Tag Archives: Marin

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: wild carnation

Petrorhagia_dubia1A single, brilliantly pink flower blooms atop a long slim stem. Each little petal is the color and shape of a valentines-day heart, with a second heart traced upon it in a line of dark fuschisa. Even more unusual, each flower looks like it’s emerging from a bulbous cocoon of papery bracts beneath.

This is wild carnation (Petrorhagia dubia), also known as windmill pink. Just like storebought carnations, this flower is in the Caryophyllaceae–or carnation–family. A good trick to tell that you’re looking at a species in this family is that the stem swells noticeably at the node where it joins the paired, linear leaves. Knowing the key diagnostic features of families, like this, is a good trick to have up your sleeve when you’re trying to key out a new plant! Some, like this one, are much easier than others.

Sadly, this striking plant isn’t native–you’ll see it growing in fields, roadsides and other disturbed habitats.Petrorhagia_dubia2

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Plant of the day: mist maidens

Romanzoffia_californicaIf it looks like a saxifrage and it grows like a saxifrage, then it’s a saxifrage… right? Well, no. Not in the case of mist maidens (Romanzoffia californica). The delicate spray of white flowers rises on long bare stalks from a rosette of scalloped leaves… which is the characteristic growth pattern of the Saxifragaceae. But this little moisture-loving plant is actually in the Boraginaceae family, along with forget-me-nots and fiddlenecks.

Mist maidens are found in shaded forests and moist, rocky slopes in Oregon and northern California. You’ll almost always see them in wetlands (or wet-hills?); the Marin Flora reports that they are especially spectacular on the Tomales Bluffs, where great masses of them grow. Romanzoffia_californica2

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Plant of the day: fringe cups

The petals of fringe cups (Tellima grandiflora) look like they have been trimmed back into a geometric design, like a paper snowflake. The flowers of this common and lovely little blossom grow in a densely packed spike, and can be greenish-white or pale red. They tend to grow in shady forest, where the slightly translucent petals catch the light beautifully.

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There are a few medicinal uses listed for the species in the Native American Ethnobotany Database. It’s a short but entertaining list: a decoction of the the pounded plant was taken to restore the appetite, or to treat “any kind” of sickness. Lastly, the Nitinaht tribe of Vancouver Island reportedly chewed the plant “as medicine to stop dreams of having sexual intercourse with the dead.”


Fringe cups  grow on moist, rocky slopes and in shaded forest across the west, from California to BC and Alaska.

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Plant of the day: canyon larkspur

Delphinium_nudicaule1The brilliant red of canyon larkspur seems to glow in the shade of a rocky hillside. Also known as red larkspur, the color of Delphinium nudicaule flowers is so intense that it nearly vibrates. Each little flower tapers to a point in the back; an artists’ rendering of a gnome’s cap or the cowl of Little Red Riding Hood’s cape.

Red larkspur tends to grow most prolifically on shaded, rocky slopes. It is found across much of Northern California, and is not to be confused with scarlet larkspur–which grows farther south and has plants with more densely clustered flowers. It’s the only red larkspur in the area (though there is one yellow-flowered species, and several that are blue, white, or purple). According to the Marin Flora, this species has been found to hybridise with the blue-flowered coastal larkspur, creating offspring that are coral, lavender or purple.

All parts of the plant are highly poisonous–don’t eat it!Delphinium_nudicaule2

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Serpentine in bloom

A stony hillside is awash in a sea of color. Swatches of yellow, purple, and pink nearly obscure the barren slope, which (other than the flowers) is striking because of how little grows there. This is a serpentine outcrop, and the harsh chemistry of this rock prevents all but a few hardy and specially adapted species from growing.

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One lovely serpentine-dominated outcrop is perched atop Mt. Tamalpais near the Rock Springs parking area, and is in full and glorious bloom right now. I’ll write about each of the different species over the next few days–but the above slideshow celebrates the panorama.

Amazingly, there are even more surprises waiting on the stony hillside. Later in the season other flowers, including buckwheat, Mt. Tamalpais jewelflower and yellow mariposa lily, will appear. But for now there is no sign of them.


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Plant of the day: glossyleaf manzanita

Another manzanita to follow on the heels of yesterday’s. Glossyleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos sensitiva, formerly known as A. nummularia) is a beautiful plant. Small, glossy leaves grow densely along slim branches that are often conspicuously covered in long pale hair. This is the only manzanita in the area to have only 4 petals, and the white lantern-shaped flowers have a paler patch at their base, so the flesh of the petal seems nearly translucent where it joins the stem.

Glossyleaf manzanita is also called shatterberry, because its fruits break into pieces while still on the plant. According to the Marin flora, the long berries look so unlike other (round) manzanita fruits that it was initially thought to be in a different genus entirely.

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Plant of the day: Pacific trillium

Three green leaves surround three white petals surround a cream-colored, three-parted pistil–each part offset from the other to form a lovely pattern. The whole thing sits perched atop a slim stalk like an elaborate parasol. This large, striking flower is Pacific trillium (Trillium ovatum, also known as wake robin). Ankle-high groves of it are in bloom along the steep ravine trail on Mt. Tamalpais; a stunning sight beneath the towering redwoods: beauty above and beauty below.

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This low-growing perennial thrives on shady hillsides and other places that stay moist but are well drained. Trillium is a member of the Melanthiaceae (the false hellebore family, which is a close relative of the lily family) and like lilies it has all of its parts in sets of three, including six yellow stamens. The white flowers turn purple as they age. Each year a fresh stalk sprouts from an underground rhizome.

The plant was used medicinally by various Native American tribes, but only externally–as far as I can tell. An infusion made from the roots was used as a wash for sore eyes, and to treat boils. The Skagit considered it poisonous.

Trillium has also been used as a love potion–the Makah tribe would apply a poultice made of pounded roots as a love medicine; unfortunately my reference doesn’t say what the desired result is, or where the poultice is applied.

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Carson Ridge hike with CNPS

There are some of us who love meandering along trails, looking closely at flowers and foliage, debating taxonomy. We are a small but enthusiastic subset, it’s true–but what fun to be with folks of similar mind!

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Last weekend I tagged along with the Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Our hike rambled out through the serpentine chaparral of Carson Ridge, then down into a peaceful valley to admire Carson Falls.

This hike showcases the wealth of nature in Marin–there are undeveloped hills and valleys spreading as far as the eye can see, in all directions but south-east, where the Bay and its surrounding cities shine like gems. It’s amazing to think that the vast landscape we were hiking into is protected–mainly, where we were, by the Marin Municipal Water District. But MMWD land abuts County open space, State Park land, and National Parks as well, forming a great swath of public land, free for both wildlife and people.

CNPS16It was not a fast hike–but that is how I like it. There was plenty of time for photos, and I learned a lot, both from my highly knowledgeable fellow hikers and from our adept leader Amelia Ryan (who, in full disclosure, I’ve been friends with since I was six). The sun was shining, scenery was beautiful, the falls were lovely, and the company was good. What a treat.

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Plant of the day: scouring-rush horsetail

A tangle of plants like tall, green soda straws stick out of the ground on the same stream bank where yesterday’s wild ginger grows. This is scouring rush horsetail, Equisetum hyemale. It’s a cousin of the more common giant horsetail, which looks like an oversized bottle brush with wiry arms that stick straight out from a slim central stalk. But instead of looking brushlike, scouring-rush horsetail is unbranched; it consists solely of a tall, single, hollow stalk. It can grow up to nearly 7 feet tall, always in a dense cluster, spreading throughout the area by slim black rhizome.

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The stems of scouring rush are remarkably tough–if you try to break one off you’ll find it unexpectedly hard to do.¬†Equisetum’s flexible strength is due to silicon dioxide, and native Americans used it to polish wood such as canoes, bone tools, soapstone pipes, arrow shafts, and fingernails, or to make mats and baskets; later, settlers and 49’ers used it to scrub their pots and pans. Kids used it as a whistle, and the strawlike stem was used as a straw, particularly to give medicine to infants and others.

Scouring rush tea had a large number of medicinal uses, including for irregular menses, poison ivy, bleeding, infection, kidney problems, backache, lumbago, gonorrhea, and to treat lice. It’s described by Plants for a Future as “anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, haemostatic, hypotensive and styptic…with an appetite-stimulating effect.”

The roots and young spring shoots were sometimes eaten; but large quantities are toxic due to the silica.

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