Plant Trail Reports, Santa Rosa Plateau, 2004

30 March 2004: Vernal Pool Trail, Ranch Road, Adobes, S. Trans Preserve Trail (see Vernal Pool Trail and S. Trans Preserve Trail Plant Guides)

After spending three years following the SRP in great detail, from 2001 to 2003, last December I decided to take a year or two vacation from a similar heavy concentration on the SRP in order to work on my trail guides for other areas of Southern California. However, when Rob called a month or so ago to ask if I would lead a tour for the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Docents, I readily agreed to do so. This group includes Bob Muns, so I was delighted to be able to repay Bob in very small measure for the many trips he has led! So today I led the tour for about half of the group of ~40 people that showed up, and Gordon House led a tour for the other half, since some people wanted to go on a longer hike than others.

After an absence of almost four months, it was good to get back to the SRP!

Some species, all perennials except for one, were looking great, and were putting on displays just as good as they always do. Bush lupine (Lupinus excubitus var. hallii); blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum); dwarf lupine (Lupinus bicolor); California poppy (Eschscholzia californica); common lomatium (Lomatium utriculatum); muilla (Muilla maritima); sharp-toothed sanicle (Sanicula arguta); and bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) looked as good as they do in normal years.

In particular, the bush lupine along Clinton Keith Road and at its location on the Vernal Pool Trail, was fabulous, in peak bloom. There were numerous patches of blue-eyed grass that made entire sections of hillside turn blue along the lower Vernal Pool Trail.

However, many species, mostly annuals, were either missing or putting on fairly pathetic displays. They included ground pink (Linanthus dianthiflorus); goldfields (Lasthenia californica); yellow carpet (Blennosperma nanum var. nanum); graceful owl's clover (Castilleja densiflora ssp. gracilis); blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum); rusty-haired popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys nothofulvus); tawny popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys fulvus); johnny jump-up (Viola pedunculata); chocolate lilies (Fritillaria biflora var. biflora); and western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis).

The poor displays from those species were due to the low rainfall this year, and the poor timing of that rainfall. As of today, essentially the end of the rainy season for the vast majority of the normal rainfall, the SRP (as measured at the Mesa de Burro) had received only 8.4 inches compared to its normal ~20 inches, only 42% of normal rainfall. Worse, the rainfall came in only a few bunches, with a long dry spell in January.

This apparently had two deleterious effects on the display. First, many native annuals simply didn't germinate, and even some perennials didn't bother to make much of a showing. For example, along the Vernal Pool Trail I saw only two plants of johnny jump-up (Viola pedunculata); normally there are hundreds of plants here at this time.

Second, the timing of the rainfall apparently allowed the non-native grasses and weeds to germinate first and then crowd out other annuals from either germinating or growing. The trails were filled with wild oats (Avena fatua); soft chess (Bromus hordeaceus), and short-fruited filaree (Erodium brachycarpum) looking fat and happy, producing tons of seeds to do similar damage in the future.

Back in December, Jane Strong had noted the early germination of these grasses in the San Gabriel Mountains, and speculated that the wildflower season there was going to be subdued. Her prediction there certainly proved to be correct about the display in the SRP.

Amazingly, the fairy shrimp et al display in the Main Vernal Pool was also disappointing. This was day 33 after the Pool filled, and should have given prime viewing of all the creatures, especially the fairy shrimp. But because the Pool never filled completely, the water at the boardwalk was so shallow today that most of the pool critters had moved to deeper water away from the boardwalk. Worse, the shallow water at the boardwalk was almost totally obscured by algae, long before this normally happens.

Nonetheless, we had a good tour. There were plenty of pretty plants to keep everyone happy. And even though the chocolate lily display was pathetic overall, the first plant we encountered was a beautiful specimen with four flowers at their peak, which provided quite a thrill to some.

The plants that made me the happiest on this tour were only two inches high, with a flower only 1-2 mm long! I had found the incredibly mis-named showy plectritis, Plectritis ciliosa ssp. insignis, in only a single location on one trip on the Trans Preserve Trail on 4/30/03, and couldn't find it again on 5/15/03 despite looking for it intensively. I was just casually checking for it while people were looking at the fiesta flower (Pholistoma auritum var. auritum) and bang! There it was! (;-)

The people on the tour must have thought I was a basket case to be so delighted over such a tiny plant. (;-)

After resting for a bit after this tour, I botanized the Vernal Pool Trail with a visitor who was on a tour I gave last year for the Monocots III conference. I resolved a few minor items in my trail guide, but was dumbfounded to find not just one, but two new annual vetch species on the trail that I've botanized 26 times previously, as well as pellitory (Parietaria hespera) which I'd never seen before here!

Plants in bloom on the Vernal Pool Trail 30 March 2004

FamilyLatin NameCommon NameFraction of Full BloomBloom Stage+
AnacardiaceaeRhus ovatasugar bush1 
AnacardiaceaeToxicodendron diversilobumpoison oak (flowers)0.1b
ApiaceaeLomatium utriculatumcommon lomatium (flowers)1 
ApiaceaeSanicula argutasharp-toothed sanicle1 
ApiaceaeSanicula bipinnatifidapurple sanicle1 
AsteraceaeChamomilla suaveolens*pineapple weed1 
AsteraceaeGnaphalium bicolorbicolored everlasting (flowers)1 
AsteraceaeGnaphalium californicumCalifornia everlasting (flowers) buds
AsteraceaeLasthenia californicagoldfields0.5e
AsteraceaeSonchus asper ssp. asper*prickly sow thistle1 
AsteraceaeSonchus oleraceus*sow thistle1 
BoraginaceaePlagiobothrys fulvustawny popcorn flower1 
BoraginaceaePlagiobothrys nothofulvusrusty-haired popcorn flower0.001 
BoraginaceaePlagiobothrys undulatushooked popcorn flower1 
BrassicaceaeHirschfeldia incana*shortpod mustard0.01 
ConvolvulaceaeCalystegia macrostegia ssp. intermediasouth coast morning-glory1 
ConvolvulaceaeCalystegia macrostegia ssp. tenuifoliaSan Diego morning-glory1 
FabaceaeLathyrus vestitus var. alefeldiiSan Diego pea1 
FabaceaeLupinus bicolordwarf lupine1 
FabaceaeLupinus excubitus var. halliibush lupine1 
FabaceaeMedicago polymorpha*California burclover1 
FabaceaeTrifolium depauperatum var. truncatumballoon clover1 
FabaceaeVicia hasseislender vetch1 
FabaceaeVicia sativa ssp. nigra*common vetch1 
FabaceaeVicia villosa ssp. varia*winter vetch0.2b
FagaceaeQuercus acutidensTorrey's scrub oak1 
FagaceaeQuercus engelmanniiTwo young Engelmann oaks1 
GeraniaceaeErodium brachycarpum*short-fruited filaree0.01 
GeraniaceaeGeranium dissectum*cut-leaved geranium0.001b
GrossulariaceaeRibes indecorumwhite-flowering currant (flowers)0.001e
MalvaceaeSidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsifoliacheckerbloom1 
PaeoniaceaePaeonia californicaCalifornia peony done
PapaveraceaeEschscholzia californicaCalifornia poppy1 
PolemoniaceaeLinanthus dianthiflorusground pink0.5e
PolygonaceaeRumex crispus*curly dock0.02b
PortulacaceaeCalandrinia ciliatared maids0.01 
PortulacaceaeClaytonia perfoliata ssp. mexicanasouthern miner's lettuce1 
PrimulaceaeDodecatheon clevelandii ssp. clevelandiishooting star0.01e
RanunculaceaeRanunculus occidentaliswestern buttercup1 
RosaceaePotentilla glandulosa ssp. glandulosasticky cinquefoil1 
RubiaceaeGalium angustifolium ssp. angustifoliumnarrowleaf bedstraw1 
RubiaceaeGalium aparinecommon bedstraw1 
RubiaceaeGalium nuttallii ssp. nuttalliiclimbing bedstraw1 
ScrophulariaceaeCastilleja densiflora ssp. gracilisgraceful owl's clover1 
ScrophulariaceaeMimulus aurantiacusbush monkeyflower1 
UrticaceaeParietaria hespera var. hesperapellitory1 
ViolaceaeViola pedunculatajohnny jump-up0.01e
IridaceaeSisyrinchium bellumblue-eyed grass1 
LiliaceaeAllium haematochitonred-skinned onion0.05b
LiliaceaeDichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatumblue dicks1 
LiliaceaeFritillaria biflora var. biflorachocolate lily0.03e
LiliaceaeMuilla maritimamuilla1 
PoaceaeAvena fatua*wild oats1 
PoaceaeBromus diandrus*ripgut brome1 
PoaceaeBromus hordeaceus*soft chess1 
PoaceaeBromus madritensis ssp. rubens*red brome1 
PoaceaeHordeum murinum ssp. glaucum*foxtail barley1 
PoaceaeLamarckia aurea*goldentop1 
PoaceaeLolium multiflorum*Italian rye-grass1 
PoaceaeMelica imperfectasmall-flowered melica0.01b
PoaceaeNassella pulchrapurple needlegrass0.01b
PoaceaePoa secunda ssp. secundaone-sided bluegrass1 
PoaceaeVulpia myuros var. hirsuta*hairy rattail fescue0.5e

+ Bloom stage:
b = beginning
e = ending
1 = full bloom
The % of full bloom is measured against my estimate of a normal year's full bloom on this trail.

19 June 2004: Granite Loop Trail, Waterline Road, and Adobe Loop Trails (see the plant guides linked to the names, not yet updated from today's fieldwork)

Kay Madore and I botanized the Granite Loop and Adobe Loop Trails, with a stop along Waterline Road by car in between. The date was picked well in advance due to the end-of-the-year docent party, so we had no option about the weather. But the weather turned out to be as delightful as it possibly could be! It was cool and overcast most of the day, and the sun came out only when we were on the shady Adobe Loop Trail.

On the Granite Loop Trail, a few species, like California buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, and Indian milkweed, Asclepias eriocarpa, were looking wonderful in full bloom. But many other species were shadows of their normal selves, as has been the case all year. For example, there were perhaps a dozen or two San Diego tarweeds, Hemizonia paniculata, along the Granite Loop Trail, when normally there are many hundreds. In the spot at mile 0.31 that is normally a beautiful field of tarweed, there was not a single plant in evidence, only the tall skeletons from last year. It's pretty pathetic when even the hardy tarweeds don't germinate well.

Bird's beak, Cordylanthus rigidus ssp. setigerus, was doing slightly better, with perhaps a hundred plants, instead of the usual many hundreds, and looking fairly good, even though the plants were about half or less of their usual height at first bloom.

It was sad to look at other plants struggling to reproduce. Mustang mint, Monardella lanceolata, was represented only by about 10-20 plants that were only a few inches high, with pathetic heads showing only a few flowers.

Overall, there were about 30 species in bloom, but most of the species were in very sparse bloom.

Nonetheless, it was quite enjoyable to botanize this trail, which I hadn't botanized for a year. I was able to get the identifications for some of the species that had not been positively identified, and even found a few new species.

We then drove to the Adobes, which was a special treat due to the docent party being held there. On the way, we stopped at the Cole Creek crossing, and were rewarded by a good display of southern skullcap, Scutellaria bolanderi ssp. austromontana, accompanied by a handful of other species in bloom.

Before the party, we botanized the Adobe Loop Trail, whose guide had only been done in the drought year. Not surprisingly, we added a number of new species to its list.

The overall bloom status on the Adobe Loop Trail was similar to the Granite Loop Trail. A few species, like heartleaf penstemon, Keckiella cordifolia, had a pretty good bloom. But most were struggling to produce a few blooms.

Our most exciting moment came at the oaks at the first major drainage. I was simply astounded to see some oaks that had leaves that looked just like interior live oak, Quercus wislizeni. I have been looking for such plants at the Santa Rosa Plateau for years, ever since 2001. Lathrop and Thorne list it in their 1985 flora as rare in southern oak woodland, but neither I, not the Reserve biologist Zach Principe, have ever seen any.

The leaves were flat and did not have the characteristic shape of coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia. Some of the leaves had acute, almost acuminate tips, unlike the usual more rounded tips (ignoring any terminal spines or teeth) of Q. agrifolia. They also looked pretty glabrous underneath. All of these things shouted out wisliz!

There was just one small problem with a Q. wisliz id - the leaves were attached to a honking tree with a single trunk. Our variety of wisliz in Southern California, var. frutescens, is a shrub, which seemed to definitively rule out the id. Upon further inspection, a nearby tree had about half of its leaves that looked like the ones from this plant, but the other half were fairly clearly Q. agrifolia leaves.

I took a sample home, and quickly found the hairs in the axils of most leaves on all samples, which definitively ruled out a wisliz id. Q. wisliz has totally glabrous leaves.

Bottom line: Rats, foiled again! by variability in a species. (;-)

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Copyright © 2004 by Tom Chester.
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Updated 19 June 2004.