This being October, there are fewer and fewer species I am looking for that are likely to be blooming. I did remember the other day that both of the Xanthium species are autumn bloomers, and I did not have any pictures of the flowers for either of them. Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) is pretty common and I've seen it in many locations but never blooming, and spiny cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum) I've only seen a couple of times, so I decided I would try to add these species to my website and headed off this afternoon for a quick visit to Rocky Oaks, a small parcel surrounded by boulder-topped peaks managed by the National Park Service as a part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and located in an area bordered on the east by Kanan Road and on the south by Mulholland Highway.
I expected the pond there to be empty as it is every year late in the season, and indeed there was only the slightest bit of dampness remaining in its central area. Five years of drought has had its effect, but even so it usually has a considerable amount of water during the spring. Rocky Oaks is made up mainly of some small grassy areas, patches of coastal sage scrub and chaparral, and some nice oak woodlands, and the elevation there ranges from about 1300' to about 2000'. According to Milt McAuley, "Rocky Oaks Ranch was a working cattle ranch with barns, sheds and farm equipment for 30 years prior to the destruction caused by the 1978 Agoura fire." It is a lovely area with some interesting flora such as swamp knotweed (Polygonum amphibium) and common knotweed (Polygonum arenastrum, not native), western goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis), waterweed (Ludwigia peoploides), California amaranth (Amaranthus californicus), and a few things that I haven't seen anywhere else like red ammannia (Ammannia coccinea) and burheads (Echinidorus berteroi).
I saw a few cockleburs near the parking lot with flowers that were past prime but gave me hope that in the moister area of the pond there would be ones that I could photograph. Sure enough, although the majority of the cockleburs around the pond area were well into fruiting, there were some with evident flowers. Xanthiums have a very interesting inflorescence composed of a staminate head surrounded or subtended by 2-flowered pistillate heads that develop into the spiny, 2-beaked burlike fruits (see photographs). The primary difference between this species and Xanthium spinosum is that in this one the leaves are green and the stems not spiny, while spinosum has leaves white-hairy beneath and spiny stems.
A few other things in the same area that were still blooming were field willowherb (Epilobium brachycarpum), California aster (Lessingia filaginifolia), doveweed (Eremocarpus setigerus), and one I was almost certain would be in bloom which I smelled before seeing, the beautiful but inaptly-named vinegar weed (Trichostema lanatum). There was also a Gnaphalium and a Brassicaceae (possibly Rorippa curvisiliqua) that I will have to wait for my friend Tom Chester's analysis to identify.
A second goal I had in going to Rocky Oaks was to determine the species of Stephanomeria which I had seen there before and which I expected to be still blooming. My previous identification of this as S. virgata was made at a time when I thought all Stephanomerias in our area were that species. I was not then aware of the existence of the widespread Stephanomeria diegensis, which has necessitated going back to check previous identifications. The mature fruit is necessary for discriminating between them, with diegensis having at least one side with a narrow longitudinal groove, pappus bristles that are not plumose 100% of their length, and fruit lacking thin ribs, and virgata having flat, ungrooved sides separated by thin ribs and pappus bristles plumose 100% of their length. As it turned out in this case, my original identification of Stephanomeria virgata was correct.
The grassy area just below the pond was filled with common madia (Madia elegans), longstem buckwheat (Eriogonum elongatum), telegraph weed (Heterotheca grandiflora), and a few smallish slender tarweeds (Hemizonia fasciculata). Further west, along the trail leading away from the pond, I saw a single fragrant everlasting (Gnaphalium canescens ssp. beneolens), a few prickly lettuces (Lactuca serriola), a cliff aster (Malacothrix saxatilis), some gumweed (Grindelia camporum), and several of the beautiful, blue, non-native chicories (Cichorium intybus). If you follow this trail, it soon comes to a place where there is a little seasonal creek with roses, bristly ox-tongue, fuchsia, hedge-nettle, and western goldenrod. This is the point where private property begins and No Trespassing signs are posted.
I will go back next year a little earlier in the season to see if the
flowers of the cocklebur are any showier than they were today or if
this is as good as it gets. Now I need to go to East/Rice Canyons in
the Santa Clarita Woodlands which is where I saw Xanthium spinosum
several years ago. That area was hit hard last year by fires, but I
believe it was mainly in Towsley and Pico Canyons and not in East and
Rice Canyons which are adjacent.
My wife and I hiked up East Canyon in the Santa Clarita Woodlands this morning. This is a lovely outing to do up a partially-open and partially wooded mountain side, about 3 miles to a gate signed Private Property and No Trespassing. Beyond is land owned by Southern California Gas. The four canyons on this north side of the Santa Susana Mountains, Towsley, Wiley, Rice and East, are part of the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy but are at present not linked to each other. That will hopefully happen sometime in the future.
The Santa Susana Mts are separated from the San Gabriels by Newhall Pass on the east, and are bordered on the north by the valley of the Santa Clara River and the Sespe Mts and on the south by the San Fernando Valley and the Simi Hills. East and Rice Canyons contain some very lush vegetation including many big-cone spruce or douglas fir, black walnut, flowering ash, bigleaf maple, and valley, canyon and coast live oak.
My purpose in coming here today was to see if I could find the spiny
cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum)
that I seemed to remember seeing on a hike some four years ago. The
trail (actually a dirt road) begins next to some horse corrals and houses,
but quickly takes you away from the sounds of nearby I-5 and into an
unspoiled canyon. The first thing I noticed of interest was a great
deal of blooming pine goldenbush (Ericameria pinifolia), perhaps
the most I've seen in a single area. We also saw both blooming and fruiting
The road gains elevation steadily but soon affords the hiker some lovely
views of the Santa Clarita Valley. We saw cliff aster, hoary fuchsia,
twiggy wreathplant, a few verbenas, bush senecio (or as I like to call
it shrubby butterweed), some sawtooth goldenbush and common madia, lots
of western jimsonweed and California asters, and a huge field filled
with the non-native cardoon or wild artichoke (Cynara
cardunculus). Miriam told me about how cardoon leaves were often
cooked in soup, and indeed when I looked it up later on the internet,
there were many recipes. It was a hot day and I was sweating profusely,
but some intermittent breezes cooled us on the way back down. At one
point a large antlered deer bounded across the road and through the
field of cardoon, and we commented that it seemed a darker color than
most deer we had seen before. I photographed the burs of the Xanthium
and resolved to be back here in late August or early September next
year to get the flowers.
Today was sort of an odds and ends kind of day, with a number of specific
goals in several different locations. First I stopped by the Lower Hondo
Canyon trailhead of the Backbone Trail to look again at the mint I reported
on 20 September. I wanted to see if any of the plants had developed
axillary flowers and they had. I also wanted to see if I had been correct
in having observed included stamens and non-ciliate calyx lobes. The
presence of these characteristics, along with the petioled leaves, made
me feel very confident of the identifica-
Next I headed toward Escondido Canyon to check out Jay Sullivan's mint observation. The signed parking area for this trail is just off the Pacific Coast Highway at East Winding Way. The first mile is along paved Winding Way past a series of exceptionally large and expensive houses to the trailhead on the left. I hiked into Escondido Canyon to the first two places where the trail crosses dry streambeds, and found the mint in both of them. Although the flowers were mostly done, there is no question in my mind that this was the same species as previously described in Hondo Canyon. I collected a sample, took a few photographs and headed back to my car.
My next destination was Lower Zuma Canyon, the trailhead for which is at the end of Bonsall Drive off the Pacific Coast Highway across from Point Dume. I came here to try to locate the mint which I identified last year as spearmint (Mentha spicata). In light of recent mint observations, I wanted to confirm that this was the correct identification. Walking as far as you can go on the Zuma Canyon Trail, and passing the Scenic Trail loop and the Zuma Loop Trail turnoff, you arrive at a small rocky canyon more or less enclosed by steep-sided cliffs. I was able to find some of the plants I had seen last year, but unfortunately the flowers were quite done. However, as my pictures from last year showed, the flowering nodes were not well-separated, eliminating both arvensis and pulegium as possibilities, and the sessile or nearly-sessile leaves plus the obvious spearmint odor confirmed this identification. There was a little pool at the end of the trail, and I saw something blooming which necessitated my taking off my boots and wading into the water. It turned out to be burhead (Echinodorus berteroi) with its distinct flowers of three white petals growing directly out of the water. Then I caught a glimpse of something else with a flash of purplish-blue color, and was surprised to find leather root (Hoita macrostachya) still blooming. The pool was also surrounded by tall southern cat-tails (Typha domingensis) with the pronounced interval between the male and female spikes, and by durango root (Datisca glomerata), the flowers of which were long gone.
My final destination was another Jay Sullivan-suggested location, the
Calabasas Monument just north of the intersection of Kanan-Dume Road
and Mulholland Highway, where he told me I might still find blooming
alkali mallow (Malvella leprosa).
I had never seen this species before so I was eager to make its acquaintance.
Jay said it had been blooming there all summer. Sure enough, scattered
around the monument in the dirt, was a plant that looked very much like
cheeseweed, but with a much larger white bloom. Thanks to Jay for that
I drove down to Bolsa Chica this morning on the basis of a tip from my Orange County friend Bob Allen, who told me that he had seen a species of dodder there that he had been looking for and that I had never even heard of. I had previously noticed that Bob Muns in his Flora of the Bolsa Chica Marsh (1999) listed both Cuscuta salina and a second Cuscuta taxon that was not identified as to species, and I wondered if this was that taxon.
Bolsa Chica means "Little Pocket" and was called that because it was a small part of a large holding that was divided up in 1834. The Ecological Reserve is located between Long Beach and Huntington Beach along the Pacific Coast Highway and is bordered on the north by Warner Ave. There is a parking lot on the inland side of PCH, but you can only turn into it going north. A Bolsa Chica pamphlet explains that in the 1800's Bolsa Bay was not connected to Anaheim Bay, which lies to the north, but rather had direct access to the ocean near Warner Ave. Toward the end of the century a group of businessmen established the Bolsa Chica Gun Club and diked off the estuary, in effect turning a saltwater marsh into a freshwater one. But then a new channel was cut between Bolsa Bay and Anaheim Bay which today allows water to flow under the bridge on Warner Ave. Both before and after World War II, the area was utilized for the drilling of oil, and during the war two large guns on rotating turrets faced toward the ocean here. You can still see what is left of the rails and turrets near a large interpretive sign on the south end of the mesa. By the late 1980's, 90% of California's coastal wetlands had been lost to development, and it appeared that Bolsa Chica like other areas would go the same way. But an epic battle and thirty years of lawsuits and inspired environmental activism have finally resulted in the saving of this crucially important place. The current tidal basin restoration project is an exciting new chapter in Bolsa Chica's history and will involve the cutting of a 360' wide channel across PCH and the adjacent section of beach with the intent of returning the area to its pre-1900 condition and insuring that it will be available for the millions of birds that either migrate through here or live here year round.
There is a pathway that goes from the parking lot and loops around what is called Inner Bolsa Bay, returning to the parking lot across a wooden causeway. From the north end of this loop, a path goes up onto the mesa and winds across it above and along the east side of Outer Bolsa Bay to the Visitor Center on Warner Ave. I did not have great expectations that there would be very many species blooming at this time of the year, so I was not disappointed, but the coastal goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii var. vernonioides) was in good shape, and I saw some introduced sea rocket (Cakile maritima) and pulicaria (Pulicaria paludosa). The area between the pathway and the bay was loaded with spiny rush, coyote brush and western ragweed.
Bob had told me that the dodder was on silver beach-bur (Ambrosia chamissonis), so I paid close attention to those low sprawling plants as I walked. I was just beginning to wonder if I was looking at the wrong things, when I saw a bit of tangled orange spaghetti. I used to think that dodder was a taxon that was very hard to differentiate, but if you have the flowers and especially a microscope it's not hard at all. In fact, just to the eye, it has become pretty easy for me to differentiate Cuscuta californica and C. subinclusa, which are the most commonly seen species. Californica has corolla appendages only about 0.1 mm and is the only species that does, and its corolla is shallowly bell-shaped with long spreading to recurved lobes and exserted stamens. Subinclusa has corolla appendages up to 2 mm long which is a huge difference, but to the eye can be told by its funnel-shaped corolla tube with short and only slightly spreading lobes, and by its included stamens with sessile anthers. This dodder had thicker main stems than californica, but had short, wide flowers and long stamen filaments like californica. However the very long, finger-tipped corolla appendages visible only under magnification definitely identified it as western field dodder (Cuscuta pentagona).
Further along there was some beach evening primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia ssp. cheiranthifolia) in the end stage of its bloom, and a few African daisies (Osteospermum ecklonis) that are probably escapees from CalTrans. A recent article in the L.A. Times about the wetlands restoration project mentioned that this was sensitive habitat for the southern tarweed (Hemizonia parryi ssp. australis), but I have never heard of it being here and certainly didn't expect to see any tarweeds other than the common fasciculata and spikeweed (H. pungens).
There was another species that I have been looking to photograph and that is California saltbush (Atriplex californica). The Chenopodiaceae is a family that is naturally well-represented here with sea-blite, Russian thistle, five-hook bassia, Mexican tea, pickleweed, various goosefoots, and at least seven species of saltbushes. The saltbushes are an interesting group of species because they are adapted to survive in saline environments. In the desert Atriplex canescens, A. hymenelytra, A. confertifolia, and A. polycarpa are the most common, and they are to be found typically in playas where there is a high salt content resulting from the evaporation of moisture which contains dissolved minerals such as halite. The saltbushes have adapted to this habitat by among other things being able to excrete salt from their leaves. Saltmarshes such as Bolsa Chica have A. canescens as well, but also A. lentiformis, A. semibaccata, A. triangularis, A. watsonii, A rosea, and A. californica. Most of these species have whitish or canescent leaves covered with tiny trichomes or hairs designed to assist the plant in ridding itself of excess salts. Each of the stalked hairs has a bladder-like cell at its tip, where sodium, chloride and potassium ions from the plant's leaves are concentrated. When these cells rupture, these toxins are released back into the environment. The saltbushes are not the only plants that are able to excrete salts. Others at Bolsa Chica are cordgrass (Spartina foliosa), saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), shoregrass (Monanthochloe littoralis) and alkali heath (Frankenia salina).
I had seen California saltbush indicated on one of the maps in Bob Muns' flora, and although I had walked all the paths of the area, I had never been to where he had located it. When I reached the northern end of the Inner Bay, rather than heading up onto the mesa, I began walking along the strip of land between PCH and the Outer Bay. California saltbush is a small plant, usually only about 12"-24" tall, and very unprepossessing. I had seen a photo that purported to be California saltbush on the internet so I started with a mental image of what to look for, and had only gone a few hundred feet when I spied a darkish clump of erect stems a little ways down the bank. It was in amongst some pickleweed, and when I looked at it up close thought that it was in fact the saltbush I was seeking. It looked somewhat like the photo I'd seen, and seemed to match an illustration in Abrams' Flora of the Pacific States. Even though there were things about it that bothered me, I ignored them until I got home and began thinking about it. California saltbush is usually described as prostrate, or prostrate to decumbent, and this was fairly erect with fleshy leaves. None of the species descriptions I'd read mentioned fleshy leaves. They didn't look like the leaves of any other Atriplex I'd ever seen. It was clearly a Chenopod, but it looked more like a sea-blite (Suaeda sp.). I did not collect a sample of it however, so will have to make a return trip to figure it out.
There are other things that Bob Muns has listed at Bolsa Chica that
I would like to photograph, like Emex spinosa, Tetragonia
tetragonioides, Amsinckia spectabilis, Amblyopappus pusillus,
Lasthenia glabrata, Chenopodium ambrosioides, Rumex
salicifolius, Cryptantha clevelandii, Linaria canadensis,
and Oenothera laciniata, as well as several other saltbushes,
but of these the devil's thorn (Emex) is the only one that there
is any likelihood of still being in bloom. I plan to return next week
with my friend Richard Sapiro to see if I can find that species and
also to take another look at the Suaeda? and at some of the other
After one of the heaviest October rainfalls in memory delayed any outings
but reopened the Angeles National Forest, I went back to Bolsa Chica
with my friend Richard Sapiro to investigate saltbushes. After confirming
the identification of several species of plants along the pathway that
parallels the ocean side of the Inner Bay, we returned to the location
of the Suaeda? that we had originally taken to be an Atriplex.
Both being members of the Chenopodiaceae, Atriplexes and Suaedas
share some basic similarities like generally alternate entire leaves
and clusters of flowers in the leaf axils, and obviously occupy many
of the same habitats, but unlike Atriplex, Suaedas have
bisexual flowers. In looking at this species again, I was almost certain
that it was a Suaeda, but the leaves were glabrous which removed
the possibility of S. taxifolia, which is the only other Suaeda
I have seen.
Farther on around the loop trail on the way back toward the causeway at the south end of the Inner Bay, we began looking for a saltbush that Richard had seen there before without being able to identify. As we walked, Richard pointed out to me some of the numerous birds that were beginning to congregate in the marsh, snowy and great egrets, long-billed curlews, marbled godwits, a great blue heron, american avocets, black-necked stilts, least and western sandpipers, kestrels, double-breasted cormorants, willets and the endangered Belding's savannah sparrow. For the next few months, this will be a prime location for birders as many residents and visitors will intermingle in and along the edges of the shallow waters.
A third of the way back toward the causeway we began spotting what now seemed evidently to be small, shrubby saltbushes. These were very different from the low mat-like plants we had seen before, and the leaves were alternate. Since it was not lentiformis, canescens, semibaccata or triangularis, and watsonii was eliminated because we believed we had just seen that, and rosea was elimininated because this was clearly not an annual, the only remaining possibilities on Bob Muns' checklist were californica and an unidentified species. It did seem much taller than californica is described as being, but nevertheless we thought that might have been what it was. I collected some samples and we returned to the car.
I should point out that we were falling into a trap common to inexperienced
botanists which is to assume that the particular plant that one is looking
at is one of those listed in a local flora, and to try to identify it
based solely on that assumption. Since local floras are almost always
incomplete, this is frequently a dangerous assumption, although utilizing
such a flora is certainly an excellent starting point. I decided to
go home and read up on Atriplexes to learn more about their floral
characteristics, and meanwhile send samples to Tom and photographs to
several other people for help with the identification.
I sent samples of both of the Atriplexes and the Suaeda to Tom for his examination, and I also sent several photographs to him and a number of other people I felt would be knowledgeable about Bolsa Chica flora. Their responses were first that the samples I had sent had been only of staminate flowers. I realized that I had always had trouble with Chenopods in general and Atriplexes in particular because I simply didn't know what I was looking at, and their flowers are so atypical, but I had by now learned that Atriplexes had unisexual flowers and were either monoecious or dioecious, and further that the fruiting bracts were very important for identification. The pistillate flowers are composed of only a single pair of bracts that enclose the two-styled ovary, and that are variously-shaped, adorned with warty projections or not, fused to a greater or lesser extent, and either stalked or sessile. The winged bracts of fourwing saltbush are perhaps the most well-known of the genus. Without fruiting bracts, Tom did not care to hazard a guess at the identification of the samples. Another botanist suggested on the basis of my photos that the first had been californica and the second watsonii, but this was clearly not the case because the first had opposite leaves and the second alternate, which is just the reverse.
I was determined to look more closely today at the species I had seen
before and hopefully collect some fruiting bracts to aid in identifying
them. When I arrived at the site of the first species which was low
Since I now had an idea of what to look for, I hurried on to find the second Atriplex species that Richard and I had observed the other day. When I reached it and examined it under magnification, I found that the terminal spikes of flowers had fruiting bracts in axillary clusters on the same stems. What I could not see with a hand lens was that there were staminate and pistillate flowers mixed in the same clusters, so when I keyed it to a monoecious perennial with bracts united at least at the base, spongy and tuberculate, it came out as Atriplex leucophylla, which has staminate flowers on spikes and pistillate flowers in axillary clusters below. Other characteristics seemed to fit, but again I was unhappy with the size of the plant and with comparisons of the pictures of it with some pictures of leucophylla I found elsewhere.
Later I found a shorter, more prostrate plant that was similar but
exhibited what I could see with a hand lens was definitely a mixture
of male and female flowers in the same clusters. So now I again thought
I had two unidentified Atriplexes, but at least I had samples
of the parts needed for identification to send to Tom, so I was fairly
confident that I would get an answer. My guess was that the last observed
species was californica which did have mixed clusters and the
previous one leucophylla. On my way back to the car, I found
that a fence with a lockable gate in it had been built across the trail
just above the causeway just since a week ago, and I was briefly concerned
about what this might mean about the future accessibility of this trail.