Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's growing on?!

Saturday- March 15th, 2014, I returned to the Wilderness. Just less than a week and I was back. This time Rachel Poutasse, a Curatorial Assistant in the Herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG), and Julio Maldonado, her partner in crime, joined me in the field. It took little persuading to get them to come along. All I had to say was, "there's flowers" and they accepted my invitation.

It was a beautiful day to return to the field. We started bright and early. The drive up was spectacular. Wildflowers painted the desert floor. Bright yellow and green could be seen for miles. Not all parts of the desert were lush but for the most part, a lot of it was. Some patches were dry and drought-stresssed. After 2.5 hours we reached our destination. The drive into the Wilderness was a little disappointing. Nothing in flower or green! I was silently stressing out in my head. All I could think about was how I had easily persuaded my field partners to assist me because I told them we would see WILDFLOWERS. And nothing was growing in sight. I kept reassuring Rachel and Julio that we would see these so called"wildflowers" once we reached the base of the Scodie Mountains.

Phacelia fremontii and Layia glandulosa covering the hillsides in Cow Haven Canyon
Then it happened, just like I said it would. Green vegetation entered our field of view and my stress disappeared. Excitement replaced the stress and we drove to the end of Cow Haven Canyon to get a closer look at the wildflowers.

A Happy and Healthy Layia glandulosa
We parked the car and immediately scoured the hillsides and collected. I kept saying out loud "What is going on here? This is crazy! This didn't happen last year!" I'm pretty sure I sounded like a broken record. But seriously, nothing happened last year. Nothing like this!

I found out that this was Julio's first time collecting with botanists. It was he who pointed out the most amazing collection of the day. As Rachel and I collected, Julio asked, "what's this?" I turned around to see and pretty much flipped. It was Caulanthus coulteri and it was beautiful! This was the first time I had ever seen it. It was stunning and tall, and the flowers were just amazing.

Caulanthus coulteri in full flower with Leptosyne bigelovii
Stunning flowers and glabrous stems of Caulanthus coulteri
After spending about three hours in Cow Haven Canyon, we decided to assess the flowering situation in Sage Canyon.
As we were driving towards the end of Sage Canyon a magnificent field of blue covered a flat portion near Boulder Spring. The blue was so vibrant. We had to find out what it was. We stopped and parked the truck when we came upon the blue fields a little farther up the canyon. It was Gilia sp.! Hundreds and thousands of it. I could not believe my eyes.

Rachel walking though the Gilia field
Rachel Collecting Gilia 
We also went to the end of Sage Canyon. There too, I could not believe my eyes. Poppies! Lot of em. I was in shock. How could this have happened? Last June, I saw one sad stunted poppy and that was it. This year there are so many and they are huge. I would never have imagined that this is what the Kiavah Wilderness could look like. I was seriously in shock.

Rachel with the California poppies
Looking at the end of Sage Canyon. So much green.
I was put on a mission to collect and document incidences of Salvia columbariae by a fellow graduate student and friend, Jessica Orozco.  It was in Sage canyon that Rachel, Julio and I stumbled upon the most freakishly huge Salvia columbariae I have ever seen.

What did your mother feed you?! Salvia columbariae on crack
Inflorescence and flower of Salvia Columbariae
After checking out Sage Canyon, we had a couple hours left. We decided to head over to Horse Canyon to see what that canyon looked like. I'm glad we saved this canyon for last because it was there that we collected Platystemon californicus. This was the first time I had seen it in the field. It was so cute! The bush lupines were also flowering. It was a spectacular display.

Platystemon californicus in all its glory
A robust Lupinus excubitus. Smelled good too
Overall this was a successful trip and one of the most exciting days in the field. The floral displays were amazing. Rachel and Julio were fantastic field assistants. I hope they get a chance to go back out. I can't wait to go back the Kiavah Wilderness. 

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