Observations of Flowering Plants and the Main Vernal Pools on the Mesa de Colorado, July and August 2001

Chronological Observations

Introduction to this page

Observations 2000 November 4 - 2001 February 23
Observations 2001 February 26 - 2001 March 16
Observations 2001 March 18 - 2001 April 14
Observations 2001 April 17 - 2001 May 10
Observations 2001 May 14 - 2001 June 29
2001 July 3
2001 July 7
2001 July 12
2001 July 16
2001 July 21
2001 July 27
2001 August 1
2001 August 6
2001 August 12
2001 August 17
2001 August 22
2001 August 29
Later Observations

2001 July 3 (Day 136): Vernal Pool Trail, Granite Loop Trail, Waterline Road. Conditions warm and muggy due to monsoonal weather, but pleasant enough to hike in at 5 pm; rain south of the Mesa de Colorado, but dry at the Vernal Pool Trailhead.

There are still a few patches of yellow at the Main Pool; interestingly, they are outside of the previous patches of yellow. That is, the slender tarweed bloom started just outside the edge of the Pool, and has progressed outward, contrary to the usual progression of bloom at most Vernal Pools!

There again were ~40 baby frogs on the boardwalk, with many of them clustered in the very small puddles of water (~3" diameter) left on the boardwalk by sprinkles earlier in the day.

The spike rush is now ~1/3 brown, with most of it lying flattened to the north.

The toyon is now coming into full bloom in the chaparral portion of the Vernal Pool Trail, and I now find that there are more toyon plants here than I had previously thought there were. It's much easier to find plants when they put on a display!

I found one additional salsify on the Adobe Loop Trail, and removed its remaining flowers and seeds.

The bugs must like this weather. At least a few gnats bugged me most of the hike, but they weren't too bad overall.

2001 July 7 (Day 140): Vernal Pool Trail, Granite Loop Trail, Waterline Road, Vista Grande Trail. Conditions warm and muggy again due to monsoonal weather. It was 89° at the Hidden Valley Trailhead at 3:10 pm, and 85° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead, with the breeze making it seem cooler.

The San Diego button celery is clearly in full bloom in the small pools. Although it can't be seen from a distance, it can be smelled from the road just south of the Vernal Pool Trailhead!

Unfortunately, the noise from the new home built on the edge of the Mesa de Colorado was apparent all along the trail, including at the Main Pool. The banging of debris being dumped into a disposal bin does not aid the wilderness experience. What a shame that those properties weren't added to the Preserve!

The alkali mallow produced its first bloom today, growing through the bent-over spike rush. The button celery is in full bloom at the Main Pool as well. The spike rush is bent over due to the southerly wind, and about half of the plants are brown now.

It is way too hot to nab the curly dock, so I began cutting down all the prickly lettuce along and near the trail.

I found a new species blooming along the chaparral portion of the trail, which turned out to be a white-leaf monardella. (The identification was made by Jane Strong and myself.) This is the fourth new species I've seen this year that was not previously recorded as existing at the SRP. Finding new species is an entirely unexpected benefit of following the bloom intensely this year.

A surprise awaited me at the Cole Creek bridge on the Vista Grande Trail. Canchalagua, which has ended its bloom everywhere else, is in full bloom along the stream! There were also some locoweed flowers and seed pods, both of which were long gone elsewhere at the Preserve.

I nabbed another salsify along the Vista Grande Trail.

2001 July 12 (Day 145): Vernal Pool Trail, Multiuse (Wiashal) Trail. Conditions warm and breezy, 85° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 3:37.

From the Vernal Pool Trailhead, everything is brown, including the two small pools, except for a few patches of green here and there from mustard leaves and a few sticks of red from curly dock. The sticky tarweed will add yellow to this brown tableau when it finally comes into full bloom. So far, it is only increasing its bloom very slowly, and is now only up to perhaps 0.5% of full bloom even though it has been nearly a month since the first bloom appeared.

I again cut down all the prickly lettuce I found along the Vernal Pool Trail. We'll see in five years how effective this will be in eliminating this non-native plant.

The San Diego button celery is still in full bloom, and the bologna odor still is apparent just before the beginning of the boardwalk at the Main Pool. The alkali mallow is still just showing its first blooms. But the slender tarweed show is now over.

Charlie, a female volunteer with Team Stream, has done a tremendous job in eliminating the curly dock seedheads around the Pool. There are orange trash bags full of curly dock along the entire circumference of the Pool, and it looks like she has nabbed the curly dock everywhere except for some remaining plants in the curly dock "forest" on the north side of the Pool. This should prevent further spreading of the curly dock, and allow us to begin to eliminate it by digging once the ground becomes moist again. Zach told me later that Charlie has been working on eliminating the curly dock for three years now, including rooting out the plants.

The scrub oaks are producing lots of acorns again this year.

Along the Multiuse Trail, the hoaryleaf ceanothus has already launched all their seeds. I unfortunately missed the spectacle of the exploding seedpods, which can fling the seeds 10 feet or more. The blooms are way down on this trail, with a number of species finished or showing their last few flowers.

An ant colony had lots of winged ants milling about near sunset. Must be mating time for them!

2001 July 16 (Day 149): Vernal Pool Trail, Multiuse (Wiashal) Trail, Granite Loop Trail, Waterline Road. Conditions beautiful, 75° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 2:44, with a cool breeze! There weren't even any bugs to mar the pleasure of this hike.

Zach hiked with me to see the white-leaf monardella, and as always I learned a few things from him. One item corrected an error I originally had above for the origin of the "black sticks" in the Main Pool. We saw several baby lizards scooting out of our way on the trail. As we were picking out the toyons in bloom in the chaparral area of the Vernal Pool Trail, Zach was amazed to find a large olive tree to the north. It won't be there much longer, since Zach put it on his list of alien plants to remove.

We confirmed the identification of the white-leaf monardella together. This is the fourth previously-unrecorded species I've found in this intensive following of the bloom this year. I found a fifth species, tarragon, later in the day on the Multiuse Trail.

The Cole Creek crossing on Waterline Road continues to be a hotbed of bloom. A beautiful big yellow-lined spider was in the middle of its web amidst the blooms there.

2001 July 21 (Day 154): Vernal Pool Trail, Multiuse (Wiashal) Trail. Conditions pleasant, 82° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 2:44, with a cool breeze.

As they always do this time of year, the small pools look mowed in comparison with the high grasses around them. This is due to the much shorter plant life in the pool, consisting mostly of blown-over spike rush now.

The rest of the curly dock has been cut down at the Main Pool, significantly improving the Pool appearance, as well as cutting down the number of potential curly dock seedlings next year.

I saw no blooms on the California aster on the way out, but one flower was half open on the way back. This is the first bloom to appear from the buds that have been slowly growing over the last month or two. Plants seem to be growing in slow motion now.

It was cool enough that I finally made it to the north peak on the Multiuse Trail. There were so few blooms to record that it was my first real exercise hike since the Pool formed on 2/14. But I wasn't hiking too quickly to miss some of the interesting insects along the way.

I stopped to observe a 2" long tarantula hawk that was searching all the holes in the ground around the trail. I don't know whether it was searching for a tarantula, or searching for a suitable hole to bury the next tarantula it found. (Tarantula hawks are wasps that are able to fight and sting a tarantula that is much bigger than they are, then drag the paralyzed tarantula into a nearby hole. They lay an egg in the tarantula before they bury it, which gives the larva its food supply.) What an amazing wasp!

I also observed several of the tarantula hawk's cousins, the velvet ants, some red and some black and white, like miniature skunks.

The Multiuse Trail has a deep layer of dust now from the bike and horse traffic, which records the tracks of all who pass there. Amidst a number of bobcat prints, there were several prints as large as my fist which may have been from mountain lions.

2001 July 27 (Day 160): Vernal Pool, Granite Loop, and Vista Grande Trails; Waterline Road. Conditions warm, 87° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 3:06, but with a nice breeze.

The first wand buckwheat is in bloom. This really marks the "beginning of the end" of the bloom, since this was the last plant to have any blooms left at the end of the previous year.

The prickly lettuce keeps on growing as fast as I can cut it down on the Vernal Pool Trail. Fortunately, I am able to keep up with it, with only a few plants coming into bloom before I cut them down.

The San Diego button celery has now essentially finished its bloom. Only a small number of blooms are still present, from plants whose roots are shadowed by the boardwalk. Instead of the bologna smell of the button celery, the sweet smell of sticky tarweed perfumes much of the Vernal Pool Trail on the Mesa.

I rested on the new bench just below the Mesa, and discovered later that it left a big brown stain on my white T-shirt. Beware!

A big fat snake began to cross the Vernal Pool Trail just ahead of me, but before I could get my camera out he saw me and quickly slithered away.

Before I hiked the Granite Loop Trail, I talked with Rob Hicks who told me that there was an abandoned pit bull, weak and limping, along Waterline Road. Rob figured that the coyotes would get it tonight, and tried to entice it with food and water, but the dog was too wary of humans to come near Rob.

The flower display along the drainages is still strong, especially along Cole Creek at the Vista Grande Trail and along Waterline Road.

Male tarantulas are now out looking for females. I saw one of these amazing spiders along Waterline Road, not far from his "hole in the ground", and got pictures of both.

2001 August 1 (Day 165): Vernal Pool, Punta Mesa and Trans Preserve Trails; Monument Hill Road. Conditions pleasant, 79° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 2:50, with a nice breeze.

Monsoonal moisture is apparent from the clouds over San Gorgonio and San Jacinto, but fortunately the coastal air with lower temperatures and humidity is over the SRP. This made it a good day to do the Punta Mesa Trail.

The prickly lettuce on the Mesa portion of the Vernal Pool Trail is finally becoming fewer in number. I nabbed only ~20 plants this trip.

The animal trails through the grasses are becoming more distinct, as they trample the no-longer-growing grasses.

It was very pleasant at the Adobes, only 75° at 4:30 p.m. in the shade of that wonderful oak tree.

Bugs made their first appearance of the day along the Punta Mesa Trail, but were not too bad. A number of baby lizards scurried out of the way, except for the usual one or two that just kept moving along in front of me until they finally went sideways off the trail.

The Punta Mesa Trail is beginning to get a bit overgrown in a few parts, and needs some brushing there. I cut down four fennel plants growing at the De Luz Creek crossing. One of those plants is very robust and needs to be dug out.

Tarantulas are out in abundance now. I saw six of them along the trails from 5:30 to 8 p.m. One of them came to me as I was studying a felt-leaf everlasting. It first headed down the trail toward my pack. When I moved my pack, the tarantula reoriented itself toward my pack again. Then when I moved the pack out of sight, the tarantula saw my black shoes (I surmise) and headed for my feet. I gather tarantulas don't have such good eyesight if they can mistake my black shoes for a black female tarantula! I was surprised to read later that these tarantulas were probably ~7 years old. It was unusual to think of an insect, even a large one, being that old.

At the tenaja just south of Monument Hill Road, volunteers had taken out about 20% of the very tall cattails in the pond, leaving them to dry up just outside the pond.

As usual, the howls of coyotes were present near dusk. It is curious that so many coyotes were seen during the day in springtime, but none have been sighted during the day in the months since that time. This evening the coyote howls were accompanied by more booms from Camp Pendleton.

2001 August 6 (Day 170): Vernal Pool, Granite Loop Trails; Waterline Road. Conditions warm, 86° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 4:50, with a warm breeze.

The weather is still hot, even at 5 p.m. This is one of those days that I probably wouldn't be hiking if I weren't following the bloom! Fortunately, the reliable breeze is present, making the hike pleasant enough on the nearly-level trail.

The plants gave me two surprises today. First, the California everlasting "everlasting flowers" have all turned brown on the Mesa. They are still white elsewhere, but it must be their time to turn brown soon. I had thought the "everlasting flower" (actually the phyllaries that surrounded the true flowers) lasted for a longer time period.

Second, a significant number of the pink and red poison oak leaves have fallen off the plants in the last six days. I was surprised that so many leaves fell off so quickly and in such a short interval. But the red leaves still lasted longer than the fall colors from eastern trees! (The first red leaves appeared on 9 June, with half the leaves red by 12 July. Hence most of the red leaves lasted at least a month, with some almost two months, compared to at best weeks of fall color from an individual species of eastern tree.)

Even the birds gave me a surprise. As I was approaching the vernal pool, I observed a fairly large bird carrying what looked to be a sturdy stick that was as long or longer than the bird. Oddly, a second bird was following the first, and appeared to almost dive-bomb the first bird for some reason. The first bird just dipped slightly out of the way and continued on. I wondered if the "stick" could have been a snake, but it seemed too straight to be a snake.

The sticky tarweed is now in enough bloom to create patches of yellow/green on the Mesa. Acorns are in abundance on the scrub oak, becoming more noticeable every week.

No bugs were on the Mesa due to the breeze, but it didn't take them long to find me below the rim, where the breeze was much less. The bugs were also annoying on the Granite Loop whenever I stopped to look at the plants in detail. Overall, though, the bugs were not very troubling. I saw two tarantulas on the Vernal Pool Trail, and another one on the Granite Loop Trail.

2001 August 12 (Day 176): Vernal Pool, S. Los Santos and N. Granite Loop Trails; Waterline and Ranch Roads. Conditions warm, 85° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 4:05, with a warm breeze.

The number of tarantulas is declining. I only saw one today, but the encounter was an interesting one. The tarantula was in the middle of the Los Santos Trail, and heard me coming. It stopped dead, as they always do when they detect a threat. Since it was in the middle of the trail, I was a bit closer to it when I passed it just off trail than I had been to other tarantulas I had passed in previous hikes. Just after I passed, it raised its front end, like a horse rearing, and then scurried away from me with its abdomen high in the air. As it went away, I felt some wetness on my knee and decided it would be prudent to wash it off with my water.

I could not find any indication that tarantulas project liquid of any sort as a defense mechanism, but did find that they can "throw" hairs from their abdomen. These "urticating" hairs hook into skin and cause irritation, and are apparently used to temporarily disable a predator who is close enough to get a faceful. The next time this happens, I'll look for a bald spot on the tarantula's abdomen (where the hair comes from) to see if this is what happened!

I saw another tarantula crossing Clinton Keith Road, followed by a sighting of what looked like a turkey vulture feasting on something on the side of the road.

Even this late in the year, the plants dominate the experience. I saw six new species, four with their first bloom and two with colorful berries or acorns. In addition, the sticky tarweed is now in full bloom, and at least some areas have the air perfumed with its pleasant scent. The section of the Los Santos Trail that had a field of three-spot flowers now has the ground nearly covered with their seed. Their seed is beautiful, having several different lengths of pappus extending from one side of the seed like a parachute. Acorns are prominent on the scrub oaks, and the Engelmann oaks sport tiny acorns that sometimes fall off and hit you on the head!

The twiggy wreath plant continues to annoy me. I saw numerous plants that apparently were in full bloom, judging from the buds and closed flowers, but no open flowers. This must be one of the flowers that only blooms at night or early morning, or when no one is looking! These are not my favorite kinds of flowering plants since I am not a morning person.

2001 August 17 (Day 181): Vernal Pool and Granite Loop Trails; Waterline Roads. Conditions hot, 90° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 4:10, with a hot breeze only at the top of the Mesa de Colorado.

Despite the heat, the sticky and San Diego tarweeds are in full bloom, showing no signs of stress despite the hot temperatures. What amazing plants these are that can bloom months after the last rain, in soil that shows large deep cracks due to contraction from dryness!

But full bloom for sticky tarweed means that this year's bloom cycle is finally drawing to a close. The sticky tarweed is among the last plants that will finish blooming before the cycle begins again next year. In addition, some currants, squaw bush and poison oak plants have lost all their leaves.

For the first time, I have the feeling that the show will soon be over.

Indeed, the number of new plants yet to come into bloom is dwindling. Only four more species show buds that have not yet begun blooming (goldenbush, telegraph weed, cocklebur and California sagebrush). A check of the plant list shows only two additional plants to come this year, coyote bush and jepsonia, both quite rare along trails at the Plateau.

The tarantulas also seem to be ending their yearly appearance along the trails during the day. I saw no tarantulas on the trail, but one on Clinton Keith Road.

In contrast, five plant species have already set their buds for next year's bloom (hoaryleaf ceanothus, manzanita, mission manzanita, sugarbush, and squawbush).

Although this year's show is ending, signs of next year's show are beginning to appear.

2001 August 22 (Day 186): Vernal Pool, Lomas, Oak Tree and Trans Preserve Trails; Ranch and Tenaja Roads. Conditions pleasant, 79° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 3:40, with a cool breeze. The temperature dropped quickly throughout my hike, reaching 59° at 7:30 pm!

Whenever any scientist thinks they have figured out Nature, Nature delights in proving how little humans know. In this case, my sentiments on my last hike that "this year's show is ending" were shown to be wrong today on three counts.

First, I saw seven live tarantulas on the trail today, and one dead dried-up tarantula, more than I'd seen on any previous trip. I examined the live ones closely to see if any hairs were missing from their abdomen. None were.

Second, my count of the number of plants yet to bloom was off by at least one. As I reached the north end of the N. Lomas Trail, I remembered that last year I had seen some plants along Tenaja Road that I couldn't identify. So I deviated a bit out of my planned path to try to find them. And almost immediately on my right, there they were, showing their very first blooms of the year!

With the experience gained from this year of studying plants at the SRP, I was able to take good notes about the characteristics of this plant, and was then able to identify it later at home. The species is the Siskiyou Aster (Aster lanceolatus ssp. hesperius), which is plant #7 that I've found this year that is not on the plant list.

It is certainly interesting the way projects turn out. My only goal this year was to collect more data points on the evolution of the Vernal Pool. An ancillary project that presented itself was to follow the bloom.

When I began following the bloom, my only goal was to record the extent of the bloom versus time. I never set out to learn how to identify plants, and I certainly did not set out to find new species at the SRP. Both these things were accidental results of this ancillary project. And in fact, I would have guessed that there would be no new species unrecorded on the SRP plant list.

But this is typical of science. Many scientific endeavors turn out very differently when carried out than when planned. A famous quote from Wernher Von Braun is Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. That's part of what makes science so interesting!

Third, when I added today's observations to the showiness plots, the showiness of the bloom has actually increased now, reversing the general decline seen in the past several months.

Finally, who would have thought that during the hottest part of the year, that I would need to put on a sweatshirt at the end of my hike?

Go figure! (;-)

2001 August 29 (Day 193): Vernal Pool, Los Santos (only a small section of the south end), Granite Loop and Vista Grande Trails; Waterline and Faultline Roads. Conditions almost unbelievably cool, 74° at the Vernal Pool Trailhead at 3:00, with a cool breeze.

The marine layer is nearly up to the top of Palomar Mountain, and extends well past the pass between Temecula and Fallbrook. Perhaps as a result of this very unusual summer day, I finally observed a few open flowers of wand chicory, on a plant in the shade of an oak tree. I had begun to think that the wand chicory at the SRP opened only briefly at night, since I have seen many plants that were obviously in full bloom, but all the blooms were closed.

Fields of yellow-green from sticky tarweed are nearly everywhere on the Mesa de Colorado, and the sweet smell of tarweed is omnipresent, carried by the high humidity of the marine layer.

The showiness of the bloom is now higher than it has been for two months, since the "asters" are now in full bloom. The plants responsible for the increased showiness are bristly goldenaster, California aster, goldenrod and Siskiyou aster.

The Cole Creek Area of the Vista Grande Trail continues to be a very interesting place for plants. It contains the only population of slender buckwheat I've seen this year, more Siskiyou Asters, and a bristly goldenaster growing almost next to a telegraph weed, which allowed me to easily study the differences between those close-related species. Unfortunately, bugs were a bit annoying during this and other stops along the wind-sheltered north Granite Loop Trail and Vista Grande Trail up to nearly the intersection with Tenaja Truck Trail.

Male tarantulas continue to cruise for mates. Now that they have caught my eye, I see zillions of their holes in the ground along the trail. The tarantula holes are highly circular, about an inch in diameter, and usually lined with webbing. I used to wonder what animal lived in each of the many types of holes in the ground I saw along a trail, and it is very satisfying to finally know the source of most of the holes.

Go to:

Copyright © 2000-2001 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 20 September 2001.