When the hills and valleys of Southern California turn golden brown, and temperatures reach into the nineties or beyond, mixed in among the desiccated grasses, enjoying the heat and the sun, may be the delicate pink to purple of a Plummer’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus plummerae).
Previously listed by the California Native Plant Society as being rare, threatened, or endangered, the Plummer’s Mariposa is now listed as uncommon and fairly endangered in California.
Note: Plummer’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus plummerae) and Foothill Mariposa Lily (Calochortus weedii var. intermedius) are closely related species that have intersecting ranges and similar characteristics. C. plummerae is more frequently reported in Los Angeles County.
I had been running for nearly an hour, and the heat was oppressive. Following an unusually cool Spring, it had been tough to adjust to afternoon temperatures of nearly 100 degrees. Running from the Victory Trailhead of the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, the exposed “main drag” had been like an oven. The refreshing green hills of Spring had turned a golden brown, and the muddy ruts of a Ranger’s truck had been baked to the hardness of concrete. In Las Virgenes Canyon there had still been a little water in the creek, and I had scooped water into my hat and poured the cooling liquid over my head and down my back.
That had been a couple miles ago. Now the best the stream could do is turn the trail sandy as it snaked along the canyon. Running through the broken shadows of Oaks, Willows and Sycamores, I rounded a corner, and could only exclaim, “Wow!”
If the red of a Snow Plant is startling to see on the forest floor, then seeing the gold and burgundy of a Humboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum) in a shaded corner of this sizzling landscape is at least surprising. This showy lily is a California native, not an escaped ornamental. It occurs sporadically in shaded canyon bottoms, often near stream courses. Because of its specific habitat, it is relatively uncommon. As a result it is listed in the California Native Plant Society’s Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants as being uncommon and fairly endangered in California.
Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is so different from the norm that each encounter is memorable. In a world where most plants are green, its startling red color and unusual structure always make an impact.
On Sunday, while running on the Tumamait Trail between Mts. Pinos and Abel, I had the opportunity to photograph Snow Plant in its early stages of above ground development. This revealed how the plant uses specialized bracts as armor while pushing up through detritus on the forest floor.
A bract is a modified leaf that is usually located near a flower, but differs in size and appearance from a normal leaf. A bract can be as simple as leaf that is reduced in size, or it can be modified to serve some other function, such as appearing to be a petal. On the Snow Plant they are relatively long, red strips that overlap and create a protective barrier as the bullet-shaped plant pushes to the surface.
Once fully erupted, the plant expands and the bracts unfurl to reveal the flowers. Over a period of a few days, the bracts continue to wither, fully exposing the flowers.
The fuzzy critter with the beady eyes is a Bee Fly. Its darting, hummingbird-like movements caught my eye while running on the Tumamait Trail near Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) on Sunday. It was feeding on a Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). Fully consumed by the morning’s experiences, I had been marveling at the vibrant yellow of Wallflowers along the trail.
With only a cursory glance, someone might mistake a Bee Fly for a bee. It does buzz. But the resemblance is superficial. It is smaller than a Honey Bee, and more thick-bodied. It has long legs, and a long proboscis to collect nectar. These can be seen in the inset photographs.
Looking at these photographs it struck me that there probably is a relationship between the length of the Bee Fly’s proboscis, and the length of its legs. It can be seen in the photos that the Bee Fly uses its legs to grasp a plant while flying and feeding. This helps stabilize its flight, conserves energy, and enables a quick escape from a possible predator. It would seem that the legs have evolved to be just long enough to accomplish this task.
Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) is a showy, if somewhat bizarre looking, flower that blooms late in the Spring. It is also known by the common name woodland Clarkia. It adds a refreshing dash of color to the hills of Southern California, as they turn from green to golden brown. The plant appears to be an excellent indicator of Spring rainfall. In a drought year it might only be a foot tall, but in a rain season with a wet Spring, some stalks may reach 6 or 7 ft.