Annual Hike to Coreopsis Hill

Sunday, March 1, 2020, 9:00 am,  Coreopsis Hill (in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes) 

The Annual Hike to Coreopsis Hill (in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes), is scheduled for Sunday, March 1, 2020 from 9am to around noon. This hike is sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Chapter of CNPS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It will be led by Jenny Langford, Lauren Brown, Dirk Walters, and other local botanists and volunteers. The hike will begin at 9:00 AM (please plan to arrive between 8:45 and 9:00), leaving from the south end of Beigle Road at the USFWS access road (fenced road). It will be a casual walk through the dunes to the top of Coreopsis Hill. This is a moderate hike, about 3 hours round-trip. Dress in layers, bring water and snacks, and have your “Dune Mother’s Wildflower Guide” by Dr. Malcolm McLeod for the trip. Long pants and closed shoes are recommended as the habitat is coastal dune scrub and there is the possibility of poison oak and ticks in the natural dune areas (we will watch for and point these out so they can be avoided).

For more information call Lauren Brown at 460-6329 or 570-7993. Heavy rain cancels this trip (light rain, bring appropriate clothing).

NOTE: Pets, smoking, or alcohol are not allowed on the Refuge, including the parking area, or other properties accessed during the hike (i.e., State Parks and Private Property). Pets may not be left in cars in the parking areas.

Directions from the north: Take Hwy 101 south from San Luis Obispo. Turn right (west) at the new Willow Road off ramp (Exit 180). Proceed west on Willow Road for about 4.3 miles, to Highway 1. Turn left (south) on Highway 1 and proceed for 2.7 miles, to Oso Flaco Lake Road. Turn right (west) on Oso Flaco Lake Road. Proceed west on Oso Flaco Lake Road for 2.5 miles to Beigle Road. Look for a 6’ tall wire mesh fence and steel gate.

Directions from the south: Take 101 north to Santa Maria and take the Main Street exit toward the town of Guadalupe. Turn right onto Highway 1 and head north to Oso Flaco Lake Road (about 3 miles north of Guadalupe), turn left onto Oso Flaco Lake Road and proceed 2.5 miles to Beigle Road (on left).

Parking: We will have people posted at the entrance of the USFWS fenced road to direct parking. The gate will be open around 8:30. Please do not park on Oso Flaco Lake Road near the gate as there is not much room and it could be hazardous. There should be plenty of room to park along the acccess at Beigle Rd. If you need to use a restroom before the hike (there are none along the hike route). the Oso Flaco Lake State Park lot is another ¾ miles west of Beigle Road

Additional Information: The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes-Point Sal Coastal Area contains the largest, relatively undisturbed coastal dune tract in California and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974. Five major plant communities are represented including pioneer/foredunes; coastal dune scrub; riparian woodland; coastal dune freshwater marshes, ponds, and swales; and active interior dunes. The flora includes many endemic plant species and the dunes habitats support numerous rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals.

Generous Donation

Our Chapter would like to thank the anonymous donors of $1,000 to the Malcolm McLeod Scholarship Fund. This fund supports student research and has aided many students in projects that have contributed greatly to our knowledge of the flora. If you would also like to help students in their research, please look at our web page on the fund.

The Invasion of Veldt Grass

The Invasion of Veldt Grass

This image shows the demarcation between SLO Co. Land Conservancy (left) and CA State-owned properties (right)

During the second week in May I accompanied Lindsey Whitaker, Cal Poly graduate student and recipient of a Malcolm McLeod scholarship, to her research plots in the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes.  In her study, she is looking at the rate of invasion of Ehrharta claycina, also known as Veldt grass, into the dune ecological zone.  Lindsey’s plots are located in the area of the dunes south of Black Lake, where California State and San Luis Obispo County Land Conservancy properties meet.

As we walked through the Conservancy property towards the State owned land, we saw a thriving native dune habitat with many of the species in bloom.  There were popcorn flowers, fiddle necks, an assortment of suncups and primroses, robust California thistle, Cirsium occidentale var. californicum, deer weed, common sand aster, Corethrogyne filaginifolia, the giant dune bush lupine, Lupinus chamissonis, and lots of mock heather, Ericameria ericoides. There were some juvenile Veldt grass and narrow-leaved ice plant (both introduced from South Africa) scattered here and there, but insignificant compared to the hearty showing of native dune species.

As we walked over to the State property, I stopped dead in my tracks.  Incredible, I thought to myself!  The Veldt grass was so thick, it had pushed out everything else.  The clumps of bunch grass were evenly spaced over the entire dune surface, as if they had been planted into a pre-measured grid.  A complete carpet of Veldt grass had ravaged the landscape, with virtually nothing else left in its wake.  Gone were the annuals, and the hearty perennials; only a few of the larger mock heathers had survived, though not for much longer.

At this point, Lindsey explained to me the glaring disparity between the two properties.  Simply put, the Conservancy land had been treated annually with a grass-specific herbicide, laboriously applied by hand, while the State land had been left alone.

Invasive weeds in Central Coast wildlands is obviously a huge problem.  Personally, it is hard for me to stomach the destructive power such plants as Veldt grass unleash on some of our more delicate and unsuspecting habitats.  What a mess has been created with no easy solution!

San Luis Obispo County has a weed management program.  Although not exhaustive, the plan lists roughly 30 species that are considered highly invasive.  One can view this list and the plan’s recommendations for what to do if one of these weeds in found on a property in the county.

Let’s educate ourselves about invasive plants by using the internet to reveal just how threatened the California landscapes have become through the introduction of non-native species to this environment, and through land development and disturbance with no realistic plan for restoration.  After years and years of revegetation of our native plant communities by introduced species from other parts of the world, we now have the collective awareness and necessary tools to avoid the mistakes of the past and work together at bringing the pervasive invaders such as Veldt grass into a more controlled and directed management system.

Two weeks later –

Population where Pismo clarkia is known to grow along Ormonde Rd. near Arroyo Grande, CA. Note the dominant Veldt grass and a few Pampas grass.

Population where Pismo clarkia is known to grow along Ormonde Rd. near Arroyo Grande, CA. Note the dominant Veldt grass and a few Pampas grass.

During the late spring, I am in the habit of driving Ormonde Road, north of Arroyo Grande, to inspect a small patch of Pismo clarkia, Clarkia speciosa, ssp. immaculata, which Mardi Niles told me about several years ago.  This species is ranked as a 1B.1 endemic and as far as we know, only occurs within a roughly ten mile radius of Arroyo Grande.

I frequent this spot to ascertain the health of the overall polulatio of this species, knowing that the Ormonde Road site has been strong, perhaps as high as 500 individuals in a good year and less than 20 individuals in a bad year.  Thus, watching the ability of this species to regenerate itself from year to year teaches us a lot about its future fecundity.

Being small, inconspicuous plants, except when in bloom, it is very easy to alter the existing Pismo clarkia landscape during the many months of the year when our long, dry summers hide the small annuals from view.  One can imagine what foot, horse, bike, and/or car traffic can do to disturb these fragile habitats.  This particular population has been severally disrupted by property owners who don’t know they have a very rare plant on site, and by off-road vehicles that have made a mess of the area.

Close up of Pismo clarkia peeking through Veldt grass and other annual grasses at the Ormonde Rd. site.

Close up of Pismo clarkia peeking through Veldt grass and other annual grasses at the Ormonde Rd. site.

Well, this year’s crop has yet another villain!  As I reported earlier, the 2015-2016 rainy season has made for a bumper crop of Veldt grass.  Due to the disruption of these sandy soil environment, Veldt grass has quickly become the dominant species here, significantly choking out the native vegetation.  As we saw at the Guadalupe – Nipomo Dunes, the grass has not only taken over, but has eliminated virtually everything else, creating a monoculture of dire proportions.

How many individual Pismo clarkia exist today; perhaps 20,000 plants?  Knowing the environmental requirements for these two species, i.e., sandy soils located within ten miles of the coast, Pismo clarkia becomes a lot rarer.  Not only is it a 1B,1 ranked rare plant, endemic to a few square miles in San Luis Obispo County, but now it is under attack by an unrelenting “assassin” that takes no prisoners!

Next time you see a Veldt grass plant, please pull it out!

-Bill Waycott

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...
Antirrhinum ovatum

Antirrhinum ovatum

Oval Leaved Snapdragon

Drawing by Bonnie and article by Dr. Malcolm McLeod below appeared in the November, 1991 Obispoensis.  

When you read it you will see lots of similarities with our current drought situation as well as the much hoped for possibilities of an excellent rain year. Yea, el Niño! If we get the rain, we just may have a once a decade or so treat to witness. We can only hope. Malcolm was a long-time member of our chapter who served several years as out chapter president. He served many years as our rare plant coordinator.  Malcolm mentions many names of people who came to see this rare event.  They are a whose who of local last generation including naturalist-rancher Eben McMillan and botanists Clare Hardham and Clifton Smith. In 1991, the Carrizo Plains area was not yet a National Monument but a Natural Area administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the Nature Conservancy.  It’s the presence of this species, as well as  number of other plant and animal species, that aided in it being designated a National Monument in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.  

– Dirk Walters, illustration by Bonnie Walter


February Chapter Meeting Featuring Natalie Rossington

February Chapter Meeting Featuring Natalie Rossington

Title: February Chapter Meeting Featuring Natalie Rossington
Location: San Luis Obispo Vets Hall, 801 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo

Program: Natalie Rossington, a Master’s student at Cal Poly. Natalie is studying how rare species are able to exist near common and widespread relatives by investigating reproductive barriers between Layia jonesii, a rare serpentine endemic, and Layia platyglossa in Reservoir Canyon.

She investigated both pre-zygotic and post-zygotic barriers using a combination of field and greenhouse experiments. She will present her results and discuss how these results help us understand how rare, serpentine endemics survive and persist.

Natalie Rossington received an undergraduate degree in Soil Science at Cal Poly. She is a Malcolm McLeod Scholarship awardee. She enjoys botanizing in the spring, photography, and cooking in her free time. She grew up in Santa Barbara and currently lives in Morro Bay.

Start Time: 19:00
Date: 2015-02-05

President’s Message May 2014

The Malcolm McLeod Memorial Field Trip 2014

The Malcolm McLeod Memorial Field Trip was a great success, with beautiful weather and some impressive flower displays in the Coon Creek watershed. A hillside burned in the 2012 burn was covered by Phacelia viscid with its large blue flowers, and the fire-burned ridge on the Rattlesnake Flats trail had dense stands of blue dicks, buttercups and Indian paintbrush. We were happy to see the chaparral recovering from the burn, although we think recovery has been diminished due to the drought.

Wildflowers at Shell Creek

Just to make sure we made the right call in diverting from our usual Shell Creek destination, a couple of us checked it out. No flowers could be seen from the road, but there were a few hiding in the grass once you walked into the meadows. No so in the Carrizo Plain, where there is nothing green to be seen south of the entrance to the monument.

Calling For Book Table Volunteers!

Although it will be hard to replacing the wonderful Heather Johnson at our sales table, I think the job might be broken into manageable pieces if we had a small team of volunteers who would share the job, maybe taking just minding the sales at one or two meetings or events. As book sales contribute a substantial part of our income stream and activities, any help in this regard would be very greatly appreciated.

– David Chipping

In Appreciation of Joan O’Donnell

Joan O'Donnell image

Bequest from Joan O’Donell

The San Luis Obispo Chapter of CNPS recently received a generous surprise in the form of a bequest from wildflower lover Joan O’Donnell. Joan’s daughter Paddy McNamara contacted CNPS to let us know that her mother passed in March of 2013 and that Paddy, Joan’s husband Laurence, and Joan’s other daughter Cathleen Scott would like to honor their mother’s memory by making a donation to our chapter in the form of a gift of $3,000.

It was their intent to assist in CNPS’s efforts to conserve California’s native plants and to give lasting joy to others who also treasure the experience of seeing local wildflowers in bloom through their donation.

Some of the family’s fondest memories of Joan and one of her greatest delights were taking rides throughout the Central Coast to look at wildflowers. Joan O’Donnell grew up in Pasadena, lived for a while in Santa Barbara, and eventually settled in Arroyo Grande during the late eighties with Laurence. She was a dedicated home maker and kept a large garden at their home in Arroyo Grande.

Joan would wear big hats and large sunglasses and would load the family into the car to drive around local natural areas in search of wildflowers. Matilija poppy, California poppy, and lupine were some of her favorites. Joan was 90 when she died.

On January 9, 2013 the chapter board voted unanimously to place this donation into the Malcolm McLeod Scholarship Fund, which supports college students’ botany and plant ecology research projects. Environmental regulations, land use determinations, and policies that protect and conserve California’s native plants are in part based on science to help inform these decisions, so the board felt that this was an appropriate use of the funds.

We are deeply grateful for the O’Donnell’s gift and for the family’s generosity through support of CNPS. The future of CNPS and our ability to continue to conserve, protect, and advocate for California’s native plants and our botanical legacy depends largely on these types of contributions. Planned giving and bequests like this are ways to help ensure the future of California’s natural habitats and the diversity of plants that reside within them.

If you would like more information regarding donations of this nature please contact any of your local CNPS representatives and visit our website for more information at

-Kristie Haydu

Vernal Pool with Downingia

Vernal Pool with Downingia

Vernal Pools occur where there is moderate to large sized “natural” depression with no outlet. The depression has to be large enough to capture enough rainfall to fill the pond to some depth. The water collects in the lowest point in the depression. There also must be an impervious layer under the pond that prevents the water from seeping deep into the soil. This impervious layer is usually a layer of calcium carbonate that forms where water seeping downward due to gravity is balanced by pull upward caused by evaporation. True vernal pools are a desert or semi-desert phenomenon. I suspect it goes without saying that not all temporary pools are vernal pools. For example, in San Simeon State Park there are extensive interlocking shallow pools surrounding small hillocks that are filled up by winter rains and are gone by summer. These are formed by animals that dig out the depressions and pile up the excavated dirt to form the mounds. This allows the animals a drier den during the rainy season. Back East, where it rains or snows most of the year, you will find temporary ponds that will last from many months. These are colonized by ordinary species more or less identical to those that inhabit the forest around them. Vernal pools will only last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on their size and the amount of rainfall.

For the second Obispoensis of this year, we are doing a repeat of a drawing Bonnie did for the banquet cover back in 1993. We’re repeating this particular drawing because of the drought and in the hope that it will serve as sign that we really, really need rain! It was originally done in honor of Dr. Wayne Ferren’s (then Curator of the Herbarium at U.C. Santa Barbara) program entitled “Creation and Restoration of Vernal Pools at Del Sur Reserve near Isla Vista, California.” The vernal pool in Bonnie’s drawing is one that occurs off the road to leading to Cerro Noroeste from California State Highway 166. It is on a shelf in the otherwise steep slopes of that mountain’s foothills. This particular pool is a favorite stop for CNPS-SLO, especially when there has been enough rainfall to fill it.

It is when the vernal pool lasts for weeks that they become particularly interesting. For plants, vernal pools are a particular challenge. The first plants to appear are those that can stand total emersion in the water. These are aquatic plants that usually live totally submerged in the water. Because the water is going to last for a very short time, these aquatic plants must have an accelerated life cycle to get from germination to fruiting. As the pool begins to dry up, plants that can tolerate saturated soils begin to germinate in a ring just inside and upslope from the water’s edge. Again these plants have a difficult environment. They begin life with too much water and end up high and dry as the pool constricts away from them. The end result of this process is a series of bands produced by various species that get their start under different soil water conditions. This banding is easily visible in Bonnie’s drawing. One genus that is particularly typical of vernal pools Downingia. It is they that form a spectacular bluish band around the pool. Bonnie included a drawing of the flower of the common Downingia species found in this particular pond. It is Downingia cuspidata.

Bonnie’s drawing was taken from a photograph, lost many years ago, that was taken on a chapter field trip to Mount Able and Mt. Pinos. Although the person shown in the drawing is drawn much too small to be recognized, notes from the time indicate that it is Sybil McLeod who served CNPS-SLO chapter in many different ways. Yes, she was also the wife of Dr. Malcolm McLeod who was a past CNPS-SLO President, Historian, and for many years the Rare Plant Committee Chairman. To be a committee chair in this chapter usually means you do all the committee’s work.

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.
Natalie Rossington

Natalie Rossington

Congratulations to Natalie Rossington

CNPS-SLO  is awarding the McLeod Scholarship to Natalie Rossington, a Master’s student studying Biology at Cal Poly where she also received an undergraduate degree in Soil Science. She enjoys botanizing in the spring, photography, and cooking in her free time. Natalie grew up in Santa Barbara and currently lives in Morro Bay.

Natalie Rossington will be studying the distribution and ecology of native populations of Layia jonesii and Layia platyglossa in Reservoir Canyon by using a reciprocal transplant. She will also investigate the pre-zygotic and post-zygotic barriers between the two species by performing a hybridization study. She hopes to find new populations of L. jonesii throughout San Luis Obispo County during Spring 2014 and 2015.

Read more about the McLeod Scholarship