Field Trips Log
December 2005

Tuesday, 6 December 2005 (Los Liones Canyon, Santa Monica Mts)

I got an e-mail the other day from my Coastwalk friend Don Nierlich asking me to do a wildflower walk in the spring. He mentioned that he had recently been hiking in Los Liones Canyon at the edge of Topanga State Park and had seen a couple of things that he didn't know the identification of. He sent me pictures and thanks to Jane Strong's extensive knowledge I was able to tell him that the main thing he was wondering about was German-ivy (Senecio mikanioides). Since I had never seen it blooming before, I drove over there this morning to photograph it.

To get to the trailhead, drive south on PCH from Topanga Canyon, turn left on Sunset and then left again on Los Liones Drive, go to the end and park across the road from a church. I headed up the trail and immediately encountered the first patch of nicely-blooming German-ivy). There was also some greenbark ceanothus in bloom as well as ashy-leaf buckwheat (Eriogonum cinereum) and cliff aster (Malacothrix saxatilis), but not much else. I continued up the trail and soon was appalled at the entent of the invasion of this non-native species into the canyon. It literally covered EVERYTHING on both sides of the trail for most of the first mile, covering hillsides and small bushes with dense mats that undoubtedly will kill whatever is beneath it because is so thick no sunlight could get through it. I have never seen a canyon so totally overrun with a single non-native species. It has a fairly unpleasant, almost urine-like odor. The other non-native species that I was distressed to see was terracina spurge (Euphorbia terracina) that is also spreading in many coastal locations of the Santa Monicas.

I only went as far as the junction of the East Topanga fireroad and turned around, seeing only a few California encelias, some telegraph weed and beggar-ticks, a single white-blooming buckbrush, and a mysterious small not-quite shrubby plant that looked vaguely familiar and yet not. My first thought was that it was a Nicotiana of some sort, but it didn't fit some of the characteristics of that genus. I was pretty sure it wasn't native, so I collected a sample and went home.

When I dissected one of its flowers under the microscope and tried to key it out in my Manual of Cultivated Plants by L.H. Bailey, I noticed that the base of the corolla formed a little ball-like structure that enclosed the ovary. I had never seen a feature like this before. The corolla was tubular, almost salverform, with five lobes and five fertile stamens. I failed completely to find an identification, so fell back on consulting Jane Strong and Tom Chester. Jane at first struck out and so did Tom, but with pictures and additional descriptions, Jane settled on the Nyctaginaceae family and soon arrived at the correct identification. It was a cultivated four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa), and where I had gone wrong was that what I had taken to be the calyx was actually an involucre of bracts and what I had taken to be the corolla was actually a petaloid calyx. It had no corolla. So this was undoubtedly an escape from somebody's cultivation in one of the houses around the canyon.

Friday, 9 December 2005 (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

I made my third trip to Anza-Borrego this fall and in addition to looking for several new species I was eager to use my new camera. I got the Canon A620 Powershot which is a 7.1 megapixel camera that focuses down to 1 cm. I'm still getting used to it so I will use it and also continue to use my older Sony. The first thing I was looking for was Arizona spurge (Chamaesyce arizonica) which Tom had found on our previous hike into Palm Canyon after we had separated at the end of the day. I started up the trail and almost immediately encountered a woman who told me that she had just seen five bighorn sheep down in the wash. Although I looked for them, I didn't see them.

The Arizona spurge was growing in some profusion on the alternate trail that branches off from the main trail below the palm grove and returns by switchbacking along the rocky shoulder of the canyon above the wash. I actually found some before I got to where Tom's plant guide indicated they were, and they were quite distinctive because of their miniscule flowers and bright red stems. Other things I saw blooming in the canyon even in this late portion of the season were brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), desert trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum), rock hibiscus (Hibiscus denudatus), beetle spurge (Euphorbia eriantha), creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), windmills (Allionia incarnata), desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi), narrowl-leaf ditaxis (Ditaxis lanceolata), smooth-stemmed fagonia (Fagonia laevis), and desert four o'clock (Mirabilis bigelovii).

Next I headed over to the wash of Coyote Creek where I was very interested in finding a species that Tom and Wayne Armstrong had found there recently. I had seen crinklemat (Tiquilia plicata) many times before in desert areas, but this taxon was Palmer's crinklemat (Tiquilia palmeri), a much larger and shrubbier species. I followed some gps readings Tom had made but was only about half-way to his recorded location when I saw the first one, then another, then dozens of them all around. I began searching for blooms and was at first unsuccessful and was becoming a bit discouraged when I found a single half-closed bloom. I continued searching diligently, examinging probably about 50 separate plants, and eventually found a few that had some nice prime flowers. This was yet another species blooming well out of its normal season (Munz says April to June), and I spent a good deal of time trying to capture some nice images. On the way there I had seen many small Spanish needle plants in full bloom (Palafoxia arida, normal bloom March to May), desert sand verbena (Abronia villosa, February to July) and a single lax flower (Bailey pauciradiata, February to June and October). The wash was covered with a species that I did not at first recognize because I had only seen it at an earlier, smaller, blooming stage and it was not fruiting, and this was desert dicoria or twinbugs (Dicoria canescens).

It had been a beautiful day and the sun was just beginning to set as I drove up the winding road out of the valley.