California Native Plant Society – San Luis Obispo Chapter
Annual Potluck Banquet
Saturday, January 11, 2020
$10 per person, plus a pot luck item for the dinner
Morro Bay Veterans Memorial Building
209 Surf St, Morro Bay
Social Hour – 5:30 pm
Buffet Style Potluck Dinner – 6:30 pm
Chapter business – 7:30 pm
Program – 8:00 pm
– – –
The CNPS Vegetation Program
Julie Evens will provide a talk regarding the California Native Plant Society’s Vegetation Program plus photo excerpts from a signature book published a few years ago about our state’s incredible diversity of vegetation, including a spectrum of common and rare vegetation assemblages. Julie is the Vegetation Program Director of CNPS, in which she maintains standard methods for surveying, classifying, and mapping vegetation in California. She provides public workshops on vegetation surveying and mapping. She works collaboratively with agencies and CNPS chapters on vegetation assessment
projects, including current projects in the Bay Area, Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, Sierra Nevada foothills, North Coast, among other regions. She is a coauthor with John Sawyer and Todd Keeler-Wolf of the second edition of A Manual of California Vegetation, and she is a co-author with Michael Barbour et al. of California’s Botanical Landscapes: A Pictorial View of the State’s Vegetation. She also helped compile the first edition of the CNPS Fire Recovery Guide. Julie has a M.A. degree from Humboldt State University, and she holds two B.A. degrees from the University of California–Santa Cruz. Before CNPS, She has worked as an ecologist and botanist for federal and state agencies including the National Park Service, US Geological Survey, University of California, and Department of Fish & Game. She has worked for CNPS since April 2001.
Tickets are $10 per person – You may reserve your spot with credit card or PayPal by clicking the Tickets button
If you prefer, you may send payment to D. Krause, 2706 Newton Drive, Cambria, CA, 93428. You may print this form to include with your check.
Questions? Contact David Krause at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-927-5182
CNPS will be providing the beer, wine, coffee, tea, and assorted beverages included with the cost of the banquet. Plates, glasses, cups, and napkins will be available; we ask that you bring your own eating utensils, although plastic utensils will be available.
For the dinner potluck, we are asking those with last names beginning with the following letters to bring the suggested item (and serving utensils). However, if you have a dish you especially want to share with the group, please feel free to bring it or contact Lauren (805-460-6329, email@example.com) for alternative suggestions.
A to H: main meat or veggie dish
I to Q: salad (with dressing) or side dish
R to Z: dessert
Please put your name on a label or piece of tape on your serving items so they can be returned to you.
From the south (SLO/Los Osos): Exit Hwy 1 at Main Street. Turn right, go under freeway, and stay on Main Street through traffic signal. Go up the hill a couple hundred yards and turn right on Surf Street (sign is obscure). Continue over cross street and veer to the right. The Veterans Building is the large building on the left.
From the north (Highway 41 and the north coast): Turn left on Main Street immediately east of the freeway. Stay on Main Street through the signal and then see above.
contact Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-460-6329.
The room is open at 5 and we need volunteers to arrive at 5 and help get set up by 5:30, and volunteers to clean up (plan to stay about 30 minutes after). Contact Lauren at email@example.com or 805-460-6329.
Hope to see you there!
Participate in the new effort to use digital images to investigate phenological change in a biodiversity hotspot – California.
Over the years, Dr. David Keil, professor emeritus Cal Poly-SLO, has documented the plants of California with an emphasis on plants of San Luis Obispo County and nearby regions. Recently, Dave offered to make the majority of his plants lists for this region available to CNPS-SLO and they now reside on the Chapter’s website. These lists represent a mountain of work, where he has carefully noted every species occurring in a particular area and later revisited the area to add and/or modify his findings. Some of us have been fortunate to accompany him on one of his “plant list” field trips. He starts with a clipboard and about ten pages of blank paper. At the end of the visit, the pages are full, written in a notation style only he can decipher. Those notes are then transcribed by Dave into lists. So, thank you Dave for allowing us to share in this treasure trove of data, which is now available for generations to come. To access the website domain containing these lists, go to www.cnpsslo.org, then to the pulldown menu “Resources” and then to “Finding Plants in the Wild”. And while you’re there, go to the “Home” page and scroll down to the green box opposite the calendar and sign up to receive e-mails about upcoming Chapter events.
Editor’s Addition: The plant lists described by Bill are PDF files and require a PDF reader. Dr. Keil’s lists present species with native/introduced in the first column, latin binomials in alphabetic order in the second column, common name in the third column, and family in the fourth column. If you wish to sort these lists in a different order, such as by family, you can select data on the PDF and paste it into an Excel spreadsheet, selecting only sections of the PDF with the plant data (i.e. do not include explanatory text, or page numbers). When you paste into Excel, you will see that each of Dr. Keil’s data lines will occupy two rows of the spreadsheet, one of which will contain no data. Ignore this. To sort in Excel, select the cells to include in the sort (sort is part of the ‘Data’ pulldown). Sort only works if all the cells are the same size, which is why you don’t copy/paste parts of the original PDF.
Landscaping with California Native Plants Workshop
CNPS-SLO hosted an information-packed, fun-filled workshop on October 12, 2019. This was the first of a series of “Botanist-Development” workshops to be provided by your local CNPS chapter. The goals for these workshops is to offer low cost training for local botanists to improve your knowledge and spread the love of native plants! The Landscaping with California Native Plants workshop was expertly facilitated by local landscape contractor and CNPS member, John Doyle.
After a brief lecture on the foundations of landscaping with natives, the group hit the dirt, observing and learning about native plant
CNPS Certified Wildlife Habitat
gardening from local landscapers. John’s lecture provided context on why using native plants in your landscaping is so important for local critters, basic tenants of a good landscape design (match to your climate, substrate and topography), and examples of local native plants that tend to do well in our gardens. Native plants were raffled off to eager participants and everyone walked home with a wealth of information on where to learn more and find native plants. The first tour stop was the Garden of the Seven Sisters where SLO Master Gardeners have a healthy California Native Plant garden. After an informative presentation by Gary Lawson, the class moved on to the Monday Club where they have recently installed a native plant garden. Landscape Architect Jeffrey Gordon Smith shared some of his wisdom on landscaping with natives. The last stop was at the home of Bill and Diana Waycott to learn about what some dedicated homeowners can do to create a little utopia for native pollinators. Workshop participants learned how they can earn a CNPS Certified Wildlife Habitat sign.
How many of you have photographed a manzanita in the field, or brought back a leaf, and then had trouble identifying it using a key? There are many manzanitas in the County, and a lot share common features. You ask yourself if what you have matches what is described in the key. One helpful tool is to use something like the CalFlora web site to see what other people thought as a match to the species name, but those photos may not flag key diagnostic features from the key. Don’t you wish you had a bunch of correctly identified specimens lying in front of you for comparison? Well… you can…. At the CCH2 web site you can enter and examine specimens from dozens of herbaria.
On the opening page, select ‘image search’ and then type in the latin binomial into the search page. You can also search by common name, family, or taxonomic group. Click Load Images to see thumbnails of all herbaria sheets matching your search criteria. Select a thumbnail, and another page will open with data on the sample. Open Large Image will open a high resolution picture of the specimen. Once loaded, your cursor will turn into the ‘+’ which allows extreme close up.
This is sufficiently detailed to enable you to see glands on stem hairs, and details of leaf surfaces, and you will have a lot of samples for most species. Those of you who attended the workshop before the last meeting were learning how to enter data from herbarium sheets, and this site is where a lot of the data will reside.
A member of the Asteraceae family, bull thistle is an annual herb native to Europe and is widespread in California and listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. It is found in every state in the U.S. and on every continent except Antarctica. It is a problem in some natural areas such as Yosemite National Park, California. It might have been introduced to eastern North America during colonial times, and to western North America in the late 1800s. Bull thistle is the most common and widespread of pasture and rangeland thistles in western North America. It is also found in disturbed areas such as forest clearcuts, and along roads, riparian areas, and fences. Plants can form dense thickets, displacing other vegetation. The spiny nature of the plant renders it unpalatable to wildlife. Bull thistle is usually a biennial, but can be monocarpic (flowers and seeds one time) and die. It forms a deep taproot and prefers
fertile, well drained soils and grows to 3 to 4 ft. tall. In the juvenile phase, individual bull thistle plants form a single rosette to 3 ft. in diameter. Stems have spiny wings with many spreading branches, and sometimes a single stem. Leaves are 3 to 12 inches long, deeply lobed with coarse prickly hairs on top and woolly underneath. Lobes are tipped with stout spines. Bull thistle flower heads are pink-magenta, to 2 inches in diameter, to 2 inches long, usually solitary, or clustered at the ends of shoots and branches. Large spiny bracts (modified or specialized leaves) surround the seed heads. Bull thistle fruits are achenes (a simple dry fruit), 1/16th-inch long, with a long, hairy plume that is easily detached. Plants can produce up to 300 seeds per flowerhead, with 1 to 400 flower heads per plant. The seed bank is very short lived on the surface but may last 3 years if buried. The key to successful management of bull thistle is to prevent seed production. Seedling and rosette growth stages are the most logical to target for control efforts.
Mark Skinner: Invasive Species Chair
Cirsium vulgare: photo by David Chipping
Introduce your friends and family members to native plants this holiday season with a gift from our chapter sales table at the December 5 meeting. When you buy items from the sales table at our meetings and events, you are supporting our chapter and getting a good deal because the chapter pays the sales tax. Plus you can walk out with your purchase in hand. We have a wide variety of books including field guides, how-to books, and books specific to San Luis Obispo County. Friends who do not know they are native plant enthusiasts yet may enjoy the gift of a well-made attractive t-shirt.
New this year, Marti Rutherford will be bringing seed packets that we will be selling for $1.00/packet (the seeds inside are
priceless). Native plant seeds are a great gift for kids and gardening fans that might enjoy growing plants themselves. Marti’s wildflower mix includes tidy tips (Layia platyglossa), clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata and purpurea), lupine (Lupinus succulentus), and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).
We accept cash, checks, and credit cards. Dave Krause has been teaching me how to process credit card payments via PayPal on my iPad so I thank you in advance for your patience as I learn.
I want to extend a thank you to all who participated in the seed exchange in October. We ended up with over eighty species of plants. It was fun to see the interest of those who enjoy the propagation experience. Extra seed was packaged to sell at the plant sale in November and we managed to raise over $250 for our chapter. Who knows, perhaps we will have more native plants in local gardens to support the critters that make our county the wonderful place that it is, grown from seed at our exchange. I encourage all of those who enjoy collecting seed to continue to do that when the time is right. If anyone has access to red maid seeds please plan to collect. We did have some but not enough to carry over into the plant sale and it is one that I would like to be able to offer. I also think it would be fun to have some miner’s lettuce, milk maids, owls clover, yerba buena and, well, the list could go on and on. Perhaps none of you have this on your property but if you do, please collect. Remember though that to collect on collect on property that is not your own you need permission.
It was still dark and very cold when Suzette and I starting heading east from Los Osos to the plant sale site located in San Luis Obispo. It’s amazing at 6:30am, how few vehicles are on Los Osos Valley Road. This was a good thing, because the old Ford Explorer was not traveling very fast due to the heavy load of tables and other items. As we reached Madonna Road, I wondered what we would see as we arrived at the sale site.
These are the kind of things that a plant sale chairperson can lose sleep over. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was 38 degrees outside. I looked at Suzette and we both breathed a sigh of relief. As always and for the last 31 years, everybody was there, having a great time while setting things up for the sale.
Soon it was time for the starting bell to ring. As the day went on, people came and went, with numerous plants, books, t-shirts and seeds being sold, thanks to the hard work of our many volunteers. Suzette and I want to thank all who volunteered, who took the time to come out on a beautiful day and really make this sale happen. Looking forward already to next year’s sale and seeing you all working together again. Thanks for helping to spread the word … native plants rock! Have a great winter season and happy gardening.
John and Suzette
The Garden Corner
It’s time to start thinking about planting your wildflower garden with the winter rains coming soon. As in years past, we are beginning our rainy season late with a dry fall so far. This doesn’t mean we will have a dry winter, but this dry pattern is important when it comes to sowing our wildflower garden.
The best gardens start with the onset of rain. But if we put out our seeds too soon, the birds will eat them and the sun will bake the rest. So keeping this in mind, we can still prepare the site to be planted by raking the area smooth. Soil amendment is not necessary. Go through the seeds you have acquired, which, of course, you bought at the plant sale. Get everything ready so that when the storms start to line up you are ready to sow your seeds. Two days in advance of a rain event, complete the following steps: First, rake the top one inch of soil to loosen it; Second, using a light hand, spread seeds over the area that is to be your wildflower garden; Third, using your rake, go over the area once again to ensure there is soil-to-seed contact. Finally, and the best part, ‘do the stomp’ by walking all over the area to compress the soil. Then wait for the rains to come.
It’s important to provide extra water, if necessary, at least every two weeks. Otherwise if the rains come, sit back and watch your wildflowers grow! Until next time, happy gardening! If you have any questions about sowing your wildflower garden, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of OBISPOENSIS has never been used in any local newsletter. Bonnie drew it for Dr. David Keil and my plant taxonomy text back in the early 1970’s. Why has it not been used? Well, first a look at Bonnie’s drawing will indicate that the species produces inconspicuous flowers. It lacks petals, and the flowers are semi-hidden in the axils of its somewhat succulent leaves, and the species is not native to California. Its common names include New Zealand, or dune, spinach, Tetragonia tetragonoides. For you old timers like me, back in the 1970’s its most common published scientific name was Tetragonia expansa.
New Zealand spinach is considered by many to be an invasive weed. I assume we must go along with that, but my experience with it around here is that it’s not particularly good at it. It prefers slightly salty (halophilic) soils. It also seems to require a bit of disturbance. So, look for it at the upper, less salty edge of salt marsh and/or on coastal benches, especially in disturbed sites where few other species can grow. A few individual plants have been found along the edge of Los Osos Creek, west of Bay View bridge. It is especially common along the trails south of Spooner’s Cove in Montaña de Oro State Park, where it became sufficiently dense to warrant a targeted removal project. It can also be encountered as a weed all along the coast.
New Zealand spinach belongs to a family of flowering plants, Aizoaceae, that is primarily native to the Southern Hemisphere. New Zealand spinach is, in fact native to Southern Africa but has spread to New Zealand and is apparently a serious weed throughout southern Australia. Obviously, it has also been introduced into North America and Eurasia. The genus, Tetragonia, has around a dozen species and its generic name is derived from the four (tetra-) wings that are produced on the green fruit. These wings dry up and essentially disappear in the mature fruit. The inconspicuous flower displays a pale yellow color, but the flowers have no petals, only sepals as it only produces a single whorl of perianth (collective term for sepals and petals). If a perianth has only one whorl, botanists tend to regard them as sepals. These sepals, as well as the stamens are attached to the top of the ovary which makes the ovary inferior. The more famous and probably even more weedy members of the Aizoaceae are the ice plants
(Carpobrotus and Mesembryanthemum).
Wherever New Zealand spinach is found growing, its leaves have been used as a green vegetable. One web source indicated that the Magellan expedition around the world was especially happy to find a patch of it. They would pick the leaves, boil them and then dry (preserve) them for eating. It was particularly good in preventing scurvy! However, note that they boiled the leaves before eating them. The leaves contain enough oxalate chemicals to cause oxalate poisoning. Oxalate chemicals are usually destroyed by boiling.
Tetragonia in flower: close-up photo by David
Bluff Trail, Montaña de Oro S.P., site of a New
Zealand spinach removal project to encourage the return of native plants. Photo by David Chipping
Native Plant Sale This Saturday
November 2, 9am-2pm
Pacific Beach High School (at Target Intersection), SLO
Los Osos Draft Habitat Conservation Plan (DHCP)
CNPS has concerns about the estimated impacts to Morro manzanita that are described in the DHCP. On Table 4-1, page 4-37, the impact of development on residential parcels greater than 1 acre is given as 1 acre per parcel. However the area within the DHCP includes core manzanita habitat south, east and west of the southern edge of the Cabrillo Estates subdivision. The DHCP shows no recognition that this parcel was the target of a large scale subdivision in 1998. This was Vesting Tentative Tract Map 1873, which was approved by the SLO County Board of Supervisors, but defeated on appeal by CNPS and others to the California Coastal Commission, which recognized that area as ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area).
The 1998 project was described as the division of 124 acres into 41 residential lots and 3 open space lots, the latter totaling 88 acres, and therefore indicating that the 41 lots and roads would consume 124-88 = 36 acres. The 1996 subdivision described the developable envelope and associated buffer for each lot as being limited to 20,000 sq.ft., with a cumulative footprint of 18.82 acres. When fire clearances are considered at the Wildland-Urban Interface, acreage impacts are more severe. Manzanita is considered flammable by fire departments, and vegetation clearances of a minimum of 50 feet, and as much as 100 feet could remove as much as 1.5 acres of the plant around a single lot.
It must be remembered that this was actually approved by the Board of Supervisors, and only stopped at the Coastal Commission as a violation of the local coastal plan’s protection of an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA).
We have some other concerns as well. The DHCP requires a fee to be paid into a conservation fund by anyone seeking to ‘take’ of a covered species. The other species are Indian Knob mountain balm, whose populations are already protected, and two animals, the Morro Bay kangaroo rat and the Banded dune snail. The idea is to spend the collected funds on habitat enhancement, such as veldt grass removal, and the purchase of mitigation lands. One of the problems is that there are plenty of people ready to pay fees as the cost of doing business, but willing sellers of mitigation lands are hard to find. In addition, most of the core manzanita habitat is in pretty good shape, although becoming senescent, so that there is really not much mitigation that can be done, and for the manzanita, the DHCP appears to be a negative-sum game. The DHCP appears to underestimate the impacts to the plant, particularly as the protection of federally listed plants is weak relative to that of animals, and that could dictate where limited mitigation funds will be spent.
I can send you a copy of the DHCP if you email me at <email@example.com>. The files can be downloaded from the Ventura office of the U.S. Fish and Wildflife Service <https://www.fws.gov/ventura/>. Comments are accepted up to November 18th.
The impact on plant communities due to mandated vegetation clearance at the Wildland-Urban Interface appears to be extremely variable, even along individual sites such as the pine forest in Cambria. In some areas we have been told that all small trees and shrubs were removed, and in others they were selectively preserved. CNPS urges members to photograph treatment areas, so that we can better estimate the long term ecological effects.
David Krause took these photos of untreated (left) and treated (right) areas in Cambria. Clearly the ‘fire ladder’ has been reduced, lessening the chance of crown fires, but wildlife habitat has been eliminated.
What should I plant in my yard this fall before the rains begin? People are often asking me this. I like to consider what Doug Tallamy told us at the CNPS state conservation conference a couple of years ago about planting trees and shrubs that are foraging hubs for insects and birds. He mentioned several genera that fed lots of caterpillars, which in turn feed lots of birds.
One of these was the genus Prunus. You may recognize this as a fruit tree genus including cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches. It attracts butterflies, bees, and pollinating flies. One of my favorites is the Prunus lyonii, or Catalina cherry. It has beautiful green foliage, is drought tolerant, and according to Las Pilitas nursery, it tolerates clay soils well. It is closely related to the native shrub called Islay (Prunus ilicifolia). Islay was harvested for the kernels inside of the pit. Jan Timbrook notes in Chumash Ethnobotany that one hat of islay was worth two hats of acorns.
The kernel of the cherry needs to be removed from the pit (you may eat the thin skin of fruit in the process if it is ripe first). Then you must boil the kernels and rinse the water several times, then smash the kernels and then leach like acorns to remove the cyanide that naturally occurs in the kernels. Since the native Islay was not available at the time, I decided to try this with the Catalina cherry growing in my Mom’s yard. (Catalina cherry is used in the horticultural trade and can be bought and planted easily). I gathered the pits that had accumulated on the ground, cracked them open, boiled and leached the kernels, then made little balls out of them. They kind of tasted like cooked beans, bland but nutritious. My curiosity was satisfied. I’m not crazy about the kernels as food, but I love the shrub with its gorgeous bright green foliage. The pictures below are from Morro Bay State park where it was planted between the campsites.
As I am writing this, I am thinking about the fact that we have our annual native plant sale coming up on November 2. I have been planting the plants that I have written about over the last year in my own garden, and I hope that you find some that will be perfect for yours as well. I’ll see you there on November 2.
The Garden Corner
Spider mites, aphids, thrips, oh my! Sadly, along with fall colors comes an invasion of these pesky insects. And trust me, when it comes to bugs, things can go south real fast! Fall’s warm weather, often times referred to as “The Indian Summer”, creates the perfect condition for these destructive creatures to explode overnight. Before you know it, there could be a full fledged war happening in your backyard. Luckily I have some tricks up my sleeve to keep these bugs at bay.
Now there’s a few things to keep in mind when it comes to repelling insects. This first thing to remember is that you’ll never be able to kill every single bug. Not to worry though, plants are able to tolerate a few insects here and there. Secondly, it’s highly important to be mindful of bees. The rule is: When flowers are present, there’s likely to be bees present. That’s why fall is an optimal time to spray for pests, as most plants are in a somewhat dormant state waiting for the winter rain.
When the bugs attack, the first thing I’d recommend is Neem oil. This organic pest repellent is made from the seeds of the Neem tree, and available at most nursery centers. Neem oil works by covering the insects’ breathing holes, and is also effective against leaf fungi on manzanita and toyon. Next on the list are soap sprays. I would suggest a simple soap spray made of potassium salts, which like Neem oil, smothers the bugs’ breathing holes. Lastly is Bacillus thuringiensis. This spray works exclusively on caterpillar insects like the ones that eat oak trees, and should only be applied in the evenings as it breaks down in the sunlight.
I hope this gave you a bit of insight on how to prepare for Fall’s creepy crawlers. Until next time, happy gardening! If you have any questions, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please join us on Thursday November 7 for a talk titled “Can you be a Sprouting Pine Nut?” about a plant community with some notoriety in our neck of the woods: Monterey Pine Forest. The story isn’t about the trees, which seem to grow everywhere in the California landscape and are found around the world in vast plantations – the story is about the natural Monterey Pine Forests of the Central Coast and the biological, economic and inspirational values these plant communities sustain. Nikki is a Central Coast native who will share the ecological story about Monterey Pine Forests and how a small group of pine enthusiasts in Carmel came together nearly 30 years ago to advocate for the conservation of native forest habitat.
Nikki Nedeff is a Monterey County native with an enduring love of wild places and open spaces. Her professional experience spans more than three decades with non-profit conservation organizations and public resource management agencies in land acquisition and stewardship positions. Nikki’s academic background includes degrees in Biogeography from UC Berkeley, where her graduate work focused on riparian plant ecology. She teaches plant community ecology each spring at California State University Monterey Bay and works with the Big Sur Land Trust as Associate Director of Conservation. Email: email@example.com
About the Artwork: The plant on the cover of this issue of the Obispoensis is the elegant clarkia or mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata). It’s another drawing by Mardi Niles, using Prismacolor Verithin color pencils. When I first saw Mardi’s work, they were a fantastic study of the development of an inflorescence and the opening of flowers. I remember them as pencil sketches. Later, I saw them as beautiful finished watercolors. Unfortunately, our mailed chapter newsletter often has a grey-scale print on the cover.
Now let’s talk about elegant clarkia. It gets that name because its flowers are beautiful (and elegant) and the plant stands tall (up to 3 feet or more) which adds to its elegance. As can be seen, the 4 petals have an unusual shape. They have a long, narrow base and a broad triangular tip. Botanists call this shape ‘spatulate’. The sepals are fused into a disk that’s attached below the attachment of the 8 stamens. Note that only four of the stamens look like normal, functioning stamens with large anthers and the other four have tiny anthers. I don’t know if they have any function or not. Note the single flower bud shown in the picture. It is deflexed or has its tip pointing downward. This is an important character used to separate groups of species in the genus, Clarkia.
Photo of Cal Poly herbarium sheets C. unguiculata with calyx and
ovary bearing long spreading hairs
Elegant clarkia is endemic to California where it ranges throughout the foothills of the Coast and Sierra Nevada ranges. It seems to be rare or absent away from hills. The distribution map for the species in California resembles a big ‘O’ with the Central Valley inside the ‘O’. I find that the easiest place to find elegant clarkia growing is on roadsides, especially roadsides passing through hilly country. It is especially noticeable growing with thistle sage at Shell Creek.
Dr. Keil’s SLO County Flora (in preparation) will be recognizing a close relative of the Clarkia ungiculata, C. tembloriensis. C. tembloriensis, as its name implies was probably described from plants growing in Temblor Range. Dr. Robert F. Hoover, in the original San Luis Obispo County Flora, has a relatively long discussion of the two species that ends in his concluding that the two species intergrade so much in eastern San Luis Obispo County that it would not be productive to try and separate them. Well, we’ll have to wait to read what Dr. Keil has to say about them when his new County Flora is available.
Elegant clarkia makes a wonderful addition to a native plant garden; especially in a flower bed set aside for annuals. I first became acquainted with the plant in Ralph Baker’s Shell Beach front yard Ralph was the acting Chapter President when I joined the Chapter back in 1970. It was Ralph’s clarkias that inspired me to see if it would grow for me despite my very brown thumb. Since it is said to grow readily from seed, I obtained my first seed at a Chapter Plant Sale many years ago. Today, it now grows luxuriantly in my front yard in San Luis Obispo adobe clay despite most of my horticultural sources recommending well drained soils. Seed from my adobe grown plants were at the SEED EXCHANGE set up before our October Meeting and will also be available at the upcoming PLANT SALE the first Saturday in November.
Photos of Cal Poly herbarium sheet showing C. tembloriensis with calyx and ovary with tiny little hairs
Heather Johnson has a new watercolor for us to use on the cover of this issue of Obispoensis. One might ask what is the origin of the practice of putting a different plant on the cover of each Obispoensis issue? It all started with the founder of our CNPS chapter, Dr. Robert Hoover. At the beginning of the first CNPS chapter meeting I ever attended (Fall, 1969) Dr. Hoover got up and made a presentation of what he called the “Plant of the Month.” It turned out the plant he chose to discuss was not a native plant or to even be known to exist in the wild. He discussed Franklinia alatamaha or Franklin Tree, a plant that had been collected and described from Georgia during Colonial times but after exhaustive searches hadn’t been found since. Why did he talk about a plant extinct in the wild? It had just appeared on a newly published United States postage stamp!
However, Heather’s cover watercolor is of a plant found throughout California as well as all the surrounding states. One or more of its varieties spread north into British Columbia and South all the way to Central America. The plant is seen on practically every spring field trip, but I’m reluctant to call it common. I prefer to think of it as widespread. Miner’s lettuce prefers shaded, moist, disturbed areas. It tends to be common during the rainy season and spotty other times. In the early spring, when there’s still lots of surface water, it can be found just about anywhere. I have a picture from the Shell Creek area of it growing in the crotch of a blue oak tree.
I also suspect everyone who has any experience with native plants, especially edible native plants, already knew what it is. Yes, it’s most commonly identified around the central coast as miner’s lettuce (Claytonia (Montia) perfoliata). In a book entitled Edible Wild Plants (originally, 1939) by Oliver P. Medsger, that has been in my library since my childhood, has also been called Indian lettuce, or Spanish lettuce and in Europe it’s cultivated under the name of winter purslane. All these names refer to use as a spring green. I suspect the name, miner’s lettuce, is the most recent and probably dates back only to the mid-1800s when California was over-run with miners looking for gold. I also am sure the miner’s diet was mostly tubers, grain, legumes with some meat and whisky. All of these ‘foods’ lacked enough required vitamins and minerals which would have been amply supplied by grabbing a handful of miner’s lettuce leaves on the way to a stream to pan for gold.
Heather’s watercolor is only of a couple of flowering stems which produce the leaves that were used to coin the second part of the scientific name – perfoliata. The situation where a leaf blade base appears to be passed through (perforated) by its stem is said to be perfoliate. The regular leaves are all basal and form a mound a few inches high and wide. Each basal leaf is modestly succulent and is in the shape of the spatula from your kitchen. It has a long tapering base and broad squarish or egg-shaped tip. I suspect it’s these basal leaves that were eaten.
You may also have noticed that there are two possible generic names for this plant – Claytonia and Montia. So, which is the correct genus? Also, if you go to older floras and wildflower books you will find that its botanical family seems to have changed from Portulaccaceae to Montiaceae. The name currently valid according the Jepson Manual, 2nd Ed. Is Claytonia perfoliata and is placed in the Montiaceae family. According to the Jepson Manual, the change in genus and family is referenced to a paper published in 2006. This means that the change is probably based on modern DNA sequence data as well as new technical descriptive data which was then organized using current computer classification techniques. The Jepson Manual also noted that some of the characters used required a microscope with 20X magnification which most of us don’t have. This procedure resulted in miner’s lettuce (along with a couple of other species) being moved from the genus, Montia, to the genus Claytonia which included several species of spring beauties. The remaining species in Montia remained in Montia and a new family was created for them – Montiaceae. Why didn’t the species name (perfoliata) change when the species was moved to a new genus? This is due to another rule of Botanical Nomenclature. When a species is moved from one genus to another, the species epithet moves with it unless the species epithet already exists in the new genus. If it does, the mover must come up with a new name for the species in its new location. Since the epithet, perfoliata, didn’t already exist in Claytonia, the epithet moved with miner’s lettuce’s scientific name to its new location. This rule helps keep track of name changes.
Claytonia perfoliata, Miner’s Lettuce; original watercolor by Heather Johnson