In looking through my To Do list the other day and thinking about what might be blooming in October, I noticed Mexican-tea (Chenopodium ambrosioides) with a bloom period of June to October (December). I encountered this taxa only once before years ago at the Santa Clara River Estuary Natural Reserve next to McGrath State Beach, where I was accompanying my daughter's school class on a camping trip. That season there had been a lot of rain and the trail through the Reserve was under water, but I didn't let that stop me. It was the only time in my life that I have hiked a trail in water up to my waist. But somewhere along there, in an area that was still above the water level, I saw Mexican-tea and was struck by its unpleasant odor. A few days ago I sent out an e-mail to several of my acquaintances who are knowledgeable about the flora of the Santa Monica Mts area, and heard back from them all. Two could not help, but the third, David Hollombe, on whom I have relied on heavily and frequently for biographical information about botanists and botanical collectors, suggested two locations where he had seen it.
The first location was Malibu Cliffs Park, near Pepperdine University
and right at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Las Virgenes/Malibu
Canyon Road. It only took me about five minutes following David's directions
to find the first patch of Mexican-tea. I photographed it and continued
down the trail past laurel sumac, coyote brush, and sagebrush. There
was a dry feeling to the vegetation but the Baccharis was blooming
profusely, and there was also some bristly ox-tongue (Picris echioides),
Lessingia, Stephanomeria, Malacothrix, slender
tarplant (Hemizonia fasciculata), coast morning glories (Calystegia
macrostegia ssp. cyclostegia), and narrow-
Walking back along a paved pathway around the ball field, I saw a mass
of the Mexican-tea, so it is obviously there to stay. Although I am
certain that this identification is correct, I want to go back in a
few weeks to look at the fruits which are highly diagnostic.
Saturday, 8 October 2005 (Mt. Wilson Trail)
Here we are in October and there are still things blooming along our mountain trails. It has always amazed me that the Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline is updated only through May, leaving the entire summer and fall as though there were no wildflowers anywhere. The truth is that there is almost no time of the year here in Southern California that you can't find at least a few things blooming.
I hiked up the Mt. Wilson trail today in lovely cool weather. The species
I saw blooming were Nevin's brickellbush (Brickellia nevinii),
California brickellbush (Brickellia californica), hoary fuchsia
(Epilobium canum ssp. canum), long-stemmed buckwheat (Eriogonum
elongatum), shrubby butterweed (Senecio flaccidus var. douglasii),
short-leaved cliff aster (Malacothrix saxatilis var. tenuifolia),
chicory-leaved stephanomeria (Stephanomeria cichoriacea) and
twiggy wreathplant (Stephanomeria virgata). These were mixed
in with the red flowering heads of buckwheat and the red berries of
toyon and the green leaves of laurel sumac, ceanothus, bay and sugar
bush. Before long there will be Ribes species and wild cucumber
and manzanitas, and then spring will come and the whole cycle will begin
14 October 2005 (Santa Rosa Plateau)
Although I have seen the species common hareleaf (Lagophylla ramosissima ssp. ramosissima) once before at Malibu Creek State Park (see 30 April 2005), it looked at that time so different from what I have seen recently at the Santa Rosa Plateau that it's a bit hard for me to credit that they were the same thing, however it is quite common for early season plants to be very different in appearance from their late season counterparts. The plant I saw in April was only about 6" to 8" tall with simple unbranched stems and well-developed soft-hairy opposite leaves, whereas the SRP plants were as tall as several feet and extensively-branched, and what leaves remained on the plant were mostly alternate. An interesting aspect of this species is that they only bloom from sunset (or well after sunset) to sunrise (or at least early morning). A foggy or overcast day may permit the blooms to remain open for a longer period of time. I guess I was lucky to see open flowers in April because it was not a foggy day and it was late morning when I was there. When I saw this plant in August at the SRP, there were no open blooms at all.
Tom notified me a couple of weeks ago that he thought there had been open blooms just before he was there, and so I decided to try to see them either late in the day or early in the morning. I got permission to be in the Reserve after sunset and arrived at the location, the junction of the Vista Grande Trail and Waterline Road, about 5:15 pm. Some of the plants were on a bank that was shaded from the sun and had been out of the direct sunlight already for perhaps a half an hour. No blooms were visible. I scouted the area to find all the plants there, observing at the same time several occupied webs of banded orb weavers (Argiope trifasciata). From the time I arrived until about 6:30, at which time it was much too dark to take decent photographs, I continued to survey all the plants in the vicinity with no success. I sampled a number of flowering heads, dissecting them as best as I could in the field, and found no evidence of ray ligules waiting to make an appearance. Based on this, and on my further more extensive examination of samples under the microscope at home, I concluded that the blooming season was over for these particular plants and that there was no point in searching again in the morning. This is another species that will have to wait until next year. As I was dissecting some flowers at home, I took pictures of them through my digital microscope camera and read the genus and species descriptions in Munz, Jepson and Abrams in an attempt to understand the structure of this flower, which is really quite interesting.
The flowering head is enclosed by densely-hairy bract-like leaves which I initially took to be the phyllaries. Inside those are the actual phyllaries the inner edges of which form little pouches in which are the ovaries of the ray flowers and out of which arise the ray ligules. Each head has five ray flowers. Inside the phyllaries is a ring of chaff scales and inside that are the six corollas of the disk flowers. At some point, after anthesis, the ligules close up and more or less fuse together, become disattached from the phyllaries and then sit on top of the flowering head, protruding like a little shrivelled hook. Pictures of all these parts are on my Special Page for common hareleaf at www.calflora.net/specialpages/specialpages7.html.
Before going out on Vista Grande Trail, I stopped at the old entrance near the intersection of Clinton Keith and Tenaja Roads and walked in on the road to the first Cole Creek crossing. This was where Tom had noticed some cotton-batting plants (Gnaphalium stramineum) which I wanted to photograph. Around the gate there were still left a few blooming field willow-herbs (Epilobium brachycarpum), some white sweetclover (Melilotus albus), and plenty of yellow telegraph weeds (Heterotheca grandiflora). On the way to the creek I saw and smelled vinegar weed (Trichostema lanceolatum) and there was also Palmer's goldenbush (Ericameria palmeri var. pachylepis). I found several puny Gnaphaliums and then fortunately one that was in good enough bloom to photograph. I also checked the western lanceleaf asters (Aster lanceolatus ssp. hesperius) and found them still in good bloom along Tenaja Truck Trail.
On the way out from the Visitor Center parking area along the Granite Loop and Vista Grande Trails, I also recorded the following blooming species in no particular order: California goldenrod (Solidago californica), bristly golden-aster (Heterotheca sessiliflora ssp. echioides), San Diego tarweed (Hemizonia paniculata), graceful tarplant (Holocarpha virgata ssp. elongata), a single chaparral gilia (Gilia angelensis), leafy daisy (Erigeron foliosus var. foliosus), some Stephanomerias, slender buckwheat (Eriogonum gracile var. gracile), canchalagua (Centaurium venustum), tall horseweed (Conyza canadensis) and western ragweed (Artemisia psilostachya). Once again, it just shows that there are things blooming well after what most people would consider the blooming season.
Richard Sapiro and I went down to Anza-Borrego today to join Tom Chester for a hike into Hellhole Canyon. Tom had previously surveyed this canyon, but wanted to complete his trail guide at least for this season. I had never been into Hellhole Canyon and ever since I heard its name had been intrigued to find out what there was about it that might have contributed to the name. Incidentally, I never did find that out since it did not seem especially "hellish" to me.
On the way there, Richard and I stopped at a location along the S-2 east of Lake Henshaw where we found and photographed the uncommon Warner springs lessingia (Lessingia glandulifera var. tomentosa), a species that is distinctly woollier than its more common relative var. glandulifera. We also saw in full bloom branched hareleaf (Lagophylla ramosissima var. ramosissima) which I had tried so diligently to photograph at the Santa Rosa Plateau on 14 October. Going down into Anza-Borrego and through the Culp Valley, we stopped to investigate a yellow-blooming shrub which I was uncertain of. I collected a sample and keyed it out at home as boundary goldenbush (Ericameria brachylepis), a species I had only seen before (and not blooming) at the Wild Animal Park's native plant garden. I was pleased several days later when Tom confirmed my identification.
Since this report is being prepared almost two months after the fact,
I am not going to go into any great detail about our hike, except to
mention notable or new species to me, which included fivewing boerhavia
(Boerhavia intermedia), Nealley three-awn (Aristida
purpurea var. nealleyi), needle grama (Bouteloua
aristodoides var. aristodoides), and New Mexico ditaxis (Ditaxis
neomexicana), which was the taxon that had originally piqued
my curiosity. Some other things that were blooming were yellow-stemmed
bush mallow (Malacothamnus densiflorus), windmills (Allionia
incarnata), sweetbush (Bebbia juncea var. aspera), san felipe
dyssodia (Adenophyllum porophylloides), rock hibiscus (Hibiscus
denudatus), desert straw (Stephanomeria pauciflora var. pauciflora),
desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi), chinchweed (Pectis papposa
var. papposa), and chuparosa (Justicia californica). The
significant amount of rainfall that Anza-Borrego has received recently
has contributed in a major way to encouraging many species to bloom
at a time when they would normally not. There were certainly not any
carpets of color or dramatic displays of wildflowers, but many things
available to be found if looked for.