I got such a great response from last week’s newsletter and many, many requests to see some of those self-described “selfies with plants” from my recent hikes in Southern California. Ask and ye shall receive! Well … within reason.
I am still recovering from my Ragnar trail relay near Zion National Park (spoiler: I survived), and I’ve got a slew of deadlines on a project and some medical stuff to take care of this week. Also, it’s my birthday on Sunday, so I’m going to give myself a small break and come back to the regular roundup newsletter then.
Instead, here is a fun Native Plant Goofball Selfie Tour of the Santa Monica Mountains, highlighting some of the plant community that brought me some truly unbridled joy this month and for many, many years prior.
I’ll open this post up to everyone next week—for now this is a little treat for my paid subscribers. And hey, if you’ve been enjoying what I’ve been doing here since late December, why not show a little monetary support so I can keep doing it?
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I’ve got some more good stuff coming to the paid subscriber tier soon, too, so stay tuned! Or, you know, just stare at your inbox and ignore the rest of the world.
First off, a little bit of Toyon, the official native plant of the City of Los Angeles, along with some marah still forming those spiky little fruits that everyone asks about every single year. They’re native, too, and although they look like they might smother some of these other plants, they’ll die back in the summer and the plants they were crawling over will be just fine. I got a tattoo of four toyon leaves on my wrist after turning in the manuscript for Discovering Griffith Park.
I got up close and personal with some black sage. Not the first nor the last time I will stick my face directly into a sage scrub plant. This one is easy to grow in a garden and will bring lots of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds nearby. If I’m on a hike and I see this plant, I’m gonna stop and rub its leaves and then sniff for a while. It’s a terrific little pick-me-up.
See? I told you I wasn’t done sticking my face in plants! Here are some leftover blooms from a ceanothus / buckbrush species. These have a very light scent but if you get up next to them it’s quite lovely. Bees and birds love this one, too. In the garden, once they get established you can pretty much leave them alone, but they can grow REALLY big REALLY quickly, so leave room.
California brittlebush (sometimes also called bush sunflower) was all over the trail, and quite happy. If you’ve visited Eaton Canyon, they have an ENORMOUS grove of this stuff near the Nature Center. It’s also very common all throughout the Southern California mountains on the coastal sides.
It was a little early for the California buckwheat but this patch was just starting to bloom. This is another great plant for native gardens—the blooms last well into the fall, they’re evergreen, and they cover up ground quickly but are also easy to manage. Once you learn the buckwheat’s unique flowers, it’s very easy to spot buckwheats in other elevations and climates—up in the Sierra Nevada and hiding out in the low deserts, too.
I wasn’t the only one out enjoying the native blooms! Here’s a bee digging into a rock-rose.
Some of the prickly pears in Dante’s View were juuuust about to bloom. These are exceptionally easy to grow. Just remember—they can spread easily and yes, they are very sharp. Both my dog and I have had prickly pear needles in us at various points, but oh boy those flowers are ::chef’s kiss::
If there’s California sagebrush on the trail, I’m going to be touching it and putting my face into it. ESPECIALLY if it just rained that morning. This is truly the scent of coastal Southern California and one of the scents that instantly transports me back there. This can be a pretty inconspicuous shrub most of the year, but in the spring it’s almost neon green.
Chamise used to get a bad rap because people thought it just burst into flame at the slightest spark. Now most folks recognize it doesn’t burn any faster than any other plant, but because it grows almost anywhere in California, researchers who measure the level of moisture in its branches can use it to predict wildfire season intensity. This Wired article is super interesting, even though it is clearly written by someone who looks down on chaparral.
They don’t call these things showy penstemons for nothing! The blooms on these things are basically electric indigo. They grow only in the Peninsular and Transverse Ranges—basically Los Angeles, Orange, coastal San Diego, and a tiny sliver of Riverside Counties into Baja California.
We got lupines!
Monkeyflowers are one of my favorites in Griffith Park, and they are usually out by this time of year. But I guess the cooler, wetter winter has them on a bit of a delay. Look for them sprouting out of seemingly impossible places like the side of this cliff wall. Scientists are really keen on studying them these days for their genetic diversity and ability to live in seemingly inhospitable places, too.
Matilija poppies are also known as “fried egg poppies,” for fairly obvious reasons. These were just on the side of the road near the L.A. Zoo and Autry Museum, and bloom reliably every year around this time.
Ohh, and here’s me doing a P-22 impression. Death to black mustard.
Later on this trip, I co-guided a hike to Sandstone Peak with Just Trek and was absolutely delighted by both the most truly perfect weather I have ever had at this location—as well as some delightful wildflower blooming.
Wooly bluecurls have a reputation as being kind of tough to grow in a garden setting. They are fire-followers and tend to not last very long, but when they show up we get to see these magnificent flowers with a very strong, very pleasant scent.
Delicate Mariposa lillies are always a treat to find. They’re solitary and require a bit of attention to the small things to spot, especially among other grasses or shrubs. They also come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and each one’s a beaut. There are 67 different species of Mariposa lily and 45 of them are found in California. This one’s a San Luis Obispo Mariposa Lily.
California yerba santa has a great, sagebrush-adjacent scent to it. Some folks don’t like it but I’m always drawn to it on the trail. You can also chew the leaf to clean your mouth a bit and it’s said to help with respiratory health fresh, dried, or in tea form.
Canyon sunflowers are terrific, and they were all over the Mishe Mokwa Trail. Although these are in the sun here, these things also really enjoy shady spots, too. You can also find them underneath dense oak canopies and they make a great little pop of color in a garden where the shade would otherwise make it tough for plants to grow.
Wow were the lupines in the Santa Monicas happy! These things were HUGE—well over six feet tall—and blooming profusely.
The Santa Monica Mountains near Sandstone Peak were absolutely blanketed with yellow. And while the more pessimistic in us might assume that all this yellow was the invasive black mustard (which at this point is really dominating the landscape of southeastern Griffith Park as basically a monoculture), I’m happy to say that up here it was overwhelmingly native deerweed instead. Deerweed is another pioneer species that tends to fill in after a fire—assuming all that space isn’t taken up by mustard!
That’s all I’ve got for you right now … I’ll get another solid newsletter out to y’all next week, but in the meantime, as always …
Quite possibly my favorite post! Do you have a favorite? It's so hard to choose, but mine may be the California Sagebrush and Yerba Santa. Oh but the black sage too... and ceanothus. Okay never mind. All of them are my favorite! LOL