Readers’ wildlife photos

October 17, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we’ll have part 2 of Robert Lang’s photos of the wildflowers of Southern California (part 1 is here). You can click on the photos to enlarge them, and Robert’s text and IDs are indented.

California wildflowers, Part 2

Continuing this series of wildflowers from Southern California’s unusually wet winter and spring in early 2023. Most of these photos were taken in June.

California is assuredly not the Buckeye State, but we do have our own California Buckeye (Aesculus californica). The Native American tribes used the poisonous nuts and seeds to stun fish in streams and ponds, but the seeds could also be prepared in a way that leached the toxins out, allowing them to also be used as a food source:

The Hoary Rock-Rose (Cistus creticus) has large, delicate flowers that often have a slightly rumpled appearance. They were blooming in June this year, but (presumably due to the damp weather) they are already starting to produce new blooms here in October:

A related plant, not native to Southern California, is the Gum Rockrose (Cistus ladanifer), which has large white flowers. Not all flowers have the five maroon markings seen here, and those without are sometimes mistaken for the local Matilija Poppy (Romneya sp.):

My studio is on the border of two communities: Coastal Sage Scrub (typical of the lower canyons) and Chaparral (which climbs up the mountainside). The chapparal consists of a mix of plants, which changes with elevation; after several hundred feet of elevation gain on the local trails, I start to see Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum) coming into the mix:

There are patches of Prickly Pear (Opuntia sp.) in both the Coastal Sage Scrub and Chaparral plant communities, both native varieties and introduced (presumably garden escapees). Their flowers are huge and gorgeous, but not very long-lived:

Another “prickly” plant (though not a cactus) is the California Prickly Phlox (Linanthus californicus), which forms brilliant balls of purple or magenta flowers. Like Yerba Santa, I only see this higher up in the San Gabriels:

Widespread in both communities is the Whipple Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei). They only bloom once, then die, typically sending up their shoots in June. The number varies from year to year; in a good year, the mountainsides appear to be covered in candles:

Perhaps the most famous California flower—and the state flower—is the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). In the early days of European settlement of this region, Altadena was famous for its fields of poppies, which were said to be visible from ships off the coast, some 20 miles away. Sadly, the golden poppy fields were replaced by housing developments (well, not too sadly, since one of those houses is now my studio), but we can still find patches of poppies up on the trails:

Most California poppies are bright orange, but there is considerable variation in color; here are two of the varieties growing side-by-side along the Lower Sam Merrill Trail:

I’ll end with one colorful orange plant that isn’t a flower: the California Dodder (Cuscuta californica), which has no visible leaves (they’re there, but reduced to almost nothing) and no chlorophyll; it parasitizes other plants. Although the dense tangles like this one appear to be smothering the host plant (California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is a common host around here), the dodder dies off over the summer, and the host plants come roaring back the next spring, and the cycle starts again:

11 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. To see a world in a grain of sand
    And Heaven in a wild flower

    -William Blake
    Auguries of Innocence, line 1-2
    Written 1803 (if I got that right), published 1863

    I’m still refining that source, so any correction appreciated.

  2. Very nice. I especially like the California Dodder! So weird and interesting. A tangle that can wrap one up in knots.

  3. Thanks for the great pix in this brief series. I finally got back out to the Santa Monica Mountains this spring, and the vegetation was absolutely amazing this year! Nice reminder for me…

  4. That California Dodder is a strange plant, and strangely beautiful. Perhaps that’s the actual burning bush Moses saw. 😉
    Beautiful flowers growing around your home, thanks for this splendid 2nd installment.

  5. Very nice. Aesculus genus all share similar looking flowers – the buckeyes of North America & chestnuts of Eurasia. I love the ‘candles’ – horse chestnuts are a joy in may, & Indian Chestnuts, to be seen in central Regents Park, in June/July.

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