Category Archives: nature|botany

Trippet Ranch Wildflower Run

Symmetry of mariposa lily

For most of the Winter it looked like there would be very few wildflowers this Spring in the Santa Monica Mountains. The drought had taken its toll, and many chaparral plants were in survival mode. Most were desiccated, some were diseased and a few were dying. Winter-bloomers such as wishbone bush, prickly phlox, shooting star, big berry manzanita and big pod Ceanothus were practically nonexistent.

Then it rained. From February 26 to March 2 many areas of Southern California recorded more than four inches of rain. Los Angeles had the most rain over five days since 2010. Although the rain didn’t end the drought, it did end one of the driest periods in 100 years, and brought crucial relief to the plants and animals.

The response to the rain was virtually immediate and has continued throughout the Spring. The rain resuscitated the vegetation and wildlife and revived habitats. Now, when you run, hike or ride a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, if you don’t look too closely, the growth and flowering of plants in the chaparral appears to be almost normal.

Rainfall in the area has been only about 40% of normal, but in a few cases plants have responded as if the rain season had been much wetter. Plants fill more than geographical niches in an ecosystem. They fill sub-seasonal niches of rainfall, temperature, sunlight and other parameters. If rainfall occurs at an optimum time or in an optimum pattern for a plant, its benefits can be amplified. The large number of Catalina mariposa lily and wild hyacinth blooming this Spring demonstrate this effect. The growth of non-native black mustard is also more robust and widespread than might have been expected.

Here’s a slideshow of some of the wildflowers currently blooming in the Topanga State Park area of the Santa Monica Mountains. All of the photographs are from this morning’s 12-something mile loop to Trippet Ranch from the “end of Reseda” at Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park.

Some related posts: Garapito Trail Runs, The Heavenly Ranch in the Hills

Mushrooms and Mud on the Backbone Trail

Santa Monica Mountains near Circle X

The temp was in the 40s and the chaparral wet with rain when we started the run. We were doing a two part trail run. The first part would be the 15 mile segment of the Backbone Trail from Kanan Rd. to the Mishe Mokwa trailhead on Yerba Buena Rd. The second would be the 6 mile Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak loop.

The weak front that produced the overnight rain had marched on, and now skies were clear and it was a little breezy. As has been the case with many weather systems this year, there hadn’t been a lot of rain. Though muddy in spots, the Backbone Trail was in surprisingly good shape, and the running excellent.

In addition to the greening of the hills and the sprouting of many annuals, the frequent, light rains had also created perfect conditions for the growth of a  variety of mushrooms and other fungi. Fortunately I was running with a sharp-eyed mushroom collector from the PNW that could pick out partially buried earth stars and other mushrooms among the leaves, twigs and other debris in the deep shade along the trail.

Here are three of the more peculiar fungi. Click the image for more info and a larger image.

Orange Jelly

Comb Tooth

Earth Star

Some related posts: Circle X Crags and the Channel Islands, Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak – Grotto Trail Run

Stem fasciation in Eriodictyon parryi (Poodle-dog bush)

The photograph above is of an example of a bizarre malformation in plants known as stem fasciation — in this case in Eriodictyon parryi (Poodle-dog bush). The normally round stem of the plant has been transformed into a thick ribbon-like structure, many times the size of a normal stem. The photo is from a recent trail run in an area burned by the 2009 Station Fire.

This is the second time I’ve found a plant with a fasciated stem in a burn area. The first was at Sage Ranch following the 2005 Topanga Fire. In this case the fasciated stem of a wreath plant (Stephanomeria) was a contorted spiral several feet tall.

There are many mechanisms which are reported to cause fasciation; among them a bacterium, stress, chemical or mechanical damage, and inheritance. It may or may not be coincidence that both of these examples were found in burn areas — about two and a half years into recovery in the case of the Turricula, and a year in the case of the wreath plant.

Cape Ivy on the Rivas Canyon Trail

Cape Ivy on the Rivas Canyon Trail

Did the Will Rogers – Temescal Loop this morning from the End of Reseda. It had been more than a month since we’d had measureable rain in Los Angeles and it was great to be out in the Santa Monica Mountains after a rainstorm, dodging a few mud puddles and enjoying the good running weather!

A key segment of the 21 mile loop is the Rivas Canyon Trail, which connects Will Rogers State Historic Park to Temescal Gateway Park. Each time I run the trail I’m blown away by the oceans of Cape ivy in Rivas Canyon. Having grown up in the Southeastern U.S. it reminds me of kudzu.

Both are introduced perennial climbing vines — kudzu from Japan and Cape ivy from South Africa. Both are prolific and can cause severe negative impacts to native plants and other vegetation.

More information about Cape ivy (Delairea odorata) can be obtained on the California Invasive Plant Council web site.

Related post: Christmas Eve Trail Run

Sprouting Poodle-dog Bush Leaves

Poodle-dog bush* sprouting at the junction of the PCT and Mt. Waterman Trails, near Three Points. in July 2011.

Poodle-dog bush* sprouting at the junction of the PCT and Mt. Waterman Trails, near Three Points.

Huge Poodle-dog bush plants along Edison Road below Shortcut Saddle in July 2011.
Huge Poodle-dog bush plants along Edison Road below Shortcut Saddle.

Little plants like these can grow to be monster-sized, like these along Edison Road, below Shortcut Saddle.

The title photo was taken on a run around Mt. Waterman from Three Points on May 29, 2011 and the photo of the monster-sized Poodle-dog bush was taken on a Mt. Disappointment 50K training run from Shortcut Saddle on July 31, 2011.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), “… molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term “subfamily”) that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon.” I use “Turricula” and “Poodle-dog bush” interchangeably as a common name.

Related posts: Contact Dermatitis from Eriodictyon parryi – Poodle-dog Bush, Getting Over Poodle-dog Bush Dermatitis, Trail Runners Describe Reactions to Poodle-dog Bush


Canchalagua (Centaurium venustum)

Relatively uncommon in the areas in which I run, the vivid rose-purple of Canchalagua (Centaurium venustum) is always a treat to see. Not only are its colors eye-catching, it’s petals are unusually uniform and precisely formed, which makes the flowers stand out even more.  A closer look reveals bizarrely shaped anthers, which are fluted and spiraled.

The plant is reported to have been used medicinally, but according to Chumash Ethnobotany by Jan Timbrook & Chris Chapman, based on the field notes of John P. Harrington, it wasn’t clear whether it was “a remedy of the old-time Indians, or of the whites.”

Here’s an advertisement from an 1852 volume of the American Whig Review, in which Canchalagua was specified as an ingredient of the patent medicine “Dr Rogers’ Compound Syrup of Liverwort, Tar and Canchalagua.” (The document was digitized by Google as part of the Making of America Project.)