Sable Odry, Coastal Programs Coordinator
Thirteen years of living here and an environmental science degree from Cal Poly Humboldt has taught me to appreciate this amazing region. As I work through my California Natural History certification course, I have gotten to broaden and focus my perspective and really take in how Humboldt and the Klamath region interact and create a unique region within the California landscape; to understand how we can find the same genuses on our coasts as there are in our southern California deserts; and to learn how the state’s once wide-roaming antelope are now sequestered to the only two remaining grassland plains in California. This spring I took the opportunity to explore the Carrizo Plain, a National Monument east of L.A., during a superbloom. I marveled at the sea of flowers, and was surprised by the ones I recognized from our moist, northern region.
At the base of the hills overlooking the basin of Carrizo Plain, swathes of Desert Fiddlenecks (Amsinckia tessellata) create a canal of orange. Along their edges little pools of Creamcups (Platystemon californicus) can be found. Creamcups (the Yurok word for poppy is segep ‘we-cheeeshep), is a common springtime wildflower in the poppy family, native to the southwestern United States and Baja California. They are a small, hairy plant with opposite, linear, oblong or lance-shaped leaves, and flowers with six petals and a notable cluster of many flattened stamens. They can be all white or gold in color, or a mixture of the two, and bear capsule fruit with single seeded sections. Locally you can find small patches of them blooming in the Manilla dunes. They are also often used in landscaping and bee gardens as well as revegetating recently burned areas.
On the crests of the hills we find blankets of Common Goldfields (Lasthenia gracilis), quilted with Tansy Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), California Poppy (Escholzia californica), and San Joaquin Blazing Stars (Mentzelia pectinata). The yellow and orange curtains create the perfect backdrop for the towering bushes of Silver Lupine (Lupinus albifrons) or, in Karuk, amtáparas. This shrub is considered native from Oregon to Northern Baja, and is often seen as large as five feet tall. The light blue to violet flowers grow on stalks up to a foot long, cresting stems with silver, palmately compound leaves, and can be found blooming along our coasts and foothills. Many visitors and locals over the years have gone to witness their grandeur in the Bald Hills.
However, locally it is not to be confused with the Yellow Bush Lupin (Lupinus arboreus), which is considered invasive to our region. In the 1900s Yellow Bush Lupine seeds were spread along the North Spit of Humboldt Bay to stabilize dunes and protect railroad tracks from sand immersion, however its natural range is believed to be from the San Francisco Bay area south. The Yellow Bush Lupin’s ability to fix nitrogen aids in its own and other invasive species’ persistence in previously open dune mat communities, reducing the biodiversity and presence of native species.
As we descend into the basin winding through the ravines, Purple Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta), speckles the blankets of Common Goldfields. Called me’-k’aa-num’, meaning clover, in the Tolowa language, they can be found locally along our coastlines. Growing about a foot tall, the hairy stems culminate in a cluster of pink, purple, or white flowers resembling clovers, but are unrelated taxonomically. They have alternating, narrow leaves often tipped with the same color as the flower, and are considered a crucial host plant for the threatened Bay Checkerspot butterfly. Species within the genus Castilleja frequently hybridize, however there are three recognized species of Owl’s Clover in California. Within Humboldt, the subspecies latifolia, commonly known as Sand-dune Owl’s Clover, is often found in sandy areas and is considered endemic to California.
In pockets tucked into the hillsides, we find the thick stalks of Desert Candles (Streptanthus inflatus), their burgundy crowns contrasting with the vivid orange of the San Joaquin Blazing Stars at their base. Both flowers look like they belong in our moist climate, and yet their lush blooms emerge along the slopes of these dry grasslands.
- pacifichorticulture.org/articles/most-wanted/ Mary Wilbur