This drawing was done for an Obispoensis cover by Bonnie back in 1993. It is on one of our wildflowers that may make an appearance in the eastern portion of our Chapter area. It is extremely common on the Carrizo Plain where it can turn hillsides a bright yellow in good years. A site on the internet reported that 2005 and 2011 were particularly good years. It can also be found on the tops of small rises and mounds. I have not seen the plant at Shell Creek, but I know it to be present in road cuts just a few miles to the east. The species is mostly restricted to Southern California interior coastal ranges and the Mohave Desert. It is listed as inhabiting grasslands and openings in foothill woodland and chaparral. In our area it definitely prefers to grow where vegetation is sparse. This is probably why it is particularly showy on south and west facing slopes in the Temblors.
The plant is Monolopia lanceolata. It is one of our many yellow-flowered members of the sunflower family or Asteraceae (Compositae). I’ve always called the plant by the common name, hillside daisy, but it appears that there are two new common names spreading through the literature. These are “common monolopia” and “common false turtleback.” The second name (common monolopia) alludes to the fact it is the very widespread and tends to form huge colonies where it does grow. The problem with a plant like hillside daisy is that, although it is very common, there is hardly any thing written about it other than barebones taxonomic and ecological data. This makes writing anything about it rather difficult.
Now, enter a third common name, “common false turtleback.” This one is totally new to me. The true turtlebacks are in the genus in the sunflower family, Psathyrotes. According to the literature, the two species in the genus Psathyrotes are found throughout much of the desert southwest. One species, P. ramosissima, is clearly the model for the turtleback name. It is a low shrub that forms a gray mound which, in the drawings and photos, clearly resembles the back of a gray turtle. The problem, at first glance, resides in the flowers. The largish yellow flowers of the hillside daisy just don’t resemble the smallish, inconspicuous flowers of the true turtlebacks. Turtleback ray flowers lack the showy, flat ligules found in most species of Monolopia.
Back in 1993, The Jepson Manual had four species in the genus Monolopia. The new Jepson Manual has five due to the transfer of a species from the genus Lembertia. The new addition is a rare plant known as San Joaquin wooly threads or Congdon’s woolly threads and is a federally listed rare plant, Monolopia (Lembertia) congdonii. This species is found in a very few scattered locations on the Carrizo Plain and has been more or less removed from the rest of its historical range. It has very small, inconspicuous heads that superficially resemble the heads in the true turtlebacks. Non-flowering monolopias and the turtlebacks are similar. Both have gray stems and foliage. Both produce heads surrounded with prominent gray bracts.