Tag Archives: San Francisco

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: Queen Anne’s lace

A delicate parasol of tiny white flowers is punctuated at the center with one that is dark purple. This is Queen Anne’s lace, or Daucus carota.

Though the plant looks a lot like poison hemlock, Queen Anne’s lace is actually edible–its other name is wild carrot. The roots are eaten cooked, or roasted for a coffee substitute, while the seeds are used as a flavoring. I personally have been too squeamish to try it, though the subtle details of the two plants are very different. First there is the central purple bloom. Second, wild carrot has a green stem stippled with hairs (while poison hemlock has a mottled and whitish stem).

This non-native plant is native to Europe and Asia.

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Plant of the day: seaside daisy

This pretty purple daisy prefers excellent views. It grows along the coast, often clinging to rocky cliffs or sunbathing on sandy beaches. I photographed the ones shown here on the Point Reyes Peninsula, growing on the top of Arch Rock–a lovely vantage point looking down on the long stretch of coast to the north and south.

Seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus) has rounded, grayish green leaves that are soft to the touch. The flowers heads are purple, ranging towards white or pink, with a yellow center. It’s native to California and Oregon, and it’s often seen in rock gardens as well as in the wild. Other names include beach daisy and seaside fleabane.


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Plant of the day: leather oak

Oaks are generally thought of as tall, graceful trees. But you can also find them in the sea of waist-high bushes known as chaparral. Leather oak (Quercus durata var. durata) is a common sight on serpentine soils in this area.

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Leather oak can grow to around nine feet tall, but I have mainly noticed them growing much closer to the ground. Look close to spot acorns or clusters of catkin-like flowers among the small, grayish green leaves. The leaves of this species are dull, dusted with a pale fuzz (paler on the top than on the bottom). They also are concavely curled towards the ground–you could flip one over and use it for a little spoon, if they didn’t have a tendency to be spiny.

As with all acorns, the nut of the leather oak is edible once its bitter tannins have been leached out. Acorns were historically a major food source for local Native American tribes, and still are a major part of the food chain for wildlife. People generally remove tannins by soaking the nut in water (or a running stream). But some tribes would plant the acorn in a bog and wait until it sprouted in the spring–a system which apparently got rid of most tannins but preserved more nutrients than the water method.

Acorns can be eaten whole, or ground into a floury powder for cooking. Roasted acorns can be used as a coffee substitute.

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Plant of the day: salal

Gaultheria shallon

Salal is a familiar companion of the forest underbrush from Alaska to Santa Barbara. It is unadorned for most of the year, a simple shrub with largish (~4 inch) leathery leaves that dance up alternate sides of a slightly zig-zagged stem. In between the large veins, the leaves are traced with an intricate lacey pattern somewhat like the crease on the palm of a hand.

Small bell-shaped flowers of pinkish white appear at the tips of the stems in the early summer, and by now the dark purple fruit has ripened. Each berry is lightly hairy, and they are fairly sparse on the plant. Though edible, I have found them to be bland the few times I’ve tasted them. The leaves can be made into “a pleasant tea“, and poultices made of the leaves were traditionally applied to cuts, burns and sores. The fruit or leaves were also used to make dyes (of purple or yellow).

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Plant of the day: sticky sandspurry

Spergularia macrotheca

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


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Plant of the day: Indian teasel

Dipsacus sativus

The distinctive silhouette of teasel (Dipsacus sativus) is a familiar sight in the coastal parts of California. Thick, pointed bracts jut out, like splayed arms beneath the cone-shaped flower head. This structure stays standing long after the small white flowers have faded; people collect the dried stems for decoration. The spiny flower heads are so stiff they were used to card wool before metal carding combs were created!

Sadly this odd-looking plant is also a fairly nasty invasive. It can form dense chest-high thickets that are impassable to both people and animals. This European invasive likes to grow in disturbed areas: along roadways, in ditches and on grasslands. Another species, wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is less common locally but more widespread throughout North America. It has pink-to-purple flowers and sharply upcurved bracts. Just to confuse things, both species also go by the common name of  Fuller’s teasel.

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Plant of the day: scarlet monkey flower

Orange-red flowers grow in the dappled shade of a dry stream bed. This is the scarlet monkey flower, or Mimulus cardinalis–one of the most lovely of this group. With bright green leaves and flashy flowers it is a treat in gardens and wild places alike.

Hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects also love this plant, but deer do not. Native plant gardeners rave about the monkey flowers in general for this reason.

Scarlet monkey flower is usually found near water, and so when you see it you have a strong clue that you’re in a wetland or near a stream (and below 8,000 feet, which is the upper limit of its range). You can see them growing in most parts of California from the northern Sierra to San Diego. Outside of the state, it grows north into Washington state and east as far as New Mexico.

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Plant of the day: fennel

It tastes great in salads, but fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is an unfortunate weed in California. It grows avidly along roadsides and in other disturbed places. This plant grows up to ten feet tall, with feathery leaves and yellow umbrella-shaped umbels of flowers.

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The leaves and the seeds have a distinctive licorice flavor, which is likely why the plant came to the Americas in the first place. It’s been used as a spice and a medicinal plant for centuries, and is thought to have escaped into the wild time after time.

Fennel is an invasive species, and takes over areas by forming dense stands where nothing else can grow. This isn’t just because the plants are so numerous that there is no room for any others. They also exude chemicals that actually prevent their competitors from growing!

Check out the above video for an musical animated interpretation of why fennel is a problem…

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Plant of the day: slender tarweed

Here is a common little tarweed with small unobtrusive flowers. Madia gracilis has the strong odor and sticky stem that’s common to the tarweeds (or gumweeds, which is another one of this little guy’s common names). The flowers are often dwarfed by the bulbous green cup of sepals below. If you look close you’ll see that the entire plant is covered with little glandular hairs, with tiny black dots atop stubby white bristles.

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