Oenothera deltoides

Oenothera deltoides

Desert Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides)

Desert evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) is in full bloom at Shell Creek as I write this. So it
seemed appropriate to resurrect a drawing Bonnie drew back in 1981. It is one of her earlier drawings since it shows a lot of shading. The flowers are white and the plant starts out as a small mound and then spreads-out across the surface of the ground. It can reach several feet across. Fruits are produced along the full length of the branches. However, if you go to Shell Creek in summer and fall you will probably find little trace of it. This is
because as the branches dry out, they turn upward forming what resembles a largish bird cage. Lastly, the dried plant breaks off and joins the other tumble weeds bouncing around and distributing its seeds.

The species has several common names, including birdcage evening primrose, bird cage plant, basket evening primrose, lion in a cage, and devil’s lantern, or as I’ve been simply calling it, desert evening primrose. As my preferred name implies, it’s found in the deserts, from eastern Washington through California, Nevada, Arizona
and into northern Mexico. The common names that refer to “cages” are references to its bird-cage shape the dried plant takes just before it tumbles away.

According to The Jepson Manual, it has five recognized subspecies. This would be expected by a plant occupying such a large range with so many variations in habitat. It prefers well drained soils so it is very common on desert sand dunes thus another common name is dune evening primrose. In our area it is found in the valleys of the interior Coast Ranges, especially in sandy or well drained soils. The area around Shell
Creek is the most northwestern extent of its range of which I’m aware. At Shell Creek it’s most numerous in the sandy alluvial fan east of Shell Creek.

Some of the people on the Malcolm G. McLeod Annual Shell Creek Field Trip might have noticed quite a few of the flowers were fading, desert evening primrose flowers open in the evening and close up in the morning. That is, their large, fragrant, white flowers are open mostly at night when it’s dark.  The white flowers would make them visible in the twilight and darkness. The flowers are very odoriferous at least in the evening. The large, white, night-blooming, odoriferous traits indicate that the species is pollinated by moths, probably hawk moths.

Before 1969, the genus, Oenothera, was huge and included species given the common names evening primrose for the night blooming ones and sun cups for the day flowering ones. Sun cups and evening primroses share, with other members of its family, Onagraceae, four separate petals. In fact, the flowers of the Onagraceae, have a number of distinctive set of characteristics which makes them easy to recognize. They produce flowers that possess four sepals, four petals, eight stamens, attached to the top of a generally thin, often long tube constructed from the bases of the sepals, petals and stamens (hypanthium). The hypanthium arises from the top of the usually four-parted ovary. This means the ovary is said to be inferior or below all the flower parts. This can be summarized asformulaCA4 is short for calyx which is the collective term for the 4 sepals; CO4 stand for the corolla, the collective term for the 4 petals. A8 is the abbreviation for androecium, which translates as the “male things” which are the 8 stamens). G4 stands for gynoecium (female thing) which represents the four-parted ovary, style and/or stigma. The circled four indicates that the 4 subunits (carpels) that make up the gynoecium are fused into a single pistil (visual unit of the gynoecium within a flower). The most conspicuous character that separated plants with the common names, sun cups and evening primroses, is the stigma. A look at Bonnie’s drawing will show it to have four hair-like stigma branches. Only true evening primroses (Oenothera) have this trait. The rest of the old, un-split genus Oenothera display a single wide hemispherical cap. At first, all these species were put into the single genus, Camissonia. Unfortunately this is no longer the case as the knob-stigma species are now scattered into several genera with differences of opinion as to how many. One last point, these are EVENING primroses not primroses. I bring this up because a number of web sites left off the evening in the name evening primroses when giving their lists of common names. I know that common names are not regulated, but to call them simply, primroses, I find totally confusing. True primroses are in the totally unrelated family, Primulaceae. The Primulaceae have flower parts in 5’s. That is, they have 5 sepals, 5 fused petals and 5 stamens placed in front of the petal lobes. The ovary is superior and has only a single cavity, not 4, inside. A common weedy member of the Primulaceae is scarlet pimpernel which is a weed in almost all of our gardens. At least it is in those of us who are not great gardeners.

by Dirk Walters, illustrations by Bonnie Walters | Dirk and Bonnie Walters are long-time CNPS-SLO members, contributors, and board/committee participants. In addition to his work at Cal Poly, Dirk is the current CNPS-SLO Historian.



Chapter Support for Budding Botanists

Chapter Support for Budding Botanists

Your SLO CNPS chapter recognizes the importance of helping students begin their careers in botany. Several years ago, the Malcolm McLeod Scholarship was established to help graduate students fund their research with scholarships in the $300‐$1000 range.

This year there are three recipients.They are Kristen Nelson, Understanding the ecological impacts of Eucalypus globulus on California native habitats; Julia Harencar, Indistinguishable Species of Goldfields: A case of Ecological Selection; and Lindsey Whitaker, Managing for biodiversity in the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes and the rate of invasion by invasive grass,  Ehrharta claycina (Veldt grass).

Put our June 1 chapter meeting on your calendar. These students will be joining us to do presentations on their research.

Kristin Nelson
Lindsey Whitaker
Julia Harencar
April in Pinnacles National Park

April in Pinnacles National Park

Diana and I spent a Sunday in early April this year, visiting the Pinnacles National Park from the west side, near Soledad, CA. It was a drizzly day, making the rock formations appear surreal – larger than life. If you have not walked the park, the trails are wide and gentle, easy for those who take their time. It is the perfect place to take the whole family for an outing.

This is a magic place and it has had a loyal fan club for a long time. The property was protected during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s. We may know the Pinnacles as heap of giant rocks and caves, aligned along the west side of the San Andreas Fault in San Benito County. Its lesser twin, the Neenach Formation, is located 195 miles to the southeast on the eastern side of the fault.

A walk in the Pinnacles during March and April is a feast for the eyes, with an abundance of wildflowers throughout the park. I wanted to briefly share with you some of the highlights of our visit and encourage you to make a stopover there when traveling north.

Clearly, the first assault on the senses when leaving the parking lot on foot is the grand, odd-appearing rock designs dotting the landscape. Then, amongst these giant pillars, are the plants that add to one’s wonder and excitement. It was the plethora of larkspur (Delphinium parryi) that first caught our eye, some upwards of 7 feet tall, in large, dense, purple-blue clusters. \

As we rounded the bend in the trail among crevasses and tall boulders, we noticed mats of dark-green liverworts (Asterella sp.) covering the stony surfaces, showing their umbrella-like spore capsules suspended atop them. These primitive plants seek the damp and shaded rock areas in the deepest parts of the canyon.

Turning around to see what grew on the southern exposures, which receives more light, we found significant coverings of a tiny dudleya, Dudleya caespitosa, coating the rock faces. These small, silver-leaved succulents, no larger than a quarter in diameter with their bright yellow inflorescences, were all linked together by tiny rhizomes resembling spaghetti, running over the rock faces and creating one giant carpet. We’d never seen anything like it.


Delphinium parryi
Asterella sp
Dudleya caespitosa

On our way towards the top of the ridge, we found a number of plants that we have rarely seen in our county. The vividly orange, western wallflowers, Erysimum capitatum, were mixed with golden monolopia, M. lanceolate. Additionally, there were the large, eye-catching Venus thistles, Cirsium occidentale var. venustum, with their enchanting and vibrant shocking-pink hues, along with a small attractive, chalk-white buckwheat, Eriogonum saxatile, growing near the top among the rock outcrops.


Erysimum capitatum and Monolopia lanceolate
Cirsium occidentale
Eriogonum saxatile

As we crossed the rocky ridge and descended the eastern side, we encountered a large area, over an acre in size, covered in tiny terraces, filled with the lowly resurrection plant, Selaginella bigelovii. For those not familiar with this plant, although it is a higher plant, it is called a spike moss, and very closely resembles a non-vascular bryophyte. It is endemic to California and remains dormant for most of the year, but it quickly greens up during the rainy season. So here, on the enormous exposed rock face, grows this tiny plant and nothing else.

Further down the eastern slope, we found two more beauties, Fremont’s monkey flower, Mimulus fremontii, a very small plant, no more than four inches tall, with a tubular magenta flower and two golden stripes angled into its center. These plants are clearly ephemeral and could be easily missed because of their size. Their flowers are easily twenty times the size of the few visible leaves, leading us to wonder where the energy comes from to put on such a floral display.

The other discovery was a mariposa lily, Calochortus venustus, known as the butterfly mariposa lily. The word
“mariposa” is Spanish for butterfly. These large flowers stood high on plants, well above the annual grasses at their base.

I find that a more careful study of mariposa lilies can be fascinating, because each flower is slightly different. This is partly because they change as they open; a newly opened flower bears little resemblance to its older, pollenated selves. Yet, if one looks more closely, the distinctive markings that adorn so many in the genus, vary among flowers in placement, size, color, and intensity. To me, this dance of color and shape reminds me of the intricate motifs found in Native American art. It is as if each flower has its own unique facial alignment, in the way features identify an individual on a human face. Next time you encounter a mariposa lily in bloom, gaze into its “face” and observe the minute and detailed spender within. Make sure you have a 10x hand lens with you at that time.


Selaginella bigelovii
Mimulus fremontii
Calochortus venustus

Walking in our natural surroundings is a great activity. We breathe the fresh air, we see the remarkable and intricate patterns of the landscape, and our heart beats a bit faster as we head up the trail. We native plant enthusiasts are fortunate to have these opportunities to explore and be healthy!

Bill Waycott

Seed Exchange Reminder

Seed Exchange Reminder

Hopefully many of you are remembering that we will have our first seed exchange before the October meeting.

If you are interested in participating, now is the time to start closely observing your plants for seed formation and maturation. I have already started taking a few seeds from my Ranunculus californicus (buttercup), Lepechinia calycina (pitcher sage), and Heuchera maxima (island alum root). With a neighbor’s permission I have wandered her pasture collecting seed from Callindrinia ciliata (red maids). By the time this appears in the newsletter I suspect I will be gathering from my Stipa pulchra and Melica californica. So hone your observational skills, get close to your plants, and collect seeds!

I’ve included this article regarding information on the collection and cleaning of seeds for you to download.

by Marti Rutherford

Seed Collection and Saving for the Casual Gardener

This document talks about Why and When to collect native plant seeds and offers tips for collecting and storing seeds. By Marti Rutherford, CNPS-SLO, April 2016

Conservation: GND

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

Lauren Brown crafted our chapter’s comments on the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes (GND) Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Environmental Assessment(EA). The CNPS SLO Chapter fully supports the proposed management Alternative B (moderate increase in wildlife and habitat management, incremental increase in visitor services and environmental education). If budget considerations do not allow implementation of Alternative B, we would support Alternative A (no action), where the current level of management and public use opportunities are maintained. We strongly oppose Alternative C (minimal wildlife and habitat management and the Refuge is closed to the public), as written, for the following reasons: (1) the minimal level of monitoring and maintenance described in Alternative C is insufficient to ensure the continued existence of these species within the Refuge; (2) we concur with the findings of the EA that a decrease in the current level of invasive species management, as proposed in Alternative C, will increase the threat of invasive species to degrade and potentially destroy wildlife habitat within the refuge, and adjacent to the refuge; (3) decreased oversight will fail to detect newly introduced invasive species; and (4) feral swine must continue to be controlled due to the damage they cause.

El Villaggio Development

CNPS was represented by Dr. Neil Havlik in our opposition to the proposed annexation and development of the El Villaggio development on Los Osos Valley Road and Calle Joaquin (the southwest corner of the intersection). Dr. Havlik testified that (1) the City’s General Plan requires that new development in the Irish Hills stay below the 150 foot elevation line. The current proposal ignores that restriction and extends well above that line in two areas of the property. One of these locations contains at least two plant species of concern in the City’s General Plan (Chorro Creek bog thistle and clay mariposa lily) and likely others. The nearby Vineyard Church was developed in the County (which had and has no elevation limit for development) and should not be used as a justification for the City abandoning its stated policies; (2) even if rare plants are “protected” by a 50 ft. buffer, the project will likely affect the hydrology required by the bog thistle; (3) there are serious wetlands impacts including so-called restoration of Froom Creek which is essentially destructive channelization, and apparent destruction of wetlands along Calle Joaquin.

Sadly, the SLO City Council was unanimous in letting the project move forward, so that our next opportunity to stop the project will be the issuance of an EIR.

Cape-Ivy gall fly + weeds

In other issues, the chapter is supporting the proposed release of Cape-Ivy gall fly, following may years to testing that the gall fly will only affect cape ivy. We wrote a support letter to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the request of California Invasive Plant Council. Several other issues regarding dangerous pests that we will be considering are the impacts of new giant tumbleweed that has arrived from the Central Valley, the spread of Sahara mustard in Los Osos, and the migration of polyphagous shot hole borer as it moves north from the LA Basin, killing a wide variety of trees. People interested in working on these issues should contact me or Mark Skinner who is taking over from Lauren Brown on weed issues.

David Chipping

Malcolm McLeod Annual Field Trip Meeting to Shell Creek

Saturday, April 2, 2016, Malcolm McLeod Annual Field Trip Meeting to Shell Creek co-lead by Dirk Walters and David Chipping. This is our monthly meeting for April. Meet at the San Luis Obispo Veterans Hall, 801 Grand Avenue (corner of Grand & Monterey Boulevard) at 8:30 a.m. and/or the Santa Margarita Park & Ride (intersection of Hwys. 101 and 58) at 9:00 a.m.  Bring your “Wildflowers of Highway 58” plant guide by Dr. Malcolm McLeod or plan to purchase one for  10 on the trip. For more information call Dirk Walters at 543-7051 or Dave Chipping at 528-0914.

Seed Exchange Planned for October

Seed Exchange Planned for October

A seed exchange is being planned as an activity for the workshop time slot before the October meeting. Learn about how to gather, how to prepare, and a bit about seeds in general. This should provide a fun event for those interested in growing natives from seed.

This seed exchange is intended for native plants on your property.  If collecting elsewhere, make sure you have the correct permits or permissions. Collection of seeds without permission is illegal. If you have rare plants please do not collect seed for this exchange. You might want to coordinate with the rare plant group to possibly collect those seeds for seed banks.

Seeds should be labelled with Genus and species if known. Label also with date, location obtained and your name.  Either prepare individual packets (recycling junk mail envelopes works here) or bring in bulk but have envelopes for people to use.  It is preferred that seeds be cleaned but this is not absolutely necessary. This is intended as a free exchange. Do not plan to sell seed.

If you don’t want to participate in the exchange but would be willing to donate seed for the fall plant sale please label your seed as above and give to Marti Rutherford.  In addition the propagation group would like to experiment with seeds that are difficult to germinate. These are often not appropriate for the casual gardener because of the germination difficulty but the group could play with some seed treatments to see what might improve germination.  Seeds from plants such as manzanita, bush poppy, matilija poppy, blue eyed grass, wooly blue curls fall into this category. We recognize that there is some debate about whether garden grown plants are a good source of seed for restoration, but this will allow us to experiment with techniques.

Any seed left behind at the exchange will either be packaged to sell at the plant sale or given to individuals in the propagation group.

By Marti Rutherford

Seed Collection and Saving for the Casual Gardener

This document talks about Why and When to collect native plant seeds and offers tips for collecting and storing seeds. By Marti Rutherford, CNPS-SLO, April 2016

Invasive Species Watch

I’m pleased to start an Invasive Species Watch column to Obispoensis. I’ve been in the invasive species removal business since 1999 mainly working in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes and San Luis Obispo Creek. Those that know me many not think of me as a warrior however many people (thanks CCC’s!) and I have been battling bad guys such as Arundo, jubata grass, veldt grass, European beach grass, Russian wheat grass (some of the most insidious weeds are grasses!) cape ivy and ice plant for a long time. The satisfaction of this work arrives when a formerly infested area is re-taken by native plants. The best memory I have is from 2002 when a heavy veldt grass infestation was sprayed out at the then Tosco Buffer (now Phillips 66) which was followed by a lush wildflower display of goldfields, dune larkspur, owl’s clover, baby blue eyes, blue dicks, sky lupine, and fiddleneck. I’m still working on the same weeds and I’m seeing progress: Russian wheat grass and jubata grass have been nearly eradicated from the Dunes!  In future pieces I’ll be describing specific invasive species and what’s being done to control them.

by Mark Skinner

CNPS Chapter Council Meeting Update

I recently attended the CNPS Chapter Council meeting, held from March 11 to 13, 2016 in Southern California. The Chapter Council is the governing body of CNPS where representatives from each of the 35 chapters throughout the state along with administrative staff, meet during a weekend every three months to discuss the current issues facing this organization.  If there is a need for new policy or changes to existing programs, the council deliberates the issues and takes a vote to accept or reject.

The meeting was held in the Deane Dana Friendship Park Nature Center on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, over looking the Long Beach Harbor.  On Friday afternoon, I participated in the State Board meeting where it was decided to expand the administrative group by opening an office in the SF Bay Area.  During the Saturday session, there were presentations by the executive director, the legislative liaison, the board president, and the director of conservation.  Highlights included news of a budget surplus and the idea of creating a rain-day fund, the need to support new legislation currently moving through the California Senate and Assembly, the new five year strategic plan, new publications (available at the CNPS May meeting), and a presentation on the newly protected lands in the California deserts.  Sunday, I attended a workshop on BMPs (best management practices) for preventing the spread of the new strains of Phytophthora fungus that have contaminated some commercial nurseries in this state.  In the workshop, we learned how to grow healthy California native plants without exposing them to these diseases.

The next Chapter Council meeting is scheduled for 3rd to 5th June in the Tahoe area and 9th to 11th September in San Luis Obispo County. As the local hosts of the September meeting, we are starting preparations now. Members with an interest to participate in the planning and logistics for this meeting are asked to contact Bill Waycott (bill.waycott@gmail.com). We will need to arrange for a couple of meeting venues, organize meals for 75 plus participants, prepare a list local accommodations and camping options, schedule field trips, and invite a banquet speaker. As with all Chapter Council meetings, this meeting will be open to local member participation.  Please help us prepare.

Our local SLO Chapter Board of Directors held its bi- monthly meeting Thursday evening, 17th March 2016 in the community room of Whole Foods Market in San Luis Obispo.  Our next meeting will be Thursday, 19th May 2016 from 6 pm to 8 pm. All members are welcome to participate.

For more information on topics covered in the March Chapter Council meeting and the SLO Chapter Board of Directors meeting on 17th March, please contact Bill Waycott (bill.waycott@gmail.com).

  1. New legislation moving through the CA Senate and Assembly
  2. New five year CNPS Strategic Plan
  3. The latest information about the CA Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan
  4. Notes from the SLO Chapter BOD meeting on 17th March 2016


Conservation: Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

The Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes National  Wildlife is presenting a Comprehensive  Conservation Plan and its Environmental  Assessment  to the public with a comment  period that ends on April 16. A public  meeting will be held at the Ramona Garden  Park  Center in Grover Beach on March 22, 5:30-7:30.

The Refuge’s Draft Vision  Statement is “To conserve the dynamic  landscape and imperiled natural  resources…” and “… we protect the Dunes  Complex for everyone’s enjoyment…” and  “…the service works cooperatively with  other agencies, nonprofit organizations… .”  The history is that the refuge has probably  been successful in the protection of certain  species, especially snowy plover, and CNPS  serves on an advisory committee regarding  weed abatement.  Issues of public interaction  have improved lately.

The plan cites three alternatives. Alternative A is  “No Action” which would continue management  as in the past. Alternative B increases actions to  protect species, and increase interaction with  the public. SpeciWic mention is made of  protecting habitat for La Graciosa thistle and  marsh sandwort, while directing foot trafWic  away from plover nesting areas. Alternative C is  rather troubling, as it “will take into  consideration the forecasted decline in budgets  for the NWRS, proposes to reduce or eliminate  many of the current management activities  occurring on the refuge, as well as close the  refuge to all public access.”  The clear interest of  CNPS is support of Alternative B, but also to  offer CNPS as a more active partner in  conservation of the dune habitat. Alternative C  must not happen as it would, among other  things, shut CNPS out of the refuge and access to  Coreopsis Hill. You can send comments to:  PaciWic Southwest Region, Refuge Planning, U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service; 2800 Cottage Way,  W+1832; Sacramento CA 95825

You can email comments to  fw8plancomments@fws.gov  including  “Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes CCP” in the subject line.

David Chipping

Botanical Excursion Foray

Botanical Excursion Foray

The 21st Annual Spring Outing Botanical Excursion Foray, Retreat, and Escape to the Environment Brought to you by the new Bryophyte Chapter of the California Native Plant Society!

Friday to Monday, March 18-21, 2016 North Coast Range near Occidental, California

Founded in 1996, SO BE FREE is a series of West Coast forays started by the Bryolab at UC Berkeley, but open to all botanists. The main focus is on bryophytes, but we also encourage experts on other groups to come along and smell the liverworts. We welcome specialists and generalists, professionals and amateurs, master bryologists and rank beginners.

SO BE FREE is held each spring, somewhere in the Western US, associated with spring break at universities. Evening slide shows and informal talks are presented as well as keying sessions with microscopes. In addition to seeing interesting wild areas and learning new plants, important goals for SO BE FREE include keeping West Coast bryologists (and friends) in touch with each other and teaching beginners.

To see pictures and information from past outings, visit the SO BE FREE website (http:// ucjeps.berkeley.edu/bryolab/Field_Trips.html).

Early Registration Deadline is Dec. 15, 2015. Regular registration Deadline is Feb. 19, 2016

Flyer (http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/common/images/SBF21_announcement.pdf).

Newsletter Editor and Hospitality Positions are Open

Newsletter Editor and Hospitality Positions are Open

Newsletter Editor and Hospitality Positions are Open! Our chapter is looking for a Newsletter Editor to produce our chapter newsletter, Obispoensis. If you like to write, edit and do a little page layout design, this position is perfect for you.

The newsletter is published eight times each year, monthly October through June except January. No previous experience is necessary. Contact Bob Hotaling, rahotaling@gmail.com or Bill Waycott, bill.waycott@gmail.com.

The Hospitality committee arrives at meetings early to organize and set up refreshments. Contact Mardi Niles (805) 489-9274, mlniles@sbcglobal.net or Bill Waycott, bill.waycott@gmail.com, (805) 459-2103.

Requesting Native Plant Lists

Requesting Native Plant Lists

If you have a list of native plants observed in a specific area (e.g., Morro Bay State Park) or along a trail (e.g., Hazard Peak Trail at Montaña de Oro), CNPS wants to receive a copy. CNPS member Madeline Fay has volunteered to review the lists and bring the taxonomy up to date using the latest scientific names. With permission, the corrected copies will be placed on the Chapter website. Please contact Madeline by e-mail at madfay@charter.net, and she will be happy to work out the details with you. Thank you.

Conservation: Margarita Area, Biosolids, and Carbon Recycling

Conservation Committee Update

Margarita Area Specific Plan development area

When developers graded a population of Sanicula maritima without getting a permit from the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the Department, the City of San Luis Obispo and CNPS were concerned. It turns out several populations sit in the Margarita Area Specific Plan development area, and the fate of the populations regarding mitigation is, at the time of writing, unclear. Whatever the outcome, our chapter will conduct a survey of the county to see if we can find any more populations of the plant and to assess the possibility of starting new populations. Bear in mind that CNPS has a long standing policy against mitigating losses by moving plants to other sites. Transplantation seldom works, and is not a valid mitigation for destroyed habitat in the Margarita Specific Plan. Gaining knowledge of the plant’s status and the most suitable habitats will better inform our response to this issue.

Land application of biosolids

County planners took a proposed revision of the ordinance on the land application of biosolids, the ‘nice’ term for the dried sludge coming from sewer plants. Planners wanted to start an EIR but a split Board declined as the interim ordinance seems to work and is good for another two years. Commenters stated that the proposed ordinance does not meet the requirements spelled out by the Board and a Sewage Sludge Land Application Task Force in 2002. CNPS has been concerned that sludge might be dumped on rangeland or agricultural marginal lands, thus changing nutrient balances and habitat, so we will be keeping an eye on the issue.

Carbon recycling

The carbon recycling issue is at the core of global warming issues, and warming was made evident by the current blooming of Chorizanthe populations on serpentine in eastern Montana de Oro Park. I hope the pollinators will be around to do their work.

David Chipping, Professor of Geology (Emeritus), Cal Poly State University David Chipping was educated at Cambridge, England and Stanford, California. His doctoral thesis addressed the displacements of rocks along the San Andreas fault and the configuration of ocean basins in to which the rocks were deposited. He is active on the Board of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and has served as the statewide Conservation Director for that organization. David is currently leading a joint project between CNPS-SLO and Friends of the Carrizo Plain to develop a photographic collection of the entire flora within the Carrizo Plain Monument.

Fieldtrips and Workshops

Field Trips

With this rainy season getting off to a good start, the spring wild flowers should present a better show than in recent years. In planning for this possibility, I would ask CNPS members who have a favorite “plant place” they enjoy visiting during the months of February through May, to forward that information to me (bill.waycott@gmail.com) and we will do our best to create a series of field trips to those locations this year. Let’s commit ourselves to visit the wild places this season and enjoy their splendor!


During last December’s meeting on Bryophytes, presented by Dr. Benjamin Carter of San José State University, Ben gave a workshop describing a simplified version of the taxonomy Bryophytes (Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts) to 25 participants. Those of us who attended the workshop were treated to several different Moss genera, along with a couple of Liverworts, and one Hornwort genus. Using both dissecting scopes and microscopes, we were able to distinguish critical differences of these minute plants. All of the species described can be found in San Luis Obispo Co. Make sure to attend the February workshop on Feb. 4th at 6:00 p.m. to be presented by Dr. David Keil.

Native Seed Workshop

During the third week of November, our chapter was treated to a California Native Seed Workshop, co-hosted by the SLO Botanical Gardens. Dr. Evan Meyer of Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, Claremont, CA give the four hour workshop, which included a slide presentation about the value of seed banks and how they operate, followed by a walk through our the garden to observe the arrangements of native plant seeding structures (panicles) and discuss the different shapes and constructions of each seed species.

Phytophthora Workshop

The December statewide CNPS Chapter Council meeting was held in the SF Bay Area. SLO members David Chipping and Bill Waycott attended the meeting during which the council deliberated and then approved the 2015 – 2020 CNPS Strategic Plan (a copy of which can be obtained by writing to bill.waycott@gmail.com). In addition, a workshop directed at the nursery trade was presented on the fungus Phytophthora, which is being spread around the state in plant nursery stock. Three scientists presented their research data illustrating where these diseases first entered the state and how they have spread to ?? counties. The workshop ended with a fieldtrip to Acterra Native Plant Nursery, located in Los Altos Hills, where participants were shown the best management practices used by nurseries to prevent the introduction and spread of Phytophthora in their facilities.


Cucurbita palmata

Cucurbita palmata

Coyote melon

Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of Obispoensis is based on a picture sent to me by George Butterworth. The species, Cucurbita palmata, has many common names. The ones I found on the web include coyote melon, coyote gourd, desert gourd, palmate-leafed gourd, coyote ear, buffalo gourd, stinking melon, calabazilla, or chilicote.

Coyote melon is primarily a desert species that grows best where there are summer monsoons. Since we are a little north of the summer monsoon track coyote melon is relatively rare in our area. However, a few plants can be found in the eastern edge of our Chapter area (i.e., Carrizo Plain and the upper Cuyama Valley). It’s a species that prefers sandy, disturbed soils where vegetation is scarce such as desert washes and dry, rocky slopes.

The most common name around here, coyote melon, refers to its vegetative resemblance to the pumpkin, squash cucumber, melon, or gourd, family Cucurbitaceae. The Cucurbitaceae are non-woody (herbaceous) vines with tendrils and broad, palmate-veined leaves. Flowers in coyote melon are unisexual (staminate or pistilate). In coyote melon they are large and yellow and borne solitarily in the in the axils of leaves. Fruits in the family are extremely variable and are considered unique to the family. Often it is a kind of quite large berry botanists call a pepo. Pepos have fleshy, fibrous, or watery flesh inside and usually are enclosed by a clearly defined outer skin or rind. When totally mature, they often dry out to a hollow dry spheroid.

From the list of common names for the family, I suspect it would be easy to conclude that the family produces a fair number of edible and otherwise useful cultivated species. The main economic species produce edible, fleshy fruit today. But this has not always been true and is certainly NOT true of coyote melon and most other wild members of the family today. The flesh of coyote melon is extremely bitter and if one is tempted to try to eat it, it would act as an extreme emetic. That is, it would rapidly be expelled from both ends.

So what’s the link between inedible and/or poisonous wild cucurbits of today with the edible cucurbits listed above? It is best summed up by a quote from a November 20, 2015 paper by A’ndrea Elyse Messer titled “Loss of Mastodons Aided Domestication of Pumpkins, Squash.” I actually heard (or read) about the article around Thanksgiving and decided to look it up on the Web. The quote that caught my interest was: If Pleistocene megafauna – mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and others – had not become extinct, humans might not be eating pumpkin pie and squash for the holidays, according to an international team of anthropologists.

The article indicates that most wild cucurbits are bitter and that smaller organisms (and humans) tend to avoid trying to eat the fruit. It then notes that large mammals, such as the mastodon, have fewer bitter taste buds in their mouths so eating cucurbits shouldn’t have been a problem. The authors note that they could deduce that the mastodons were eating cucurbits because when and wherever they examined fossil mastodon dung it contained cucurbit seeds. Since the only way cucurbit seeds could get into dung is by being eaten, they concluded cucurbits were an important food source for them. Being huge animals, mastodons had to migrate over wide distances so they also concluded mastodons were major dispersers of cucurbit seeds. The researchers also found that the DNA they recovered from the seeds in the dung was more similar to wild cucurbits of today than to cultivated edible ones. Therefore it’s logical that the ancestors of the edible cucurbits were bitter.

What killed off the mastodons? A recent book titled, The Sixth Extinction, gives a possible clue. It turns out that large animals live in a very tight balance with their environment and the regular sustained loss of even a few key animals would lead to extinction in a relatively short time (a few thousand years). Early humans coexisted with the last of the mastodons. Early human hunters probably preferred to kill the biggest and healthiest animals as hunters still do today. This would mean they would have taken the breeding animals of a family or herd. When a parent is killed, often the rest of their family dies as well. So even with very modest losses of a few key animals a year, the book indicates it would lead to a slow extinction in a few thousand years.

Mastodons and the other large mammals died out over ten thousand years ago. So why do we have edible cucurbits today? The article indicates that early peoples didn’t use fresh cucurbit fruits for food, but waited until they were dry and hollow and used them for containers, noise makers (rattles) and/or fish floats. Although some species’ seeds (e.g., coyote melon) are edible when totally mature, at least some of their seeds would have ended up in their disturbed, highly nitrogenous trash heaps. So people took over from the mastodons as major seed dispersers. So cucurbits would have been become common around early human settlements. Since a bitter compound is often poisonous in large uncontrolled amounts, but medicinal in small, regulated amounts, it can be assumed that early peoples used fleshy immature fruits as medicine. It doesn’t seem to me to be a great stretch to assume enough genetic variability in early cucurbits so that some would have been less bitter. These would be selectively utilized by early people, probably the wives and mothers.

By the time the mastodons were gone, early peoples would have been planting various cucurbits around their settlements. Once there, they would have been selected to be less and less bitter until we have the edible squash and pumpkins we enjoy today. So next Thanksgiving, remember to thank the mastodons and other large extinct mammals for your pumpkin pie. One final thought, pumpkins and squash were domesticated in the new world and in all likely hood the jack-o-lantern pumpkin was one of the few major crops domesticated within the lower 48 states. Personally, I find coyote melon to be best (and safely) enjoyed as we find it, growing in nature.

by Dirk Walters, illustrations by Bonnie Walters | Dirk and Bonnie Walters are long-time CNPS-SLO members, contributors, and board/committee participants. In addition to his work at Cal Poly, Dirk is the current CNPS-SLO Historian.
Hoover Award – 2015

Hoover Award – 2015

Dr. Neil Havlik was recognized with the 2015 Hoover Award for his contributions to appreciation and preservation of the San Luis Obispo native flora. The honor, named for Dr. Robert Hoover, was presented to an appreciative Neil Havlik at the annual Banquet on January 23. Prior recipients meet yearly to select an honoree judged for their accomplishments in education, conservation and chapter support.

Dr. Havlik served as San Luis Obispo City Natural Resources Manager from 1996 until his retirement in 2012. In that role, he oversaw the creation of the city greenbelt. He was instrumental in the acquisition of key parcels, protection of other private parcels, the expansion of the greenbelt trail systems, and was the guiding force behind the joint publication
(with our chapter) of the immensely popular Wildflowers of San Luis Obispo guidebook. His role in protecting Chorro Creek bog thistle populations within the greenbelt led to a 2015 special award from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Neil majored in Biology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, graduating cum laude in June 1968. At our banquet, Dr. Havlik recounted how honored he was to have studied under the late Robert Hoover. He then attended the graduate program in Botany at UC Santa Barbara from January 1969 to June 1971, earning a Master of Science degree in Botany. In 1978, Neil went back to school, seeking a Doctorate in the interdisciplinary Wildland Resource Science program at UC Berkeley. He earned his doctorate in that field in June 1984.

Havlik held a variety of positions with the East Bay Regional Park District in Oakland for fifteen years, involved in land use planning, environmental impact analysis and mitigation, natural resource management, property management, and land acquisition. In 1987 he became the first Executive Director for a non-profit land trust headquartered in Fairfield, California (Solano County in the lower Sacramento delta).

Since retirement, Dr. Havlik has contributed greatly to developing a local Carrizo Plains Conservancy initiative, a special purpose land trust targeted on bringing more property under protection in our Carrizo region. Neil Havlik also serves on the board of the Coastal San Luis Resources Conservation District. The RCD projects play an essential role in furthering preservation of our rural landscape, quietly enlisting landowners in vital protection projects.

Please share your appreciation of the Neil’s wonderful contributions to our county and its flowers.

CNPS-SLO Banquet 2016

CNPS-SLO Banquet 2016

California Native Plant Society –

San Luis Obispo Chapter

Annual Potluck Banquet

Saturday, January 23, 2016

5:30-9:30 pm

$10 per person, plus a pot luck item for the dinner

Morro Bay Community Center

1001 Kennedy Way, Morro Bay

Social Hour – 5:30 pm

Buffet Style Potluck Dinner – 6:30 pm

Chapter business – 7:30 pm

Program: “Native Plants and Bees, and Beyond” – 8:00 pm

Program: Dr. Gordon Frankie

Our banquet speaker this year will be Dr. Gordon Frankie, Professor and Research Entomologist at the University of California, Berkeley.  He’s co-author of California Bees and Blooms (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=15602).  The book will be available for purchase and signing at the banquet.

Tickets are $10 per person – You may reserve your spot with credit card or PayPal by clicking the Tickets button, or if you prefer, you may send payment to D. Krause, 2706 Newton Drive, Cambria, CA, 93428. Questions? Contact David Krause  at dkincmbria@aol.com or 805-927-5182 Tickets

Potluck suggestions: 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, lbrown805@charter.net) for alternative suggestions.

A to H: salad (with dressing) or side dish
I to Q: dessert
R to Z: main meat or veggie dish

Please put your name on a label or piece of tape on your serving items so they can be returned to you.

Driving Directions: Exit Hwy 1 at Morro Bay Boulevard. At the “roundabout” turn right onto Quintana Road, and left onto Kennedy Way (after Albertson’s). Go ½ block. Community Center is on the right.

If you have any questions, please contact Lauren at lbrown805@charter.net, or 805-460-6329.

Hope to see you there!


Bryophyte Workshop

Bryophyte Workshop

Bryophyte Workshop

The CNPS monthly meeting Thursday, December 3 at the San Luis Obispo Veterans Hall will kick off with a workshop from 6:10 to 7:00 pm on bryophyte identification led by Dr. Ben Carter.

Our county is very rich in these often-overlooked little plants, and this will be a chance for you to learn their distinctive features. Ben plans to cover differences among mosses, liverworts, and hornworts, important characters of their gametophytes and sporophytes, and provide field characters for identifying several of the most commonly encountered genera in SLO County. We’ll have a few microscopes, but bring your hand lenses!

View this event on our Event Calendar

Image By Bob Blaylock (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons