Readers’ wildlife photos

October 16, 2023 • 8:15 am

Please send in your photos. Do I have to beg? Very well, I beg!

Today’s photos come from Robert Lang, reader, physicist, and origami master. This is part 1 of a two-part series on California wildflowers. Robert’s narrative is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

California wildflowers, Part 1

As you may have read in the news, California had an unusually wet winter and spring, and then in Southern California, we had a cool, overcast June. The result was to stretch out the wildflower season and bring out some of the ones I don’t usually see on the trails behind my studio. Most of these are natives, but there are a lot of introduced Mediterranean-climate flowers along the urban/wildlife edge, some of them rather nastily invasive.

(I took most of these in June. It’s now fall [October], and although the winter rains haven’t seriously started, a few small storms during the summer have kept water in the canyons and this year’s wildflowers are already starting to come out.)

California brittlebush (Encelia californica), also called bush sunflower, provides a cheerful sunny site along the trail:

Caterpillar scorpionweed (Phacelia cicutaria) is so named because after it blooms, the flower stalks look like little caterpillars (and they are curled like a scorpion’s tail). They don’t sting, however. The locals just call it “caterpillar bush,” and when the flower stalks fall off of the plant, they do look like little caterpillars crossing the trail:

Here’s what they look like post-blooming:

There  are several varieties of sage in the low chapparal, the most common being California black sage (alvia mellifera), California white sage (Salvia apiana) (which is getting less common due to poaching by collectors), and this variety, chia sage (Salvia columbariae). Yes, it’s the same “chia” that is used on “Chia pots” sold on late-night TV. Chia was an important part of the indigenous Tongva people’s diet:

Clearwater Cryptantha (Cryptantha intermedia) is not so common, but has lovely tiny white flowers:

Large-flowered Phacelia (Phacelia grandiflora) is related to “caterpillar bush,” but, as the name suggests, their flowers are larger (and less caterpillar-like). (This plant is an earworm: I cannot read or say the name “Phacelia” without a Simon and Garfunkel beat coming into my head):

There are quite a few varieties of paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) in the area. I can’t tell the various species apart. They’re all pretty:

The many pistils in Pipestem Clematis (Clematis lasiantha) give it a feathery appearance:

Southern Bush Monkeyflower (Diplacus longiflorus) is sensitive to touch; the stigma closes up after touching, so that once it’s pollinated, bees know to move on to the next flower:

And finally for this batch, an invasive. Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) is native to the Mediterranean, but is widespread in Southern California, particularly along the edges of trails and roads (like many invasives, it is particularly successful in disturbed habitats). In early summer, it is covered in fragrant, almost pungent, blooms, and walking down the trail is like walking into one of those mall candle shops, so powerful is the odor:

Coming in part 2: more flowers.

9 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Beautiful! Except for the Broom. Scotch Broom ( is a horrible invasive here in Washington State. It’s common along roadsides. My theory is that the seeds are easily caught in tire treads and are transported around that way, road by road, until most roadsides have been invaded. If you disturb a seed pod when it’s ready to release seeds, it explodes, BAM!, sending seeds everywhere.

    1. Indeed. I live in Snohomish county and it covers all sorts of roadsides around here. Whenever my allergies begin acting up, no doubt, the Scotch Broom is blooming.

  2. Broom: the only consolation for the invasion that I can think of is the saying “Kissing’s out of season when gorse is out of bloom”. In the UK at least, the bushes always have a few desultory blooms even in the depth of winter

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