Caterpillar Phacelia (Phacelia cicutaria) was prevalent at Sage Ranch prior to the 2005 Topanga Fire. It may be somewhat more widespread than I’ve generally seen, but this could be due in part to last year’s record rainfall and this season’s late rainfall. It doesn’t appear to be a fire follower in the same sense as Large Flowered Phacelia, Star Lily or Dicentra, whose populations have increased dramatically this year.
A close view of Owl’s Clover reveals the probable reason for the name — fat little purplish-pink owls, crowned with a tinge of yellow, perched amid the purplish-pink of this unusual blossom. Here’s an even closer view of one of the individual flowers, showing its remarkable structure.
Owl’s Clover, in this case Castilleja exserta, is a fairly common California native that seems to prefer the margins of dirt roads and other disturbed areas at lower elevations. It’s in bloom now in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. I noticed some on the Bulldog loop while running the Malibu Creek Challenge on Saturday, and also while doing a short run out a Sage Ranch Sunday.
This photograph is from a run at Sage Ranch on May 2, 2005.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an aggressive invasive species not native to California. In Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch) it seems to be increasingly abundant, particularly in the aftermath of the Topanga Fire. Last year, in some areas of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon, it grew thick as corn and more than head high.
Tarantula Hawks are among the largest of wasps, and are said to have one of the most painful stings of any insect. As chilling as any science fiction, female tarantula hawks hunt, attack and paralyze a tarantula, and then use the spider’s inert — but still living — body as a host for the wasp’s egg and developing larva.
Males have straight antennae, and females curled antennae. This may be because the long, showy antennae of the male would be a serious liability when battling a tarantula. The title photo is of a male on a narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) at the start of the Chumash Trail in Simi Valley. Here’s another photo, taken in Las Llajas canyon by runner Lynn Longan, in which a female tarantula hawk has just attacked and paralyzed a tarantula.
Several good runs start at the Chumash trailhead, and many variations are possible. It’s 2.6 miles up the trail to Rocky Peak Rd, and from there you can do out and backs north or south along the fire road, or loops via Las Llajas canyon, the Hummingbird Trail, or the Lower Stagecoach Trail. (Photo from a run on September 14, 2005.)