Botanical Society to Celebrate 100th Anniversary in April

All botanical enthusiasts are invited to set aside the weekend of April 12-14 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the California Botanical Society, familiarly known as CalBotSoc.

The title of the event is “Botanical Frontiers: Past and Present,” which will include field trips to Mt. Tamalpais and Mt. Diablo on Friday, lectures by prominent botanists at UC Berkeley on Saturday, followed by a banquet at the Shattuck Hotel in Berkeley, and a series of presentations by graduate students at the 23rd Graduate Student Meeting at UC Berkeley on Sunday.

Further information about the event will appear in various CNPS publications as the date approaches.

CalBotSoc produces the highly respected journal, Madroño, which frequently has articles of interest to Central Coast plant people.

Legislative Notes 2012

Legislative Notes

by David Anderson

2012 RECAP

The California Legislature ended its 2012 regular session on August 31. During 2012 the Legislature passed 3 bills supported by CNPS and 2 bills opposed by it.

CNPS supported:

AB 1540. This bill designates the Department of Boating and Waterways as the lead agency in controlling the invasive weeds, water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), Brazilian elodea (Egeria densa) and South American spongeplant (Limnobium laevigatum) in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Governor Brown approved AB 1540 on August 27.

SB 972. This bill imposes additional requirements for notices to individuals, organizations and agencies of meetings and actions taken under the California Environmental Quality Act. Governor Brown approved this bill on August 29.

SB 1241. This bill revises and strengthens the fire safety element requirements in city and county general plans and guidelines of the Natural Resources Agency for the implementation of CEQA. The new fire safety element requirements are for state responsibility areas and very high hazard severity zones. Approved by the Governor September 13.

CNPS opposed:

AB 890. This bill, which will be effective until January 1, 2016, exempts from CEQA requirements a project or activity carried by a city or county to improve public safety by repairing, maintaining or altering an existing roadway. Governor Brown approved the bill.

AB 1073. This very technical bill was passed earlier in the year and approved by the Governor on May 23, 2012. It provides that the certification process by the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission would apply to a proposed conversion of a solar thermal powerplant (using steam) to a solar photovoltaic electrical generating facility under certain conditions.

Following the general election in November, the incoming 2013-14 Legislature will convene on December 3, 2012 for organizational purposes.


LVBHS Fall Plant Exchange

Sunday, 18 November 18, 2:00 p.m.

LVBHS Fall Plant Exchange, Lompoc Methodist Church

Please join us for our Fall Plant Exchange and Tool Sharpening session. Come share those extra favorite plants that are too good to throw away. We will also have tips on planting and pruning.

Remember also that this is meeting where we nominate next year’s officers.

We meet at the Methodist Church in Lompoc corner of N. “F” and E. North Streets at 2:00 p.m. Call Mimi Erland, (805) 733-2323, or Charlie Blair, (805) 733-3189, for more information.

President’s Message November 2012

The Plant Sale on November 3 is our chapter’s largest fundraiser. It is critically important to us as everything is getting more expensive, and we have web sites, newsletters, education, room rents, conference supports and book production to finance. So bring yourself and your friends and buy some plants. Actually, we welcome you if you just want to say hello, or want horticultural advice.

The October meeting provided a spectacular set of pictures, and I thank everybody who participated, including the bearers of desserts. It is our intention to have our March meeting in Atascadero, as we have in the last couple of years in order to serve our North County members, but I would like to see some support for this before we rent a room. I would like to hear from “northerners” about programs they would like to see, and if there is sufficient support we will go ahead. If we don’t hear from members, we may change our plans.

If any chapter member would like to be nominated for a chapter board position or put themselves up for election, contact Mardi Niles or come to the November meeting. The positions of President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary and Corresponding Secretary are subject to annual election.


The October 6th field trip to Shark Inlet spent a couple of hours in warm sunshine searching for flowers along the south shore of Morro Bay. There were lots of yellow flowering mock heather, Menzies’ isocoma and Blochman’s senecio, all full of monarch butterflies.

Oceans of white and pink corethrogyne, a scattering of Blochman’s daisy, California silene, California rose, mustard, buckwheat, wire lettuce, solanum, thistle, poppy, primrose, and two seasonally confused plants, a wallflower and an eriastrum. Along the shore we saw Frankenia, two species of Atriplex, Salicornia, and Jaumea in flower. Add interesting Juncus and Carex species, coyote melon, dune almond and more, and the participants had to agree that it is never a bad time for plant hunting in our county.

– David Chipping

Native Plant Sale

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013


Please join us at

Pacific Beach High School

11950 Los Osos Valley, Road San Luis Obispo

(At the Target intersection) (more…)

Book Talk October 2012

We are having a book sale on the following books through October 2012.

1) C A L I F O R N I A P L A N T FAMILIES by Glenn Keator, regularly $30.00, now $20.00.

2) CARE & MAINTENANCE of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANT GARDENS in English and Spanish, by Rancho Santa Anna Botanic Gardens, regularly $30.00, now just $20.00


California Native Plants San Luis Obispo
California Native Plants San Luis Obispo California Native Plants Ceanothus California Native Plants California Native Plant San Luis Obispo California Native Plants San Luis Obispo California Native Plants California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo

3) DUNE MOTHER’S WILDFLOWER GUIDE by Malcolm McLeod, now just $9.00 reduced from $13.00 (link)

4) MAMMALS of CALIFORNIA, a UC Press Natural History Guide, regularly $20, now just $15.00 (link)

5) NATURE & LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY, reduced to $12.00 from $20.00

6) REIMAGINING THE CALIFORNIA LAWN, authors Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien, regularly $28.00, now $20.00 (link)

7) SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANT GARDENS by Susan Van Atta. Reduced from $20.00 to $14.00 (link)

8) TREES & SHRUBS of CALIFORNIA, a UC Press Natural History Guide, reduced to $17.00 from $25.00 (link)

9) CEANOTHUS by David Fross and Dieter Wilken, regularly $40.00 reduced to $28.00 (link)

10) SHARKS, RAYS & CHIMAERAS of CALIFORNIA, a UC Press Natural History book, now just $14.00 from $20.00 (link)

11) GLACIERS of CALIFORNIA, a UC Press Natural History Guide, reduced to $11.00 from $19.00 (link)

I will bring several copies of each book to our Thursday, October 4 meeting at the SLO Vet’s Hall.

To reserve your copy ahead of time, please call me at 528-0446 or send me an email and I’ll have it ready for you to pick up. If you can’t make the meeting we have a great bookstore on our website and you can order it through there. See you at our meeting, don’t forget it is our dessert meeting with pictures of summer adventures!

–Heather Johnson


What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, Daniel Chamovitz

In less than 200 pages, 140 pages of text, Dr. Chamovitz gives us a simple, accurate, and very readable summary of how plants respond to cues and stresses in their environments; essentially an overview of plant physiology. Although plants lack brains, nervous systems, or sensory organs as we understand them, he brings a very early interest in “parallels between plants and human senses” to understanding of these processes. He uses these parallels as analogies in describing how plants “sense” and integrate information from their surroundings to thrive, grow, and reproduce. Chapters include “What a Plant Sees,” “What a Plant Feels,” “How a Plant Knows Where It Is,” and “The Aware Plant.” Each chapter starts with early observations and experiments in understanding how plants cope with these cues, our increasing understanding of the processes involved, and eventually the genetic and cellular bases of these processes. For example, he starts with how Charles Darwin and his son Francis studied phototropism. He goes on to discuss the differences in physiologic responses to differing light wave lengths and also the effects of light periodicity.

He states that, “Sight is the ability not only to detect electromagnetic waves, but also the ability to respond to these waves.” In the chapter on touch, he describes how the effect of electric impulses on ion transport across cell membranes can result in the rapid response of the Venus flytrap’s ability to catch and feed on the unfortunate insect who strays across its leaves, or how the “shy” mimosa, Mimosa pudica, leaves drop with even the slightest touch. Geotropism (directional growth) in plants is mediated by stratoliths, microscopic bodies in the epidermis of roots and shoots similar to the otoliths in the animal’s inner ear. The comprehensive overview of this book could be of great interest to anyone interested in plants from the casual amateur through the early student to the seasoned scholar. It can be especially valuable to anyone involved in teaching. Published in 2012 by Scientific American and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.

— Charlie Blair

Conservation October 2012

Our chapter board has voted to send some support money for the California Invasive Plant Council Conference. Cal-IPC has taken a load once carried by CNPS alone, and this is
their 21st Annual Conference (their first was in Morro Bay!). It will be October 11-13 in Rohnert Park (web site

On another weed related matter, State Parks is having a meeting to see if something can get worked out on Veldt grass control. I will report in the next newsletter.

I am also happy to report that a number of CEQA-weakening bills introduced in the last session of the California legislature did not make it to a floor vote.

—David Chipping

CNPS Conservation Campaign

by Kristie Haydu, Secretary and Chapter Council

The CNPS Conservation Program works diligently to preserve the natural heritage that we all cherish- the native habitats and plant species throughout our state. The Conservation Program is a pillar of our organization that works on a wide range of issues including recent solar developments, wind farms, Native Plant Week, legislation and policies for plant conservation, and forestry practices reform. It uses the best science and mastery of the existing regulatory framework to advocate for the protection of our botanical resources. In addition to advocating for CNPS at the state level, the Conservation Program also assists individual CNPS chapters when faced with challenges like specific planning disputes and litigation. This program strives to maintain and improve both federal and state policies that ultimately have an effect on all of the chapters.

Recently the Conservation Program has been busy with ongoing activism and advocacy associated with solar energy development in the Mohave and Colorado deserts. It has provided technical assistance and baseline data to the overseeing agencies for a major regional planning process that is underway, which will determine the fate of millions of acres of public lands. These lands support copious amounts of native plant and animal species and pristine desert habitats that are threatened by these developments if they not conducted in a strategic and informed manner. Through the Program, CNPS is able to provide the basic scientific information on plant distributions, vegetation types, and endangered species that is needed to design large preserves and corridor networks. This information is required to make wise planning decisions that protect our botanical resources. The Conservation Program has also provided resistance to the proposed California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reforms that would weaken our state environmental laws that safeguard native plants and habitats.

CNPS needs additional money to continue this important work. As a result, we have launched a year-long effort to raise these required additional funds. We are asking you, CNPS’s supporters to make a special gift towards this campaign. CNPS works diligently to take advantage of all funding opportunities, but needs your gift to continue this critically important work. These are dynamic and financially challenging times. Please make an extra gift this year to the Conservation Program. It is only with this extra funding that CNPS can remain an active and respected participant at the highest levels of conservation policy and planning in California. We are depending on our membership to be even more gracious and generous than usual due to these challenges. The goal of the campaign is to raise $100,000 this year to keep the Conservation Program effective, viable, functional, and robust. This funding is necessary to continue our trajectory of success and ongoing work protecting the desert resources, improving forest management, and supporting local and regional conservation efforts that chapters are involved with.

Donations can be made via the CNPS website: or by mail to CNPS, 2707 K Street, Suite 1, Sacramento, CA 95816-5113. *Please note “Conservation Campaign” on the check. Together we can ensure that California’s wild gardens are protected for the future. If you value science-based conservation of our botanical resources, please consider making a special gift for this campaign. This need is real and we thank you!

President’s Message October 2012

Where did the summer go?

Linda and I had an incredible road trip to Fairbanks, Alaska and beyond and we will share some pictures during our photo-sharing and dessert-potluck October meeting.

We will begin the show at 7:30 at the Vets Hall, with the dessert social starting at 7:00. I would deeply appreciate if photo presenters would arrive close to 7:00 so we can load them into a single computer from your CD or thumb drive. Label slides in in alphabetical order to ensure sequencing order. I will also be able to load PowerPoint but save your program as “.ppt” and not “.pptx” if possible. A title “slide” would be helpful, and no more than 15 pictures per person.

Upcoming Workshops

Speaking of photos, we are planning a Photographer’s Workshop before one of our meetings where photographers can illustrate techniques and equipment and trade advise and ideas. Our illustrious photographic committee chair, Jim Johnson, will be developing this for later in the year.

As the plant-ID keying workshops were very popular, expect some more of those before regular meetings.

Graphics Volunteer Needed

The Carrizo Plain Wildflower Group has not been too active in this year of very few wildflowers, but the group is moving ahead with project planning. We are still looking for a volunteer who loves doing graphical layout to join the group. We have no financing yet, so page and cover mockups will be needed as we go after grant money. We are still asking for some “at large without portfolio” members to join our Board and perhaps take on some small jobs.

CNPS is one of the only conservationscience based organizations that centers on vegetation rather than animals, and it is important that we keep the organization fresh and alive. At least come visit during one of our Board Meetings.

Plant Sale

Our big fund raiser is the annual plant sale, coming up on the first Saturday in November. More on that elsewhere in this newsletter, but lots of volunteers will be needed.

Early Fall Plant Hike Suggestion

Even though soil moisture is at a record low and many fall flowers are poorly represented this year, an Shark Inlet exception is the shore of Shark Inlet which is sustained by a high water table. Go to the west end of Butte Drive in Los Osos (north of the golf course), walk west along the shore beyond the eucalyptus and then cut south onto the shoreparallel trail, and take it until it reaches the edge of the sandspit sand dunes. Masses of golden rod, mock heather, corethrogyne and more, and it is quite pretty.

—David Chipping

Ramalina menziesii

Ramalina menziesii

Lace Lichen

This “plant” is actually a pairing of convenience of two organisms neither of which is considered a plant in current thinking. It is a kind of lichen which is made up of an alga and a fungus. It is a partnership of convenience because the partners stay together only under conditions that neither could survive alone. When conditions favor one or the other, the favored partner leaves (alga) or expels its partner (the fungus).

Why isn’t it a plant, or more to the point, what is a plant? Based on Classical Greek definition, plants formed a variable group of organisms held together primarily by not being animals. Once the microscope was invented and biologists saw that the living world was far more complex than anyone could have imagined, the old definition became harder to defend. Especially troubling was a group of unicellular and colonial organisms (now in kingdom Protista) that formed a continuous series from definitely animals to definitely plants. This meant that groups in the center possessed a combination of animal and plant characteristics. For example they were green, thus photosynthetic, but they moved and some even captured prey as well.

The really hard organisms to place were those that produced (or captured) chloroplasts when the environment was well lit and relatively poor in nutrients and expelled these same chloroplasts when light was absent and organic food plentiful. That is, they could be “animals” or “plants” depending on the conditions. These organisms were claimed by both botanists and zoologists and thus have two legitimate scientific names.

Yes, I know that you learned in high school biology that every known organism on earth has one and only one correct scientific name. That’s true only if there were only one Nomenclatural Code. But there are two – one for animals and a second for all organisms originally considered plants. The lichen (which is a stable, predictable pair of organisms), has a lichen name. The lichen discussed in this article is lace lichen, Ramalina menziesii. Note that since the partners making up lace lichen can live separately, the partners will have their own names as well.

I was unable to find out the individual scientific names of the partners. However, from the internet, it appears that the algal partner is a green alga (Chlorophyta) and the fungal partner is one the more primitive members of the sac fungi (Ascomycota). This lichen is one of the types that attaches itself to the surface of twigs of living trees and shrubs. So when talking about this lichen we need to mention a third partner. In the Elfin Forest that partner is usually the pygmy form of the coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia, common in the forest.

Lace lichen does best where humidity and coastal on shore winds are highest, so it is particularly abundant along the immediate coast from south-east Alaska to Baja, Mexico. Since lace lichen attaches itself to the outside of a branch or twig, it is what biologists calls an epiphyte. Epiphytes do not harm their host because they are not taking any nutrients from the host. My way of describing the relationship is that an epiphyte is a plant that gets its room from its host, but not its board.

The only way I can perceive of lace lichen being a problem for its usual oak tree host is if it got so massive that its weight caused the twig to break; a very low probability. According to an entry on the internet, lace lichen is actually beneficial to its oak host because it captures air born moistures and nutrients. When the fragile lichen is broken apart, it adds these nutrients to the soil which helps its host. Another internet item noted that small herbivorous animals will not only eat any lace lichen that falls on the ground, but will fight others for the privilege.

Another value that lichens give to their environment is that they utilize sulfur in their photosynthesis. This makes lace lichen, as well as other lichens, important in removing excess sulfur from the air. Lace lichen is also extremely susceptible to air pollution. Therefore it can be used a measure of air quality. Lichen present = good air; lichen absent = bad air. Because lace lichen grows very rapidly, when air pollution is removed, it grows back quickly.

The fungal partner provides most of the actual mass of lichen. Therefore the shape or form lichen takes will be determined by the pattern of growth of the fungal partner. Lichens are considered to have one of three basic growth forms. These are a flat coating of a surface (crustose), a series of flat plates raised from the surface (foliose) or 3-D mass of strings (fruticose). Looking at Bonnie’s drawing assures that lace lichen is a fruticose lichen. Closer examination of the top of her drawing, where the plant would be attached to the twig, shows some wider strands. Attached to these strands are the fungal reproductive structures. In this case, they resemble tiny challis cups. The fungal spores are produced on the upper surface, inside the cup. Note, this is the way the fungus reproduces. The algal partner must figure out how to reproduce on its own. That said, there is a way for the pair to spread together and that is by fragmentation. I suspect that random fragmentation is the most common method by which lichens spread.

When I first came to California, lace lichen was known by another common name. This was “Spanish moss.” However this name is very misleading since it is in no way a moss. It neither resembles any known moss nor is it related to mosses. Even worse, calling this lichen, “Spanish moss”, leads to confusion with the Spanish moss from the South-eastern United States, which is also not a moss. It is flowering plant in the same family as pineapple. The only thing lace lichen has in common with true Spanish moss is its color (gray-green), basic form, and its epiphytic habit.

One last item of which I was reminded while researching lace lichen on the internet is that the California Lichen Society is pushing the California Legislature to designate lace lichen as the state lichen. This would be good for the lichen as well as for its host trees. In the interior of California, one of the commoner hosts is valley oak which is having trouble reproducing due to pressure from agriculture.

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.
CNPS Announces New Executive Director

CNPS Announces New Executive Director

“The chance to lead CNPS is a dream come true. Much of what we love in California is here because it was saved by CNPS. I believe the Society’s greatest successes are still ahead, and I am honored being chosen to serve.” –Daniel Gluesenkamp, new Executive Director of CNPS.

Welcome, Dan! The SLO chapter is pleased and excited to have you on-board and leading us into the future.

Press Release:





Conservation June 2012

All the action seems to be in the south county. I am commenting on the Recirculated Draft EIR for Laetitia Winery, which appears to be a well constructed document describing a less than desirable project. There have been some reductions in the project, and possible alternative designs are much better for oak and water conservation than the project as currently described. The proposed project consists of the agricultural cluster subdivision of 21 parcels (totaling approximately 1,910 acres) into 106 lots, including 102 residential lots of one acre each; four build-able open space lots totaling approximately 1,787 acres; and approximately 25 acres of internal residential roads. Approximately 6.6 percent of the 1,910-acre project site would be developed by residential lots and internal access roads. Oak woodland and coastal scrubs are at risk.

A much larger project involves annexation and development of the hills east of Price Canyon. The parcels of South Ranch, Loughead Ranch and Godfrey Ranch are combined as the 1,264 acre Spanish Springs Specific Planning Area. This is composed of 422 single family homes, 51 multi-family and 360 senior-housing units, 150 hotel rooms, a 9-hole golf course, vineyards and more. Not much room for nature. As you may know a much smaller annexation at Los Robles del Mar was turned down by LAFCO, which is now being sued by the developers. Water was an issue in that project, and remains a key issue for Spanish Springs.

On a brighter note I would like to thank State Parks for killing a large number of the pampas grass that was invading the botanically rich coastal terrace north of Arroyo de la Cruz. This terrace is probably the richest botanic treasure in the county. I will encourage members to get back to me in identifying small areas that they consider of exceptional botanic value that could be defended from invasive weeds through our labors. Last week I encountered an almost pristine patch of Monardella undulata in the Los Osos dunes with a single large veldt grass clump in the middle… I yanked that sucker and it felt really, really good.

— David Chipping

Chapter Meeting June 7, 2012

Chapter Meeting June 7, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 7 p.m.

Veterans Building 801 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo

Nuri Benet-Pierce is a Research Associate at San Diego State University and is currently working on various taxonomic problems in the genus Chenopodium, the “goosefoots.” She has also worked on pollen hetero-morphism in the monocot family Haemodoraceae, which entailed field work in Australia and resulted in a publication (Australian Systematic Botany 22: 16-30, 2009). Nuri is co-author of the Chenopodium and Dysphania treatments for The Jepson Manual 2. Her work on Chenopodium has resulted in the recognition of a new species in California, Chenopodium littoreum Benet-Pierce & M. G. Simpson (Madroño 57: 64-72, 2010). Her presentation will review how this recognition came about and address some basic taxonomic issues in Chenopodium.

The next chapter meeting is Thursday, October 4, 2012.

Plant ID Workshop

Before the June 7 chapter meeting starts we are having a free plant ID workshop for our members and other participants who are interested in practicing their identification skills, learning the local flora, and looking at live material more closely in a casual and fun setting.

The workshop for the June 7 chapter meeting will cover the California tarplants (also known as tarweeds). Several aromatic, sticky, summer blooming native wildflowers in the composite family can be found in the grasslands around SLO county. We will focus on identifying and learning the important characters for the most common species.

The workshop will be from 6:15 to 7 p.m.

Please join us for this fun and informative event!

President’s Message June 2012

As most of you know, the June meeting is our last until we start the new season in October with our annual “show us your pictures-enjoy desserts” show.

I am sorry this spring was such a let-down as far as annual flower displays are concerned, but forecasts suggest that the La Nina conditions will transition to a possible El Nino next year. Let’s hope!

I’ll take this time to thank all of you who contributed to our chapter efforts, came on field trips etc. during this last season, especially our hard working Board. I am hoping that some more chapter members will consider joining or helping out the Board next season… talk to me about it.

A big thank-you to John and Esther Gowan who will donate a copy of the new Jepson Manual to the SLO public library. Another thanks to Kristie Haydu, Matt Ritter, and manzanita gatherers for the excellent keying workshop before the last meeting. Using the new Jepson-2 manzanita key, it is quite surprising how different it is from the Jepson-1 key by Wells, or Hoover’s 1970 key.

Many of you would have received the flyer on the May 26th Phenology Workshop in Cambria via our electronic mailing list. If you didn’t get it, and want to be informed of CNPS-related events, email or call me and you will be added (or subtracted). The project will train us how to collect data from plants of our choosing (in the wild or garden) so that, after many years, trends will start to emerge from the annual scatter of data points. Is the climate actually changing? Once we have some local interest, we can expand local data collection and get some insight into trends. This in turn may play a role in future conservation strategies at the landscape scale.

– David Chipping

Urtica dioica

Urtica dioica

Hoary Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica subsp. holosericea

This month’s plant is one most of us try to avoid. This is because of the trichomes (hairs) that cover its stem and leaves. The hairs have a bulbous base filled with a fluid that when deposited on unprotected skin causes a burning or stinging sensation. Bonnie has drawn a couple of these hairs. It turns out that the irritating fluid is most effective if deposited in a cut. To insure this cut, the sharp point of the hair breaks off leaving a jagged tip which when dragged along the skin results in a tiny cut. While the cut is being made, lateral and/or downward pressure on the hair’s base causes the fluid in the hair to be forced up and out the hollow hair stem to be deposited in the fine cut caused by the broken tip. That is, the stinging hairs are each tiny hypodermic needles.

If you haven’t guessed the plant by now, it’s the true stinging nettle, Urtica dioica subsp. holosericea. Our common or hoary stinging nettle is a subspecies of a very wide ranging species that is found throughout the North American and Eurasian continents. The new Jepson Manual indicates that our subspecies are native. However, the Eurasian subspecies, U. dioica ssp. dioca, is an extremely widespread weed as it has been widely introduced in North America. Apparently there is at least one unconfirmed report of the Eurasian subspecies in California.

So what does one do if one runs into a patch of stinging nettle? My professor in college told us to “wash the itchy area well and then douse it with rubbing alcohol which will cause the itch to disappear in one-half hour.” He would then add, “If you do nothing the itch will go away in 30 minutes.” I’ll let each of you decide whether to treat stinging nettle irritation or not.

Dr. Rhonda Riggins added one additional stinging nettle story. On field trips, when she would find stinging nettle, she would say that she was so strong, that the nettle didn’t bother her. To prove it, she would grab a nettle plant and pull it out. Her students were impressed. However, she had a trick! She was careful to limit her exposure to the palm of her hand where she, as well as most of us, have thick calluses. In other words, the delicate hairs couldn’t penetrate these calluses, so didn’t cause any harm.

Stinging nettles are partial to moist soils and are found most often near streams. They can also be found near springs or in hollows in coastal sand dunes that are low enough to approach the water table. The genus name, Urtica, is derived from Latin and means “to burn” referring to the stinging sensation one receives when brushing up against the plant. I have to admit that I prefer to say the genus name reminds us that to come in contact with this plant (h)urts! Also of note, is that stinging nettle pain begins immediately on contact. This is in contrast to poison oak (Toxicodendron diversiloba) which usually takes ½ hour or more to stimulate your immune system for itching that lasts much longer than ½ hour.

The species epithet, dioica, is short for dioecious. Dioecious is a fancy botanical term for stamens and pistils borne in separate flowers on separate plants, Therefore the plants are considered to be unisexual or bearing either staminate (male) or pistilate (female) flowers but not both.

According to The Jepson Manual our western variety of stinging nettle is the hoary (stinging) nettle. “Hoary” is used in the common name to indicate that this subspecies has many more stinging hairs than the other subspecies found in California.

The common name, nettle, is used for many plants, not just ones possessing stinging hairs. It’s used for any plant that possesses hairs that look like they might sting. Our most common example of this use is the totally unrelated mint, hedge nettle, Stachys bullata.

Hedge nettle is common along streams too. Having spent all these words, telling why you should avoid this plant, I need to point out that the Eurasian subspecies of this plant has been widely used in the old world as a spinach substitute and rennet. Boiling denatures the irritating fluid and softens the hairs. Boiling the roots can produce a yellow dye. Stems produce a strong fiber which has been favorably compared to another stem fiber, linen.

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.
Penstemon heterophylla

Penstemon heterophylla

Foothill Penstemon

Bonnie’s cover for this Obispoensis was used for a banquet program cover back in 1984. We have no record of it ever being used as a newsletter cover. We would welcome a note form anyone who might remember it ( or 543-7051). You might notice something else about the appearance of the drawing. It has much more fine detail than Bonnie’s drawings used in Dr. Keil’s and my textbook or more recent newsletters. This is because it was done to size (3½ x 3½ inches) using fine drawing pens. It was not drawn to be reduced or enlarged. Bonnie’s more recent drawings are done with in less detail because they are meant to be reduced. Also, Dirk encourages simple drawings that distill the plant down to basic characteristics.

The plant is P. heterophyllus (or Penstemon heterophylla) depending on which flower book is used. I’ve seen both in the literature. The most recent Jepson Manual uses the name, P. heterophyllus. The correct ending depends on whether one considers the genus name, Penstemon, to be masculine or feminine or neuter. Of course, in reality, it is both as the flowers contain both male stamens and a female pistil. But in Latin, which all scientific names are considered, almost everything has to be assigned a gender whether it was appropriate or not. Second, in Latin, an adjective usually has the very same ending as the noun it modifies. For example, the scientific name for our common black sage is Salvia mellifera. However, following Latin rules can create exceptions. The most common one is with trees.

Trees were considered by the Romans to be feminine. Therefore the masculine noun for the oaks is Quercus but the adjectives that make up its specific epithet must be feminine. So we get the scientific name for the coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia. The other exception is when the noun or the adjective is irregular. When this occurs, one almost just has to memorize the endings since rules don’t seem to work. At least, I haven’t been able to make consistent sense out of them.

I’ve found two common names for this plant. They are foothill penstemon and blue bedder penstemon. The former name refers to it habitat or range. It is widespread in the interior foothills up to over 5,000 feet (1700 m) throughout much of interior California.

I’ve observed it to be particularly common in the mountains behind Santa Barbara and in the Sierra Nevada. (We should see much of it on the President’s Trip this coming June 16-17.) I’ve found it to be quite variable in flower color. Most of the time it is a bright bluish pink color, but it can be pinkish blue or even completely blue. Its habit is to branch profusely with its branches lying flat until they turn up at the tips.

Note Bonnie’s habit sketch. This habit would make it an excellent plant to fill in a flower bed, thus the latter common name, bedder penstemon. Although blue flower color is less common than pink, many of the pictures of this plant I saw on the Web were of plants bearing large, dark blue flowers. I interpret this observation to mean that what are being put on the Web are garden plants selected for their larger size and bluer colored flowers. Since the plant is commonly found on disturbed edges of roads and paths or where vegetation is scattered, I suspect it should readily adapt to the organized disturbance we call gardening. Oh, most important, the most easily recognized character of this species is its YELLOW BUDS!

Lastly, I haven’t mentioned the family to which this plant belongs. If you think it is obviously in the figwort family you would be behind the times. It seems that a number of species were hiding in this family. Recent taxonomic work using newly discovered tools of DNA sequencing and sophisticated computer based comparison methods discovered their deceit. Before the availability of these modern tools, taxonomists depended on characters that were relatively “visible” to the naked eye or simple microscopic and biochemical characters. Similarity was determined by the taxonomist’s gestalt and/or with the help of relatively simple computer programs that assess similarity.

One obvious character that separated the old Scrophulariaceae from the old Plantaginaceae (plantains) was the size of their flowers. Plantains had very tiny, tightly clustered flowers so that casual observers would often not even know they were in full bloom when they were. In contrast, almost all the old Scrophulariaceae had large, readily visible flowers. So, seemingly it was easy to tell the two families apart. But, if one got out the microscope and examined the tiny flowers in the plantain family, one discovered that they were, in fact, just tiny figwort flowers. This became clearer when the newer computer analysis determined that most of the genera of these two families fell out in same cluster, i.e., they were more similar to each other than they were to the few genera left in Scrophulariaceae – e.g. figwort, Scrophularia. So, beautiful, large-flowered foothill penstemon was transferred to its rightful place in the formally all small-flowered Plantaginaceae.

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.

Conservation May 2012

Our Chapter Board has voted to make a substantial financial contribution to the purchase of more serpentine habitat above the City of San Luis Obispo. We believe that as serpentine floras are some of the most unique assemblages in California, our money will be well spent.

As you may remember, our chapter made a cash contribution to the purchase of the Wild Cherry Canyon, which would extend Montana de Oro Park to Avila. This has been stymied by P.G.& E. failing to complete needed actions, which if not completed quickly, would kill the purchase. We hope this issue will be resolved promptly.

We are pleased that the Local Agency Formation Commission is blocking Pismo Beach’s annexation of lands on it’s eastern edge, although the blockage is based on water supply and not degradation of oak and Pismo clarkia habitat.

We are still collecting plant lists from all parts of the County. These are being posted on our web site. Keep them coming.

− David Chipping

President’s Message May 2012

California Native Plant Week has passed, and we were treated to a really unusual assemblage of blooms. In Coon Creek there were still large masses of trillium, which is usually long gone. There were great displays of false solomon’s-seal, but very few annuals.

In Shell Creek our annual field trip found strange associations, such as baby blue-eyes, Chorizanthe and Chinese houses in flower together. Cerro Alto had wonderful Ceanothus showings, and there was a big bloom of California poppy at the south end of Montana de Oro. Who knows how the rest of the season will go, but don’t expect too much from the annuals. We will keep posting flower-viewing updates on the chapter Facebook page.

We are going to have our first mini-plant-ID Workshop before our regular meeting at the SLO Vets Hall on May 3 between 6:00-6:45. It will concentrate on manzanitas, but bring any “unknowns” as photos or specimens and our experts will try to fathom them out for you.

North County members should come and search us out at the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts on May 26 in the City Park. We will have a display of native plants suitable for the North County yard, but no sales. Bring your kids to do Leaf Art with us.

− David Chipping

Carpobrotus chilensis and C. edulis

Carpobrotus chilensis and C. edulis

Ice plant

Bonnie’s drawing is a generalized drawing representing two species commonly called ice plants. They both are fairly common along the coast and within freeway and railroad right-of-ways. The two species are Carpobrotus chilensis and C. edulis. They should be easy to distinguish. According to the new Jepson Manual, C. chilensis has smaller flowers (3-5 cm compared to 8-10 cm) and leaves (4-7 cm as compared to 6-10 cm in C. edulis).

Flower colors are reported to be different as well. C. edulis produces yellow petals while petals in C. chilensis flowers are reddish to pinkish. However, color can be misleading as the yellow flowers of C. edulis dry pinkish.Newly dry flowers in both species are quite showy.

Most identification manuals indicate that the two species can be separated on the shape of their succulent leaf cross-sections – rounded triangular in C. chilensis and sharp triangular in C. edulis. C. edulis is said to have the leaf angle pointing away from the stem axis bearing a few teeth toward their tip. I have to admit that I haven’t observed that character particularly in our area.

After indicating how different these two species are, I need to report that the literature also reports that they hybridize. In other words, separation may not be quite as easy as the characters would indicate.

I find the common name, ice plant, to be misleading, but understandable. First, let’s look at the misleading part. There is nothing in their appearance that indicates ice. Their ranges, like most of us people in Southern California, avoid areas where any significant ice would be found. I suspect the water in their succulent leaves would quickly freeze if they were exposed to severe or even extended near freezing temperatures. Growing ice crystals in their water filled cells would destroy cell membranes causing cell death which leads to leaf and plant death. So where does the common name, ice plant, come from?

I believe this is an example of a common name being more stable than the scientific name. Until the early to middle of the last century the species now found in Carprobrotus, along with a number of other cultivated succulent ground covers, were all included in a single large genus, Mesembryanthemum. Some even separated Mesembryanthemum into its own family Mesembryanthemaceae due to their showy petals. Today, there is essential unanimity that not only should old genus, the Mesembryanthemum, be split up but that it belongs in the family Aizoaceae. The non-ice plant genera in the Aizoaceae lack showy flowers because they lack showy petals. Think New Zealand spinach, Tetragonia expansa.

There is a plant still in the genus, Mesembryanthemum, whose stems and leaves surfaces are covered with large silvery cells that resemble ice crystals at a distance. This species, Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, is occasionally found around Morro Bay. I believe the common name for this species with this distinctive surface feature became the default common name for all the species in the broadly defined genus, Mesembryanthemum.

In older flower books, C. chilensis is said to be native to coastal California. How could this be? I’m guessing that it was a very early introduction. I assume it went like this: An early merchant ship delivered its cargo to southern Africa. It didn’t have a full load to pick up there, so it filled out its cargo hold with ballast. In the early days, ballast consisted of soil dug up from a nearby beach. That beach soil contained seeds and probably also pieces of ice plant. (I observed a “dried” succulent growing off a several year old herbarium sheet at my undergraduate school.) The ship then sailed to Chile and/or California where it picked up a full load of paying cargo. To make room for this paying cargo, it just dumped the African soil on New World beaches. It makes sense to me that this happened before the first botanical surveys were done in California so that the species was recorded as “native.” It should also be noted that C. chilensis appears to me to be a little less invasive than is C. edulis. That is, native plant diversity seems to be diminished less.

Oh, I haven’t given the individual species common names besides the generic name, ice plant. The only name I know for C. edulis is freeway ice plant. The edulis part of the scientific name refers to the fruit being eaten by southern African peoples. A source on the internet noted that young leaves were also cut up into salads. The Jepson Manual gives C. chilensis the common name of sea fig. This is a much better name than the older, and I assume politically incorrect, name Hottentot fig. Both species were widely planted as a ground cover, especially on steep, bare slopes. I believe they are no longer recommended for this purpose. Their leaves and stems are heavy; their roots are shallow. Thus, when the soil becomes saturated, the shallow roots and heavy wet stems and leaves actually increase soil slumping. Of course, this was exactly what they were planted in the first place to prevent.

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.

Learning Among the Oaks

Saturday, May 5, 9:00-11:00 am

Local CNPS members are invited to join members of The Land Conservancy and the Ag and Natural Resources Committee of San Luis Obispo County for a special hiking tour of the Learning Among the Oaks Trail at Santa Margarita Ranch


Book Talk

The next couple of months will have many of our members going east to camp and explore our California deserts.

Here are some books we carry on our book table that you can use on your explorations. And, they are great reading even if you aren’t venturing over to the deserts!


California Desert FlowersThe best desert flower/plant book is certainly California Desert Flowers by the Morhardts. Very comprehensive, easy to use, excellent photographs. A great book. $30, and 284 pages.


California Deserts, Pavlik

The California Deserts, An Ecological Rediscovery by Bruce Pavlik gives the reader a broad yet in-depth view of the desert areas including geography, animals, insects, plants and their adaptations, past historical events and impacts, and current threats. $28, and 365 pages.

Death Valley bookDeath Valley and the Northern Mojave by Tweed and Davis is a lovely book to look at and to read. Exquisite photographs celebrate this stark and lonely landscape. Desert travel advice is offered, with geology, vegetation, plants and animals and past history. Each specific area is mentioned with pictures and travel directions. $23, and 196 pages.

California's Eastern SierraCalifornia’s Eastern Sierra by Sue Irwin is the traveler’s guide you need as you drive up Highway 395. The photography is outstanding. Every area is covered with advice for the traveler on what to see and how to get there all the way north to Bridgeport. After you see this book you will want to visit every area mentioned. $20, and 144 pages.

Happy reading and happy travels.

– Heather Johnson