April Flowers

California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica)

The construction crews that have spent months scraping and paving the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way, and the area around it, have somehow brought a botanical bonus. These California Goldfields flowers (Lasthenia californica) have never been noticed in the park before. And we couldn’t have missed them, because they’ve showed up in a heavily traveled patch of recently scraped earth on the south side, near the parking circle. They’re California natives, to boot. They got their common name because they like to grow densely and spread widely, and when they succeed they cover the fields in gold. They do thrive better with some rainfall but they’re quite capable of doing without, and they’re not fussy about soil quality. They’re annuals.

The excellent Santa Monica Trails Council website has this nugget about the origin of the plant’s name:

Name Origin: Lasthenia californica etymology: The Lasthenia genus named for Lasthenia of Mantinea, a Greek philosopher cited as one of Plato’s female students – a rarity in a society where women had little status.

They need insects to pollinate them, and the required creatures were on the scene and hard at work when I visited. For example:

March fly (Bibionidae sp.) on California Goldfields flower

I guessed that this is a March fly (bibionids), and I’ve had a confirmation from one of the invaluable crew of volunteer naturalists at bugguide.net. I also saw three other species of bugs pollinating these flowers, but my photos are a bit too small or too blurry to post. (One of these bugs sits on a petal on the left edge of the top flower in the first photo above.)

Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)

Mixed in with these yellow gems was a sprinkling of Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus). We’ve seen this before, but never on the southern margin of the park. These also are California natives. They contain toxic chemicals and you should not eat them, if you were tempted. They also are happy with poor soils. They’re said to be magnets for native bees and for bumblebees, but at the time of my visit these pollinators were busy elsewhere.

Yellow-faced Bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii) on Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

In particular, bumblebees felt the stronger magnetism of the Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) that grows every year in the grassland around the west side picnic area. These wildflowers only grow a few inches tall in small patches. The bumblebees worked quickly but in what seemed like random order; they didn’t go from one flower to the one next to it, but buzzed about a bit and landed on another one a few inches away, and then another a way off, in no pattern that I could discern. This species of bumblebee is native to California and the West Coast, and is an important pollinator not only in wilderness but also in commercial operations such as greenhouse tomatoes. It has almost entirely replaced an earlier native species of bumblebee, the Western Bumblebee; commercial beekeepers stupidly introduced diseases which nearly wiped that species out. Wikipedia and its derivatives are silent on the origin of the “vosnesenskii” in the scientific name, but it very probably came from Ilya Vosnesensky, a Russian explorer and naturalist who spent the decade 1839-1849 collecting specimens in what was then Russian America, which included parts of Northern California (e.g. Fort Ross).

I saw more April blooms than these, but this post is too long already, so stay tuned.

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