Sunday, May 8, 2016

Castro Crest

silver bird's-foot trefoil, Lotus argophyllus

It was a pleasure to be out with Zach Behrens today up at Castro Crest! The target of this hike was to see an interesting native legume by the name of chaparral pea, Pickeringia montana. It is not very common and occurs only in select locations, the specifics of which are unusually vague. I originally met Zach on an earlier date whence he thought I was inspiring figure for an article about the upcoming bioblitz. As much as I feel I guilt-tripped Zach into bringing me along on this outing he says he was out this way anyway, and it was no trouble. I hope not!

Castro Crest is similar to traditional chaparral but higher elevation and features different geology. There are sandstone outcrops throughout which creates interesting peaks and, well, crests. On the first stretch of the trail I encountered a new legume, not chaparral pea, but silver bird's-foot trefoil. A second interesting find was a fungi pathogen that caused indented bruises on manzanita leaves. This was actually a fungi that I first knew about in the UK, under the common name cowberry redleaf. When it affects cowberry it, as its name suggests, turns the leaves bright crimson. This example on manzanita is not quite as stunning as that, but still appreciated!

cowberry redleaf, Exobasidium vaccinii. The dorsal side of the "bruise".
cowberry redleaf, Exobasidium vaccinii, showing the reverse side of the 
Along the section where the fabled chaparral pea was meant to grow we scoured tirelessly but could not find it. For such a large showy shrub apparently growing right beside the trail, this plant was not destined to be found. There was a consolation prize however in the form of peak rushrose, which was growing on one of the flat areas past the cave trail. This species prefers high exposed plateaus and rocky habitats, and isn't that common in the Santa Monicas.

peak rushrose, Helianthemum scoparium

Another neat plant that I've recorded once before but not in any prime condition is crested needle grass. Most grasses are inconspicuous, is this one! Sometimes I'd rather that grasses didn't exist because the amount of species and similarity in said species is mind boggling. Many grasses are so small and inconspicuous and I can't admit I feel guilty of overlooking them! But unlike others this Stipa grows nearly to shoulder height, so unfortunately it is a bit harder to miss! Luckily there are no look-alikes here so I'm content with this one showing its face. Crested needle grass seems to like the rough hillside terrain of our chaparral.

crested needle grass, Stipa coronata

On the hike back along the road we encountered an established population of gum rock-rose. This attractive plant is not native, but has found a foothold on part of the disturbed road verge. The patch was quite extensive and covered several bushes, and I think it counts as naturalized. Right!?

gum rock-rose, Cistus ladanifer

I thanked Zach for his time and we headed home. On the way back we stopped off along Kanan Road for a section of the backbone trail that eventually hits Encinal Canyon. A surprise highlight was finding Fish's milkwort growing on a section of the shady woodland, another native legume and one that is listed by the CNPS. Thinking back, this is a plant that I was once told about, and in this specific location nonetheless. Other new finds at this site include bur-chevil, a scattering of gold dust lichen, and the interesting carpet moth Dysstroma mancipata. This is the first time this moth has ever been photographed alive and, although not colourful, it knows how to use drab brown hues in one of the most ornate ways possible!

Fish's milkwort, Polygala cornuta var. fishiae
gold dust lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
Dysstroma mancipata

Thanks again Zach for hosting someone as insane as me!

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