Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Tam’

Mt. Tam wildflowers after the rain

March 28, 2011

As a born-and-bred city girl, I’ve never had the vocabulary to describe things I see in nature. I can reel off street names and ice cream flavors, but when I walk along a trail I’m left with “little yellow flowers on a bush” or “fuzzy leaves of something or other.”  This has been an occasional frustration when I’ve tried to write novel scenes set on the hillsides or beaches that so blessedly surround us here in the Bay Area.

On Sunday I had an opportunity to hike the Matt Davis Trail down the western slope of Mt. Tam to Stinson Beach with Libby Ingalls, a true wildflower expert. This was the first dry morning after a long spate of rain, so everything was moist and happy and the streams were about as full as they get. We’re probably still two or three weeks away from peak wildflower season, so there weren’t an overwhelming number of names for me to learn.

Still, I took photos and wrote down the names to help me remember. Here are some:

Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) / Photo by Ilana DeBare
We were just at the right moment of spring to see Calypso orchids, which grow in the shade under Douglas firs. They’re tiny — maybe five inches tall, the blossoms only a half-inch wide — and easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention.

Hound's tongue (Cynoglossum grande) / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Milkmaids (Cardamine californica) / Photo by Ilana DeBare

The next photo gives a sense of how full the streams were after the rain. A few months from now, some of these won’t be flowing at all.

Stream on Matt Davis Trail / Photo by Ilana DeBare

In our three-mile walk down the side of the mountain, we went through five different habitats — pantoll chaparral, Douglas fir forest, open grassland, bay/laurel woodland, and coast chaparral. The flowers in the previous photos were from the shady Douglas fir forest. Then we came to these in the open grassy meadows:

California buttercup (Ranunculus californicus) / Photo by Ilana DeBare

The California buttercup is very common! But I never knew what it was called.

Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Of course there were comments about the name of that one, even if we didn’t have any teenage boys hiking with us.

Popcorn flower ( (Plagiobothrys nothofulvus) / Photo by Ilana DeBare

You can see how tiny the popcorn flowers were, from the size of my shoe.

Coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) / Photo by Ilana DeBare

There is Coyote brush all over the coastal hills of the Bay Area. But again, I never had a name for it.

And here we are with Forget-me-nots, from the shady bay/laurel woodland part of the walk. They’re an invasive species from Europe so would be considered “ecologically incorrect.” But they’re so cheerful in their profusion, and their leaves are an almost iridescent green.

Forget-me-not (Myosotis latifolia or sylvatica) / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Forget-me-nots / Photo by Ilana DeBare

This was a strikingly beautiful fungus, but I neglected to ask Libby for the name. Click on the picture for a closer view of the red stripes on the orange background.

Fungus / Photo by Ilana DeBare

At about this point, my camera battery died so I didn’t get pictures of  plants from the coast chaparral habitat close to the beach: Eupatory, Bush Lupine, California Sage, French Broom, Echium, Thimbleberry. Those are all common enough that I hope my feeble brain can remember them even without photo reminders.

I often think about how our vocabularies — our entire vision, in fact, and what we do or don’t notice as we go through our days — reflect our environment.  Native American children must have learned the names for hundreds of different plants and wildflowers. Meanwhile, I remember my neighbors’ son Daniel coming home from elementary school at the age of 6 or 7 having learned the Nike “swoosh” logo and asking for sneakers with it.

Libby Ingalls donated her guide services on our walk as a benefit for two worthy environmental organizations:

  • The California Institute for Biodiversity, founded by my sister-in-law Carol Baird, which provides curricula, teaching materials and teacher training about California ecosystems.
  • Great Old Broads for Wilderness. This may be the best name of an advocacy group I’ve ever heard. And the good news is that anyone can be a Great Old Broad, regardless of age, gender or personal greatitude.

Marin County or Middle Earth? / Photo by Ilana DeBare


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