Tom has confirmed my identification of Atriplex watsonii for the mat-like species Richard and I saw first, but is unhappy with both leucophylla and californica for the second and/or third species I observed last time. I wanted to go back today to study the two unidentified species more closely and get some more photographs, but I was greatly chagrined when I arrived at the top of the loop around the Inner Bay to find that a second gate had been installed across the trail at that point and that it was locked with a sign saying that public access had been temporarily halted due to the wetland restoration construction going on. I briefly considered climbing over the fence, but gave that up as a bad idea. I have been unable to determine how long this closure will be in effect, but I am not hopeful that it will end any time soon. This is unfortunate because Tom had commented that the seeds of the samples I sent him were not mature, and I was planning on waiting another few weeks to collect some more, but now I don't know whether that will be possible this year.
On the way back I photographed some African daisy (Osteospermum ecklonis) and that brought up a new controversy because Bob Muns has Osteospermum fruticosum listed and a couple of Santa Monica Mts floras list sp. ecklonis. I wondered whether there were two different Osteospermums that had become naturalized. It is a South African plant that CalTrans among others has often planted along freeways (giving rise to its other name, freeway daisy), and there are many cultivars of it. Some people believe that fruticosum is just an older name of ecklonis, but in fact its former name is Dimorphotheca ecklonis, and my copy of Goldblatt and Manning's Cape Plants does list them both as distinct species. Dieter Wilken from the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden thought my picture of it looked like ecklonis, and referred me to an unpublished manuscript on Osteospermums of North America which apparently states that only two species have become naturalized in the U.S., and of the two ecklonis is the only possibility here because of its color and range. I was able to collect a sample and it did seem to fit ecklonis and eliminated fruticosum as a possibility.
I also found another small shrubby woody-stemmed plant which Tom has been unable to identify other than to suggest that it might be another Atriplex, but it had no fruit or flowers so will have to wait for another time. And by the way, Tom has identified the mystery Suaeda as Suaeda esteroa, an uncommon species called estuary sea-blite. See my page for that species here.
Addendum 11/19/04: I have been informed by Jack Fancher at the
Fish and Wildlife Service that the path around the inner side of the
basin at Bolsa Chica will be closed at least until spring of next year
and possibly until the fall if the work there this winter is delayed
by rain. The levee around that side needs to be built up to contain
a full tidal range in the basin. He also told me that the Department
of Fish and Game is going to be doing repair work to the boardwalk and
to the parking lot along the Coast Highway which will necessitate its
closure sometime this winter. What I was concerned about however was
not being able to get back in there to find mature fruit of the Atriplex
species Richard and I had seen but were unable to definitely identify.
Now that I have found a lot of that same species at Upper Newport Bay,
that is thankfully no longer an issue.
Since it now appears unlikely that the unidentified species of Atriplex
at Bolsa Chica is either californica or leucophylla, I
decided that I would have to look elsewhere for those species. I recently
went back and looked at my samples of the two apparently different plants
and found mixed clusters on the first one as well as the second one,
so I now think that probably those two species are the same, just at
different stages of develop-
Anyway, I knew that Tom Chester had Atriplex californica on his Torrey Pines plant guide, and I had looked for it when I was there in the spring. Unfortunately, I had no idea then what it looked like and although I thought at the time that I had found it, it turned out to be something else. But I was confident that this time, knowing a lot more about it, I could find it if it was there. It rained on me as I was getting closer to San Diego, but I didn't let that interfere with my plans, and arrived at T.P. in good shape. The sky was getting lighter as I headed down the Beach Trail toward Yucca Point. There was little in bloom but I did notice a few Parry's jepsonia (Jepsonia parryi) in evidence, some San Diego wreathplants (Stephanomeria diegensis), beach primroses (Camissonia cheiranthifolia ssp. suffruticosa) and pink sand verbenas (Abronia umbellata ssp. umbellata), and one especially nice mission manzanita shrub (Xylococcus bicolor). Since I had saltbushes on my mind, I couldn't help noticing the tremendous numbers of Australian saltbush (Atriplex semibaccata) lining the trail in places with their cute little red fruits.
Close to the bottom of the trail I encountered as I knew I would from
Tom's plant guide some blooming seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium)
and that is where I also expected to find the California saltbush. When
I finally saw it, I realized that I had overlooked it in the spring
because I had been looking for a much larger plant. This saltbush is
a small, prostrate, easily unnoticed one (see my page on this species
here), but shares many basic similarities
with other saltbushes, especially the white-scurfy leaves that appear
to be covered with tiny crystals. It seems that the staminate flowers
were completely done but I was able to find lots of stems with the fruiting
bracts that would have verified its identity if I had had any doubts.
They are ovate, sessile and basically unfused. It is really a neat thing
to learn about those parts of a plant that are necessary for its identifi-
There was indeed a nice native plant garden complete with some island species I was unfamiliar with such as Brandegee's sage (Salvia brandegei, blooming fairly profusely), island redberry (Rhamnus pirifolia), soft-leaved indian paintbrush (Castilleja mollis), and several new (to me) live-forevers like Dudleya traskiae, D. candelabrum, and D. caespitosa. The island ceanothus (Ceanothus arboreus) was also blooming nicely. I went inside and bought the Channel Islands checklist I wanted, then watched an excellent movie about the Islands which really made me want to go there. The ranger on duty very kindly xeroxed for me a copy of a pamphlet they had on the plant communities represented by the garden, and I read there that Atriplex leucophylla was one of the dominant species of the foredunes, so I gathered my stuff and rushed out to the beach. There was a lot of what I would expect to be there, beach primrose, beach morning glory, sea rocket, sand verbenas and iceplants, and as I wandered further up the beach I began to grow disappointed that I was not finding the beach saltbush. But then something that looked different caught my eye on a little hillock of sand, and I went over to investigate it. It was mostly dead and in the process of shrivelling up, but in the middle there were two whitish-green plants that were not dead, and I had seen enough saltbushes by now to be able to recognize one instantly.
It was Atriplex leucophylla (see my page here) and I realized immediately that, once again, the mystery species at Bolsa Chica was not this either. On the sand around most of the dead stems, there was a mass of what I immediately noted to be dried fruiting bracts. I was quite jazzed to find my second new Atriplex in as many days, following as it did my finding of A. watsonii just a couple of weeks ago. I felt that my Atriplex world was expanding rapidly, which was especially gratifying because I had always had such trouble with them before, and I began a careful search around the area where I saw other similar hillocks that might have more and fresher specimens to examine and photograph. It was not long before my search was successful and plants with staminate flowers in full bloom presented themselves to me. These flowere had a five-part calyx and five yellowish stamens. The fruiting bracts were sessile, almost completely fused, and had little wartlike projections on their faces.
According to Steve Junak's Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Channel Islands National Park, there are at least four other Atriplex species out there, and I am determined next spring to ignore seasickness and make my first excursion across the channel.
Before heading home, I stopped at McGrath State Beach, where I had not been for seven years. When my daughter was in the 4th grade, I accompanied her class on a camping trip to McGrath and so it was fun to reacquaint myself with that locality. There is a little nature trail there that winds along the edge of the Santa Clara River Estuary, and I remembered vividly that when I last walked along that path I was in water up to my waist. It was the one and only time that I have ever walked on a trail that was completely submerged. This time it was dry, and in keeping with my recent Atriplex obsession, I found a lot of arrowleaf saltbush or spearscale (Atriplex triangularis, not new to me), but I also found blooming some marsh jaumea (Jaumea carnosa), silverweed (Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica), slim aster (Aster subulatus var. ligulatus) and alkali heath (Frankenia salina). Out on the beach I was a bit surprised to find some white sand verbena, which is just an unusual color variant of Abronia umbellata, but I did not find any of the beach saltbush which was supposed to be there.
Now I want to go to Upper Newport Bay to see if I can locate the exotic
Atriplexes glauca and A. rosea which Bob Muns has on his
checklist, and out to the desert to search for Atriplex confertifolia
or shadscale, which since there is an entire plant community that goes
by the name of shadscale scrub shouldn't be too hard to find. My friend
Jim Andre at the Granite Mountains Desert Research Center in the East
Mojave has given me a couple of ideas for places to look, although it
is not common in his area. I plan to search for it on an expedition
to Searles Lake, Rabbit Dry Lake, Kramer Junction and some other areas
around Barstow. Its habitat also includes areas around Lancaster and
at Red Rock Canyon.
Monday-Tuesday, 15-16 November 2004 (Upper Newport Bay Ecological
We walked from the intersection of Back Bay Drive and San Joachin Hills Road up to Jamboree Road and the only Atriplexes we saw were canescens, lentiformis and semibaccata, and then some triangularis on the way back. I also was unable to find the Suaeda californica that Bob has listed, although I now suspect that this might be an error. What the Jepson Manual has as Suaeda taxifolia used to be called Suaeda californica var. taxifolia, and this taxon was separated out from Suaeda californica, leaving it as a sea-blite common only to the Central Coast. We did see some of the uncommon Suaeda esteroa which we saw at Bolsa Chica several weeks ago, but all of the other Suaeda we saw had hairy leaves making it taxifolia.
There was not much blooming today, except for some encelia (Encelia californica), the introduced pulicaria (Pulicaria paludosa) and various iceplants. The tide was high, and we could see the sea lavender emerging from the water showing that it doesn't mind being submerged. The area where we have previously observed saltmarsh bird's beak (Cordylanthus maritimus) was also under water. On the way back we saw and I collected a sample for keying of a dodder which I thought was probably saltmarsh dodder (Cuscuta salina) and that turned out to be correct, var. major. I also collected a sample of a Chenopodium which I had seen recently at McGrath State Beach, and this was macrospermum or coast goosefoot.
While our main goal remained elusive, it was a beautiful day and the bay was a gorgeous site with its numerous birds and the occasional darting dragonflies. We were only mildly affected by the steady stream of jetliners going over head enroute to John Wayne Airport. I kept my binoculars at hand, and Richard pointed out to me northern pintail ducks, willets, green-winged, blue-winged and cinnamon teals, spotted sandpipers, Caspian and Forster's terns, black skimmers, long-billed dowitchers, northern harriers, American coots, a great blue heron, both great and snowy egrets, American widgeons and a single osprey sitting on a pole in the middle of the water. It is a premier location for birding, and I was fortunate to have a birder with me.
I returned on Tuesday to investigate the other side of the bay from
the Visitor Center up to the north end, and almost immediately found,
along the path that parallels the marsh below the Visitor Center, masses
of the salt-
About a third of the way up the paved walkway from the Visitor Center,
I noticed a large shrubby plant that appeared to be climbing up a bank
and even into and onto a nearby tree. Although I was reluctant to accept
yet another mystery Atriplex, this is what it appeared to be.
It was at least 4' tall and had almost woody, viney, tangled stems and
leaves that were either oval/elliptic or hastate. I was not able to
find any staminate flowers, but the pistillate flowers (that is, the
fruiting bracts) were densely clustered along and on the ends of the
stems, and they were clearly different from the fruiting bracts of any
other species of Atriplex I have seen recently. From its size,
I would have to say that it was definitely not an annual, and the only
hastate leaves mentioned in the Jepson Manual belong to A. argentea
(subhastate), A. heterosperma, A. lentiformis ssp. torreyi,
A. phyllostegia, A. subspicata, and A. triangularis,
all of which are annuals except for the lentiformis. I collected
samples and photographed it in hopes that Tom Chester or some other
authority may be able to id it. I plan to send samples of the first
mystery Atriplex to Rancho Santa Ana and the Jepson Herbarium
to try to get a definitive answer on something that is driving me crazy,
and I will certainly report my findings whenever I have any.
One of the possibilities that seemed to arise for the mystery Atriplex from Upper Newport Bay was Atriplex lentiformis ssp. torreyi or Torrey's saltbush. This was because of all the species in the Jepson Manual which had hastate or at least basally-lobed leaves, this was the only one that was a perennial, which it certainly was. It also had striate, sharply-angled twigs, and keyed rather easily to this species. Of course, that's assuming that it is a species in the Jepson Manual, which as we now suspect, is not the case. However, there was nothing in the species description that precluded this identification, except that the range was way off, with ssp. torreyi being found mostly in the eastern Sierra Nevadas and northern Mojave Desert. However, even here, according to the Flora of North America, now being digitized and put online, Atriplex torreyi (its former name) is shown as inhabiting a small coastal area along the South Coast, whether naturally or having been planted there. I was a bit bothered though by the fact that it didn't look at all like its close relative A. lentiformis ssp. lentiformis.
So I was leaning toward this identification when I discovered that
Tom Chester had A. lentiformis ssp. torreyi listed on a plant
guide for the Lower Arroyo Seco in Pasadena. I decided to try to find
that plant and compare it to the mystery Atriplex from Upper
Newport Bay. Fortunately, even though this area has been undergoing
extensive replanting with many non-native species having been removed,
I was able to find the shrub in question just where it is indicated
on Tom's guide, but unfortunately it became obvious very quickly that
this was a very different plant, one that in overall appearance matched
closely other quailbushes I had seen. It had more or less round to ovate
leaves with no hastate bases that I could see, and the twigs were striate
and sharply-angled, which is a characteristic that separates it from
A. lentiformis ssp. lentiformis. Especially since this shrub
had been identified by my wonderfully knowledgeable friend Jane Strong,
I was prepared to accept ssp. torreyi as its taxon and to look
elsewhere for the identification of the one at Upper Newport Bay (see
my page for ssp. torreyi here).
It now began to be evident that that species was not a native or even
North American species, and the next candidate was Atriplex amnicola,
an Australian species which has been planted along coastal areas such
as Malibu and perhaps other places. I have contacted people at the Australian
National Botanical Garden in Canberra and have heard back from Paul
Wilson who wrote the Chenopodiaceae treatment in Flora of Australia
and described Atriplex amnicola for that volume. Regrettably
for us, his opinion is that neither my pictures nor my description of
the mystery species matches amnicola, so it looks like we are
back to square one. I will have to send off my samples to RSABG and
Jepson Herbarium and perhaps also to the NYBG and Missouri Botanical
Gardens. Meanwhile, I thank Paul for his input and for taking the time
to look at my pictures.
I returned to Upper Newport Bay in order to collect some fresh samples of the mystery Atriplex to send to Margriet Wetherwax at the Jepson Herbarium, but first I wanted to investigate an area of the Reserve I had never been in and which I was informed about by Jane Strong, who told me that there were likely Atriplexes found by Bob Muns on a plant walk there. I was still looking for A. rosea and A. glauca which appear both on Bob's plant list for Upper Newport Bay and also on the online Plants of Upper Newport Bay list of Robert De Ruff. The area Jane had told me about is called Big Canyon and it extends from the parking area on Back Bay Drive all the way to Jamboree Road.
I began walking up the gravel road and almost immediately began seeing quailbushes along both sides. I continued looking for other Atriplexes and noticed a somewhat greenish shrub in the shape of a small mound. It looked familiar and when I examined it more closely saw the divaricate basal lobes on some of the leaves. They were not as pronounced as the ones I had seen on the mystery Atriplex on the other side of the bay, but the leaf texture and color were identical, as were the clusters of fruiting bracts. Clearly, this was the same plant, and I excitedly made a 360° circuit around it looking for evidence of staminate flowers which I had been unable to find before. There were none however, again confirming my opinion that this was a dioecious species, but making me wonder anew where the male plants were.
I photographed it and collected samples, then began a careful search
of the area, moving further and further away until I spotted a similar-sized
shrub that even from a distance appeared to have flowering spikes on
it. At last I had found the male plant, and I examined it closely to
be sure it belonged to the same species. The hastate lobes on the leaves
were the same, as were the slightly reddish striate young stems. I collected
samples and continued walking up the road. I saw some things I didn't
recognize but did begin to find four-wing saltbushes, and then noticed
an intricately-branched shrub with slender stems and very small alternate
leaves. I looked at it with my hand lens and saw the characteristic
five-stamened greenish-yellow flowers of an Atriplex. This was
unlike any of the Atriplexes I had seen recently with one exception.
It did look like A. polycarpa which I had seen on the Brown Mt.
fireroad, but unlike there where there was only a female plant, here
there was only a male plant. So I will have to return again to search
for pistillate plants to put the two together. Oddly enough, this species
is not on the Upper Newport Bay plant list of either Bob Muns or Robert
De Ruff, but then neither is the mystery Atriplex, which is very
likely a non-native species. I have sent off my samples to the people
at the Jepson Herbarium and will await their determination.
Saturday, 27 November 2004 (Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge)
The Refuge comprises approximately 1000 acres of wetland, and can be roughly divided into two zones, low marsh where cord grass (Spartina foliosa) predominates, and high marsh, dominated by the pickleweeds Salicornia virginica and S. subterminalis, and saltwort (Batis maritima). Other common species there are saltmarsh dodder (Cuscuta salina), alkali heath (Frankenia salina), marsh jaumea (Jaemea carnosa), salt grass (Distichlis spicata), woolly sea-blite or seepweed (Suaeda taxifolia), shoregrass (Monanthochloe littoralis), saltmarsh bird's beak (Cordylanthus maritimus) and sea lavender (Limonium californicum). Atriplexes I observed were lentiformis, watsonii, and semibaccata.
However this was not a botany tour, and by the binoculars hanging around
everyone's neck it was clear what most people were here for, birds.
After going through a Navy security gate, watching a film about the
National Wildlife Refuge system, and walking through the little native
plant garden behind the Nature Center, we only had about an hour and
a half to learn about marsh ecology and observe some of the birds that
are either resident here or passing through on the Pacific flyway, which
one brochure describes as a "river of birds." Across from
the Nature Center was a tidal mudflat emerging as the tide lowered that
was crowded with fairly large-sized gregarious and social shorebirds
like whimbrels, long-billed curlews and marbled godwits. As we moved
toward an area on the north side of Bolsa Avenue, we saw pie-billed
and horned grebes diving for their fishy dinners. A kestrel flew overhead,
and in the distance we spotted standing regally amidst the tall grasses
great egrets and great blue herons. Flocks of Canada geese were enroute
over the marsh, and a beautiful pair of mergansers landed easily on
the water. A northern harrier was seen flying low in its typical hunting
pattern, and Richard pointed out to me a couple of loggerhead shrikes.
Brown pelicans were very much in evidence, plunging with a splash into
the water, and a pair of red-tailed hawks roosted on telephone poles.
A solitary endangered Belding's savannah sparrow dove into the grass
and disappeared just as we approached, but we were not fortunate enough
to see any lightfooted clapper rails which are usually hidden in the
Tuesday, 30 November 2004 (Sycamore Canyon/Goodan Ranch Preserve,
San Diego County)
I only had to walk a few hundred yards before I saw the first of the copperleafs. I had seen this species once before at the UC Riverside Botanic Garden, and although its staminate flowers were then well developed, its pistillate flowers were not. I looked at the dark green shrubs this time and immediately saw the 1/2"-1" long staminate spikes with flowers beginning to develop, but had to look more closely to find the tiny clusters of pistillate flowers with the delicate, almost feathery and deeply-cut red styles. But they were there, and in great abundance. Unlike the Atriplexes I have been working on lately, this is a species where the male and female flowers are on the same plant. The male flowers are on catkin-like spikes and the female flowers are enclosed in little cups formed by the glandular-pubescent bracts. Neither have petals. I have no idea why it is called copperleaf; perhaps the leaves turn a coppery color when they age? My Orange County botanist friend Bob Allen reports that the leaves are sometimes coppery-tinged, and Dr. Barbara Collins says that another species, Acalypha wilkesiana, does have coppery-colored leaves. Copperleaf's range is the western Colorado Desert, Borrego Valley, Santa Rosa Mts, and the Peninsular Range of San Diego County, and Bob says it is also in Weir Canyon in Orange County, which is not yet in any published source. I also have not been able to find out anything about the derivation of another name I have sometimes seen it listed by, which is yerba del cancer. This species is the only one of its genus in California, and is a member of the Euphorbiaceae, bearing a certain resemblance to another related shrub that inhabits rocky areas, Bernardia incana, but with slightly larger leaves.
Addendum 12/01/04: Jane Strong contributed the following
in connection with Acalypha californica's common name: "There
are probably more than 50 species of the genus Acalypha listed
in the Vascular Plant Type Catalog of the New York Botanical Garden.
This is a mostly tropical genus with very tender leaves of variegated
reddish-copper color. By looking at the dates after the authors' names,
I surmise that the genus was well-known before the California species
was discovered. It follows that the common name, copperleaf, has been
in the literature a long time. What I think happened is that Hrusa ...
simply did not know of a common name and made one up using the common
name that had been applied earlier and translating the species name."
This sounds eminently reasonable to me, and I thank Jane for her insight.
She also did some research which revealed that various species of the
genus have been used for the treatment of quite a variety of ailments
and medical conditions, which likely accounts for the other common name