.
Salvia leucophyllapurple sageSCo, WTR, and SnGb. It is in the Eaton Canyon and Placerita Canyon SnGb Floras by Bob Muns, and in four of his SMM subarea floras.
Hieracium argutum?southern hawkweed?SCo, WTR, and SnGb. It is in the SMM Flora, the Cuyamaca and Laguna Flora, and the Chantry Flats flora by Bob Muns. Note that our id is uncertain.

The following taxa are listed as being found only on this trail, but are not unique for the reasons given below:

Latin NameCommon NameComment
Leptodactylon californicum ssp. californicumprickly phloxThis subspecies is an optional one in the JM. This subspecies is listed here since it is given in the SMM flora. We have two other trail lists that contain this species where we have not identified a subspecies.

Fieldwork Dates and Summary of List Changes With Time

The following table gives the dates the trail was walked and taxa recorded. After each visit, the table gives the total number of taxa on the list and the breakdown of the taxa without positive identification. See Explanation of Plant Trail Guides to understand the symbols below.

Visit DateVisit ## taxa# "?"# "sp"# "~"# "ssp"

The 1/3/04 fieldwork was only to mile 1.44, the junction with the overlook path.

Botanical Trip Reports

22 March 2004

The Plant Guide

Version for printing, without lines and other text on this page (7 pages)

MileS#id?Common NameLatin Name#here#all
    Begin obscurely-signed Backbone Trail near mile marker 2.8 on Stunt Road; elevation 1925 feet (585 m)
0.00b1 *smilo grassPiptatherum miliaceum99 / 916
0.00l2 scrub oakQuercus berberidifolia99 / 98
0.00b3sspbranching phaceliaPhacelia ramosissima var. latifolia20 / 925
0.00l4 heartleaf penstemonKeckiella cordifolia20 / 919
0.00l5 goldback fernPentagramma triangularis ssp. triangularis10 / 914
0.00b6 chamiseAdenostoma fasciculatum99 / 928
0.00b7 coyote bushBaccharis pilularis50 / 918
0.00l8 California-asterLessingia filaginifolia var. filaginifolia99 / 939
0.00l9 deerweedLotus scoparius var. scoparius50 / 919
0.00l10 coast live oakQuercus agrifolia var. agrifolia20 / 931
0.00b11 *shortpod mustardHirschfeldia incana99 / 938
0.00l12 climbing bedstrawGalium nuttallii ssp. nuttallii7 / 519
0.00r13 golden yarrowEriophyllum confertiflorum var. confertiflorum50 / 942
0.00l14 southern honeysuckleLonicera subspicata var. denudata+50 / 930
0.00r15 *red bromeBromus madritensis ssp. rubens99 / 938
0.01r16 toyonHeteromeles arbutifolia30 / 935
0.01l17 bush monkeyflowerMimulus aurantiacus20 / 931
0.01r18 Eastwood manzanitaArctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosa99 / 91
0.01r19 *tocaloteCentaurea melitensis99 / 932
0.01l20 saw-toothed goldenbushHazardia squarrosa var. grindelioides50 / 927
0.01r21sp1-2 foot tall suncupCamissonia sp.20 / 3 
0.01b22 wild-cucumberMarah macrocarpus var. macrocarpus20 / 935
0.01l23 hairy ceanothusCeanothus oliganthus var. oliganthus99 / 93
0.01l24 canyon sunflowerVenegasia carpesioides20 / 92
0.02r25 *narrowleaf filagoFilago gallica20 / 330
0.02l  (white-flowering currant, Ribes indecorum)
0.02l26 chaparral bush mallowMalacothamnus fasciculatus99 / 910
0.02l  Jct. path
0.03r27 purple nightshadeSolanum xanti+30 / 911
0.05b28 *prickly lettuceLactuca serriola10 / 922
0.05r29 California sagebrushArtemisia californica1 / 132
0.05r30 San Diego wreathplantStephanomeria diegensis20 / 314
0.06r  (greenbark ceanothus, Ceanothus spinosus)
0.06l31 blue elderberrySambucus mexicana3 / 335
0.07l32?unk dead annual like tarragon or a chenopod?10 / 3 
0.07l33 *horehoundMarrubium vulgare3 / 120
0.07r34 black sageSalvia mellifera5 / 131
0.07r35 California everlastingGnaphalium californicum10 / 926
0.07l  First telephone pole
0.08l36 white-flowering currantRibes indecorum+30 / 913
0.08 37 *soft chessBromus hordeaceus50 / 226
0.08l38~goldenstarBloomeria crocea30 / 59
0.08l39 buck brushCeanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus99 / 91
0.09r  Second telephone pole
0.10l40 California buckwheatEriogonum fasciculatum var. fasciculatum50 / 92
0.10l41 eucryptaEucrypta chrysanthemifolia var. chrysanthemifolia10 / 317
0.10r42~short-leaved cliff-asterMalacothrix saxatilis var. tenuifolia20 / 59
0.11r43 sugar bushRhus ovata+50 / 920
0.12r44 birch-leaf mountain-mahoganyCercocarpus betuloides var. betuloides20 / 916
0.12l45~rattlesnake weedDaucus pusillus5 / 216
0.13l46 *downy bromeBromus tectorum5 / 118
0.13b47~soap plantChlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum+20 / 513
0.14r48 blue dicksDichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum / 30
0.15l  (laurel sumac, Malosma laurina)
0.16r49~common fiddleneckAmsinckia menziesii var. intermedia5 / 19
0.20r50 long-leaf bush lupineLupinus longifolius5 / 32
0.20r51spclarkiaClarkia sp.10 / 1 
0.20r52 purple sageSalvia leucophylla4 / 11
0.22b53 greenbark ceanothusCeanothus spinosus99 / 92
0.22b54 poison oakToxicodendron diversilobum50 / 930
0.23   T-Jct.; go left to Saddle Peak. A sign faces the other way on the right. Elevation 1990 feet (605 m).
0.24l55 bush poppyDendromecon rigida30 / 94
0.25r56 chaparral currantRibes malvaceum var. viridifolium+20 / 93
0.27   Cross drainage.
0.27r57~white star-lilyZigadenus fremontii30 / 93
0.27r58?unk annual Apiaceae.?30 / 3 
0.27r59~sharp-toothed sanicleSanicula arguta20 / 48
0.28b60 woolly bluecurlsTrichostema lanatum20 / 52
0.33   Switchback right at ridge
0.34l61spdodderCuscuta sp.2 / 2 
0.35   Trail turns right 90°
0.36l62spbaby popcorn flowerCryptantha sp.10 / 3 
0.37   Trail turns left 90°
0.37   Cross drainage.
0.40r63 hollyleaf redberryRhamnus ilicifolia1 / 131
0.42   Cross drainage.
0.43   Trail turns right 90°
0.45r  A 2.4 m (8 foot) tall long-leaf bush lupine, Lupinus longifolius!
0.45r64 *tree tobaccoNicotiana glauca1 / 116
0.45r65~*bull thistleCirsium vulgare3 / 111
0.47l66 *blue gumEucalyptus globulus1 / 14
0.47   Cross drainage; Trail turns left 90°
0.48   saw-toothed goldenbush, Hazardia squarrosa var. grindelioides, is the very-unusual understory in this shady area.
0.49r67 red shanksAdenostoma sparsifolium5 / 22
0.51   Trail turns right 90°
0.54   Cross small drainage.
0.58   Switchback right.
0.59r68 chaparral whitethornCeanothus leucodermis+20 / 911
0.62   Switchback left.
0.62   Four species of Ceanothus are found in the next 0.03 mile (0.62 b C. oliganthus; 0.62 l C. spinosus; 0.63 r C. cuneatus; 0.65 C. leucodermis)
0.64   Cross small drainage.
0.65   Switchback right.
0.67l  A chaparral whitethorn, Ceanothus leucodermis, with 1/4 of the bush with gray-glaucous twigs and the rest green twigs.
0.69r  A greenbark ceanothus, Ceanothus spinosus, with dull, but not glaucous, lower leaf surfaces on older leaves in January 2004.
0.69   Switchback left.
0.72   Cross small drainage.
0.73   Switchback right.
0.74l69 rockroseHelianthemum scoparium20 / 99
0.76   Switchback left.
0.77   Switchback right.
0.78r70 bigberry manzanitaArctostaphylos glauca5 / 48
0.80   Switchback left.
0.81r71 canyon silktasselGarrya veatchii5 / 34
0.81r72 southern tauschiaTauschia arguta30 / 95
0.83   Switchback right.
0.88   Cross drainage.
0.90r73 phlox-leaved bedstrawGalium andrewsii ssp. andrewsii1 / 13
0.90   Switchback left.
0.96   Switchback right.
1.07   Long switchback left.
1.12   Switchback left.
1.12r74 chaparral peaPickeringia montana var. montana10 / 21
1.13   Long switchback right.
1.17r75~showy penstemonPenstemon spectabilis var. subviscosus1 / 11
1.18   Trail turns right 90° at small drainage.
1.20   Switchback left.
1.25   Switchback right.
1.26l  First sticky-leaved Ribes malvaceum.
1.27   Trail turns left 90°
1.30   Trail turns right 90°
1.31l76 chaparral lotusLotus grandiflorus var. grandiflorus6 / 52
1.32l77 fuchsia-flowered gooseberryRibes speciosum2 / 25
1.32l78?unk per. with alt entire ~oblong 4-ranked lvs.?1 / 1 
1.32l79?unk baby annual grass with very fine lvs.
1.32l80~small-flowered melicaMelica imperfecta2 / 229
1.36r81?scroph??10 / 2 
1.36   Switchback left.
1.38l82?baby California chicory?Rafinesquia californica? /  
1.39r83 California fuchsiaEpilobium canum ssp. canum5 / 111
1.39r84?southern hawkweedHieracium argutum1 / 11
1.40r  Pile of big boulders frame a picture window.
1.40r85 laurel sumacMalosma laurina5 / 429
1.40l  Check to see if this what-looks-like-a-gray-leaved cliff-aster turns into something else.
1.40   Trail turns left 90°
1.40r86 California wood fernDryopteris arguta3 / 210
1.41l87 California bayUmbellularia californica1 / 19
1.41b88 hollyleaf cherryPrunus ilicifolia ssp. ilicifolia2 / 19
1.42   Switchback right.
1.42r89~oceansprayHolodiscus discolor1 / 12
1.42b90 prickly phloxLeptodactylon californicum ssp. californicum5 / 31
1.44r  Jct. huge sandstone rectangular outcrop at ridgeline; jct. overlook path; switchback left; elevation 2650 feet (810 m)
1.49l  Nice view to north
1.56   Trail flattens out; grove of chaparral pea, Pickeringia montana var. montana.
1.56r91 *Spanish broomSpartium junceum99 / 57
1.57   T-jct with road; elevation 2720 feet (830 m); go right on that road, leaving the Backbone Trail. Unlike the trail so far, the road is dominated by non-native weeds.
1.57b92 *redstem filareeErodium cicutarium50 / 938
1.62   Road makes a small curve left.
1.63l93~slender sunflowerHelianthus gracilentus1 / 111
1.65r94 *fennelFoeniculum vulgare2 / 112
1.70   T-jct with gravel road at ridgeline; go left on it.
1.73   Road turns left 90°
1.75l95 long-stemmed buckwheatEriogonum elongatum var. elongatum3 / 117
1.76   Switchback right.
1.77l96 *Mediterranean schismusSchismus barbatus10 / 114
1.79   East peak of Saddle Peak; elevation 2825 feet (860 m). The following species are found a few steps south.
1.79 97 *sourcloverMelilotus indicus5 / 112
1.79 98 California suncupCamissonia californica2 / 216
1.79   Retrace your steps to the jct with the Backbone Trail.
1.86r  Jct. road to Backbone Trail; go right
1.98   Jct. Backbone Trail; go right (same location as mile 1.57)
2.00   Trail makes a small curve right.
2.04l99 southern miner's lettuceClaytonia perfoliata ssp. mexicana10 / 115
2.06r100?unk per with lvs with basal lobes.?1 / 1 
2.11r101 wild sweetpeaLathyrus vestitus var. vestitus5 / 27
2.22r102?unk baby tree.?1 / 1 
2.25r  Jct. short path to ridge.
2.29b103 *wild oatsAvena fatua50 / 514
2.30b104 *ripgut bromeBromus diandrus50 / 536
2.31r105 *slender wild oatsAvena barbata10 / 121
2.31r106 *California burcloverMedicago polymorpha40 / 226
2.32r107 collar lupineLupinus truncatus10 / 217
2.32l  Four dark green tanks.
2.34r108 big-pod ceanothusCeanothus megacarpus var. megacarpus2 / 11
2.36l109 telegraph weedHeterotheca grandiflora3 / 122
2.36l110 horseweedConyza canadensis3 / 124
2.36   Water Tank; elevation 2475 feet (755 m)
2.36l111 *rose cloverTrifolium hirtum3 / 16
2.36r  Possibly the world's oldest coyote bush, , with an incredibly-thick trunk.
2.37r112 small-flowered evening-primroseCamissonia micrantha+5 / 14
2.38r113~*cheeseweedMalva parviflora40 / 212
2.38   Cross through gate.
2.43   Cross Mildas Drive.
2.44l114 *fountain grassPennisetum setaceum20 / 28
2.44b115 *gazaniaGazania X (mounding hybrid)20 / 24
2.45b116 *winter vetchVicia villosa ssp. varia30 / 110
2.45b117 *foxtail barleyHordeum murinum ssp. glaucum+99 / 35
2.56l118 narrowleaf bedstrawGalium angustifolium ssp. angustifolium5 / 240
2.56l119spMariposa lilyCalochortus sp.5 / 2 
2.56l120 bicolored everlastingGnaphalium bicolor3 / 223
2.59l  prickly cryptanthaCryptantha muricata+10 / 114
2.60l121?dead tall suncup?Camissonia sp.?5 / 1 
2.62l122 California brickellbushBrickellia californica3 / 123
2.62l123spannual phaceliaPhacelia sp.5 / 1 
2.62l124 *goldentopLamarckia aurea5 / 111
2.62l  (chaparral yucca, Yucca whipplei)
2.66r125 southern California silver-lotusLotus argophyllus var. argophyllus1 / 11
2.66r126 lanceleaf dudleyaDudleya lanceolata1 / 117
2.66r127 one-sided bluegrassPoa secunda ssp. secunda5 / 120
2.67   Y-jct; go left
2.75   Jct. Stunt Road; elevation 2350 feet (715 m); end detailed guide; go left to return to cars.
3.36r128 arroyo lupineLupinus succulentus3 / 14
3.86   Trailhead.

Comments On Specific Species

Lonicera subspicata var. denudata. This is the former variety johnstonii, with leaf blades that are white underneath, which was combined into var. denudata in the JM.

Solanum xanti. We were surprised to see these specimens, which were different from our previous experience with S. xanti, since they are erect subshrubs. It turns out that this is var. intermedium, as given in Munz, which is not recognized in the JM.

Ribes indecorum, R. malvaceum var. viridifolium. The plants on this trail are so similar it is quite understandable that the SMM Flora lists R. indecorum as a subspecies of R. malvaceum. The only clear difference is the color of the sepals (white for R. indecorum; pink for R. malvaceum).

The SMM Flora says that intergrades between the two species occur, but it is difficult to detect them without detailed analysis. In particular, the JM criterion on the length of the hypanthium is not a good discriminant, since many pure plants of R. indecorum have a hypanthium twice as long as wide (see Munz).

Rhus ovata. We were stunned to see the serrate leaves on these specimens! We have only seen entire leaves in our previous extensive experience with this species in Southern California. In fact, the Jepson Manual uses entire leaves for R. ovata as part of the key to separate it from R. integrifolia, which can have entire or toothed leaves. But other references clearly state that R. ovata can have serrate leaves.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum. We have so far observed only leaves, accounting for the ~ in the id? column. Some of the leaves are much wider, up to 51 mm wide, than the maximum of 25 mm given in the floras.

Ceanothus leucodermis. The first plant here has the usual glaucous gray twigs; within 0.01 mile is another with green twigs. One cannot distinguish this from C. spinosus simply by the color of the twigs. As mentioned in the guide, a shrub at mile 0.67 has one-fourth of the bush with gray glaucous twigs and the rest with green twigs.

The key in the SMM Flora is:

3a. Leaves glossy on lower surface, with 1 prominent vein from base C. spinosus
3b. Leaves glaucous on lower surface, with 3 prominent veins from base, the lateral 2 may be obscure C. leucodermis.

The number of veins often works to distinguish them, but not in every case. The glaucousness of the leaf is the only certain distinguishing characteristic.

Camissonia micrantha. The width of the fruit is larger than usually seen for this species, 1.5-2.0 mm, but this is the only possible identification.

Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum. As we have also seen on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, these plants key perfectly to ssp. leporinum in Munz, but are perfect ssp. glaucum in JM. Our id is due to our conformance with the JM. The SMM Flora keys it in the same way as the JM.

Cryptantha muricata. This taxon is not numbered, since the previous Cryptantha sp. may turn out to be this id as well.

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Copyright © 2004 by Tom Chester, Jane Strong and Michael Charters.
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Updated 26 March 2004.