As one drives around in September, brilliant yellows, cheerful whites, subtle pinks, and even chartreuse greet us from bushes and roadsides. Except for the bright red leaves on Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobium, few of our lower elevation natives have the brilliant red, orange, and yellow leaves that festoon mountains and eastern areas, yet many of our fall flowers and leaves have their own unique if subtle charm. This is when our fall-blooming DYC’s come into their own.

Even the lowly Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis, one of the few dioecious, shrubby, non-showy composites that I know of, has its “Fifteen minutes (or 1-2 months) of fame.” The subtle yellow staminate flowers of the male plant, aka “Mr. Fuzzy-Wuzzy,” shine with pride, and are quite fragrant, especially in bright sunshine.

The white, powder-puff plumes and smaller blossoms of the female plants, aka “Mrs. Fuzzy-Wuzzy,” greet those who have the eyes to see them. This is indeed the season of yellow flowers. Prominent are the “diaspora” members of the Haplopappus genus, i.e., the various Golden Bushes, Hazardia, Ericameria, and Isocoma spp. The Mock Heather, Ericameria ericoides, looks as if its tops were spray painted. The tarweeds, Hemizonia, Centromadia, Deinandra, and Madia spp., Rabbit Brushes, Ericameria and Chrysothamnus spp., Goldenrods, Solidago spp., and Telegraph Weed, Heterotheca grandifolia, also greet the viewer.

White is represented by both flowers and plumes. Various Lessingia spp. bloom in the fall including one appearing late enough to be known as the “Christmas Daisy.” A few late-blooming Buckwheats, Eriogonum spp., Morning Glories, Calystegia spp., and Mexican Elderberries, Sambucus mexicana, are evident. The Dandelion-like plumes of the composites, the pheasant feather-like plumes of the Western Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus betuloides, and the fluffy plumes of the Cottonwoods, Populus spp., also liven the fall vegetation.

Pink is seen in the Twiggy and other Wreath Plants, Stephanomeria spp., maturing Buckwheats, Eriogonum spp., and the ubiquitous Naked Ladies, Amaryllis belladonna. But chartreuse?  This is found in the rare but, in places, locally abundant Seaside Birdsbeak, Cordylanthus rigidus ssp. littoralis. A spectacular display can be seen on State Route 1 between Vandenberg Village and Allan Hancock College, where Deer Creek crosses the highway. Ah yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

As plant lovers we should not only see our subtle fall beauty, but should be sharing this vision with others. Check Field Trips for our mid-October Burton Mesa Chaparral tour at the La Purisima Mission.

— Charlie Blair