Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday morning on Mt. Hough, Part I

 On Sunday, I drove part way up Mt. Hough for the first time this season.  For the first couple of miles, the obvious dryness and lack of any wildflowers was very discouraging.  I already knew we were in a drought, of course, but as long as our water faucets at home continue to produce, the drought doesn't seem as "real" as it should.  I was relieved to see my first obvious flower display, even though the flowers were covered with road dust.  It was a Sierra Plum.  Same genus, Prunus, as the Choke Cherry and Bitter Cherry that also occur in this area.  There's also Service Berry, in a different genus, that can look similar to the plums and cherries when viewed from a moving car.
 Followers of this blog know that I'm rather fond of Dandelions.  In fact, I try to defend Dandelions, which I admit are a non-native species, against toxic kinds of warfare, all too prevalent in lawn-obsessed neighborhoods.  At the very least, they should be removed mechanically and eaten.  They're more nutritious by far than any green you can buy at Safeway.  But here, in the next three photos, we have the Mountain Dandelion, a species native to the Sierra.
 When I spotted these, it was still early in the morning and rather chilly, so the blossoms were not quite open.  The stems tend to be rather long, so I couldn't get a good photo showing the flower up close and the basal leaves simultaneously.
 So here are the basal leaves.  Click on the photo for a closer view.
 Finally, I found another specimen surrounded by grass, but if you look closely you can see the Dandelion's leaves, too.
 Just in case, I took a photo of a leaf I picked.  Note, it looks like a very skinny version of the leaves of your lawn Dandelions.  The leaves of this species tend to be rather skinny even when we're not having a drought.
 As I got further up the mountain, I started seeing more Buck Brush and Deer Brush, which the fire fighters from Mendocino N. F. call Ceanothus, which happens to be the scientific name of both.  On the coast it's common to use Ceanothus as the "common" name for several species, including the Blue Ceanothus and Whitethorn.  In the Sierra, besides Buck Brush and Deer Brush, we have Mahala Mat, Indian Tobacco, and many other species of Ceanothus.
 Close-up of blooming Ceanothus, above, and the first patch of bright color, a dense patch of Lupine, below.

 These Lupine must have deep roots as they are looking quite healthy while growing out of apparently bone-dry soil and cracks in rocks.
 The above patch of Mahala Mat, formerly known as Squaw Carpet, I spotted above eye level on a flat place above the road.  It looked like a vague spread of very light blue, possibly even some spilled paint.  I parked and went exploring.
 The mat was beneath a large Ponderosa Pine, os the flowers were enmeshed in fallen pine needles.  Here are tow photos, one with the pine needles cleared and one in situ.
 Across the road from the Mahala Mat, I spotted a bright red something-or-other and thought it was a bottle or a shotgun shell until further exploration revealed it to be my first Indian Paintbrush of the season.

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