This small plant has somewhat unremarkable flowers, but fruits that are quite striking. In early spring, fringepod plants have a raceme of tiny, white, 4-petalled flowers that are easily missed. In fruit, however, this plant produces delicate, lacy, fruits that are about a quarter inch wide. Each contains a single seed within. The scientific name is derived from the Greek for “fringed” (thysanos) + “fruit” (karpos).
Fruits of plants in the mustard family are described as siliques, which have two fused carpels and are in general much longer than they are broad. In genera such as Thysanocarpus and Lepidium, however, when fruits are as broad as they are long, the fruits are referred to as silicles. Fringepod has a broad distribution across the California Floristic Province.
- Species: Thysanocarpus curvipes
- Plant Family: Brassicaceae (mustard family)
- Where I saw it: In foothill grassland, High Trestle Trail, Lassen National Forest
Cercis occidentalis is a shrub in the pea family. Like most pea flowers, they are described as papillonaceaous because the broad upper petal is reminiscent of a ‘papillon’ (French for butterfly). In a pollinator-friendly configuration, this upper petal attracts insects, while the lower petals act as landing pads and protect the stamens and stigma.
Redbud’s magenta flowers are first to emerge in the spring, followed by broad reniform (kidney-shaped) or cordate (heart-shaped) leaves. In the photo below, new leaves are just beginning to emerge atop the inflorescence. When in fruit, this species will produce pods that are several inches long.
- Species: Cercis occidentalis
- Plant Family: Fabaceae (pea family)
- Where I saw it: In foothill chaparral, High Trestle Trail, Lassen National Forest
Clematis lasiantha is a liana, or woody vine. This species twists and twines around the other shrubs that it uses for support. In the photo below, it is climbing Cercis occidentalis (western redbud). While many woody plants invest energy into rigid stems and branches that will thrust their leaves toward the sun, clematis can instead devote more of its energy toward growth and reproduction. Most lianas occur in tropical rainforests, where dense canopies are at great heights, and this twining adaptation is particularly useful to allow plants to snag some sunlight for themselves. But for Clematis lasiantha, this adaptation has proved beneficial in foothill chaparral as well. Clematis species twine with their elongated leaf petioles (see below), which will wrap around whatever structure they encounter.
This species is in the buttercup family. What appear to be four white petals are actually cream-colored sepals. Clematis lasiantha has opposite leaves (see below), each with three coarsely toothed leaflets that at first glance, in poison-oak country, can give one pause!
- Species: Clematis lasiantha
- Plant Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup family)
- Where I saw it: In foothill chaparral, High Trestle Trail, Lassen National Forest
Opposite leaves with long petioles.
Twining around Cercis occidentalis (western redbud)
Twining around Cercocarpus betuloides (mountain mahogany)
I am usually so transfixed upon plants that I fail to see the insects and amphibians that share their habitat. But these past few weeks, when forced to pause for one reason or another, I was afforded these special glimpses of life forms that often escape my notice.
These are Pacific tree frogs, peeking out from a crack in a downed log that spanned a dry creek bed near Big Lake. As I would step toward the log, the frogs would disappear into the crack. When I took a step back, they would one by one venture to poke their heads back out to investigate. My ever-observant co-worker called these to my attention after I had marched right over the log while conducting plant surveys. And I just now noticed the frog occupying the tiny hole near the bottom of the frame!
And here is a monarch butterfly, obtaining nectar from a showy milkweed flower (Asclepias speciosa) near Humbug Valley. I would not have seen this butterfly had I not stopped to GPS the milkweed patch for the Xerces Society‘s Project Milkweed. As I waited for my GPS unit to log points, three monarchs spiraled around me in a setting so quiet that I could hear the flapping of their wings. This survey of milkweed stands aims to generate a spatial inventory of milkweed stands that may serve as summer breeding sites for monarchs.
And lastly, here is an English sundew (Drosera anglica) with a leaf coiled around an insect that it is slowly digesting. I was exploring Willow Lake the other weekend with my children, and we brought ourselves down to ground-level to appreciate this tiny scene.
This bright red bloom belongs to Silene laciniata ssp. californica, or California indian pink. The genus Silene has many representatives in our area (Silene lemmonii, Silene occidentalis, and Silene douglasii to name a few). They share with S. laciniata opposite leaves and divided petals, however these other species all have white flowers. Silene laciniata ssp. californica is the only northern California catchfly that is red in color.
These plants are members of the pink family (a family that includes carnations, dianthus, and many other garden flowers). “Pink” refers not to the color of the flowers, but to the appearance of the petals of many of the species in this family, which look as though someone has taken a pair of pinking shears to them.
- Species: Silene laciniata ssp. californica
- Plant Family: Caryophyllaceae (pink family)
- Where I saw it: Yellow Creek area, Plumas County
Penstemon is one of my favorite genera, and hot-pink mountain-pride is certainly one of the showiest. Though this species occurs at high (>4,000 ft.) elevations throughout the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and Klamath ranges, I am much more likely to encounter other Penstemon species such as P. neotericus, P. speciosus, P. gracilentus, P. deustus, P. rydbergii, and P. sudans on the Lassen National Forest. I encountered P. newberryi in bloom last week, growing atop a massive boulder along Rattlesnake Creek, a tributary to Deer Creek. This is typical habitat for the species, which I have also seen growing on granitic rock above Homer Lake and near Bucks Lake.
Penstemon flowers display bilateral symmetry, meaning that they are symmetric only across one central axis. Petals are fused into a two-lipped tube that creates a landing pad for pollinators. These include bees, flies, and even (unlike blue- and white-lowered penstemon species) hummingbirds. While I failed to scramble up this rock for close-ups, I snapped some photos (below) of plants that I purchased last year from Floral Native Nursery in Chico and planted into crevices in a rock wall. With minimal irrigation, they are thriving, and a constitute a beautiful, native addition to our yard!
- Species: Penstemon newberryi
- Plant Family: Plantaginaceae (plantain family)
- Where I saw it: atop boulder adjacent to Rattlesnake Creek, above Highway 32
I went to grub out a neglected strawberry bed a few days ago. Lawn grass had invaded, along with mint and oregano stragglers whose brethren were transplanted last year. As I approached a sage plant, ready to dig it up and transplant it as well, out flew an black-headed darkeyed “Oregon” junco. I peeked beneath the arms of the sage and there, nestled into the ground, was this perfectly round nest containing four pale, speckled eggs. Needless to say, a limited operating period has been imposed until the juncos hatch and fledge. The strawberries can wait.
Out near Round Valley Reservoir on a family woodcutting trip, my focus was mainly devoted to issues more urgent than local flora. Namely, Keeping The 3-Year-Old Away from the Chainsaw. And Staving Off Tantrums with Juice and Snacks. But between these urgent duties, I had time to take a peek around the understory of this north-facing, Sierran Mixed Conifer stand to watch June unfold. Rosa gymnocarpa, shown here, was a common understory component, along with Iris hartwegii (Hartweg’s iris), and Arnica discoidea (rayless arnica).
We have several native roses in our area. This one, bald-hip, rose is easiest to spot in the fall when the sepals fall off the rose-hips. In other local species of rose, the sepals persist, and flare out from the tip of the rose-hip. And another identifiable character of this species, visible here, is that the pedicels (flower stalks) have gland-tipped bristles.
- Species: Rosa gymnocarpa
- Plant Family: Rosaceae (rose family)
- Where I saw it: mixed conifer forest understory, near Round Valley Reservoir
Forget breakfast in bed or a restaurant brunch. My husband, who knows me so well, organized instead a multi-family morel-hunting expedition to celebrate Mother’s Day. Location? Well now, I’m not going to reveal that. All I will say is that we went to an area that burned in a wildfire last summer. We were capitalizing upon the tendancy of morels to fruit prolifically the season that follows a fire event. The girls eagerly joined the hunt, although they have soundly rejected the taste of morels in the past. M. in particular was tireless in her pursuit, scrambling up steep, slippery, needle-covered slopes and scanning the forest floor for these tricky little fungi. Morels were well-camouflaged among pine cones and bits of charred wood, but we brought in quite a haul.
We are novices to morel preservation, but found that online advice convened around keeping the fungi well-aerated while drying. We strung up our catch in a ventilated greenhouse, hoping to enjoy our morels for months to come.
Another show-stopper from North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, and one of the most exuberant of our paintbrushes. This is purple owl’s clover, a species that is particularly fun to examine under a hand-lens. Up close, each of the flowers does look a bit like a puffed-up owl (CalPhotos hosts a nice close-up image here), though I am uncertain if this is what the common name is intended to describe. Like other members of the Orobanchaceae, this species is a hemiparasite that derives part of its nutrition by parasitizing the roots of other plant species.
- Species: Castilleja exserta
- Plant Family: Orobanchaceae (broomrape family)
- Where I saw it: North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve