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.
This yellow-flowered plant grows everywhere on the east side of the Sierras, like a weed. But how can any weed be this beautiful? The pale yellow blossom is as big as my palm, with long delicate petals, and a spreading bouquet of yellow stamens rises from the center. Five skinny “petals” that alternate with the wider ones are actually modified stamens that don’t produce any pollen. This extravagant bloom is surrounded by long green sepals that peek out from between the petals. With a pale stem and scalloped green leaves, the entire package looks like a carefully wrought floral display. Yet nature did all of the arranging.
Giant blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis) can be found across much of California and across all of western North America. Despite its delicate looks, this beauty loves high heat and rocky habitats. It was also used by many native tribes for everything from skin wash to gravy. Roots were used to treat arthritis, earaches, bruises and fever. An infusion made from the leaves was used for stomachaches and skin disease. The gravy was made from fried seeds and water.
Flamboyant white flowers are scattered across a sagebrush plain. Prickly poppy, or Argemone munita, has the large papery-thin petals–stark white around a brilliant yellow center. Insects flock and feed among the many yellow stamens. The whole plant has abundant gray-green leaves that are prickly to the touch, and stands as tall as my knee. It is truly a beauty! But you won’t see it in the Bay Area; it grows across the west but only between 4,000 and 8,500 feet. If you see a similar flower at low elevation, you’re probably looking at one of this bloom’s lovely cousins, such as the Matilja poppy.
White heads of flowers dot the unmowed ball field like cotton balls scattered freely. But look close and the blooms are not at all cottony; this is a clover, each head a cluster of dozens of small pea-type flowers. The leaves are distinctively bisected with a faint crescent line that looks like a watermark, or the pattern left behind on paper that was soaked and then dried.
Everpresent in lawns and weedy berms, white (Trifolium repens) clover is one of the most common (and dare I say overlooked) plants around. Rare, shy, or temperamental flowers are a treat to find and behold–but I also like to take the time to get to know the species that are so common that they are easy to ignore. This little European invader is certainly one of those. But it turns out that not only is it a favorite snack for livestock, but humans can eat it too! Young leaves can be used in salads or soups, or it can be cooked like spinach. Dried flowers and seed pods have been ground into a high-protein flour that can be used on its own or as a garnish. The plant can be boiled for a tea, either just because its tasty or as a traditional Cherokee treatment for fever. Roots can be cooked and eaten, and evidently the leaves give baked goods a vanilla-like flavor. Who knew.
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.
This tough, blue-eyed plant is a rugged survivor (aka, a weed). Chicory (Cichorium intybus) thrives on the edges of human activity: roadsides and empty lots. It was originally native to Europe, but now it is so well established across North America that it often is described as “naturalized”.
Chicory also has a long relationship with people as a food. It’s roots–roasted, toasted and ground–are a renowned coffee substitute. They also can be cooked and eaten like parsnips. The bitter leaves are used in salads or spaghetti; they are less bitter in the wintertime. Because chicory plants have plenty of inulin (a type of starch that diabetics can’t digest) they are a recommended food for people trying to limit their glucose.
Their pretty blue flowers are light sensitive, opening at dawn and closing by the afternoon.
Pink, poppy-sized flowers show up with a flamboyant burst of color on the browning hillsides. Each of the four delicate petals are dotted with a dark red splotch. This is farewell to spring, or Clarkia amoena.
There are several species of Clarkia in Marin that differ slightly from one another; this species can be either white or pink. You can distinguish it from the other similar species because it has red splotches instead of a red ring on the petals, and the buds don’t droop. These flowers seem to thrive on dry road cuts – I’ve seen them growing along Highway One in several different places (these photos were taken just south of Tomales).
This gooseberry is a prickly delight. From its elegant branches to its troublesome little berries, Ribes menziesii has a lot of character. The berries are edible–and yummy!–but you have to get past the spines to enjoy them. There’s no easy way to do this; you can try peeling with a pocket knife or just chewing carefully. I’ve also tried popping them with my teeth first, before chomping down. This seems to work the best, but you’re still bound to get prickled a few times.
Overall this plant is better for looking at than for eating, especially in spring and summer. The thorny branches sport scalloped green leaves on gracefully arching branches, and in the spring it puts out masses of small lantern-shaped flowers that bees love.
Gooseberries are a type of currant, and some of the local wild species (spreading gooseberry, flowering currant) are spineless–as are their store-bought cousins. In addition to the canyon gooseberry featured here, there are some other spiny species around as well (California gooseberry and Victor’s gooseberry). You can tell them apart because the first has smooth, hairless leaves and the second has shorter spines on the fruit that are all about the same length.
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.