Even if we had a lot of California Poppies in the park, which we don’t — because the Ground Squirrels eat the sprouts — this little bunch would stand out. The color is a deeper, darker, denser orange than the regular issue. It isn’t quite as radical as the exceptional deep red that we saw once, but it’s still remarkable. This set was growing on the west side of the park, not far south of the hill where the Peace Symbol lies, and next to some ice plants.
In the meadow below the Native Plant Area I found patches of this Birdsfoot Trefoil, a weed where it’s not wanted but a very pretty groundcover otherwise. It’s grown in this area for years and is having a lush-looking season despite the lack of drippy moisture. This area gets a lot of morning fog and maybe that’s what keeps it looking fresh. Here’s a closer look on the right. This plant gets its common name from the shape of the young seed pods; they look like bird toes on their stalk. I’ve written more about this plant in previous seasons.
Another steady repeater that doesn’t care about lack of rain is the Gumplant, or Gumweed if you don’t like it, Grindelia stricta. This thrives in patches of poor soil surrounded by rocks at the water’s edge on the west side. It gets its common name from the early stage of flowering when the center of the bud is thick with a sticky white latex. Indigenous people used the latex as a glue. Ants and other small bugs that approach the gummy blossom get stuck in it and perish. As the flower matures, the latex dissolves and a daisy-like yellow flower emerges. Not by coincidence, the grindelia is a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae).
You’ll have to step off the beaten path on the east side to see this patch of garden escapees: Blue Statice. It’s one of the Limonium species, but which one isn’t clear. (It might be L. sinuatum.) Two colors are blooming very near one another, the purplish one in front and a white-to-pale-blue shade toward the rear. Seen up close, this looks like a nectar cornucopia — scores of tiny purple cups. But only the white ones are true flowers. Whether pollination actually matters to Limonium depends on the species. Many of the species are said to be apomictic, which means they reproduce without sex; they make seeds that are perfect clones of the parent.
This one’s aptly named: Coast Tarweed. It prefers life on the coast, and it’s sticky all over. Trying to hold it still in the wind for a photo, I got my hand full of gluey stuff. It’s a West Coast native attractive to bees and some moths. It’s been grown for the oil in its seeds; a chemical analysis can be found here and another, here. However, I was unable to find a commercial vendor of Madia sativa seed oil.
Deep in the Native Plant Area, almost buried by exotic invasive ngaio trees, this California Buckeye manages to bloom with amazing energy and enthusiasm. There are many buckeyes in the world, and this is the only one endemic to California; it grows nowhere else. Its abundant sweetly fragrant blossoms are magnets for native pollinators — native bees, bumblebees, hummingbirds and many butterflies. Some native mammals, notably ground squirrels, get fat on the chestnuts that ripen and drop in fall. However, the tree comes well defended. The chestnuts contain a toxin similar to rat poison, and humans who roast and eat them can get severely ill. The leaves and flowers also have a nasty taste that limits their appeal in the herbivore diet. Honeybees, none of which are California natives, can get ill from the buckeye’s nectar. The tree is also highly versatile when it comes to reproduction. It carries male, female, and bisexual flowers — ready for anything. Indigenous people used the nuts as an aid in fishing by throwing them in the water to stun fish and make them easier to catch. But boiling and leaching the nuts at length can make them safe as human food, similar to acorns. More about them here and here.
Did I miss a favorite blooming plant you’d like to see written up? Send me a photo. Thanks.