Tag Archives: endemic

Plant of the day: Tiburon mariposa lily

These amazingly beautiful lilies are in full bloom on Ring Mountain right now–catch them before they are gone! Tiburon mariposa lilies (Calochortus tiburonensis) grow only on the Tiburon peninsula–where they weren’t discovered until 1971, and were listed as Federally threatened in 1995. It grows on Ring Mountain along with several other rare species that are associated with serpentine soils.

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This striking lily sprouts a handful of blooms (2-7) on a single stem with a single leaf. The blooms can be brownish, yellowish, or greenish with dense hairs on the inner surface of its three petals. Darker brown markings decorate flowers.

A good place to see these blooms is along the rocky slopes of the western fork of the Phyllis Ellman trail on Ring Mountain, near point-of-interest marker post #14 (this is the westernmost leg of the loop trail; the right-hand fork if you start from the Paradise Drive parking area).Calochortus_tiburonensis-7


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Plant of the day: yellow mariposa

A constellation of yellow lilies blooms on a serpentine ridge atop Mt. Tam. The yellow mariposa lilies (Calochortus luteus) are little works of art: delicate patterns of red and orange decorate the inside of the petals. No two are alike. Some are plain, some are complex. All are lovely. Beetles seem to think so too; I’ve often seen them hanging out inside. When I saw the ones pictured here, some still held water from the previous night’s rain in their cup-shaped blossoms.

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This mariposa lily is a California endemic that can be found as far north as Humboldt and as far south as LA.

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Plant of the day: buckeye

It’s buckeye season – one of my favorite stages of spring. These spreading trees with their tall, pinkish-white spires of flowers can be seen along roadsides, streamsides, in mixed woodlands and even at the edge of pebbly beaches on Tomales Bay. I’ve seen Aesculus californica growing so close to the water that the lower branches were draped with streamers of dried eelgrass.

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This lovely tree is unique to California, and can be found across much of the state. It has loads of character, with knobby, gnarled trunks and wide palmately compound leaves. It leafs out during the winter, offering cool shade on hot days into the early summer, and then it goes dormant. In the fall it drops beautiful shiny chestnut-colored nuts (ok, actually they are “capsules” since the hard exterior contains several seeds). I like to gather them and use them for decoration. But don’t eat any! They are toxic, known to depress the nervous system, cause abortions in cattle and be toxic to bees. Native Americans would use extract of the seed topically (for hermerrhoids?!). In tough times the seeds were sometimes eaten (after careful preparation to leach the poison out). Buckeye also provided food in a different way: pouring a ground-up powder of the seed into a stream would stupify fish for easier catching!

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Plant of the day: fairy lantern

This is one of the most beautiful flowers of the Bay Area. It’s aptly named, with its complex blossom looking like a delicately wrought lantern nodding on a slender stem. The three upper sepals curve upward like a pagoda roof, while the fringed petals below curl inwards as if to protect a flame. It’s not hard to imagine them as fixtures in a tiny magical kingdom. Keep your eye out for these little plants, and when you find one, look close!

The fairy lantern (Calochortus amabalis) is endemic to northern California, and is pretty much restricted to the coast range north of San Francisco bay. As such, Marin County is toward the southern-most end of the species’ range, and it is a rare sight here. These photos were taken in Sonoma county, where it is much more common.

Because all the parts are in threes, you can tell it is in the lily family, like the irises and blue-eyed grass.

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Plant of the day: two eyed violet

There’s not much that is prettier than a glade filled with violets. They are tougher than they look – two eyed violets like serpentine soil, as well as grassy meadows or rocky hillsides. I saw the ones pictured here growing on the edge of a redwood forest, under some pepperwood trees. Two eyed violets (Viola ocellata) are distinctively named, as they can be distinguished from all other local violets by the two purple spots on their lateral petals. According to the Marin Flora, there is only one other purple violet in the area, and it lacks the paired spots. All the other violets around are yellow.

These little beauties are endemic to the north-western parts of California, and even though they look like a fragile annual they are actually perennials!

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