Heteromeles arbutifolia - Toyon is most notable when the days shorten and weather turns colder.
The small, bright red berries add a splash of color to the slopes of our local mountains this time of year. It is
said that Hollywood got its name due to this plant's resemblance to holly.
Toyon's thick, waxy and oblong leaves are 2-4 inches long with pointed teeth that spiral alternately up the plant's stems.
The waxy coating of the leaves reduce the amount of water lost through transpiration (evaporation of water from plant leaves)
and allow the plant to remain evergreen.
Small, white perfect flowers (both stamen and pistil are present) containing five petals and ten stamens appear in summer
and are pollinated by bees. The flowers are similar in appearance to Roses (they are a member of the Rose family).
In late fall, these are replaced by pea-sized bright red berries, or pomes. These traits are shared by other plants in this wide and diverse family: apples, peaches, strawberries, plums and pyracantha.
One of the few plants to be found in bloom this early in the year is Purple Nightshade. It is an evergreen shrub up to 3 feet high and wide, displaying purple flowers about one inch in diameter. It is commonly found blooming from January to May in sage or chaparral.
Purple Nightshade's thin leaves are about 2 inches long, oval in shape and spiral alternately up the stem. The purple flower petals are complemented by yellow anthers that gather at the center. Each of the five petals has a pair of green spots surrounded by white at their base. The flowers are followed by pea-sized purple berries. The plant often has a subtle glittery or fuzzy appearance. All parts of this plant are poisonous, like most plants in this family.
Other plants in the Nightshade family that are common in the Santa Monica mountains include Jimson weed, the non-native Tree Tobacco, and White Nightshade. Purple Nightshade is one of several Solanum members which are also cultivated for ornamental uses. While most of these are poisonous, there are some edible members of Solanum: eggplant and potato.
Wild Peony commonly blooms from January to April. Its flowers have petals the color of red-wine, are about an inch and a half long, and have a heavy-looking, downward-cupped shape.
They are quite unusual looking, though not very noticable due to their ability to blend in with the rest of the plant.
The peony relies on winter rains to spring back from its dormant
state that it adopts in summer. Often a clump of hollow stems emerges from the roots but it also may grow more individually. Its flowers grow on singular stalks and have 5 or 6 petals,
and as they mature develop prominent seed pods at their center. The flowers never open completely, maintaining a cupped shape.
There are six species of Ceanothus that can be found in the Santa Monica mountains, and about ten times that number of varieties are able to be grown in California. Our natives bloom from January to May. Flower colors range from white to various shades of blue, and are found in clusters.
Subtle yet conspicuous, whole hillsides lighten up in the spring when these plants are in bloom.
Characteristically, Ceanothus need good drainage, tolerate cold, heat, and wind, are adapted to fire, and are generally low maintenance. If you have ever done trail maintenance that involved cutting this plant, you may remember the sharp spines on its branches; Ceanothus means spiny plant in Greek. The common name of "Soap Bush" is earned because the flowers of some varieties will develop a lather when rubbed with water.
There are 82 species of Lupine (pronounced like "pin" not "pine") in California, with about 14 commonly found in the Santa Monica mountains. Blooming time
ranges from February to July. Flower colors are white to various shades of blue and reddish-purple; it is often said the flower starts as white and once pollinated changes
to the deeper hues.
The leaves are palmately compound, and range from 5 to 9 leaflets. The number of leaflets on an individual plant can vary, as well as within and between varieties. Pods of varying size also form on the flower stems.
The name Lupinus means "wolf," referring to the untrue notion that this plant robs nutrients from the soil. In fact, Lupine is actually known to add nitrogen back to the soil; if you want to include it in your garden, plant seed in the fall in nutrient-poor soil.
Habitat: chaparral, oak woodland, and sage scrub, riparian
Those conspicuous bushes with the light-orange flowers you are seeing on hikes right now are a species of Monkey Flower known as Sticky Monkey flower or Bush Monkey Flower. In addition to the Sticky variety, several other species of this plant also grace our mountains.
Flowers are commonly about an inch long and of interesting shape. Several species are bright yellow, while others are salmon-colored or bright red.
The term "monkey" owes to the markings of the seed (which resemble an ape), or possibly to the shape of the flower (mime meaning actor). Varieties of Monkey Flower can also do well in pots or in your garden. Other plants in this large family include Chinese Houses, Indian Paintbrush, Snapdragons and Foxglove.
One of the things I associate with June in Southern California is the presence of flowering Yucca stalks dotting the slopes of the neaby mountains and hillsides. Yucca blooms from April to July, usually below 2000' but sometimes up to 8000' in elevation.
Flowers are usually creamy-white, but east of the Santa Monicas it is said they can be a dramatic dark purple or pale pink. A particular Yucca plant only blooms once, then dies. In addition to seed dispersal, the plant may also produce offshoots around the old roots.
Yucca whipplei is the sole Agave family member in the Santa Monicas.
Rivaling the showy late-spring flowers is the foliage of this plant, consisting of needle-sharp speers up to three feet long that emanate from a base that sits flat on the ground. Native Americans had a variety of uses for the foliage, weaving ropes, nets and baskets. They also coaxed soap from the roots and fashioned foodstuffs from other plant parts.
Often noted when talking about this plant is the symbiotic relationship it has with the Yucca moth, its only pollinator. The Yucca moth (Tegeticula maculata) gathers a large bunch of pollen from one plant and flies with it to another. She burrows a hole in this second plant's seedpod, deposits her eggs, and covers them with the transported pollen. The emerging caterpillars lower themselves to the ground and bury themselves for a year before emerging as moths.
One of Liz's personal favorites, Woolly Blue Curls' floral display is both visually stunning and soft to the touch. Interesting-looking purple flowers form alternately on the ends of its stalks. Tiny white hairs cover the various parts of this plant and clearly contribute to its naming, including its scientific names: Trichostema means having hair-like stamens, and lanatum means woolly.
Woolly Blue Curls blooms from March to August. The color of the flowers ranges from deep purple, through blues and pinks to off-white. Look at the blooms close-up and you will see the variation in coloring in the different flower parts.
Hummingbirds and bumblebees feast on the pollen. The shiny, aromatic, narrow green leaves are a welcome sight in the browning landscape of Southern California summers.
Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia):
Leaves are flat and leathery, one to two inches long, sometimes serrated. Common to Southern California, occurring in the coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and oak woodland below 2,500 feet.
This plant has small white to pink flowers with five petals and five sepals clustered at the ends of the stems. The fruits are red, hairy, and sticky.
Sugar Bush, Laurel Sumac and Lemonade Berry are three similar looking plants you will encounter on many of your visits to the Santa Monica Mountains. Lemonade Berry seems to prefer the North side of the mountains, Sugar Bush
prefers the Southern side and Laurel Sumac is not as choosy. Laurel Sumac leaves are longer and less wide. Lemonade Berry is rounder and shorter, Sugar Bush is somewhere in the middle.
Too make things more interesting - Sugar Bush and Lemonade Berry are known to hybridize!
What separates the Lemonade Berry is the fruits. The fruits are similar in size to a pomegranite seed and look nothing like either Sugar Bush or Laurel Sumac.
Vinegar weed, while probably better known and identifiable by its odor rather than its appearance, brings a welcome sight
in the hot, dry, SoCal summers - a vibrant-looking plant full in bloom when most everything else seems so starved of moisture.
It blooms from August to October. The flowers are shaped a bit like blue larkspur, though individually are a bit
curlier and more of a faded purple in color. They are also fuller in spacing along the stem. Leaves are opposite of
each other on the stem. As a Summer blooming plant, expect to see lots of different pollinators visiting this plant.
Trichostema Lanceolatum is a very aromatic plant, seemingly more so in the middle of a hot sunny day. The odor resembles vinegar, perhaps a bit more medicinal. The inability to pin it down exactly is probably why it has so many common names.
You may remember Woolly Blue Curls, featured a couple of months ago on this site, has a similar scientific name. They share the same first name, Trichostema, meaning having hair-like stamens, but whereas lanatum means woolly, lanceolatum refers to the shape of the leaves. The two plants are often grouped together when describing, but if you have ever seen or smelled them, you will know they are different.
The onset of fall in Southern California brings with it memories of yellow-brown sycamore leaves crunching under foot or under wheel in Sycamore Canyon of Point Mugu State Park. Who says SoCal doesn't have seasons? Admittedly we would still need to
drive somewhere for a proper winter, but fall is starting to put on its show in a park near you, with the main attraction being the California Sycamore.
I most remember sycamores on slightly damp, cool fall days, with enough cloud in the sky to hint of rainy days to come and enough blue to provide a striking contrast to the yellowing leaves. It is likely to make one yearn to sit by the fireplace while sipping something warm, pondering what to get loved ones for Christmas or whether to make any New Years resolutions.
Sometimes the growth pattern of the tree is more or less vertical, reaching the greatest of heights. Other times the shape is spread more horizontally, with branches sweeping the ground. Sycamore bark shreds irregularly to reveal different colors and textures beneath, thus giving a mottled appearance of grays and browns. Leaves are palmately lobed, like maple, up to a foot in diameter, and with a soft texture owing to a covering of fine hairs. Spring blooming gives way to fruit that is a decorative, spherical, spiky ball about a half to one inch in diameter. The pollen of sycamore is a suspected contributor to seasonal allergies.
Platanus racemosa is the only sycamore native to the Santa Monica Mountains. Platanus is the Greek name for Plane, an Old World term for this type of tree, that is basically synonomous with sycamore. Racemosa refers to the clustering of the flowers/seeds.
Most every person who hikes, rides, climbs or works in the Santa Monica Mountains has at one time or another had the unfortunate experience of the rash caused by brushing against this common plant. Most of the literature indicates that the more
exposure to the oil (urushiol) from Poison Oak, the more likely we are to experience this rash. In many cases the more times you have the rash the quicker it appears after initial exposure and the more disruptive it is to your life.
Unfortunately, the reaction in 10% to 20% of people can be life threatening in as little as four hours of initial exposure. If you are leading a group of fellow adventurers into the local mountains, alerting your group to this danger becomes as
important as your message regarding rattlesnakes and mountain lions.
Poison oak is a deciduous shrub that is quite common throughout the mountains and valleys of California. As a rule Poison Oak is not found above 5,000 feet of elevation. In shady canyons and riparian habitats it commonly grows as a climbing vine with roots that cling to the trunks of oaks and sycamores. A National Park Employee told me that it is not uncommon for these vines to stretch from a source of water quite far up the side of a mountain! Poison oak also forms dense thickets in chaparral and coastal sage scrub, particularly in central and northern California. It regenerates readily after disturbances such as fire and trail maintenance. If you are hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains you are going to encounter this plant one way or another! The old adage "Leaves of Three, let it be" has been shortened from its original form. Most of us omit "berries white, a poisonous sight". Poison Oak has male and female plants and flowers in the late Spring. Interestingly, in the early part of Spring the leaves appear shiny and waxy.
During late Summer, the leaves turn various shades of red and yellow. The rash from Poison Oak can be caused when there are leaves on the plant and more importantly when there are no leaves because the urushiol resin is found in the stems and roots of the plant.
Tree Tobacco does not have a glowing reputation in the Santa Monicas, likely owing to its commonness but more probably to its non-native status. It is, however, one of the few plants in our area that still flowers into late fall and
early winter months, a welcoming sight in the browned landscape. This fast-growing, poisonous plant was brought from South America - probably Argentina - in the late 1800s. It can be found growing below 4000 feet. The species name glauca means
bluish-gray, referring to the color of the 1 to 4 inch long oval-shaped leaves found alternating on long stems. The flowers are 1 1/4 to 2-inches long, yellow and tubular, congregating at the ends of branches. Common bloom time is April to November, but it doesn't always obey the schedule, especially in the warmer parts of the area.
It is technically a misnomer to refer to Nicotiana glauca as Indian Tobacco, as that is the common name of a separate species, though this and others in the Nicotiana genus are often grouped and referred to as such. Common characteristics of Nicotiana are a sticky leaf texture, smelly odor, and narcotic properties. As the name suggests, members of this genus were of social and medicinal uses to native peoples of the region. They may also repel insects. As mentioned above, the plant is non-native, poisonous and invasive.
There are dozens of species of the genus Phacelia in the United States, and quite a few are found here in our Santa Monica mountains. This particular species is a sturdy-looking plant with showy, saucer-shaped lavender flowers that are
present from February to June. The petals have darker purple streaks producing a veined look. Grandifloria tells you that the flowers are larger than in other Phacelia species - they are up to 2 inches in diameter.
The plant is hairy throughout and sticky, exuding a substance that leaves a reddish tint on what they touch and may cause a rash for some people. Its leaves are oval-shaped, tooth-edged and about 2 inches long.
Other Phacelias you may encounter in our area are Parry's Phacelia, whose striking flowers are a deep purple with white spots towards the insides of the petals; Caterpillar Phacelia, with small whitish flowers perched on top of a wispy, caterpillar-like structure; and Imbricate Phacelia, somewhat resembling Caterpillar Phacelia but having the flower-caterpillar-like structure being more compact.
Wild cucumber is noticeable in winter and early spring for its green, vigorous vines with small white fuzzy flowers, and later by its large spiny seed pods. Its leaves are about 4 inches in diameter, and palmatedly lobed. The showy white male
flowers are less than an inch in diameter and appear in groups of up to 20. Female flowers appear on the same plant and turn into the spiny seedpod after fertilization. Large dark seeds are within the pod. The flowers are present from January through June.
The plant browns and dies back in summer, but the root is quite hardy and sprouts anew in winter, and the cycle continues. The tuber is quite noteworthy as it is very large - as big as a person, one might say, and one often does, as one of its common names is Man-root. Having such a large root means that it bounces back quickly after a fire.
Don't let its name fool you - there is nothing edible about this plant, it is poisonous. Nonetheless, the root is purported to be bitter tasting, and this gave the plant the genus name Marah, which is a biblical reference of a place with bitter waters. Macrocarpus refers to the large fruit.
Native peoples are thought to have polished and used the seeds for jewelry or as marbles. The root may have had medicinal uses as a topical treatment for things like rheumatism.
Prickly Poppy - Argemone munita is considered a short lived perennial or an Annual. This plant is herbaceous (green stems versus woody stems). The plant sprouts from seed and when it takes hold in the soil it can grow quite aggressively.
This plant had me fooled when I photographed it - one look at its inflorescence and I thought I was looking at Matilija Poppy. While the flowers are definitely similar, the spiny foliage of the prickly poppy should be a dead giveaway to tell these two apart. The other clue is that the Matilija Poppy grows a lot taller than this plant - up to 15 feet versus five feet. The plant has blue green leaves and stems, with spines throughout - leaves, fruits and stems! Prickly Poppy favors an especially dry habitat of sandy or gravelly soil. It commonly blooms from April through August in this area and can be a fire follower. I saw a number of these plants in Cheseboro Canyon in April 2007, a year and a half after fire swept through the area.
Prickly poppy has flowers with 4 or 6 white crinkly petals, three green sepals, yellow centers and dark colored pistil. Surrounding the pistil are a couple of hundred yellow to orange stamens. Read more...
Our Santa Monica Mountains host a number of different Clarkias, a species often characterized by pinkish-purple, 4-petaled flowers blooming in spring. Speckled Clarkia flowers are about 2-3 inches in diameter.
They have a reddish purple center, changing to white and then a lighter-reddish purple at the petals' ends. The four sepals have an interesting curvature to them. The speckles on Speckled Clarkia are not always prominent, as the photos posted here show.
This may lead one to wonder if the plant they are looking at is another related variety of Clarkia.
The thin leaves of the Speckled Clarkia are sparse and unremarkable. The flowers generally appear one per stem - this can be a distinguishing feature from other types of Clarkia like Farewell-to-Spring.
The species name Clarkia comes from William Clark of the expeditioners Lewis and Clark. The family of plants that the Clarkias belong to is also called Evening Primrose, as some other varieties are known for opening only at night.
Calabazilla takes its common name from the spanish word for the squash plant, calabaza. Like our garden squash and other gourds, calabazilla has long trailing vines that branch out widely. The large, bright
yellow flowers appear in both sexes on the same plant, with the male flowers being more showy and larger and the female flowers giving way to the gourd that follows. The odorous foliage, flower and gourd are covered in hairs. The leaves are
quite large, up to 10 inches long, grayish blue and triangle-shaped. The male flowers are bell-shaped with 5 sepals and are up to 5 inches long. It blooms throughout the summer, from May through September. The gourd is inedible, about 4 inches in
diameter, and smooth and green with white stripes.
You may recall another species of the gourd family featured in this Plant of the Month page a few months back, Wild Cucumber (Marah mmacrocarpus). In addition to the viney appearance, both plants share in common a very large root.
Native people found several uses for this plant, including using the root or pulp for curing skin ailments, the fruit as a soap, and the hull of the gourd for anything from rattles to utensils.
California buckwheat is a ubiquitous member of the plant community known as the California chaparral. This low, evergreen shrub is seen covering our hillsides in its pale blooms for roughly half the year. White to pale pink flowers develop in walnut-size balls
at the ends of branching stems from April to November; once bloomed they remain on the plant in a drier, browner state. Often the flower heads cover the plant such that one barely notices the foliage, which bears a resemblance to chamise.
Evergreen, narrow, leathery leaves, less than an inch long, are gathered in bunches along the stems which are up to 5 feet long. The species name fasciculatum means "bundles".
You would be right to recognize the hairs on the leaves as being one of the characteristics of drought tolerant plants.
While the commonness of Buckwheat in our mountains may be a deterrent to choosing this plant for your garden, the abundance of long-blooming flowers, drought tolerance and its attractiveness to native bees and other insects would make it a nice addition to any landscape.
Turkey mullein is a very low-growing plant that is commonly found in summer through fall on the sides of fire roads and other such places that are open to full sun. Its gray-green, roundish, thick leaves are 1/2 to 2 inches long, spade-shaped with 3 veins visible and
covered in bristly hairs. Stems are also bristly. The pale yellowish flowers largely blend in with the foliage and are in bloom from May to November.
The species name of Eremocarpus stands for single fruit, which is present on pistillate flowers. Setigerus means that it bears bristles. It's common names tell two different stories; one, it is a food source for certain fowl that favor its seeds. Two, native peoples found the stems and leaves to contain a poison that they used to stun fish. Additional early uses were mostly topical in nature to cure chest disorders or other ailments.
One odd thing I've noted about this plant as I've been observing it this fall is the how often I find it growing in geometric shapes. I've seen triangles, squares, arrows, diamonds, and trapezoids to name a few. It is almost like searching for shapes in the clouds.
Habitat: chaparral, sage scrub, grasslands, oak woodlands
Color: Pink Blue Yellow
Wooly Aster is very hardy and ubiquitous, growing in a wide variety of places and elevations. It commonly blooms during the last half of the year. The dryer it is, the more scraggly the plant appears, but it still puts forth its 1-inch
lavendar and yellow flowerheads. With our drought this year, it is one of the few plants to be found on the trails now still demonstrating any inflorescence.
This is a slender-looking plant with woolly, lance-shaped leaves up to 3 inches long. Butterflies are attracted to the plant, which along with its late flowering period, can make it a nice addition to your garden. The terminal flowerhead, really a conglomeration of individual flowers, is daisy-like, with yellow tubular disks flowers and lavendar-to-white ray flowers. The plant itself is a shrub but may not appear so, especially in places like dry meadows where almost the only visible parts are its flowers. The photos on this page were taken in the fields near the Reagan Ranch area of Malibu Creek State Park.
As you can see from above, this plant goes by many names. I had a hard time choosing one as the title for this month's page, every resource I researched seemed to emphasize a different name. Apparently its genus name used to be Corethrogyne, then changed to Lessingia, and is now being relisted back to Corethrogyne. Corethrogyne refers to the brush-like tips of the style. Lessingia is from the name of a German family of botanists and writers. Filaginifolia refers to having woolly leaves like the genus Filago, another member of the sunflower family. Cudweed is a term often used with various plants in the sunflower family.
The two species of Manzanita featured this month can often be found growing near each other. A distinguishing feature common to both Manzanitas is their smooth, crooked, burgundy-colored branches. The white, urn-shaped flowers that appear in winter and
spring are also a giveaway. In summer, the small flowers are followed by reddish-brown, sticky berries which coyotes and other animals feast on (Arctostaphylos translates to "bear-grape"). Blooming time normally ranges from December to April.
Leaves are dull green or dark green, rigid, 1-2 inches long, and oval and pointed.
The artistic, crooked nature of Manzanita's branches is caused by its flowering; after bloom, branches find a new growth path above the flowers, rather than continuing in the same direction. Bark peels off in shavings once a year, signaling the transition between blooming and dormancy. Manzanita means "little apple" in Spanish, and its berries have been used by humans for food and drink. Its leaves had various medicinal uses, alleviating the pain and discomfort of headaches, sores and even poison oak.
Eucrypta is a low-growing ground-covering plant with fern-like leaves and small dainty white flowers. The foliage is quite branching, covered in hairs and has a vinegary odor. Leaves are 1 to 4 inches long. Loosely-clustered bell-shaped flowers appear at
the end of long stems and are about 1/4 inch in diameter.
This unassuming plant is often found lending a splash of spring green to the sides of trails, especially in shady spots that have seen some recent trail tread maintenance. In addition to disturbed ground, it is also more abundant in areas which have recently burned. Eucrypta can be found blooming from February to June, up to 3000 feet elevation.
The name Eucrypta stands for "true secret", referring to the plant's hidden seeds. Chrysanthemifolia is for its resemblance to Chrysanthemums.
The photos on this page were taken on February 2, 2008, along the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park. Just a few were in bloom, but more should follow.
The flowers of Shooting Stars are quite dynamic-looking, resembling a wasp or a bird with purple wings. They are each about an inch in diameter, and have 5 petals which
range in color from white to pink to lavendar to magenta, but start out yellow at the base. Most often the magenta-and-white beak-like stamens point downwards and petals point upwards, but some can also be found orienting the opposite.
The plant blooms from February to April.
Habitat: shady areas in chaparral, woodland, sage scrub
Miner's Lettuce - a small plant - is a common sight in the spring alongside the trail. While not very showy, the rich green color of its leaves and their distinctive shapes make it easy to identify. Two types of leaves form on the plant. Lower, somewhat
triangular-shaped leaves appear on long stems, followed by its more noticeable upper leaves which are cupped and roundish, sometimes shaped a bit like the letter "B". This symmetry belies that each upper leaf is really made of two leaves joined together.
These upper leaves can be up to 3 inches in diameter. A distinguishing feature is how the flower stem appears to pierce through the (conjoined) leaf. Small, 5-petalled white flowers form on the stem's terminus. Flowers bloom from February through May.
As the plant declines with the heat and aridity of summer, the leaves turn reddish.
Claytonia refers to 18th century botanist John Clayton. The flower stem emerging through the upper leaf gave the plant its species name, Perfoliata. It is reported that both Native peoples and Europeans ate the leaves; like many greens, they do well in salads or boiled. The taste is said to resemble spinach.
Mariposa means "butterfly" in Spanish, and the flowers of this plant do bear some resemblance to the winged insect. They are are a few inches in diameter and quite
showy, having 3 wedge-shaped petals and sepals, forming a goblet- or bowl-shape. Calochortus means beautiful grass, referring to the long, grasslike leaves,
which are not very noticeable and wither somewhat when the plant is blooming. These are perennials which sprout from a bulb, a food source for native people who roasted them in ovens.
Fringed Indian Pink is more red than pink but definitely fringy. The flowers have five petals that appear slashed into fringes - Laciniata means "torn" - about an inch or so in diameter. It blooms from April to July.
The leaves are linear-shaped, about 2 inches long. Leaves and the swaying, limp stems are hairy and sticky, making it one of several plants with the common name of "Catchfly". The genus name of Silene also refers to the excretion of a sticky
or foamy substance - either for the intoxicated foster father of the Greek figure Bacchus, or the Greek word "sialon" meaning saliva.
Hummingbirds and other winged creatures pollinate this plant rather than the various legged insects who avoid the sticky stems. There is another plant going by the common name of Indian Pink, Spigelia merilandica, but this is found in the eastern half of the country and is not related to this plant which is only found in the extreme western states.
With the hills turning browner as summer firmly establishes itself, it is nice to find the bright red flowers of Scarlet Larkspur. Reaching heights up to
sixty inches, this is the tallest Larkspur you will encounter. Blooming from May to July, the "spur" is a giveaway for identifying this plant. About one-to-two-inches long, the
spur is actually one of its 5 sepals. The four petals are mostly red, with 2 having yellow-tinges. Multiple flowers with stems about 2
inches long appear on this tall plant. Both basal leaves and alternating leaves appear along the stem, but by the time of blooming,
they have withered and are not noticeable.
Elderberry is a shrub whose showy blossoms in late spring turn over to clusters of bluish-purple, edible berries in late summer. The tiny, creamy-white, 5-petalled flowers occur in flat-topped bunches from April to August. The bunches are up to 8 inches wide and can be seen from quite a distance. The pea-size berries that follow are used in making jams, pies and wine. Many kinds of birds flock to the fruit and bees frequent the flowers. The leaflets have toothed edges and are about 2 inches long, arranged on branches that are opposite and pinnately compound. The base of the plant usually is multi-trunked.
It is said that aside from the berries, the other parts of the plant are considered poisonous, and contact can cause certain discomforts such as nausea or worse. Nonetheless, native people did find a number of other uses. The flowers, when dried, made a tea for soothing fevers and flu, and were also applied to the skin to relieve itching or ease the pain of sprains. In addition to eating the berries, they were also used as dye. Roots, bark and leaves have diuretic properties. Roots and bark were also used to ease constipation. The branches and trunk were used to make bows, and in hollowing them out they formed a flute-like musical instrument. The species name Sambucus refers to a musical instrument called a sambuke.
Habitat: full sun by roadsides, sandy or gravelly places
Datura is a tropical-looking plant with large, showy, fragrant white flowers. The entire plant is about 3-5 feet high and at least as wide. Flowers are tubular shaped and can be 10 inches long. Blooming of individual flowers occurs in the evening, with the flowers closing by the afternoon of the following day. After flowering a thorny, golfball-sized seed-pod forms. The foliage is gray-green, soft and hairy, with rubbery stems and leaves which are ovate and up to 5 inches long. While the flowers have a pleasant smell, the foliage has quite a different odor. Datura thrives in summer, and is commonly found along roadsides, in washes, or in other sandy places. It blooms from around March to November.
Datura has long been known to have poisonous and narcotic properties, and should not be ingested, inhaled, etc. in any fashion. Every now and then the unfortunate results of someone trying to use it appears in the news. Native people did use it for religious purposes, usually these were once-in-a-lifetime events.
Several species under the Datura genus occur locally. Datura wrightii is a native and probably the most common species found here. The name Jimson Weed most specifically belongs to Datura stramonium, a non-native - the "Jimson" derives from "Jamestown", where in incident in the Virginia town lends historical significance. Probably due to its showy appearance, abundance, and intriguing poisonous properties, there is a lot of literature online about this plant, including descriptions of its different species, and its poisonous effects.
>While the early fall time of year in Southern California is generally one of dry brush, few flowers and brown hillsides, there are a few bright spots, one of them being the Holly-leaved Cherry, which sets forth its fruit this time of year.
As can be gleaned from the common name, the leaves on this plant resemble those of holly - wavy, serrated and spiny edges, fairly rigid, a bit shiny, 1 to 2 inches long and oval. White flowers appear on terminal stems in spring from March through May. There is much activity around the blossoms as bees work to get their nectar. In September to October comes the fruit, which first forms as a red berry, enlarging and then darkening as it matures over the ensuing weeks, becoming almost black. The large pit on the inside is surrounded by a thin pulpy layer. Deer and birds enjoy dining on the fruit, which is edible to us as well in small doses. The pulp itself is sweet but the skin of the fruit is sour - a friend mentioned squeezing the pulp out between his tongue and the roof of his mouth and spitting out the skin and stone. The fruit should not be eaten in large doses however to avoid stomach upset, and do not eat the pit. While the pit and its contents do have edible properties, it contains a poisonous compound which takes special treatment to remove. Removal sounds like quite an involved process however one purportedly worth doing from the various accounts I've read. Native people also made use of the bark and roots to treat colds. The USDA has some excellent guidelines on the subject of preparation, other uses, and general characteristics of the plant if you want to know more.
Holly-leaved cherry can be a nice addition to your garden. Its size can vary depending on habitat. On hillsides it normally takes the form of a rounded shrub, while canyon-bottom-dwelling plants can be very large, almost tree-like. It is relatively slow-growing, and after a fire it recovers from resprouting. The seeds themselves do not normally survive a fire. There is debate on the precise conditions needed for the seeds to germinate, however it is also reported that volunteers are plentiful and that seeds normally germinate fine unless they are too old.
The scientific name Prunus means plum and is the standard name for plum-like plants such as peaches, plums and apricots. Ilicifolia refers to the holly-like leaves. The plant and its parts were commonly called Islay historically by native people.
Many transplanted northern people might complain that southern California has no seasons, but the Cottonwood doesn't know that. In fall this deciduous tree's leaves turn bright yellow and fall to mark the change of season.
Where there is a reliable source of water - the lower ends of streambeds, alluvial flats, etc. - you may encounter this tree. Its 3-inch or so diameter rounded triangular-shaped leaves provide excellent shade on warm summer days. The shiny light-green leaves take on a leathery texture as the tree matures. Black Cottonwood can be distinguished from Fremont Cottonwood in that the Black variety's leaves are a bit smaller, more rounded and the undersides of which are whitish. It can also grow to taller heights and have a wider trunk. Fremont Cottonwood is more common in our area than Black Cottonwood.
Trees are either male or female. Both male and female plants produce spiky flowers called catkins that appear before the leaves come out. On female trees, cottony seeds which can number in the millions on mature trees follow from the catkins.
Not a lot is documented about early uses of this tree. However it is said that native people made a poultice from the leaves that they used to ease muscle strain and place on sores of both themselves and their horses.
Another tree often encountered in higher elevation mountains, Quaking Aspen or Populus tremuloides is in the same family. The "quaking" refers to the rustling sound its leaves make when the wind blows them; Cottonwoods make a similarly pleasant sound. To the east of the country, Eastern Cottonwoods or Populus deltoides are also in the same family. These trees in the Populus species have aggressive surface roots, tending to crowd out what is around them and producing numerous suckers.
Habitat: Sandy, rocky areas in chaparral and sage scrub
While not especially stunning in the Winter, you may encounter Yerba Santa putting forth fresh leaves along the trails in December. This aromatic evergreen shrub has thick, leathery and hairy leaves that start out a deep grayish-green and later in the season turn grayer and often appear dusty and shrivelled. It indiscriminately dwells in washes, mesas or slopes, generally wherever the soil is sandy and rocky.
Flowering happens in March through June, with groups of lavendar, tubular flowers appearing on the ends of the plant's stems. Leaves are lance- or oval-shaped, up to 6 inches long, and about an inch or two wide, with have sawtooth or scalloped edges. The base of the plant is woody, and the bark shreds.
Yerba Santa means "Holy Herb" in Spanish, and had several uses by both Spanish settlers and Native Americans in our region. The leaves made a nice tea and in addition were used medicinally in this manner for curing various respiratory ailments and fevers. Eriodichtyon means "wooly net", and crassifolium means "thick-leaved".
Castor Bean is a non-native shrub which hails from Asia. It has a tropical appearance like other members in its family. The plant is well known for two contrasting reasons: the beneficial medicine castor oil derives from it, and so does the very dangerous poison ricin.
The Castor Bean plant is characterized by one or more central stalks, from which grow very large palmately-shaped leaves - up to 2 feet wide on a mature plant. The leaves have serrated edges and are a deep green color that may be tinged with red near the veins. The stems are smooth, sturdy and reddish in color. Castor Bean blooms and puts forth seed essentially year-round. Its flowers are pinkish or greenish and occur in two types on the plant. The seedpods which follow are spiny and round, growing to about the size of a golf ball. Inside are numerous seeds about a quarter to a half inch in diameter with a shiny, mottled appearance, each looking like a small egg or a large tick.
The beneficial medicine castor oil, commonly applied externally to sooth aches and pains, is made from the seeds of the Castor Bean plant. Such oil was also used in earlier times to burn in lamps, and may have had some additional external topical uses. The poisonous compound ricin results as a by-product from producing the castor oil. Ricin also occurs naturally and in high levels in the raw seeds, and is present to a lesser extent in other parts of the plant. Thus, any part of this plant, and especially the seeds, should never be ingested by humans nor animals such as horses, poultry, or cattle. While casual contact with the plant should not result in an adverse reaction, it may be best practice to stay away from it altogether. The CDC has a webpage describing the effects of ingesting ricin.
The scientific name Ricinis commmunis translates to "common tick". This is because of its seed's resemblance to a European tick with the name Ricinis. One other interesting thing to note is that this plant, owing to its non-native, tropical origin, will die if exposed to prolonged periods of cold weather. As you might expect, Wikipedia also has some additional interesting factoids about the plant.
Habitat: Shady, moist hillsides or stream banks in riparian
One of the first plants to put forth spring bloom in the Santa Monica Mountains is Milkmaids. It is a small perennial plant that sprouts from underground tubers. It has two types of leaves; those near the base are roundish, while those occurring along the stem usually have 3 leaflets that can vary in shape, with the central larger leaflet being about 2 inches in diameter. Flowers form in a loose cluster at the top of the singular stem. The flowers are white to pale-rose colored, about an inch in diameter, and have 4 petals and 4 sepals. Milkmaids bloom from January through April. A good place to find this plant is along the Backbone Trail segments accessed from Kanan Road or Latigo Road, i.e. between Encinal Canyon Road and Castro Crest.
The common name of Milkmaids is probably a reference to the flowers' appearance being like a milkmaid's clothing. The alternate common name of Toothwort has to do with the root of the plant - perhaps its appearance as being tooth-like and/or its use as a remedy for toothache. The suffix wort is a standard name for an herb. The genus name Cardamine means bittercress, this naming coming by extension and not necessarily reflective of all the plants in the genus. Milkmaids and other plants in the same family have the alternate family name of Cruciferae because of their 4 petals, resembling a cross.
Habitat: Coastal areas, especially where fog is common
Giant Coreopsis can be found from the Santa Monica Mountains northwestward into Central California, never very far from the coast. It is especially common on the Channel Islands, in particular on Anacapa Island, where the California Brown Pelican relies on the plant for building its nests. On the mainland, there is a sizable grove of Giant Coreopsis along the La Jolla Canyon Trail, just past the waterfall. Leo Carrillo, Point Dume and other locations along the coast also support colonies of it. The plant needs a certain amount of moisture in the cooler months to thrive, and on the mainland where rainfall is normally a bit less than ideal, it compensates for the shortfall by procuring moisture from coastal fog. In contrast, it requires drought in the summer months - too much water and the root will rot, causing the plant to perish.
Giant Coreopsis has a cartoonish, tree-bouquet-like appearance that makes it easy to recognize. The base of the plant is an erect, bare, fleshy stalk up to 5 inches in diameter. From this central stalk grow several branches which support the succulent greenery that appears on the plant in winter. In this way, the plant resembles a tree. Individual leaves can be up to 10 inches long and stringy, forming dense, rubbery, shaggy clusters at the ends of its branches. The large, bright yellow flowers are about 3 inches in diameter and daisy-shaped. They start appearing in bunches atop leafless stems in late February and continue blooming into early May. At the height of blooming, the plant resembles a large floral bouquet. By late spring, the entire plant begins turning brown and drying out. It remains in this ugly, dormant state until winter, when new growth again greens up the plant.
While the flowers are rather large themselves, the gigantea in its name refers to the overall size of the plant - it is not uncommon to encounter specimens over 5 feet tall. The name Coreopsis comes from the Greek word koris which means bug, and refers to the tick-like shape of its fruit.
Habitat: Grasslands, Sage Scrub, open places in Chaparral a
In many places within our mountains in the spring months, it is common to find the purple flowerheads of Blue Dicks nodding in the breeze. They can be found in bloom from February to May in colors ranging from white to pink to blue to purple. What at first seems like a singular flower on top a smooth, slender stem up to two feet long, on closer examination is found to be a ball-shaped cluster of up to 20 individual flowers. The leaves are grasslike and appear only at the base, skinny and up to 18 inches long. The plant propogates either by seed or from underground corms. After wildfire, it is the corms more than the seeds that most assist in the plant's recovery. The corms were a popular food source with native people. Wildlife such as deer and rabbits also are attracted to the corms as a food source.
Blue Dicks' scientific names Dichelostemma translates as "a garland which is twice-parted to the middle," having to do with the appearance of the stamens, and capitatum refers to the terminal head structure of the flower cluster. The family this plant belongs to is perhaps open to interpretation... in researching, I found it listed under Amaryllidaceae (a segregate of the broader Liliaceae family), Liliaceae itself, and Themidaceae (not frequently recognized on its own as a family but sometimes as a segregate of Asparagaceae).
Habitat: Coastal Sage Scrub and dry areas in the Chaparral
Color: Blue Purple
Twining snapdragon is a vine-like plant that often clings to other plants or dry brush for support. It is often hard to spot due to its size, but when you do come across it you will know it. Its distinctive snapdragon-shaped flowers appear from February to May and are usually lavender to purple, but can also have varying shades of blue or white. The rest of the plant is very slender, with a central stem supporting several arching branchlets, each near a slender leaf up to a few inches in length. A flower appears 2 to 4 inches down each of these hairlike stems and is about 1/2 inch in diameter. The stems are frequently a reddish green color. The base of the plant is a bit more filled out but otherwise similar in appearance.
Twining snapdragon is especially common in disturbed areas or where fire has recently burned. Its scientific name Antirrhinum translates as "like nose", referring to the flowers' snoutlike appearance. Kelloggii is named for Dr. Albert Kellogg, a California botanist in the 1800s and one of the founders of the California Academy of Sciences. The photos on this page were taken on Will Rogers Trail on an April trail maintenance outing. I might not have noticed this plant had I not been examining the trail so closely!
Habitat: Sun or shade in grasslands, woodlands, and chaparr
Elegant Clarkia tolerates several different growing conditions and it is not uncommon to encounter many such plants growing in a large patch along an open slope. Its colorful, spidery-looking flowers show a variety of colors, ranging from white to purple to pink to crimson. They appear in leaf axils and are fairly regularly spaced along an erect stem. Blooming occurs from April through June. The flowers have 4 pinkish-purple (or occasionally white) spade-shaped petals that radiate outwards from the flower head and are each an inch or so long, 8 stamens of which 4 are crimson-orange and 4 are cream colored, and 4 sepals. The seed pod and sepals are hairy but the rest of the plant is smooth. The ovate leaves are around 3 inches long and about an inch wide.
The species name unguiculata means "little red claw or nail " and refers to the narrowing shape of the petals where they connect to the flower head. Its genus name Clarkia is named after Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Habitat: Rocky cliffsides in chaparral and coastal sage scr
Chalk live-forever's foliage is probably the most recognizable part of the plant - the basal rosette of fleshy, gray-green, pointed-spatulate leaves. The rosette can measure a foot and a half in diameter and about the same in height. Older leaves at the plant's base dry out, turn reddish, and have a papery feel. From May to July, one to several chalky flower stalks form and extend out from the main plant by up to 3 feet. Each stalk becomes loaded with 10-30 small, hanging, unopened-looking red flowers. A chalky, powdery wax covers most of the plant's surfaces.
Chalk live-forever needs good drainage and thus is most commonly found on the sides of sandy, rocky cliffs. It grows well near the coast (enjoying coastal moisture as succulents do) and also tolerates hotter inland areas provided it has a bit of afternoon shade. It is an attractive plant that can make a nice addition to rock gardens or be used in xeriscaping.
The species name pulverulenta means "dust covered", and the genus Dudleya is named after William Russel Dudley, a professor of botany at Stanford in the late 1800's to early 1900's.
Habitat: low elevation chaparral and coastal sage scrub
There are a few species of prickly pear in the Santa Monica Mountains, perhaps most common are the coast prickly pear (Opuntia littoralis) and the chaparral or tall prickly pear (Opuntia oricola). Both have fleshy, spiny cactus pads (called joints; they are actually the stems of the plant) which make them easy to distinguish from other plants. The joints are flat and wide, shaped like small dinner plates and covered with spines. The points where the spines emerge from are called areoles. Waxy yellow flowers appear from April to June, forming along the edges of the fleshy pads. They are 2-3 inches in diameter and have many petals. Fleshy, pear-shaped red-to-magenta fruits follow. Called tunas, the pears are about 3 inches tall and nearly as wide, and covered in smaller spines. The fruit has a large scar on top where the flower had been. There are some small leaves that form before new growth appears, but the leaves fall off within a couple months and are not very noticeable.
Chaparral prickly pear or Opuntia oricola has joints that are almost circular in shape, while the coast prickly-pear or Opuntia littoralis has more elongated joints, sometimes twice as long as wide. The coastal variety is more likely to form dense thickets, while the tall prickly pear can be tree-like. Another way to tell them apart is by their spines, with the chaparral variety having yellow or brown colored flattened spines while the coastal one's spines are white and round. The species names littoralis means "by the seashore" and oricola means "mountain-loving".
Habitat: dry and/or rocky areas on slopes and in sage scru
California Fuchsia is one of few plants found blooming in late summer and fall. Its bright red flowers are up to 2 inches long and an inch wide. They have a tubular or funnel shape, with a slight bulge at the base. The stamens and style extend considerably beyond the flaring ends of the 4 petals and 4 sepals. The flowers appear at the ends of short stems and cluster along the many branches of the plant. Seedpods appear with the flowers and contain many seeds. Foliage consists of alternating or opposite gray-green leaves, slightly hairy, each lance-shaped or ovate about 1 inch long and half as wide. The base of the plant is often woody and the stems are hairy. The plant propagates either through seedlings or underground rhizomes.
California Fuschia blooms from July through November, long after most other native plants have finished. This makes it an important food source for creatures like hummingbirds, for which the tubular shape of the flowers seem designed, and also certain bees that drill holes through the petals to reach the nectar.
Epilobium canum is sometimes divided into subspecies. Epilobium canum ssp. latifolium has broader leaves and is the variety more often associated with the common name California Fuchsia, while Epilobium canum ssp. canum often refers to Hoary Fuchsia, which has smaller leaves but otherwise looks very similar to the latifolium subspecies. Further confusing matters is that these plants were formerly classified in the genus Zauschneria. The genus name Epilobium translates to "upon a capsule", meaning the flower and seedpod appear together. The species name canum means ash-colored and hoary, and latifolium means wide-leaved. Zauschneria is after an 18th century German botanist named Johann Baptista Josef Zauschner.
Their brilliant color, off-season blooms, drought-tolerance and attractiveness to hummingbirds make these plants agreeable choices for gardeners. Cultivated varieties come in other colors besides red - pink and white are common.
Habitat: Sage Scrub, Oak Woodland, Chaparral and Grassland
Coyote Brush appears in a variety of habitats within our Santa Monica Mountains. While not particularly stunning in appearance, it is appreciated for being one of the few plants that remains green throughout the dry summer and fall months, and it blooms in the fall as well.
Coyote Brush produces clusters of cream colored flowers from August through December. Male and female flowers appear on different plants, with male flowers being smaller and yellower, while female flowers persist longer and have a more fluffy appearance towards the end of bloomtime. The ellipse- or egg-shaped green leaves are small, no more than an inch or so long. They have a rough, resinous texture with scalloped edges and coarse teeth. Stems and branches are copious and woody.
Coyote Brush prefers full sun, and often recedes in more established plant communities. A vigorous grower, it provides an attractive shelter for insects, birds and other wildlife. As such it can play an important role in restoration of plant habitats, such as when an area has been previously burned by fire, or when the desire is to reestablish a Sage Scrub community upon Grasslands. On the flip side, in some cases it is viewed as invasive because it may out-compete other scrub plants.
The genus name Baccharis is in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine, so named for the plant's fragrant root. The species name pilularis means having globules, probably referring to the flower buds.
Bladderpod is one of the few plants in our mountains that blooms nearly year-round. Its bright yellow showy flowers are about a half-inch to an inch in diameter, with 4 petals and 6 stamens.
The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, and the plant also provides some shelter for various birds and insects. The distinctive seedpod for which the plant is named
is up to 2 inches long with a swollen, drooping appearance and pointed tip.
The pod is about the same blue-green color as the leaves at first but as it ages it becomes more tanned and sometimes a
bit transparent. Bladderpod's narrow leaves are oblong with pointed tips, about half an inch to an inch long and form in leaflets of 3. The stems are woody. The plant has a pungent odor that most
describe as unpleasant.
Habitat: open or grassy areas in dry, disturbed and/or sand
Red-Stem Filaree is one of the first flowers to appear after winter rains, usually setting forth its blooms beginning in January and lasting through May. Leaves are fern-like and form a rosette near the ground. The flowers are only about 1/4 inch in diameter, and of a light pink to lavender color with 5 petals and 5 sepals. The stems are reddish-colored and most of the plant is hairy. The common names of this plant largely describe the seed pod's beak-like appearance. The name "Filaree" is loosely derived from the Spanish word alfiler which means pin. When ripened or separated from the plant, the seed pod curls tightly and bursts, scattering its seeds. The curling of the seed pods coupled with the circular leafy rosette as a background may make one think of the hands on a clock, hence the origin of that common name.
While not native to California nor to the US in general, this plant has been established here from very early on - probably in the late 1700s or early 1800s - and is believed to be one of our earliest non-natives. It is very common and generally regarded as an invasive weed. Most parts of the plant are edible, and it is said to taste like parsley. Livestock forages on it, further spreading its seeds.
The genus name Erodium means heron's bill, once again in reference to the seed pod. The species name cicutarium is borrowed from an old latin name for Poison Hemlock, given because the leaves are similarly shaped. Some related species of the same genera that you may encounter include White-Stemmed Filaree (Erodium moschatum) with its broader leaves, Long-Beaked Filaree (Erodium botrys) whose pink flowers are broader, and White-Flowered Filaree (Erodium macrophyllum) which has both white flowers and broader leaves.
Wild radish is a non-native plant that is often considered invasive. It is an early-spring bloomer, dotting the fields with color beginning in January and extending up to July. Its light-colored flowers can be white, pink, purple, blue or yellow, and it is not uncommon to see multiple colors on one plant. The flowers are about an inch in diameter, have 4 veined petals, and appear on short stems offshooting from the main stem. The seed pods grow to about an inch long. Its leaves are rather large, fleshy, and toothed, with short hairs covering both the foliage and stems of the plant. Like the cultivated garden radish, it has a tap root that becomes woody as flowers appear on the plant.
A close relative is Raphanus raphanistrum, which is also called wild radish. Raphanus raphanistrum is thought to be the ancestor of Raphanus sativus and as such is perhaps more deserving of the common name of 'wild radish', whereas Raphanus sativus might be described as the common garden radish gone-wild. Raphanus means "fast appearing" refering to the rapid seed germination, and sativus means "sowed", indicating its cultivated nature.
Chocolate Lily is one of the more uncommon lilies in our mountains, probably due to its affinity for heavy clay soil. Its nodding brown flowers bloom from February to June. The flowers are about 2-3 inches in diameter, with 3 petals and 3 sepals of the same appearance together forming a bell shape. Closer examination reveals green and purple lines on the undersides of the petals and sepals along with 6 stamens and 1 pistil inside of the bell flower. The fruit that remains after flowering is in the shape of a capsule. The lance-shaped leaves are up to 5 inches long and form a whorl at the base, with some additional leaves making an appearance along the stem. The plant is glabrous, i.e. lacking hairs. Each year the plant sprouts anew from a bulb. If you want to add this plant to your garden be prepared for a 4-5 year wait for the plant to reach maturity and produce flowers.
The genus name Fritillaria means "dicebox" refering to the shape of the capsule and/or the appearance of part of the flower. Biflora is a bit of a misnomer as there are frequently more than 2 flowers on a stem (commonly there are 1-4 flowers per stem but sometimes up to 20 flowers). There are a number of other species within the Fritillaria genus which resemble our biflora and share the same common name(s). These are largely found north of here along the Pacific coast, all the way up to Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands. Fritillaria biflora is the only Fritillariaspecies known of in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Habitat: Lightly-shaded areas - Chaparral, Coastal Scrub
Crimson Pitcher Sage is a rather striking plant which blooms from March to June. Whorled clusters of bright, hot-pink to ruby-red flowers form at widely spaced intervals along a stout stem. Each individual flower in a cluster is two-lipped and about an inch or more in diameter, with stamens extending further. The bracts surrounding the red flowers are maroon or purple in color, such that when the flowers are spent, the plant is still colorful and pleasing to look at. As one of its common names implies, a large amount of nectar is contained within the flowers, making them very attractive to hummingbirds. Leaves appear mostly at the plant's base, each from 3 to 8 inches long. They are arrowhead-shaped with toothed edges, deeply textured and dark green on top, pale and hairy underneath. Other parts of the plant share this bristly appearance. Like other sages, the plant has a pleasant, faintly resinous odor. The primary method of propagation is by underground rhizomes. Hummingbird Sage is popular with gardeners, for reasons that should be evident from this paragraph if not from the photos.
The genus name Salvia has Latin origins, probably meaning wellness or healing. Spathacea comes from the word "spathe", a term for the surrounding flower bracts found on this plant. Some will refer to Salvia spathacea simply as "Pitcher Sage", which can be confusing because there is another plant in the same Mint family that shares this particular common name (Lepechinia fragrans). Appearances differ however, as this other plant is a shrub with white blossoms and a very strong vinegary odor.
Blue-Eyed Grass is the only member of the Iris family native to the Santa Monica Mountains. Indicative of its common names, this plant has a grass-like appearance and (usually) blue flowers which bloom from February to June. The flowers form at the ends of branching stalks which are about the same height as the leaves. Each flower is up to an inch in diameter, with 3 petals and 3 sepals ranging from deep blue to light purple to white in color. The "eye" or center of the flower is yellow and is formed by the flower's stamens. Thin and grass-like, the leaves are green to blue-green in color and mostly found at the base of the plant. Underground rhizomes provide one means of propagation, with small black seeds being another. Fairly common, you are likely to find this plant growing in clumps in meadows where there is ample sunshine. It is said that the flowers close up on cloudy days, making the plant nearly impossible to find when it is growing alongside other grasses.
The genus name Sisyrinchium comes from an old Greek term that loosely means Iris-like plant. Bellum means handsome. Spanish settlers in California made a tea from the roots of the plant, which they used as sustenance and for treating fevers. Native Americans found the roots and leaves useful in treating stomach problems.
Habitat: Canyons and Chaparral, open places in Woodlands
In the Santa Monica Mountains there are 2 species of plants within the large Clematis genus that share the common name Virgin's Bower. These two species may also hybridize together. Clematis lasiantha, usually called Pipestem Clematis and sometimes Chaparral Virgin's Bower, blooms earlier in the spring (February to June), has fewer but larger and more showy flowers, leaves made up of 3-5 leaflets, shorter vines (10-15 feet), and can tolerate drier conditions than its counterpart. It is found only within California, whereas Clematis ligusticifolia can be found across most of the western US. Sometimes called Western Virgin's Bower, Old-man's Beard, Pepper Vine or Yerba de Chiva, Clematis ligusticifolia blooms from April to August. Its flowers are smaller - about a half inch diameter compared with the Pipestem's inch or so, and it normally has a few more leaflets. Its growth habit tends toward longer vines and as such it is more of a climber, reaching up to 60 feet in length as it scrambles over shrubs and trees.
Features common to both species are their white- to cream-colored flowers which have no petals, but instead have 4-5 sepals which resemble petals. The central part of each flower has dozens of pistils or stamens. As the season progresses, the flowers' pistils produce dry fruits or achenes that form tails and develop into hairy, tangled balls. These structures are often more noticable than the blossoms, especially in Clematis lasiantha. The deciduous leaves have surfaces which are hairless or lightly silky. The plants climb with the help of twining petioles.
The bright, showy yellow blooms of Bush Sunflower can be found dotting hillsides from February to June. This fairly common plant takes the shape of a much-branched shrub, with hairy grayish-green stems supporting alternating lance-shaped leaves 1 to 3 inches long. The solitary flowers are found at the ends of long stalks. The central disk of the flower is a brownish color (sometimes with yellow) and is up to an inch in diameter. Striking yellow ray florets extend from the brownish center, their lengths commonly a bit longer than the diameter of the disk.
Like other sunflowers, bees, butterflies and insects are attracted to the plant's blossoms. The Bush Sunflower does not tolerate frost, and thus is somewhat limited in its geographical range to the more moderate climates within California such as near the coast or in the lower-elevation foothills.
The genus name Encelia comes from Christoph Entzelt, a German clergyman and naturalist who lived in the 1500s and wrote about the medicinal uses of plants and animals.
California Thistle is native to the Santa Monica Mountains and is not as invasive as some other thistles. It can grow rather tall and has showy pink, purple or white flowers.
Most leaves of California Thistle are found at the base of the plant. Spiny but otherwise elliptical, deeply creased or cleft, and grayer underneath, they can be up to 14 inches long. Stems are long and branching, and atop each branch there grows a single flower. The larger, more colorful upper part of the flower, a tuft of pink, purple or white hairy structures about 1 inch high, is essentially a cluster of disk flowers. There are no ray flowers. The base of the flower head - the greenish, bristly, spherical structure just below the pink-purple disk flowers and above the stem - is called an involucre. Specialized leaf-like structures called bracts - also called phyllaries in plants like this - are what make up the involucre and give it its bristly appearance. Frequently some thin white fibers are also present here, which look like cobwebs.
The genus name Cirsium is a Greek word for thistle, and the species name occidentale means "from the west". In addition to California Thistle, you may also find Cirsium occidentale var. occidentale, commonly called Red Thistle or Cobwebby Thistle, in the Santa Monica Mountains. (While California Thistle is occasionally called Cobwebby Thistle as well, this common name is more likely to refer to the occidentale variety.) Red Thistle often has a sturdier appearance (bigger stems), redder disk flowers and more cobwebby involucres; also the size of the disk flowers is smaller in relation to the involucre in Red Thistle, and it is more likely to grow nearer to the coast than California Thistle.
California Hedge Nettle is a low-growing herb with pink flowers and crumpled-looking leaves. It is fairly common and prefers moist places with partial shade.
The flowers of Hedge Nettle are nearly an inch long, pink to lavendar in color, and appear in separate whorls along an upright stem. Each of the 6 flowers in a whorl has an upper lip and lower lip, with the latter being much longer and speckled with white spots. While spring blooming is more common, flowers can appear from March to September. Leaves are relatively large, up to 7 inches long, and are aromatic with a puckered texture, features it shares with most other mints. The shape of the leaf is oval, a bit heart-shaped at the base, and with scalloped edges. Stems are square and may trail on the ground before spiking upwards. The plant is quite hairy throughout and the leaves have a lemony odor when crushed.
The genus name Stachys is from a Greek word that translates as "ear of grain"; this is meant to refer to the spike shape of the flowering stem. The species name bullata refers to the crumpled appearance of the leaves. The common name is a bit of a misnomer, as neither this plant nor the non-native weed Dead Nettle aka Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) are true nettles; the stinging nettles are actually in the genus Urtica.
Common Vervain is a sprawling, much-branched plant with purple-to-blue flower spikes punctuating the ends of upright-curving stems. While native to our mountains, its sprawling nature and ubiquity often conveys a weed-like impression. It blooms from April to September, seemingly less averse to the dry and hot summers than most other flowering plants in the area.
Popular with butterflies and other insects, the cylindrical purple flower spikes are 3 to 10 inches long and less than a half-inch in diameter. These inflorescences are aggregations of tiny individual 5-petaled, 2-lipped flowers, often clustered a short way down from the tops of the spikes. The fruit is described as 4 nutlets. Leaves are opposite or whorled along stems, up to 4 inches long and oblong-ovate with coarsely sawtoothed and/or lobed edges. Slender, wiry stems support the nodding flowers. The plant is hairy througout.
The genus name Verbena is an ancient Latin name which is said to mean holy plant (from herba bona or "the good herb"). The species name lasiostachys means "having woolly flower spikes".
Bush Mallow is a common, fast-growing shrub with small pink flowers growing on slender wand-like stems. It can be found in bloom as late as October, though it is generally more noticeable in the late spring (beginning in April) and summer months. Often these plants will grow in colonies and while the plants are quick to establish, they do not always live very long, sometimes only a year or two.
The flowers of Bush Mallow appear in clusters along the stems. Pink to lavender in color and cupped in shape, each flower is about an inch or so in diameter, with 5 petals and 5 sepals. Leaves are distributed sparsely along the stems and are oval or round with 3-5 lobes. Both stems and foliage are gray-green in color and covered with hairs. Animals and insects (rabbits, deer, caterpillars etc.) derive sustenance from the various parts of the plant. Trail workers who've encountered this plant may remember it as one that has many branches and is easy to cut, probably owing to its fast-growing nature.
The genus name Malacothamnus is Greek for "soft shrub". The species name fasciculatus means "clustered" or "bundled" in Latin, referring to the leaves and/or flowers. Other members of the Mallow family include hibiscus, okra, hollyhock, cotton, and a plant named Althaea officinalis, whose roots used to be used to make marshmallows, although now this sweet concoction is made with other ingredients.
Deerweed is a fairly common shrub that can be found blooming nearly year-round. Its small yellow-to-red pea-shaped flowers appear in clusters spread out along its many branches. Flowers and leaves are both only about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long. The oblong leaves appear in leaflets of 3, also spread throughout along the stems. In the spring these plants have freshly-green colored leaves, yellow flowers and softer stems. The heat and dryness of summer cause the flowers to redden and the leaves to fall off; however the plant still has hardy growth because photosynthesis carries on in force in the stems.
The base of the plant is somewhat woody, and trail maintenance workers needing to clear brush may find that pulling this plant out by the root works more effectively
than trying to chop through the tangled mess of wiry branches.
Wishbone Bush is a plant with a low-growing, many-branched, matted appearance. Its magenta flowers can be found blooming from December to June. It gets its common name from the appearance of its stems, which fork and resemble poultry wishbones. This is especially evident later in the warm season whem leaves have fallen off and the plant is going dormant.
The flowers are under an inch in diameter and pink-to-purple in color, with yellow-orange stamens. What appears to be 10 petals on each flower is really 5 2-parted sepals. A defining characteristic of the Four O'Clock family is this lack of petals. Leaves are opposite along stems and are oval or heart-shaped, about an inch in diameter. The stems are fairly woody towards the bottom but a bit more fragile on top.
These plants are pollinated primarily at night, and the flowers open up in mid-afternoon. These two characteristics earn it its family name. The genus name Mirabilis means "miraculous". The species name laevis is a term that means smoothness, i.e. free from hairs.
Indian Warrior is a low-growing plant with dense, deep-red or fuschia flower stalks. It normally appears in colonies and blooms from January through May.
The leaves are up to six inches long, mostly basal and fern shaped. When rainfall has been abundant, the plant is especially prolific. It is sometimes parasitic, usually attracted to the roots of manzanita if available.
The genus name Pedicularis means "louse" - it was once thought that the plant spread lice to cattle. The species name densiflora means (not surprisingly) "densely flowered". It is sometimes grouped into the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae) instead of the Figwort family. Medicinal uses of the plant have included relaxing tired muscles and addressing nerve pain. It also has a psychoactive use - the buds and flowers are sometimes smoked and used as a mild sedative.
The deep purple color of Parry's Phacelia makes this plant easy to spot in springtime. It blooms from March to May and is often found in bare or disturbed ground, usually on slopes. If an area has burned recently, Parry's Phacelia is frequently found there. It is common in the western Santa Monica Mountains but somewhat rare to the east.
The velvety-looking flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter, with 5 petals in a pinwheel arrangement. 5 white stamens protrude from the flower's light-to-white center. Leaves are up to 2 inches long, gray-green in color, deeply veined, somewhat oval with jagged edges. The stems and branches are sticky and covered with hairs. Usually there is a solitary stem and the plant stands alone; other times there are small groupings of several plants growing together.
You may sometimes also find this plant classified in the Boraginaceae (Borage) family. The genus name Phacelia means "clustered", referring to the arrangement of flowers. The botanist Dr. Charles Christopher Parry, who discovered many native plants throughout the southwestern US, is represented in the species name of this plant.
Habitat: Grassland, Chaparral, Coastal Sage Scrub, often on dry slopes
The Mustard Evening Primrose is a lanky plant with sunny yellow flowers. Its shape resembles the common mustard weed.
The bright yellow flowers have 4 petals arranged in a whorl and about 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. Solitary and not numerous, the flowers form on short stems in leaf axils. Sometimes there are red spots at the petals' base. Before flowering there is a grouping of larger leaves at the base of the plant, each about 6 inches long and lance-shaped. Leaves along the stem are shorter, narrower, fewer, and with jagged edges.
The genus name Camissonia is in honor of the European botanist Ludolf Karl Adelbert von Chamisso. Another genus in the same family, Oenothera, contains the similar-looking plants California Evening Primrose (Oenothera californica) and Hookers Evening Primrose (Oenothera elata). Flowers in the Camissonia genus open during the day, while Oenothera open at night, thus lending their name to the family. Additionally, Oenothera flowers have a forked stigma while Camissonia stigmas are ball-shaped.
Habitat: shady areas, common throughout most plant communities
Fiesta flower is an annual herb with succulent foliage and pretty lavendar flowers. Its common name stems from a characteristic of the plant's branches: covered with backward-pointing bristles, they act like velcro, sticking to most any fabric. In the time of Spanish ranchos, Señoritas would adorn their party dresses with sprigs of the flowers (fiesta means party in Spanish).
The purple flowers are about an inch in diameter, with 5 petals and 5 sepals. They bloom from March to May. Leaves are hairy, cleft and lance-ovate, resembling dandelions or arugula. The foliage has a fresh green color and the plant has a tangled or straggly appearance overall.
The genus name Pholistoma means "scaly-mouthed" and is given because of scales in the flowers' throats. The species name auritum means "eared" and describes how the base of each leaf clasps the stems. Like other members in the Waterleaf family, these plants are common after fire.
Humboldt Lilies are one of the most striking flowers seen in the Santa Monica Mountains. Yellow to bright orange with maroon spots and about 3 inches in diameter, up to 50 flowers may be found on any one plant. Blooming is from May to July. Given the plant's height, you often find yourself looking up to these flowers.
The flowers have 3 petals and 3 sepals, which look alike, curving upward and back. From the center of the flower hang 6 long stamens with orange-colored anthers. The bright green leaves are 3-5 inches long, wavy, and occur in whorls of 10-20 leaves around the stem. The plant sprouts forth from a bulb and its preferred habitat is near intermittent streams, although it does like some dappled sunshine.
The species name humboldtii is for German geographer and explorer Baron Alexander von Humboldt. You may hear people calling this plant the Tiger Lily, but this is a misnomer, for that is a different plant.
Habitat: Grasslands, edges or open spaces of Chaparral and Oak Woodland
These two species of plant have similar-looking flowers but are most easily told apart by their different leaves. The common name Blue Larkspur usually refers to Delphinium parryi which has narrow palm-like leaves, while Spreading Larkspur is Delphinium patens and has broader 3-parted leaves. The flower stalks of Delphinium parryi are shorter (less than 1 1/2 inches) relative to Delphinium patens. Blooming occurs in June and July for the slender-leaved Delphinium parryi but earlier - March to May, or sometimes through summer into fall - for Delphinium patens.
The flowers of both species are a striking blue-purple and have the characteristic shape suggested by their common name. The spur of the flower is actually one of its 5 sepals. There are 4 petals, 2 white and the other 2 white or blue-purple. Leaves appear at the base of the plant.
These plants have narcotic properties (known for cattle poisoning) and were also used as a tincture to treat lice, scabies etc.
The species name Delphinium is Greek for dolphin, referring to the larkspur shape. The species name parryi is for Dr. Charles Christopher Parry, a 19th century botanist, and patens means spreading.
Indian Paintbrush is a plant known to grow throughout most of the US. Normal blooming time is February to May, but the red inflorescence can be observed throughout the year.
What is normally taken for the 'flowers' on this plant - the (usually) scarlet brushy-looking tips - are really leaf bracts; the true flowers inconspicuously mingle with the leaves in the spring. As a photo below illustrates, sometimes nature dips the brush in yellow paint instead of the most common red.
The stem is woody and purplish in color, and the green leaves below the inflorescence are thin and lancelike. Flowers, leaves and stems are hairy. This plant is semi-parasitic, most commonly gaining water and food from other plants' roots. As such, it is difficult to transplant or grow from seed.
The genus name Castilleja is in honor of the Spanish botany professor Domingo Castillejo, and affinis means 'related to'. Some related and similar-looking plants also found in our mountains are Castilleja martinii, which looks nearly the same; Castilleja stenantha (or Castilleja minor ssp. spiralis, Annual Paintbrush or California Threadtorch), which has thinner inflorescences; and Castilleja foliosa or Woolly Paintbrush, with fuller inflorescences and leaves.
Mule Fat is a willow-like shrub typically found in and around streambeds. It blooms throughout the year when supplied with an ample water source.
The shrub has numerous upright and nodding branches, like a small willow, though it is not in the willow family. Leaves are up to 6 inches long and lancelike. The "fat" in the common name comes from the sticky feel to the leaves and stems. Flower heads form clusters off of side branches. The disc flowers are an off-white to flesh color with reddish papery bracts; there are no ray flowers. Stamens and pistils grow on separate plants, with the female flowers having a hairier appearance (the photos on this page are male flowers).
The genus name Baccharis is in honor of the Greek god of wine, Bacchus. The species name salicifolia is derived from "salix", a word for willow.
Habitat: in rain shadow (dryer leeward side) of coastal slopes
While Red Shank is not caught in bloom this time of year, to me it was a notable plant of the early winter months because of its bright green foliage and ability to
hold water in its leaves and bark. While I have not lived in California for sometime now (2+ years and counting), memories of California winters and walking along the trail by Sandstone Peak always make me think of Red Shank's dewy aromatic moistness after a rain.
Red Shanks has a tree-like appearance and grows up to 18 feet tall. Bloomtime normally occurs from July to August with loose bundles of small white flowers. The bark on this plant is notably shredding and reddish-brown, helping to serve up its common name. Leaves are small and needle-like. As mentioned, the plant seems to capture rain water and dew like a sponge; stand underneath a branch on a foggy morning after a rain and shake it for an instant shower.
The genus name Adenostoma translates to "gland mouth" and refers to there being 5 glands at the mouth of the sepals. The species name sparsifolium, as might be expected, refers to the sparseness of the foliage. This plant is not very common but as mentioned, up by Sandstone Peak you can find many stands of it growing along the trail. Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) is a related plant in the same genus and family, similar-looking though fuller, but is much more ubiquitous.
Laurel Sumac is very ubiquitous in the Santa Monica Mountains, one of the predominant evergreen shrubs populating the hillsides throughout the
year. It grows quickly and strong, forming a rounded shape, but may perish from a cold frost. However, after either frost or a fire, it is
quick to resprout leaves and stems from its large underground burl (the photo at lower right is within a year after a fire). Look for reddish
stems and leaves longer than they are wide. The leaves when crushed have a distincive aroma.
Habitat: dry slopes and grasslands at low elevations near the coast or in Sage Scrub
There are a handful of cactus plants found in the area and they can be divided into the prickly pears with their dish-shaped pads and the cylindrical-stemmed chollas. Both types contain special structures in the leaf axils called areoles which are where spines, flowers and branches form from. The branching and fleshy stem segments have two kinds of spines, the more obvious of which are not barbed but there is a secondary much smaller set of spines called glochids which are barbed.
Coast Cholla normally blooms from April through June, with rounded rose to magenta blossoms about an inch in diameter. There are small leaves which appear on new growth but last only a few months. The end joints on the plant's stems dislodge easily and their spines attach to clothing or fur on passersby; a nuisance to us but the primary means of reproduction for the plant. This plant is abundant in the exo-Santa Monica Mountains Thousand Oaks area in and around Wildwood Park while not very common within the Santa Monica Mountains proper.
This plant was formerly classified in the genus Opuntia. The genus name Cylindropuntia means cylindrical. The species name prolifera refers to the plant's proliferation by means of off-shoots. The Valley Cholla, Cylindropuntia californica or Opuntia parryi, is a related cylindrical-stemmed cactus.
Habitat: open grassy areas in woodlands, chaparral, sage scrub
Johnny-jump-ups offer a bright splash of yellow at your feet in winter and early spring. You will encounter this plant scattered throughout several different plant communities.
The solitary sunny yellow flowers appear on top of long, slender stems. They are marked with dark brown centers and are about an inch to inch and a half in diameter with 5 petals, 5 sepals and 5 stamens. Blooming occurs from February to April. The bright green heart-shaped, toothed leaves are mostly found near the base of the plants and range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches.
The genus name Viola is one of the common classical flower names (like Rosa). The species name pedunculata means "with a distinct stalk" and refers to the prominent flower stems. Johnny-jump-ups are the only member of the Violet family that grows natively in the region.
Prickly Popcorn Flower is an erect branching annual up to 3 feet tall. A field full of this plant in bloom can resemble a dusting of snow.
Small white popcorn-looking flowers form clusters at the ends of main branches. They have 5 petals and yellow centers. Blooming occurs from March through June. Leaves are linear and alternate, upt to 2 inches long. Stems are stout and contain many branches. The plant's foliage is covered with short bristles.
The genus name Cryptantha means "hidden flower", a carryover from another species in the genus whose flowers self-fertilized. The species name muricata means "small spines". There are several other species of Cryptanthas or Popcorn Flowers in the Santa Monica Mountains.
A patch of Owl's Clover provides a bright splash of color as well as nectar for insects. It blooms from March to May. The flowers and bracts occur in dense spikes at the tops of the base-branched stems and are usually pinkish-purple, although white ones may be spotted infrequently. Leaves along the branching stem are pinnately cleft and the plant is covered with fine hairs. The plant is partially parasitic.
The genus name Castilleja is for 18th century professor and botanist Professor Domingo Castillejo. The species name exserta means "protruding". Sometimes Owl's Clover is placed in the Broomrape or Orobanchaceae family. The Figwort family or Scrophulariaceae includes other common colorful paintbrush-like flowers like Indian Paintbrush and Indian Warrior, as well as the colorful and interesting-looking Monkey Flowers and Snapdragons.
Habitat: dry hillsides in Oak Woodland and Chaparral
Foothill penstemon is a many-branched shrub with showy distinctive lavendar flowers. It blooms from April through June.
From a woody base grow many stems. The 1 to 3 inch leaves are linear or lance-shaped and appear opposite along the stems of this plant, as do the flowers. You wouldn't expect it, but the flowers start as yellow buds, typically changing to a lilac color on opening. (This quote comes to mind: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." ~ Richard Buckminster Fuller.) Each flower is up to 1 1/2 inches long and bugle or funnel shaped opening to two-lips, 2-lobed on top and 3-cleft on the bottom. The curled anthers are an interesting feature. Birds and butterflies enjoy the plant, as do gardeners who enjoy its beauty, tolerance to heavy soil, and cut flowers which last relatively well.
The genus name Penstemon is Greek for "five stamens" - really the plant has 4 stamens and one sterile filament in the center called a staminode.. The species name heterophyllus means "different leaves".
Habitat: shady places in Oak Woodland, Sage Scrub and Chaparral
Canyon sunflower makes bright yellow spots in shady areas throughout many plant communities in the Santa Monica Mountains. The flowers bloom from February up to September, depending on heat and moisture conditions.
The plant is widely branched with reddish-brown stems emanating from a slightly woody base. The plentiful leaves are heart-shaped, broad and up to 6 inches long. Flowers occur at the ends of stems. One flower has 13-21 ray flowers or petals, all a bright cheerful yellow color, radiating to a 2 inch or so diameter. The center or disk flowers are also yellow, usually a slightly darker shade. While the entire plant is visually beautiful with its contrasting dark stems, large light green leaves and bright yellow flowers, it has a slight unpleasant odor.
The genus name Venegazia is named after Padre Miguel Venegas, a Mexican scholar and historian. The species name carpesioides means "like Carpesium", another flower in the Sunflower family.
Chamise is one of the key members of the Chaparral plant community and also important for its fire-survival strategies. It is most abundant on south-facing slopes where many other plants cannot survive, where it thrives due to the lack of competition.
Chamise has a strong basal burl and peeling, reddish brown bark. The short needle-like leaf clusters on this plant conserve moisture and remain green throughout the summer. Clusters of white flowers appear along the ends of branches, each flower about 1/4 inch or less in diameter. The flowers bloom from April to June before giving way to brown seed vessels.
This plant is both hardy to fire, owing to its strong basal burl, and succeptible to catching and spreading fire because of its dry branches and resinous wood. This second characteristic earns it its common names Greasewood and Chamise, the latter coming from Chama which means "flame" in Portuguese. In addition to its base, the plant can also recover by seed after a fire.
The genus name Adenostoma refers to the plant's having glands at the mouths of the flower sepals. The species name fasciculatum means "needle-like", referring to the leaves.
Wild Rose is an evergreen branching thorny bush with cheery pink flowers that most commonly bloom in summer months May through August, but can be found blooming other times if conditions are favorable.
The pink flowers have 5 petals, 5 sepals and are up to 2 inches in diameter with yellowish white centers. They have a mild perfumey fragrance. Rose hips appear after flowering. These plump deep red fruits are up to an inch in diameter. The compound leaves consist of 5 to 7 oval leaflets each up to 1 1/2 inches long with sawtoothed edges. Stems and limbs are branching. As with most roses, thorns adorn the limbs of the plant.
The fruit or rose hip is high in vitamin C and can be imbibed as tea or made into jam. Native Americans and early settlers used the roots for various medicinal purposes.
Habitat: open places, dry slopes in Chaparral and Sage Scrub, rocky places at the base of cliffs
Golden yarrow is a very common plant which blooms from January through August in a variety of habitats.
The bright golden yellow flower heads contain individual ray and disk florets in crowded clusters at the ends of erect stems. The individual flowers are 1/8 to 1/4 inch diameter, and the combined flower heads are usually around a half inch in diameter. At the beginning of bloom the flowers are white. The narrow linearly divided leaves are found alternating on the stem and are 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches long. Underneath the green topside the leaves are woolly. The base of the plant produces many gray and woolly stems.
Golden Yarrow's genus name Eriophyllum means "woolly-leafed". The species name confertiflorum means crowded flowers. The Santa Monica Mountains also support a related plant which looks similar except with white flowers, Common Yarrow or Achillea millefolium.
Mugwort is most commonly found on stream banks where there is ample year-round moisture. It blooms from June to November, but may be more noted for its foliage than its flowers.
Mugwort has a woody base and erect gray-green stems. Propagation is usually by underground rhizome. The lance-shaped leaves are 2-6 inches long, smooth bright green above, woolly and gray-green underneath. The small roundish disk flowers sprout at the ends of dense leafy spikes. The plant is aromatic, smelling mediciney like a cross between sage and camphor.
Frequently found growing near Poison Oak, there is a tradition that suggests rubbing Mugwort leaves on skin after exposure to the urushiol poison may help, but science has not stepped forward to confirm or refute this practice. Likewise a poultice of its leaves may have some benefit for stinging nettles or insect bites.
The common name Mugwort comes from the contraction of "mug" and "wort", the latter being a term meaning plant or herb. The "mug" part is thought to refer to an insect; either tiny flying insects called midges, or moths, or maggots... the exact meaning is a mystery. The genus name Artemisia most likely refers to the Greek goddess Artemis, although Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor (Turkey) is another possible reference. The species name douglasiana is after the Scottish collector David Douglas.
Rattlesnake Weed blooms nearly year-round (but commonly April to November) and is prostrate, meaning it grows flat on the ground. This probably allows it to access moisture in the form of dew and thus remain green well into the dry fall months of the Southern California climate. It is common near cultivated fields or on wide trails, dry, sandy and rocky places where other plants can't usually survive and thus don't crowd it out.
The plant forms spherical mats on the ground with many-branching stems. The tiny leaves, no more than a quarter-inch long, form at the end of short stems are heart-shaped or oblong, sometimes with white or red edges. The flowers are solitary from leaf axils, cup-like, maroon at the base with white petal-like margins or bracts (these are not true petals). Inside the cup, a single female pistillate flower is accompanied by up to 30 male staminate flowers.
Another species in the genus Chamaesyce, the polycarpa, commonly called Golondrina or Prostrate Spurge, very closely resembles Rattlesnake Weed. The main difference is that Golondrina has tiny hairs on leaves, stems and seed capsules while Rattlesnake Weed is hairless.
The genus name Chamaesyce is an ancient Greek name that refers to the prostrate or ground-lying growth habit. The species name albomarginata means white-margined, referring to the flower bracts. According to folklore, the plant was thought to help treat rattlesnake bites when pounded to release its milky sap and laid wet on the wound.
Habitat: meadows, Coastal Sage Scrub, sandy Riparian areas
Our state flower, the California Poppy, blooms from February to September, most frequently in grasslands but it can be found throughout the state in part due to wide distribution of seed packets.
California Poppy's leaves are 1 to 2 inches long and cleft into many segments, forming a rosette at the plant's base. The solitary flowers are found nodding at the ends of 2 to 6 inch long stems, with 4 petals up to 2 1/2 inches long. The petals' color ranges from vibrantly orange to bright yellow, or sometimes a gradation of both. Petals close up at the close of day and may not open on a cloudy day, hence the plant was sometimes referred to as "the drowsy one". A small light pink disk called a torus separates the petals from the stem; if you encounter a plant that looks like the poppy but is absent the torus, you are instead looking at Eschscholzia caespitosa, the California collarless poppy. California Poppy should be considered toxic and has narcotic properties.
The genus name Eschscholzia comes from a 19th century Eastern European surgeon, entomologist and botanist named Dr. Johann Friedrich Gustav von Eschscholtz. California Poppy is one of the first plants to repopulate an area that has experienced fire.
Common Fiddleneck is a slender bristled annual with bright yellow flowers that coil into a fiddleneck shape.
Flowers are in bloom from February to May. Their coil ranges from 2-8 inches long. The flowers are yellow or yellow-orange; a closer look will reveal orange blotches (if there are no orange blotches, you may be looking at a closely related plant, Amsinckia menziesii). The plant has long slender leaves up to 6 inches long. Bristles cover the green parts of this plant, especially on the stems; in spite of this it is attractive to cattle for a food source.
The genus name Amsinckia comes from a 19th century botanic garden frequent visitor from Hamburg named Wilhelm Amsinck. The species name intermedia means it is halfway between a pair of related species.
Habitat: dry slopes in Sage Scrub, Woodlands and Chaparral
Southern Tauschia is probably more recognizable by its jagged, shiny leaves than by its smaller yellow flowers. Most of the leaves of this plant are at its base and arranged in a pinnately compound fashion along ribbed stems. Individually the leaves are ovate and sharply saw-toothed, up to 3 inches long. The small bright yellow flowers rise above the leaves in compound umbels. Bloom time is February to June.
The genus name Tauschia comes from the name of a 19th century Czech professor of botany, Ignaz Friedrich Tausch. The species name arguta means toothed-leaves. A similar-looking plant is the Shiny Lomatium, or Lomatium lucidum.
Habitat: dry slopes in Oak Woodland and Coastal Sage
Fern-Leaf Phacelia is a many-branching annual which blooms from March to June. It grows in dry places and, like other Phacelias, is quick to reestablish after a fire. The foliage, as its name implies, resembles that of ferns, with pinnately divided oblong leaves in a lush green color. Leaves and stems are hairy. Flowers unfold from a coil and are about an half-inch in diameter. Their color ranges from lavendar to a deep blue-violet. They have 5 petals and 5 stamens, with the stamens not extruding much beyond the petals.
The genus name Phacelia is a Greek term meaning "cluster", referring to the crowded flower spikes found in many plants in this genus. The species name distans means the stamens are spaced apart from each other. A related species, Phacelia tanacetifolia, looks similar but can be distinguished by much longer extruding stamens than Phacelia distans.
Habitat: shaded canyons in Sage Scrub and Chaparral
Color: Pink Red
Fuchsia Flowered Gooseberry is a common, colorful and interesting-looking plant, with bright red tubular flowers, deep dark shiny green leaves, and spiny stems. The flowers can be found in bloom from January through May.
The bright red flowers line the stems of the plant, sometimes displaying their color for up to several feet long. They individually are up to an inch long and bristly, with one to four flowers occurring together on a common stem. The protrusions you see from the bottom of the downwardly-drooping tubular flower are the stamens. The seed is even more bristly than the flower, and sticky to boot. The roundish three-lobed shiny green leaves are up to an inch and a half diameter and accompanied by spines on the stem.
Migrating hummingbirds are attracted to the tubular flowers on this plant. The genus name Ribes is derived from an old Persion word. The species name speciosum means "showy".
Habitat: grassy slopes, dry and sandy places in Chaparral
Turkish Rugging forms eye-pleasing rosy-colored mats of inflourescence in the dry heat of summer. Blooming occurs from April to July.
The rosy and white flowes grow at the ends of branches and are about a quarter-inch in diameter. Stems have many branches, are brittle and rosy colored. Spatula-shaped leaves form a basal rosette at the beginning of the plant's life but disappear quickly when the flowers come.
The genus name Chorizanthe is Greek for "divided flowers". The species name staticoides is synonomous with Limonium, another type of plant.
Morning glory is a showy vine of bright white cheerful-looking trumpet-shaped blooms with a long summer flowering time. Blooming typically occurs from March to August. It is particularly abundant after a fire, so you might tire of seeing this plant next summer if you spend a lot of time in Point Mugu State Park.
The large mostly- to all-white funnel-shaped flowers grow to 2 inches or so in diameter, sometimes with purple stripes in the folds. The purple is symbolic of a more mature plant (and brings to mind the poem, "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple"). Leaves grow from short stems and are triangular or arrow- or spade-like and up to 2 inches long.
The genus name Calystegia is from two Greek words meaning "a covering cup". The species name macrostegia further stresses it is a "large covering". Frequently this plant is given a subspecies name of cyclostegia which means circular covering. There are many other related subspecies of this plant due to mingling. The photo below-right is one such variation, Island Morning Glory (the seemingly-even-larger-covering-cup, Calystegia macrostegia ssp. macrostegia), from Santa Cruz Island.
Slender Sunflower blooms throughout summer, brightening the typically dry landscape of this time with its showy yellow flowers. It is similar in appearance to Common Sunflower, but smaller and less full.
The flowers are solitary on long stems, up to 3 inches in diameter with yellow ray flowers and in the center, yellow to red-purple disk flowers. The flowers can be found in bloom from May to October. Leaves are lance-shaped, rough and hairy, and 1 to 5 inches long. The plant has an erect and shrubby appearance.
The genus name Helianthus is from two Greek words meaning "sun" and "flower". The species name gracilentus means "slender".
Common Sunflower blooms from February to October, nearly all year. It is similar in appearance to Slender Sunflower, but larger and more stout.
The large radiant flowers punctuate the tops of long erect stems, with yellow ray flowers and brownish purple disk flowers, overall varying from 2 to 6 inches in diameter. The leaves are oval shaped with sawtoothed edges and can be as big as 10 inches in diameter. Flowers have a sticky feel, while leaves and stems are hairy and rough.
The giant sunflower you normally see in gardens is a relative of this native. The genus name Helianthus is from two Greek words meaning "sun" and "flower". The species name annus means "annual". Native people used not only the seeds as food, but cultivated fibers from the stems and made a dye from the flowers.
Red-skinned onion blooms from March to May and has an oniony odor. Its whitish pink flowers appear in clusters at the ends of foot-long or more stems.
A general characteristic of plants in the lily family is their growing from bulbs, rhizomes or corms. Red-skinned onion's flat and narrow leaves and stems emerge from clusters of 1 inch oblong bulbs with reddish-purple outer layers. The flower clusters form at the ends of 1/2 inch stems, from 10-30 flowers compacted at their heads. Each flower has 3 petals, 3 sepals which look like petals, 6 stamens and 1 pistil. The flowers are white to pink in color.
The genus name Allium is Latin for "garlic". The species name haematochiton translates as "blood coat", referring to the red skin of the bulb.
Red Maids are tiny annuals with spreading and branching stems. Blooming time is from February to June. These plants range from California
down to Baja California and out towards Arizona. This plant favors a disturbance (edge of a trail - which is where you are going to find 99% of
these flowers) and is a known fire follower. The pink-magenta flowers are 3/4 inch in diameter with five petals and numerous white-yellow stamens. They appear at the tops of the stems in a leafy raceme.
The hairless alternating lance-shaped leaves are light-green, 1 to 3 inches long and spaced sparsely up the stems.
San Diego Milk-aster or Stephanomeria digensis This plant is a fire-follower or at least thrives after a fire as well as disturbed areas. The flowers on this Annual herb are found in hues from pale pink to lavendar to purple or white. Pistils and Stamens are present in this flower. The filaments are bi-colored with the upper part being a lighter or darker variation of the flower and the lower part being white. These flowers are still blooming long after most others have finished their work. They are easy to recognize by their long rigid pole like stems - dotted with small flowers.
This plant is a member of the Aster Family. What we call a flower is actually a composite: the flower head is made up of ray flowers (think petals) and disk flowers. Read more...
Common Name: Perezia, Sacapellote
Botanical Name: Acourtia microcephala
Plant Type: Perennial
Habitat: Woodland and or Chaparral
Scapalotte/Perzia is a fire-follower. The flowers on this perennial herb are found in hues from rose to purple and on rare occasion white.
The technical term for the flowers is bilabiate, discoid flower heads. This translates to a flower with an upper and lower segment
(the upper is 2 joined petals while the lower segment has 3 joined petals) with the flowers having a regular, tubular corolla (like a bell).
Snapdragons and Monkey Flowers are also bilabiate. The petals are about 3/8 inch long. The petals seem to alternate with white bristles
(referred to as Pappus). The flower bud appears as striped white and chocolate-brown in color. When the the plant blooms you will see splashes
of red, yellow, orange and white on the styles and beautiful white anthers.
Yellow Bleeding Heart is a member of the Poppy family is a fire-follower and does not germinate without being exposed to smoke. The 2013 Springs Fire brought
this plant back from seeds stored in the soil. After a couple of years we are unlikely to see this plant until the next fire. The
flowers on this perennial herb are white with a beautiful filling of red - it is the two inner petals which are joined at the tip that
have the red filling . All parts of the plant are toxic.
The Cliff Aster grows up to six feet high and has narrow, tapering leaves from one to four inches long. Lower leaves usually are coarse-toothed and clustered near the plant's woody base. Upper leaves have smooth margins.
This tallspindly herb is a perennial that favors disturbed area, such as habitats along paths and bordering landscaped areas. Cliff Aster blooms in Summer and all the way through the Winter, long after most other native
plants have ceased activity. Just when you think there are no more flowers to see after the Spring bloom your eyes will be drawn to this tiny but gorgeous flower. The flower ranges from about one to two inches in diameter
and about three quarters of an inch deep.
Soap Plant is one of those beautiful plants that has flowers which sleep in. I discovered this the hard way. First time I saw these plants was in the evening. I came back the next morning to take some more pictures and they were all rolled up.
One thing you will notice is that when there are flowers the leaves of this plant will be dried up around the base like a bunch of pieces of rope. The star-like flowers you do see have an exceedingly short
life - in the late afternoon one row of buds opens, starting from the bottom. The delicate white flowers twist closed by evening and never open again. Each day in the row above the last flower, a bud opens
and blooms before pulling itself closed forever. If you look carefully at the photos on this page you will see the twisted bloom of the previous days, and unopened new buds up the stem from the most
recent flower - there can be up to 200 buds per plant.
Sticky Cinquefoil is a member of the family Rosaceae (the Rose family - other members include wild strawberry, blackberry and wild rose), Sticky Cinquefoil is a one to two foot tall perennial with creamy, yellow flowers. The flower has five hairy sepals, 5 petals and 25 stamens.
Red stems are common. This is plant has a highly variable appearance. The flowers can be few to dense in a cyme like array - that means they grow on separate stalks and mature from the center outward.
Whispering Bells are fire followers and in fact is one the most common plants you may have seen after a fire - Milt's book designates this plant a "dominant" fire follower". It was known that certain plants were well adapted to fire in the Chaparral biome.
This plant does well in Grasslands and in areas where there is a an openings in chaparral.
Whispering Bells is an annual that produces lots of flowers.
Stephanomeria cichoriacea is a species of flowering plant in the aster family known by the common names chicoryleaf wirelettuce and Fort Tejon milk aster.
It is endemic to California, where it grows in the coastal mountain ranges like the Santa Monica Mountains.
The plant is a Perennial herb, erect, 18 to 48 inches in height and has Milky sap. It is found on rocky slopes and in open areas of Chaparral and Coastal Sage.
Flowers bloom on some very short stems and have a five toothed petals in purple to pink colors. The flowers are small less than an inch and a half in diameter with white pistils and stamens.
Ribes malvaceum, commonly called chaparral currant, is a member of the Grossulariaceae (gooseberry family). It is native to California and northern Baja California.
Growing in chaparral and Oak woodland at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,500 meters this plant has a multitude of flowers blooming from December to April. Blooms appear soon
after the first rains of Fall. Chaparral Current is a deciduous plant that when it bloom adds some nice color to a Fall or Winter hike through the Chaparral.
Lathyrus vestitus, commonly called Sweet Wild Pea, is a member of the Fabaceae (pea family). This plant is considered endemic (a native) in California.
Wild Sweet Pea grows in chaparral and Oak woodland at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,500 meters. I saw these specimens in Upper Sycamore Canyon.
This plant is quite similar to Spring Vetch (Vicia americana). Once this plant gets established, the chaparral pea rarely sprouts from seed instead it is
likely to send up new stems from roots growing outward from the mother plant. It forms low, dense, thorny thickets of shiny dark green leaves. In spring
and early summer the plant blooms in bright Pink to Lavendar flowers as well as produces pods containing pealike seeds.
Star lilies - Toxicoscordion fremonti - grows from an onion-like bulb and is also known as a "Death Camus". Toxicoscordion, the new genus name is there for a reason. All parts, including the flowers, contain potentially lethal neuro and cardio toxins -
highly toxic alkaloids which can cause serious problems if ingested. These plants can be found from southern Oregon southward. These plants are abundant after the fire
and then diminish in the years after. The Springs Fire of 2013 brought these flowers back into Point Mugu State Park. They will diminsh (quantity-wise) in the years after until fire brings them back.
Rock Daisy, Perityle emoryi is native to California. Classified as an Aster (a composite flower head with both ray and disk flowers) this plant is adapted to the crevices of cliffs and other rocky soils. All of our native Sunflowers are much larger and have yellow petals. Other types of Asters have purple to pink petals. The small bright flowers are about one half inch in diameter, have
bright white petals and a sunny yellow center. What sets these flowers apart is the large number of flowers in such a small area. They bloom from January to
June. As the seeds in the center develop you can observe the center of the flower to rise like a rounded cone.
When you first see Chinese Houses in full bloom, you might think it was a Lupine and just go on your way. However if you took the time to look more carefully at this plant
you would see that the flowers form in a circle around the stalk (whorl is the precise term) and that these whorls of flowers decrease in size as you move up the
stalk to resemble a pagoda; hence the name Chinese Houses. The flowers have a lilac or white upper lip and a rose-purple or violet lower lip. On occasion these
flowers appear all white (upper and lower lips). The bright-green, lance-shaped (longer than wide) leaves clasp the stem.
Bloomeria crocea, is a perennial herb that is native to California. This plant usually has but a single leaf that typically dies back before the flowers begin to bloom.
This plant is usually found in the following plant communities: Chaparral, Coastal Sage Scrub, Valley Grassland, Southern Oak Woodland, Foothill Woodland. The flowers are at the end of umbrella like spokes radiating from the stalk. Botanists use the term umbel to describe this.
After the initial bloom of Spring fades, the diminutive Golden Star begins to bloom and take its turn in the spotlight.
This plant is termed a geophyte. This means it has an underground storage organ that allows the plant to live several years. Botanists call this feature of the Golden Star a starchy corm. A new corm is added each year to the the old one. Another geophyte type is the bulb (think Onions and Tulips). A Corm is solid while a bulb is built on layers. This organ allows the plant to live several years (Golden Stars are perennials) and allows this plant to prosper after a fire has swept through an area. This plant has the ablity to grow from seeds or bulb. Another plant that you will often see with a similar corm are Blue Dicks.
Common Name: Wooly Sapphire
Botanical Name: Eriastrum sapphirinum
Plant Type: Annual
Eriastrum sapphirinum - is a member of the phlox family known by the common name Sapphire Woolly Star.
This annual wildflower is endemic (found nowhere else!) to California where it is found in a variety of habitats - from the desert to the sea: Santa Monica Mountains,
Anza Borrego, Angeles National Forest, Orange County and San Diego County. This plant can be as short as 5 centimeters or as tall as 40 centimeters. The plant takes two
different kinds of form: clumps or singular spindly stems. The funnel-shaped flowers have five lobes each, one half to one centimeter long and pale to bright blue.
The throat of the flower is the same color or yellowish to white. At the mouth of the tube there may be dots of yellow and white. The light colored stamens extend
upwards about a half a centimeter. The stem is erect and can be reddish to green. Careful examination will also show the ‘Wool’ referred to in the name - just below
the petals are some fuzzy filaments that resemble wool.
Fringed Linanthus is a native, annual plant is one of of the most showy and easily recognized tiny Spring flowers. Lucky for us,
Fringed Linanathus is found throughout the Santa Monica Mountains occurring in open patches of coastal sage scrub especially after fire.
However short the plant and tiny the flower, a cluster of these flowers are bright enough to catch your attention. These plants can carpet an area in large numbers. When you see these flowers at peak bloom you are going to be thrilled by their brilliant
carpet of bright Pink, Lavender or White flowers.
>Prickly Phlox or Linanthus californicus is a tap-rooted, widely-branched shrub with wooly long, soft, matted hairs that are densely
lined with clusters or bundles of prickly needle-like alternate leaves (it is a Phlox), that is native to California. This perennial
is woody (one of the benefits of being a perenial is that you live more than a year and can invest energy into creating a more
durable structure). You can believe the common name description (Prickly) of this plant! The showy flowers are clustered on the
outer edges of the plant, and range in color from pink to lavender to white. Flowers are open during the day and twist closed at
the end of the day. The flower has five petals, white center, a narrow throat with some yellow stamens often visible. Pollinators crawl inside the narrow tube.
Prickly Phlox can have dozens of the one inch round flowers in bloom from March to June.
Globe Gilia or aka Gilia capitata ssp abrotanifolia is an annual tap-rooted herb that is native to California. The plant blooms from February to April
and is more prolific after a fire. The flowerhead is a cluster made up of individual flowers (anywhere from 10 to 100!) with each flower being about the size of a
U.S. Quarter. The colors on one cluster were white, pale blue-lavendar with many blended variations. Look for five blue stamens extending beyond the five lobed corolla
in complimentary colors. The plant leaves were are narrow and similar to other Phlox
plants plus the leaves were lace-like e.g. poppies or White Pin Cushion.
Epipactis gigantea, a species of orchid, is commonly known as stream orchid or giant helleborine. This wildflower, found along
the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to central Mexico is one of the most abundant orchids - we are fortunate to find this
plant growing in our Santa Monica Mountains. Epipactis gigantea is a perennial ranging in height from 30 centimeters to two meters in height. This plant sheds its leaves
and goes dormant at the first sign of drought.
The plants I observed had narrowish lance-shaped leaves 5 to 15 centimeters
long and two to more than ten lovely orchids per plant. Flowers have three sepals that stick out straight
up and left or right which are light brownish or greenish with darker veins, one to two centimeters long. The two top petals are similar
in shape and reddish-brown with purple veins. The lowest petal is cup-shaped with a pointed, tongue-like protuberance and is brighter
red-brown and more starkly veined, often with areas of yellow. The fruit is a greenish yellow capsule (2 or 3 centimeters long)
containing thousands of tiny seeds.
Calochortus albus, a monocot, is a perennial herb that is native to California and is endemic (limited) to California. Globe Lilies, also known as Fairy Lanterns
(Calochortus albus), bloom during the middle part of Spring. Globe Lilies prefer the shady edge of the trail, often in the same locations as Chinese Houses
and Woodland Star (among many others!), They are a delight to watch as they go from bud to bloom. One weekend you are looking for flowers in bloom, and you
might see two beautiful taffeta white flowers and then the next week a few more until finally the rest of the plants join in. What I love most about observing
flowers in the same general area week after week are the changes. It is like a symphony as dozens of different blooms come and go. Just like every good piece of music,
there is always a finale worth the wait!
tinky Gilia is also known as Blue False Gilia, Sticky Gilia, Sticky false Gilia and sticky false gilyflower. The descriptive part of the name
whether it is sticky or stinky describes this beautiful little flower. Run your fingers along the stem and you are bound to coat your fingers in
a somewhat malodorous sticky resin. This plant can found in rocky soils of shaded slopes and is endemic to California. It may be a bit of a challenge
to find this plant. The flowers are about .25 of an inch and this plant only stands out with the help of a magnifying glass.
Angels Gilia, Chaparral Gilia or Gilia angelensis - this tiny flowering plant in the phlox family is always a delight to come across.
The one centimeter or so flower of Angels Gilia ranges in color from white to blue to lavender. Angels Gilia typically grows as a
slender, branching plant reaching anywhere from 10 to 70 centimeters in height. The leaves consist of a basal rosette (clustered near the ground) and some
thread-like leaves towards the flowering part of the plant. The flowering part of this plant are branches with clusters of delicate flowers. The flower
contains a capsule a few millimeters across containing up to 30 tiny seeds. Angels Gilia is an Annual. The 1/4" flowers have five petals fused into a tube,
opening with five white or pale lavender petal lobes.
Small Leaf Stick Plant - otherwise known as San Luis Blazingstar has adapted well to fire. The seeds of the plant lie dormant in the ground waiting for certain
chemicals to be released from the smoke created by a fire. This cue causes a chemical reaction which starts the germination process. Most often seen in the first
years after a fire and rarely seen after. This plant is an Annual that is found mostly near the south to the central coast of California. Small Leaf Stick Plant has adapted to sandy or rocky soil. The leaves have little barbs or hooks that attach like Velcro to your
socks and pants. Feel the leaves on this plant - it certainly does feel like velcro!
The flowers are a cheerful yellow, but the flowers themselves are so small that three of them might fit on a penny! With a magnifying glass, you can observe five petals, five sepals and numerous out-stretched stamens.
Coastal Goldfields, with a flower no larger than a quarter, this small native, bright yellow flower will thrill you when it carpets the ground.
Often there will be a handful of these plants in a location, and you may or may not even notice them. When found in large quantities
these plants are impossible to ignore. In the areas where they dominate, they have done so by outcompeting the native grasses - likely
because they have better adapted to the local soil. Goldfields are known to better tolerate soil that is less than optimal for other plants.
The flowers are quite small and the plants range in height from 2 to 16 inches tall.
Sugar Bush - Rhus ovata, is an evergreen plant that grows as a shrub or small tree and thrives on south facing slopes below 1300 meters. Native to Southern
California, Arizona, and Baja California. Sugar Bush varies in size from two to more than eight meters in height. As a tree, it has a rounded appearance. As a
shrub, spreading in width rather than height it looks kind of like a thicket. The twigs are thick and reddish in color. The leaves are dark green on the top,
dull on the bottom, leathery, and folded in the middle. The leaf pattern is alternate (one on this side and then one on that side). Typically, the leaves have
no serrations but occasionally they do have some serrations. Flower clusters at the ends of branches are small (two to three inches long. They are five-petaled,
flowers that appear to be pink, but instead have white to pink petals with red sepals. The fruit is a small reddish, sticky fleshy fruit surrounding a pit (like a
peach or cherry) that botanists call a Drupe. Between March and May, numerous flowers appear in dense clusters on short stalks, from pinkish-red buds.
Royal Goldfields - Lasthenia coronaria
The flowers of this plant look so similar to the other Goldfield (Common Goldfield) that the only reliable way to tell the difference is to look at the leaves.
Botanists describe this plant as having linear or deeply divided, pointed leaves up to about 6 centimeters long. The other Goldfield (Common Goldfields)
has a much simpler arrangement of leaves: leaves appear opposite each other and have no branches or notches. There are of course other differences:
Royal Goldfield leaves have a fragrant odor, the stems have lots of glandular hairs, and the term glandular-viscid is used to describe this in precise scientific terms.
Pentachaeta lyonii, Lyon's pentachaeta or Lyon's pygmy daisy, is an annual plant in the aster family. It is endemic to southern California, but can be
found only in a few areas of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. This scarcity has prompted the government to consider the plant a federally listed endangered
species. More about that later. The plant is under siege from development, invasive grasses, and an increased fire cycle in its preferred habitat.
White sage (Salvia apiana) can grow to 3-5' in height and 4-6' wide (flowers spike to 9'+). The flower spikes last a single season but since the plant
is a perrenial, the base will be around next season. The leaves are usually 4-8 centimeters long with a tapered base. The leaves are considered simple and
have a strong odor. The white to pale lavender flowers bloom on long spikes from April to Mid-July. Often you will find a mix of native and non-native honeybees going
from flower to flower in search of nectar.
Purple Sage -Salvia leucophylla - is an evergreen shrub that grows up to five feet tall and nearly as wide as it is tall. Leaves are a light green in the spring,
turning grayish-white as they mature. The flowers grow in compact whorls on 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) long inflorescences. If you look at the plant stalks where the
flowers are blooming you can observe the stalk transition from wooden twigs to a sort of herbaceous pink gray shaded stalk. The 2.5 cm (1 inch) flowers are pinkish-purple,
surrounded in a calyx that is some color between purple and gray. Bees are very attraced to the flowers of this plant.
Black sage - Salvia mellifera - is the sage plant you are most likely to see along the trails.
These plants belong to the Mint family and had many uses for the native peoples of California. A common trait of most Salvias is that they have opposite leaves with round stems
that start out square and the flower is a colorful corolla having two lips of unequal length. The Black Sage shares several of these traits and has a two-lipped
calyx (the part of the plant that holds the corolla) . A frequent companion of Black Sage is Sagebrush.
Chia - Salvia columbariae lacks the pleasing scent of other Sages and grows in locations from the coast to the desert.
The pale blue to deep blue flowers have two lips; the white-tipped lower lip is cleft into three lobes, with the central lobe
slightly larger in size. Chia was a very important food source for the native peoples. After the flowers bloom, the
blossoms dry and turn from clear blue to golden, and remain dry upon their stems. The tiny seeds disperse by being shaken out of the dry blossoms.
Narrow Leaved Milkweed - Asclepias fascicularis - a perennial, is one of four species of Milkweed found in the Santa Monica Mountains, grows in grassland
habitats and flowers from late May into the first days of Fall. Leaves are long and narrow (up to five inches) and form a whorl (spiral) around the 12 inch to 36-inch tall stem.
A taproot connects the stem to the soil. The plants are a hotbed of insect activity. Wasps, Butterflies,Bees, Beetles, Ants, Aphids and so on are attracted to the Sucrose rich (3%) nectar.
Cool fact - the flowers are continuously replenished with nectar while the flower is viable.
Most of us think Monarch Butterfly when we hear the name Milkweed and for good reason. Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on the plant, the larvae eat the leaves, grow into caterpillars before transforming into Butterflies.
Woodland Star - Lithopgragma affine is one of the more delicate flowers you will come across as you hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. Small white flowers hanging off of
thread like stalks that would be just another white flower if not for the five ragged 1.3 centimeter long petals with their three sharp lobes at the tip.
This decorative touch gives the flower a frilly appearance. These plants seem to have a short flowering season - they seem to come and go in a few short weeks during the
March to May timeframe. Annual rain fall certainly is a factor in this. Favored habitats are open grasslands in oak and oak-conifer
woodlands on moist, sometimes rocky sites. This plant is a perennial which means that as long as there is adequate rainfall you should find the plant in the same location year after year.
Wild Heliotrope or Heliotropium curassavicum is a succulent that favors disturbed saline soils (moist or dry), grows in dense stands and can handle cold well enough to grow in other mountain ranges in North
and South America at elevations up to 6,300 feet. I located these plants in Pt. Mugu State Park. Other common names for this flower are Salt Heliotrope (hence the saline soils preference)
and Quail Plant (Quail eat the seeds). Appearance-wise the plant is a fleshy, bluish-green, smooth plant with leafy stems low to the ground - the proper term this is prostrate, the most striking feature of this plant are
coils of small, white or purplish-tinged flowers. Often these coils will be paired creating a very symmetrical appearance. The height of the plant can vary from six inches to about
Consider yourself lucky if you happen to find this distinctive looking perennial on one your adventures in the Santa Monica Mountains. Though distributed
widely this plant with tiny flowers and often short blooming periods they are just not common in our mountains. California Saxifrage (Micranthes californica)
is native to much of California, and up to southern Oregon and down to the northern parts of Baja California. Thin moist soil along with some rocks are the preferred habitat.
From the the desert to the sea, this plant fits in quite a few different environments. This perennial herb has a small gray-green basal rosette of thick toothed oval leaves up to 10 centimeters long.
Heart Leaved Penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia) is a spreading vine-like perennial shrub that sports some colorful flowers that vary from Orange to Scarlet.
Using other plants for support this plant can reach up to six feet in height and spread out for ten feet in width. The plant has opposite leaves and
flowers with one pistil and 5 stamens, only four of which are fertile. The sterile stamen (Botanists refer to it as a a staminode) has no anther and
its purpose may be to guide pollinator to the availible nectar. After the flower falls off, this stamen often remains connected to the plant. This plant is well
adapted for pollination by hummingbird rather than insects, with reddish or orange narrow tube-shaped flowers, little odor, ample nectar and exserted (sticking out from the flower) anthers and stigmas.
Careful examination of the plant reveals there are five pointed green unequal sepals covering the base of the flower tube; the weight of the flowers on the
end of the stalks cause them to bend down. The stalks are considered woody. Leaves are smooth to partially serrated. Read more...
Common Name: Variable Linanthus
Botanical Name: Leptosiphon parviflorus
Plant Type: Annual
Habitat: Coastal Sage
Variable Linanthus - Leptosiphon parviflorus, is an annual herb that is native only to California. This plant is a member of the Phlox (Polemoniaceae) family.
One can find this plant growing in small patches from sea level to 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) elevation. Common in many types of habitats,
including chaparral and oak woodlands. This small flower (around a half inch in diameter) comes in several colors: white, pink, purple, magenta,
lavender and yellow. As the plant's common name suggests, the plant is variable in appearance. Stems may be just a few centimeters long or up to 25 centimeters. Leaves: divided into
several lobes, often linear in shape, and 1 to 2.5 centimeters long. Reddish green palmately (palm - like your hand) lobed colored leaves appear like they are
in a whorl but close examination reveals that they are in pairs of opposite pairs. Produced in dense, spiky clusters, each plant can have a few to many flowers.
Annual Coreopsis, Tickseed (Leptosyne californica) is an annual herb that is primarily found in California. This plant is categorized as an Asteraceae (Sunflower in laymen terms). California Coreopsis
grows at elevations of 30 to 600 meters (100 to 2,000 ft). The plant inhabits the following communities: Southern Oak Woodland, Valley Grassland, Joshua Tree Woodland, Creosote Bush Scrub. I have found this somewhat uncommon plant on the Ray Miller Trail and along the Triunfo Creek Trail.
Peninsular Onion (Allium peninsulare) is a wild onion that can be found from Northern Baja California to the Oregon border. This onion inhabits the following plant communities: Valley Grassland, Foothill Woodland, and Coastal Chaparral at elevations up to 1100 m (3660 feet).
Look for this plant in relatively moist, rocky patches - often this plant will be competing with grasses and other native plants.
This perennial produces a bulb 8 to 15 mm wide and has two to three channeled to more or less cylindrical leaves. Between May and July, it sends up a single 12 to 45 cm stem (directly connected to an underground bulb) and is topped with an umbel of five to 30 flowers, each on an 0.8 to 4 cm pedicels (stems). The flowers are red-purple and have six triangular tepals. The three inner tepals are smaller than the outer ones and have teeth along the margins. The single leaf of this plant, disappears usually before the first flower opens. What is distinctive about this plant: the flowers are reddish purple, and the flowers in an umbel-like cluster. Read more...
Common Name: Willow Herb Clarkia
Botanical Name: Clarkia epilobioides
Plant Type: Annual
Habitat: Oak Woodland
Willow-herb Clarkia (Clarkia epilobioides), is an annual herb that is native to California and is a species of flowering plant in the
evening primrose family. The Santa Monica Moutains have several varieties of Clarkia plants: Elegant Clarkia, Farewell-to-Spring,Purple Speckled and Large Godetia.
Willow-Herb Clarkia can be found in the following plant communities: coastal sage scrub, oak woodland, chaparral and
desert in generally shady places below 2,500'.
A slender, erect stem one to two feet in height produces some tiny white flowers with four petals. If you look closely
you will find eight stamens and a white to cream-colored stigma shaped like a plus. Each nodding bud has four red sepals that remain fused together or in pairs as the
petals emerge during blooming. The petals are one half to one centimeter long, oval in shape, solid white or cream in color, often fading pink as they age.
Checkerbloom Mallow Sidalcea sparsifolia is a perennial found in diverse habitats from fields to grassy hillsides at elevations from sea
level to 7,500 feet. This plant is native to California. In the Santa Monica Mountains this plant is part of the following communities:
chaparral, coastal sage scrub, or on the edge of riparian woodland. A preference for rocky soil and partial shade, this plant uses it deep
roots to colonize areas where it grows. Various sources describe the below ground part of the plant as either root, rhizome
or caudex -Santa Monica Mountains Wildflowers Guide.
If rainfall is sparse the plant may not bloom, and an additional bloom is possible if there is a late rain. After the blooms are gone,
this plant will die back to the ground. Interesting note about the blooms - they last less than a day before shriveling up. When you see
this bloom, keep that in mind and take a moment to appreciate the ephemeral beauty of flowers!
Beach Evening Primrose Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia (beach suncup or beach evening primrose) is a member of the evening primrose family
that is native to dunes and sandy soils of coastal California and Oregon. These can easily be found along the inland side of the beaches in
Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area between Sycamore and La Jolla Canyons. If you look through the archive you will find several other Evening Primrose flowers....
The Beach Evening Primrose grows prostrate (spreads out rather than up) along the beach surface, forming mats more than 36 inches in width. Long stems
grow from the center. Silvery grey-green leaves with fine hairs that reflect the sun away are alternate, smooth-margined, the crown of the
plant has oblanceolate leaves that are thick and form a rosette. Upper leaves are shorter and wider, ovate and clasp the stalk. By growing low to
the ground with flexible swinging stems and having a deep taproot, this plant is able do well on the ever shifting sands of the dune
California buttercup Ranunculus californicus, is a flowering plant of the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. A native of California, where it is common in
many habitats, including chaparral and woodlands of California, north into Oregon and south into Baja California. Look for this plant in early in the Spring in
grassy areas of an oak woodland habitat where the soil contains clay. Flowers of the California buttercup - formed from five green sepals, exhibit much
variation: There can be seven to twenty-two 22 elliptic, yellow, overlapping petals, multiple stamens and pistils. This is the only
species in our area having a flower with more than ten bright yellow petals. Some authors suggest the flower resembles a water lily. As the plant goes to seed
goes to seed there remains a green center (the gynoecium - the female part of a flower, comprising one or more carpels), surrounded by spiky carpels. Leaves are
thick, divided into three segments and have rounded lobed edges. With branches going every which way, this plant grows sideways (2 to 3 feet).
Matilija Poppy - Romneya coulteri, is a member of the Papaveraceae or poppy family that when in bloom, will catch your eye because of the large (up to 8 inches) white flowers with yellow centers. The flower is the largest of any plant native to California. Matilija Poppy is endemic (found nowhere else) to California and at one time was in the running for the state flower of California - coming in second to the California Poppy Eschscholzia californica. One common name for this plant - Fried Egg Poppy is based upon the appearance of the flower. Looking at the flower it is not hard to see the resemblance to fried eggs sunny side up.
This plant is a Perennial that grows via rhizomes and a known fire follower. Seeds require smoke for germination. Matilija Poopy has a woody base from which herbaceous stems emerge and an intricate rootball that provide for the ability to survive for more than one year. Matilija Poppy dies back to the ground after setting seed and awaits the Winter rains before sending up new growth. Various sources indicate the plant can grow six to ten feet high. I have seen them at least eight feet in height at the King Gillette visitor center. I would encourage you to seek them out during the Spring. The plants grow next to the parking lot and when in bloom the display will amaze you. The plant has pleasant fragrance as well. Seeing the plant in large numbers could make it easier for you to detect the fragrance.
Leather root - Hoita macrostachya is a Native, Perennial Herb that you will find soley at the edge of a creek or stream. Tall (up to 2 meters - taller than most people) and sprawling (appears like a shrub), with a head of cone-shaped purple pea flowers. With leaves of three, folding towards the central vein, rounded on one end and pointed at the other, this plant is fairly easy to identify. Each time I came across this plant it was as I crossed a creek and found myself being lured in by the beautiful flowers. There are not that many plants that fit all of these clues!
Tree Poppy or Bush poppy - Dendromecon rigida is a Native Perennial shrub, and a known fire follower. Bush poppy is a common shrub on dry slopes and stony washes to about 5000' in southern to central California, blooming from April to July. This plant can grow to ten feet in height and width but is commonly a smaller shrub with a relatively thick woody stem and lots of branches. As of 2017 Chesebro Canyon is a great location to view this plant.
The attactive 2.5 inch flowers have four wedge-shaped (obvoate) bright yellow petals with numerous stamens and a pistil that has two stigmas. Read more...
Common Name: Fire Poppy
Botanical Name: Papaver californicum
Plant Type: Annual
Fire Poppy - Papaver californicum, is a native annual herb that grows only in California (endemic). Relatively uncommon and occasionally observed,
this plant is found in the Santa Monica mountains after chaparral is burned or brush along a trail is removed. The flowers of Fire Poppy can be Orange,
Red or Brick Red or some variation between Orange and Red. Fire Poppy grows below 2,500 feet in open, disturbed areas, in chaparral and woodland -
primarily where it has recently burned.
Fire Poppy can be abundant the first year after a fire - with the size of bloom diminishing in size until the next fire. Seeds produced from this bloom can be viable for many years, lying dormant until they receive their cue - the smoke from a fire causes the seed to begin the process of germination.
Pitcher Sage - Lepechinia fragrans is a native shrub that is found only (endemic) in California. Listed by the California Native Plant Society as a plant of limited distribution meaning that it is fairly endangered and should be watched. Pitcher Sage can be found along the Backbone Trail between Mishe Mokwa and Mulholland. Like other sage plants, there is an aromatic fragrance released when the leavs are crushed or brushed against. Pitcher Sage has a hairy appearance because of the considerable glandular hairs on all parts of the plant. As a shrub, Pitcher Sage is often wider than it is tall, has pronounced, woody, square stems (it is a Mint family member) and in dry conditions can shed leaves as necessary to prevent the loss of water.
Two kinds of leaves on this plant. Larger leaves with petioles (stalk between leaf and stem) at the base with smaller leaves (lacking the petiole found in larger leaves) near the top. The larger leaves are shed during the dry season and replaced with leaves that are smaller and darker.
Pitcher Sage is named for the unique shape of the flowers. Petals are fused into a funnel-shaped throat with three upper lobes and the two fused lower lobes forming a pouring spout of the pitcher.
Slender Tarweed- Deinandra fasciculata is an upright, branching native, annual herb common to our Santa Monica Mountains. Tarweed is native to areas of southwest California, south of Monterrey Bay, and into Baja California. Open, disturbed areas, mainly in sage scrub and chaparral below 2000 ft. are its preferred habitat. Blooming from May through August, this plant provides plenty of Spring color long after the first flowers of Spring have faded. This plant often grows in the same spots that Goldfields and Fiddlenecks dominated. Once you recognize the color of the flowers you may be surprised to see the plant growing in large quantities often competing with invasive plants like Black Mustard and various thistles.
Common Yarrow - Achillea millefolium is a perennial herb that is native to California and is also found elsewhere in North America. As a matter of fact, Common Yarrow is thought to have been brought along by early man -
this was based it being found in an ancient (60,000 years!) burial grounds. This plant had many uses and it usage is well documented in literature, religion and history.
Yarrow grows to 3 feet tall with flowers branching near the top. The leaves alternate on each side of the stem and are 3-5 inches long, with many leaflets on each side giving the plant a delicate, fernlike, lacy appearance. A member of the Sunflower family it shares many traits such as ray and disk flowers. Flower heads are arranged in large, compact clusters at tops of stems, each cluster consisting of 1 or more flower heads. The flower head has 20-25 yellowish-white ray flowers and similarly colored disk flowers. The flowers bloom May-October.
Common Name: Notable Penstemon
Botanical Name: Penstemon spectabilis
Plant Type: Perennial
Habitat: Sage Chaparral
Showy Penstemon, Notable Penstemon - Penstemon spectabilis is a native Perennial herb found in southern California and parts of Baja California. Chaparral, scrub, and woodlands are the kind of plant communities you would expect to find this plant. With common names like Showy and Notable you should not be surprised to see a tall (up to four feet) and spectacular flowered plant with blue to purple flowers. When I have encountered the plant is looked out of place for a low spot on a ridge and looked more like something you find in a garden.
Scarlet Bugler or Penstemon centranthifolius is an attractive evergreen perennial herb with numerous vertical branches that can exceed four feet in height. Dozens of bright red to orange narrow tubular flowers in opposite pairs along a two to four-foot flower spike. Different from most other plants growing in chaparral, all parts of this plant are smooth and hairless. Found in a variety of locations that can be dry, open or wooded places at elevations below 6,500 feet. The bright colored flowers - blooming April to June- contrast with the gray-green leaves and will command your attention.
White Hedge Nettle, Stachys albens is a perennial herb of the mint family. Endemic to California (found nowhere else) and found in dry creek beds - often right up to the edge where the ground is moist. Upper Sycamore Canyon, Serrano Canyon and even a seasonal creek bed near Potrero Road. Stachys albens is not a real nettle - this plant has hairy stems and leaves but will not sting you. Touching the plant reveals a sensation similar to Lambs Ears or Stachys byzantina - velvety soft! Both Plants have the same Genus (Stachys) which refers to the spike of flowers common to both plants and are also distant relatives in the Mint family - Lambs Ears are native to Turkey and Iran. Typical of plants in the Mint family leaves are opposite, and the stems are square. Should you bruise any part of the plant, and you may notice a minty odor. Height varies from fifteen inches to just over eight feet (plants average about four feet in height). Spread via seeds and rhizomes (continuously growing horizontal underground stem that sends up stalks and sends down roots) a matted appearance is likely as the plant colonizes an area.
California Sagebrush - Artemisia californica is common in our mountains. So common, that an environmental community of flora and fauna includes its name - coastal sage scrub and an important member of some chaparral, coastal dune, and dry foothill plant communities. California Sage is not a true sage - the plant is aromatic like many sages but is included in the family of Asters because of it composite flowers. California Sage is called California Mugwort, California Sagewort or Coastal Sagebrush in some areas. Rubbing the leaves in your hands removes any doubt as to why this plant is named California Sagebrush.
This diminutive member of the Mint family, Scutellaria tuberosa is also known by the common name Danny's skullcap.
Native to western North America from Oregon through California to Baja California, where it is widespread throughout the mountain and coastal regions; found in forest and woodland habitat, preferring areas recently cleared by wildfire. This perennial herb grows from an erect stem or cluster of stems. Reaching heights up to about 25 centimeters (10 inches) tall from a root system of what appear to be tubers.
Stems covered in short hairs with oval leaves arranged on opposite sides of the stem. Short (stalks) petioles connect the lower leaves. Flowers emerge from axils (between leafstalk and stem). Each flower has a calyx (term used to define a group of sepals) that when unopened appears as a broad ridge or dome-shaped appendage on the upper part. Kind of looks like a head covering - bonnet, skullcap). The tubular corolla is one to two centimeters long and has a large upper and lower lip. The upper lip folded into a beak-like protrusion wit three broad lobes on the lower lip. The corolla is deep purple-blue, usually with a white patch or mottling on the lower lip. Flowers are likely to appear in pairs.
The generic name is derived from the Latin scutella, meaning "a small dish, tray or platter", or "little dish", referring to the shape of the calyx. The common name alludes to the resemblance of the same structure to "miniature medieval helmets".
Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council
P.O. BOX 345
Agoura Hills, CA 91376
SMMTC is a volunteer, tax deductible,nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization Tax ID: 95-3911604
The Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, a volunteer nonprofit organization, is dedicated to establishing, preserving and maintaining the public trail
system throughout the Santa Monica Mountains and adjacent areas through education, advocacy and partnership with public and private sectors.