Field Trips Log
October 2006

Tuesday, 10 October 2006 (Santa Cruz Island)

Having satisfied some of my desire to visit the Channel Islands in May of this year when I went to San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands, I signed up for a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden field trip to be led by Steve Junak to Santa Cruz Island. We left the dock in Ventura about 9am under a fairly heavy marine layer. Out in the channel we passed a buoy that was draped with sea lions and farther out slowed to observe a pod of dolphins jumping in the water and cruising along in front of our bow. We got a view from a distance of the oddly-shaped Anacapa Island, and crossed the wake of a large Costco container ship. After dropping the first group of people off at Scorpion Ranch near the east end of the island, we then proceeded to Prisoners' Cove where the rest of us disembarked. After a brief introduction Steve described some of the coastal bluff vegetation such as island hazardia (Hazardia detonsa), which was still in bloom, Plummer's baccharis (Baccharis plummerae), Channel Island scrub oak (Quercus pacifica), Greene's dudleya (Dudleya greenei), island bush monkeyflower (Mimulus flemingii) and island buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. grande). Then we checked out an area of rocky substrate along the shoreline where we saw sea rocket (Cakile maritime) and learned about how its fruits are segmented into upper and lower sections. The terminal segments are tolerant of salt water and break off to float in the waves to new locations. That's why sea rocket is one of the first plants to colonize a shore. We also saw saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), California bulrush (Scirpus californicus), kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum), asthmaweed (Conyza floribunda), and silver beach bur (Ambrosia chamissonis).

After our brief orientation and introduction to some of the island's flora, we headed off on the trail to Pelican Bay. There were about twenty of us, but only about a dozen made it the full distance despite the fact that it was an easy two-mile walk. Others turned around at various points and returned to be picked up by the boat at Prisoners' Cove, and a few were more interested in just hiking than botanizing. The first endemic species we saw was the beautiful Santa Cruz Island bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus argophyllus var. niveus), which in truth does not look all that different from other Lotuses. Unfortunately it was behind a fence and we could not get up close to it. There was some northern island morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia ssp. macrostegia) still blooming, which was another island endemic. As we switchbacked up the trail and emerged into a grassy area along the top of the ridge, Steve pointed out the introduced fiddle dock (Rumex pulcher), something I had never seen and which does look quite a bit different from other Rumexes I had seen. The lovely red fruits of summer-holly (Comarostaphylis diversifolia ssp. planifolia) were very much in evidence, as were the curling feathery achenes of island mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides var. blancheae) and the large twisted trunks of island ceanothus (Ceanothus arboreus) whose stems were frequently covered by interesting looking soft-spiky insect galls, all three of which are either island endemics or close to it.

Looking out to the ocean from the trail along the bluffs, we were treated to some spectacular views of the Santa Cruz coastline. At one point we were able to look across a small canyon to a grove of tall island ironwoods (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius) and at many places along the trail we saw island hazardia with its large broad leaves, something I had only seen before in the island section at the Wild Animal Park Native Plant Garden. Steve told us that while there were sheep on the island, the hazardia was only observed on steep cliffs and it was thought that that was its natural habitat, but after the sheep were removed it has spread all over. He pointed out another introduced species which I was unfamiliar with, willow-leaf lettuce (Lactuca saligna) and in a shady spot there were some still-blooming hawkweed (Hieracium argutum).

Before long the trail began descending to Tinker's Cove, and we took a brief excursion up the canyon there to look for a few things. There was island alumroot (Heuchera maxima). another species I had only seen before in botanical gardens, with its very large leaves. Then we saw some giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), and under a cliff overhang a five-finger maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum) which was new for me. We were really looking for lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina var. cyclosorum) which I was eager to see because Tom Chester had just seen it a few days before on the Deer Springs Trail in the San Jacintos. We did find some and right next to one small plant there was a brittle fern (Cystopteris fragilis) which was another fern Tom and I had seen in the high country of the San Jacintos. Just before going down to be picked up by the boat, we looked for some boxwood-leaved bedstraw (Galium buxifolium) but unfortunately the only ones we found were almost drying up.

We ate our lunch on the boat going back to Ventura. It had been an all too brief excursion and only a quick glimpse of the flora of Santa Cruz, which is the largest of the Channel Islands, but I felt that I was lucky to have done it because starting Nov. 1st the island will be closed until late in March for a feral pig hunt. Next year I definitely want to do further exploration of Santa Cruz and some of the other islands.

Monday, 23 October 2006 (Santa Rosa Mts)

For a long time I have wanted to do some botanizing in the Santa Rosa Mts, an area behind the San Jacintos (from where I live) and above Palm Springs. I have driven the Palms to Pines Highway at least a half a dozen times but never done any hiking off the road. Recently Tom began a plant guide for the Cactus Spring trail that goes down Horsethief Canyon. I remember years ago a guy telling me that this was a really nice trail because to some extent it is a riparian trail through an essentially desert area. I wasn't able to coordinate a hike with Tom, so I decided to drive down there today and check the area out.

On my way up the 243 toward Idyllwild, the mountains were clothed in yellow from the leaves of the black oak (Quercus kelloggii), as close to being a real display of fall color as I have ever seen here in Southern California. Passing through Idyllwild, I stopped off at the trailhead of the South Ridge Trail that goes up to Tahquitz Peak to see if I could photograph Wright's buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii var. membranaceum) in bloom. I had not seen this variant in bloom before, and although all of these variants look very similar to me, I still wanted to see it. At the trailhead there were a few individual plants with the very last of this year's bloom, and I got a few photos and headed on down the 243 toward SR-74. The next thing I was looking for where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the 74, and this was where Tom had observed Ziegler's aster (Machaeranthera canescens var. ziegleri), an uncommon species that is restricted to the Santa Rosas. At the trailhead parking lot there was a lot of Palmer's oak (Quercus palmeri), but the aster was still in bloom with a large number of plants nearby.

Driving along the 74 past Thomas Mt., I noticed a sand verbena in bloom alongside the road, and I stopped to photograph it, even though I had no idea whether it was anything different than I had seen before. It was not until I got home and keyed it out that I discovered that it was a new variant for me, Abronia villosa var. aurita, which is a taxon that grows in sandy places from the Coachella Valley to interior Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties. Fortunately it had fruit on it that exhibited the pronounced wings that differentiate this from var. villosa.

Farther along the 74, I drove off the highway to a location which was recorded as the type locality for a new variant of Parry's manzanita (Arctostaphylos parryana ssp. deserticum). Since the publication of Jepson Manual 1, Arctostaphylos parryana has been divided into three subspecies, parryana, deserticum and tumescens. Tumescens is in the San Bernardino Heartbar area, deserticum is in the San Jacintos and Santa Rosas and in Palm Canyon of Anza-Borrego, and I guess all the rest is ssp. parryana. Anyway, I located the plant along a road I had been on once before on a field trip with Rancho Santa Ana BG people.

I located the trailhead for the Cactus Springs trail, which is an interesting trail that descends into Horsethief Canyon. Amazingly, considering the time of year, there were a number of things blooming near the trailhead, like desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua var. rugosa), fringed amaranthus (Amaranthus fimbriatus), Wright's buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii var. membranaceum), giant four o'clock (Mirabilis multiflora) and rattlesnake weed (Chamaesyce albomarginata). For some reason, perhaps the warmth of the day, perhaps the dryness of the trail, perhaps the lateness of the season, or perhaps because of all three, I found that my enthusiasm for taking a long hike had waned. I probably didn't go more than a mile, and there were some interesting things that are not common elsewhere, but I turned around after about an hour. The trail was often lined with bernardia (Bernardia myricifolia) and I saw broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) still blooming, some California brickelbush (Brickellia californica), cupleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus greggii var. perplexans), gander's cholla (Cylindropuntia ganderi), mojave prickly pear aka old man cactus (Opuntia erinacea var. erinacea), sugar-bush (Rhus ovata) and lots of redshanks (Adenostema sparsifolium). I also noticed at least two different kinds of penstemons, including one with fused leaves in the limestone area along the trail, that I didn't realize until Tom keyed it out was a new species for me, San Jacinto beardtongue (Penstemon clevelandii var. connatus). There are at least a half dozen species and maybe more that I will want to get but I'm going to wait until the spring to go back there.