Observations of Flowering Plants and the Main Vernal Pools on the Mesa de Colorado, 17 April 2002 onward

Chronological Observations

Introduction to this page
2002 April 17
2002 April 28
2002 May 5
2002 May 10
2002 May 19
2002 May 27
2002 June 7
2002 June 25
2002 July 31
2002 August 3
2002 September 21
2002 October 12
2002 October 26
2002 November 2

2002 April 17: Vernal Pool Trail, Ranch Road, Adobe Loop Trail, Trans Preserve Trail. Cool conditions with a high temperature of 62°.

It struck me today that most of the plants with blooms are found directly alongside the trail. Just like the roadsides, the bit of extra rainfall from the trail has allowed some plants to bloom. Away from the trails there are almost no flowers at all.

California poppy is a major exception. Most of them are found far enough from the trail that they did not benefit from any extra water. The bloom this year is quite showy. The range of color for the poppies is amazing: from flowers that are a solid rich orange, to flowers with orange centers and gold-orange edges, to flowers with orange centers and bright yellow edges. No one seems to have told the poppies that this was a drought year!

Similarly, the good display of blue-eyed grass and California buttercup continues below the Mesa de Colorado on the Vernal Pool Trail. Indications are that this might be the last week they are at full bloom, since most of the plants have few buds left.

The thread-leaved brodiaea began blooming today near the Main Pool. A total of 11 plants are in bloom, but their bloom stalks are weak and fragile, clearly from lack of water.

Silver puffs line the Vernal Pool Trail today. I never saw any flowers from this species, but their silver shiny dandelion-like seedheads testify that their blooms must have been here, and quite common as well. The bloom is probably like that of smooth cat's ear, only open for a short period, and so is easy to miss.

Outside of these species, the bloom continues to be pathetic. Some checkerbloom have aborted their buds. The monkeyflower, which stayed in bloom for months last year, has finished already after only weeks.

A snake crossed my path just below the end of the chaparral on the Vernal Pool Trail. It looked just like one I saw at the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve a few weeks ago, and may be a striped king snake. I've only seen the banded king snakes before, so I am not certain of this identification.

On the Trans Preserve Trail, a badger had dug a hole right in the trail! After years of never seeing badger holes on the Mesa de Colorado or its slopes, this year there have been several badger holes (which of course may be due to the same badger).

2002 April 28: Granite Loop Trail, Vista Grande Trail to Cole Creek, Vernal Pool Trail. Pleasant conditions with a high temperature of 68°.

The Granite Loop Trail still looks barren along the edges of the trail in most places. Those places should have been covered with annuals in bloom, but this year there is only dirt.

The main exception is the shady area just east of the picnic area. The Chinese Houses are putting on a pretty good display in that area. There is a sharp boundary between the good display in the shaded area, and wilted, pathetic-looking plants just outside it in the sun.

I went to Cole Creek along the Vista Grande Trail, and was very pleased to find another patch of Chinese Houses that is even better in a shaded area on the northern branch of this trail.

The good display of California buttercup, blue-eyed grass and blue dicks below the Mesa de Colorado has suddenly ended. The suddenness of the transition is because both California buttercups and blue-eyed grass tend to have a constant number of flowers open per plant, with each individual flower not lasting very long. So they appear in full bloom until the last flowers are finished, and then the bloom ends quickly, since they don't drag out the bloom with a declining number of flowers open each successive day.

The California poppies continue to produce a good display. The display on the Vernal Pool Trail may actually be better now than the display last year.

In contrast, the winecup Clarkia continues to have a pathetic total of just two flowers open on the entire Vernal Pool Trail. Its name, "farewell to spring", is very accurate this year, since:

The plants are clearly rushing through their bloom cycle, trying to finish before the last drop of moisture in the soil is gone. Thus the month of May this year looks more like a typical month of July, but with fewer flowers.

2002 May 5: Vernal Pool Trail, Ranch Road, Adobe Loop Trail, S. Trans Preserve Trail. Pleasant conditions with a high temperature of 69°, turning cold at the end of the day.

Peak bloom has clearly passed. The good display of buttercups, blue-eyed grass and blue dicks in the slopes below the Mesa de Colorado has completely ended except for a handful of blue dicks. The California poppy display is down to about one-quarter of its peak. But interestingly, there are more species blooming along the Vernal Pool Trail now than before - there are just fewer plants in bloom of each species.

I spent about a half hour weeding out curly dock and tocalote at the Vernal Pool Trailhead, and another hour weeding out curly dock and prickly lettuce at the Main Pool. Curly dock had begun to bloom last week, so it was time to eliminate it. I was immensely pleased when I got to the Main Pool and found that someone had already eliminated all the plants with flowering stalks. I thus went after the prickly lettuce in the section of the pool nearest the boardwalk, and also eliminated ~8 little curly dock plants.

I was surprised to see three splendid Mariposa lily flowers on the Trail beyond the Pool. Last year, they began blooming near the trailhead first. Like most of the winecup clarkia flowers, these blooms were not looking at their best.

The leaves of the foothill penstemon on the Adobe Loop Trail have already turned red, implying that they probably won't bloom this year.

Four young fennel plants were growing on this Trail, which I was able to eliminate, since I had a weeding tool with me.

I fortunately caught the last of the willow bloom here, and was able to definitively id some of the willows that Jane Strong and I had tentatively identified last fall. Our identifications made just from the leaves and bud scales stood up well, although I learned that one of the red willows was actually a hybrid between red and arroyo willow. With willows, one needs all the parts to be confident of an identification!

2002 May 10: Vernal Pool Trail, Ranch Road, Punta Mesa Trail, Monument Hill Road, S. Trans Preserve Trail. Pleasant breezy conditions with a high temperature of 68°, turning very windy and cold at the end of the day.

I continued to work on eliminating the curly dock and prickly lettuce at the Vernal Pool Trailhead and at the Main Pool. I worked on part of the largest patch of curly dock at the Main Pool, and was quite pleased to see that a number of the plants had died due to the drought and the work of the Team Stream volunteers who have been repeated cutting them back. It therefore looks like it might be possible to eliminate most of the plant there this year, a task that seemed almost impossible in past years. So this is one silver lining to the drought!

While weeding at the Pool, I was entertained by four coyotes, each a mom and her offspring, who were noticeably smaller than the moms. At first I thought one pair was chasing the other pair from their territory. But then I became convinced that they were playing. They took turns chasing each other. When one coyote was chased off, they'd approach again and begin to chase another one. There was never any growling or biting; simply chasing, first at a run and then at top speed, exactly as I have seen domestic dogs play. After 5-10 minutes or so, each pair went their separate ways in opposite directions.

The bench just below the lip of the Mesa de Colorado now sports a brass plaque saying:

In Memory of

with a drawing of a coyote howling underneath.

I saw an interesting gold/yellow-sided lizard below the chaparral section of the Vernal Pool Trail, as well as a number of lizards on the entire hike. Nearby I saw another multi-colored centipede - this time he wasn't under my backpack!

I finally had time to take the Punta Mesa Trail. It has been months since I last hiked it. In the interim, the trail has been significantly cleared, probably by the ranger riding his tractor. Thanks, Kevin!

Surprisingly, there was a not-bad prickly cryptantha display on one section of the trail.

Three fennel had come back up at the Creek crossing, which I cut down to the ground.

On the other side, a portion east of the trail had been really cut back. It looked like some of the cuttings were spread around on the hillside to the west. I wonder what the story is behind that?

2002 May 19: Granite Loop Trail, Vista Grande Trail to Cole Creek, Vernal Pool Trail. Pleasant conditions with a high temperature of 63° at the Vernal Pool Trail and about 5 degrees warmer at the Granite Loop Trail, turning breezy and cool at the end of the day.

The showiest flower display is the planted area in front of the Visitor Center. The showy penstemon is beautiful there this year.

On the Granite Loop Trail, there was a single 3 spot flower in bloom, a handful of yellow pincushion flowers, and a not-bad display of golden yarrow. Unfortunately, I could count many more species that have skipped their bloom this year, such as wild honeysuckle, wild pea, deerweed, toadflax, blue larkspur, California peony, and branching phacelia.

Later, I counted up the total number of species on all trails that didn't bloom this year. Eleven species did not bloom at all, and an additional nine species had fewer than 1% of their normal blooms this year. This totals about 20% of the number of species that bloomed by this time last year. (See the list in Plants Blooming.)

I weeded more tocalote and curly dock near the Vernal Pool Trailhead, and spent an hour removing curly dock at the pool.

I came across a western ringneck snake on the Vernal Pool Trail. It froze in front of me for just enough time for me to admire it, and then slowly take my camera out of my backpack. Then, just as I was ready to take a good picture, he sprang into retreat and completely disappeared down a non-obvious hole on the side of the trail.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the common prickly pear had come into bloom just beyond the Main Pool. I examined the flowers to "confirm" the id given on the Lathrop and Thorne plant list, and was shocked to find that the species was different! (The species clearly keys out to be Opuntia Xvaseyi using the Jepson Manual, and not Opuntia phaeacantha, since both the style and filaments are not white. However, it does key out to be Opuntia phaeacantha in the older California flora!)

Prickly pears are apparently very hard to work with (scientifically, as well as physically), and the classification into species has changed significantly in the last 20 years. The species at the Santa Rosa Plateau undoubtedly hasn't changed; only the human classification of it.

Nature sometimes gives up her secrets only with great human effort. (;-)

2002 May 27: Vernal Pool Trail, S. Los Santos Trail, Hidden Valley Road, Ranch Road.. Pleasant breezy conditions with a high temperature of 72°.

Before I began hiking, I continued my weeding of the road near the Vernal Pool Trailhead. I found only a few prickly lettuce and a single tocalote and eliminated them.

I took the S. Los Santos Trail today specifically to check out two interesting species.

First, I've been carefully monitoring the flax-flowered linanthus, which I've found only at one location on this trail, to find when it began to bloom. Last year, I only noticed the plant some time after it was in bloom, and thus didn't catch for sure when it began. The plant is only about 4 inches high, with a flower that is not exactly obvious, being only about 1/4 inch across. Hence it was possible that I simply missed seeing the blooms until they caught my eye one day.

What makes this date so interesting is that this is the only species whose observed bloom time last year differed significantly from that given in the Flora of Southern California by Philip Munz. Munz reports the bloom period is April to July; last year I observed it to bloom from August 12 through November 17!

Earlier this year I watched the plants grow, but then they all but disappeared. I couldn't readily find them the last few visits, probably because the small thread-like leaves dried up and became even smaller. But today, there were six open blooms, with no finished flowers, so I caught its beginning, right in the middle of the interval in Munz. (Full bloom is when there are ~10 open flowers at once!)

So at least the beginning of the bloom this year is consistent with the dates in Munz. However, this year is anomalous for at least some bloom times. For example, slender tarweed moved up its first blooms by two full months from last year. I'll probably have to wait for next year to really know the normal beginning of its bloom at the SRP.

Second, one of the prickly pears on the S. Los Santos Trail has always been different from the other prickly pears at the SRP (except for a similar single plant on the Lomas Trail). It begins to bloom months earlier than the other prickly pears, and has many more blooms. I've been waiting to peer into an open flower so I can determine the species.

Surprisingly, it turns out to be the same species as the other prickly pears, so the difference in bloom cannot be due to a species difference. Perhaps this is just normal variation in the Opuntia Xvaseyi population. This species is said to be a hybrid species between two other species of prickly pears, and so it is entirely possible that the offspring of hybrid parents produces a considerable range of variation.

As I hiked, I surveyed all the other prickly pears in bloom as well, to determine the range in variation of the flower parts. Later analysis showed that the characteristics of this unusual prickly pear are consistent with those of the other plants.

I spent another hour weeding out the curly dock at the Main Pool. I took some time out from pulling and digging out the plants to gather all the stalks that Charlie and I have pulled out so far, and stack them outside the Pool. That portion of the pool looked infinitely better with the ugly stalks gone. That's one of the pleasures of gardening - you get to see immediate improvement from your labor.

There were only a handful of prickly lettuce plants growing along the trail, all in one location in the former vernal pool on the trail. Weeding out the prickly lettuce is easy this year!

2002 June 7: Vernal Pool Trail, Ranch Road, Adobe Loop Trail, S. Trans Preserve Trail. Pleasant warmish conditions with a stiff breeze. The high temperature at the Mesa de Burro weather station was 70°, but it felt warmer at the Vernal Pool Trailhead and all during the hike.

Both the San Diego button celery and the alkali mallow came into bloom at the Main Pool since my last visit. The first bloom of the button celery is within a few days of its first bloom last year (between 4 and 9 June last year), but the alkali mallow is blooming a month early (between 3 and 7 July last year). It is interesting that the timing of the bloom of the button celery seems to not care whether there was water or not in the Pool. The alkali mallow was able to bloom earlier since it didn't have to wait for the water to go away before it started its growth.

For some time now, I have wondered if the lack of water had killed some of the knotgrass, which forms the large haystack-like clumps at the pool. This knotgrass was not present in the pools in 1985, but it looks now like it is taking over the Main Pool. Possibly, its distribution in the Pool is dynamic, changing gradually over the years.

In any case, I got my answer today - the knotgrass is finally showing some green growth, so it survives.

I weeded a few prickly lettuce and one curly dock at the Trailhead, and cleared out another 10% or so of the curly dock forest at the Main Pool. For the first time, I can see progress in clearing out the forest - perhaps 30% of the forest is gone.

I had been looking forward to seeing the bloom of the California rose planted at the Adobes, but I was disappointed today to see that the bud I had been observing had opened and finished flowering in the eleven days since my last visit. But my eyes quickly turned to the Matilija poppies in back of the rose, which were in full glorious bloom, sending off a nice scent as well.

There is one location on the Adobe Loop Trail where a coast live oak fell over on the trail and caused the trail to be slightly rerouted some time ago. That oak was now growing into the re-routed trail, causing hikers to make a new route around it. I pruned the oak enough so that hikers didn't have to detour off the trail.

I was surprised to see a pathetic foothill penstemon flower, since I had thought the plants were drying up, since the foliage had turned red a month ago. I was even more shocked when I then came across four plants in full bloom, looking for all the world like it had rained this winter!

2002 June 25: To Be Supplied later.

2002 July 31: To Be Supplied later.

2002 August 3: To Be Supplied later.

2002 September 21: To Be Supplied later.

2002 October 12: To Be Supplied later.

2002 October 26: To Be Supplied later.

2002 November 2: To Be Supplied later.

Go to:

Copyright © 2002 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 16 November 2002.