Masses of yellow flowers are blooming beside the lagoon. Bees swarm over the blossoms, rummaging for pollen in their daisy-like centers. Nearby, white goo that looks like Elmer’s glue coats the younger, unopened buds. The green bracts surrounding the petals are fleshy spikes, curved strongly backward.
This is coastal gumweed, or Grindelia stricta. The species is highly variable, growing either upright to about waist height, or prostrate along the ground. You can find it along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles to Washington state. The erect version shown above (Grindelia stricta var. angustifolia) was photographed at the Bolinas Lagoon; it’s usually found in salt marshes. This is the only local species of Grindelia to have woody stems so it is easy to tell apart from other gumweeds. Other names for this species include Oregon gumweed and marsh gum plant.
On the upper edge of a salt marsh, pale purple flowers grow low to the ground. This is sticky sandspurry, or Spergularia macrotheca. There are several different species of spurrys in the area, and all are very similar. To identify S. macrotheca I had to get out my hand lens and look close at the tiny seeds. In this species, each seed is surrounded by a narrow, papery halo (or “wing”).
With its five pale petals surrounding cheery yellow stamens, sticky sandspurry can be found along the Pacific coast states up to Canada and southeast Alaska. The plant earns its name by being covered with short, sticky hairs. Clustered leaves, rising from a swollen spot in the stem, give a clue that it’s in the Caryophyllaceae family.
It prefers to grow in wet places, often near saltwater, but it also can be found by freshwater seeps, springs and vernal pools–and in non-wetlands as well.
Notice the swollen stem at the leaf nodes