Plant Communities of the San Gabriel Mountains

Montane Forest

Special Feature: Balds
Balds are small areas of finely broken-up rocks without trees and shrubs. They occur on some peaks or ridgecrests. Peaks where one or more can be found include Lowe, Islip, Throop and Lewis. They are not found on Buckhorn, Hillyer, Vetter or Wilson. One of the finest examples with the greatest number of species is on the ridgecrest of the Dawson Saddle Trail on the way to Throop Peak. The plants are called cushion plants, or, sometimes, sub-alpine. They have adapted to the stressful conditions of high wind, freezing temperatures, intense radiation and dry, rocky soil in a variety of ways. All are perennial, with a thick woody tap root, flat to the ground like a pancake and spread out in a circle. They have tiny leaves, mostly gray and fuzzy, closely spaced along the stem and proportionally large flowers on short stems. Many miniature forms of buckwheat, cress, lotus, mousetails, pussypaws, catchfly and onion occur here. There are similar, but distinctive, areas in the Pebble Plains of Big Bear Valley and the alpine fell-fields of the High Sierra.

Special Feature: Snow Melt Gullies
Snow melt gullies are like vertical alpine meadows. They occur in the rocky canyons on the steep, northern slopes of the high country between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap. The streams, springs and seeps here become frozen waterfalls in winter and the snow piles up on top and melts very slowly in the spring, sometimes not until June. The moisture-loving annual plants then grow quickly and bloom in late summer. They have large, soft, yellowish-green leaves. Their flowers are often bright red (columbine, paintbrush, monkeyflower, and penstemon) or golden yellow (potentilla, sneezeweed). All are very attractive to insects and hummingbirds. There are also large perennial plants like corn lily and shooting star, with whitish flowers that bloom earlier. Willows and Ribes, currants and gooseberries, form thickets over the streams.

Special Feature: Berry Patches
The abundance of berries is an unexpected pleasure of a trip to the high country. Berries here have many seasons. In spring, there are lovely blossoms, mostly white and very delicate. Beautiful exceptions to this are the early blooming golden currant and the exquisite deep reddish-pink of the fuchsia-flowered gooseberry. Late summer brings the fruits in many colors--ruby thimbleberries, blue-black elderberries, ivory poison oak, brown coffeeberry, orange rose hips. Some are edible. Fall turns the leaves to scarlet, ochre, lemon and gold. In winter the low sun highlights the lavender stems of serviceberry and the dark red ones of chokecherry.

Berry patches are found in moist canyons without a dense tree canopy. The greatest assortments are in the middle high country about six to seven thousand feet. Excellent places to search for berries are the road into Buckhorn Campground at the bridge and Vincent Gap along the Bighorn Mine Road at the base of the big rock slide.

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Copyright © 2000 by Jane Strong
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Updated February 25, 2000