Rare Plant Monitoring: Fun with Flowers and Friends – by Angie Wu

Looking for Elymus californicus (California Bottle Brush Grass) in Muir Woods with the Northern Marin Veg Team

Late springtime in the GGNRA is beautiful. Super blooms dot the coastline at places like Mori Point and Tennessee Valley, which are both frequented by visitors eager to see mother nature’s most extravagant performance. And while this showy display by the wildflowers and plants of the GGNRA is pleasing to the eye, it also aids the SF Veg Team’s rare plant monitoring effort throughout the park. In a different month like February, the landscape is lush and green from the winter rains, and all of the vegetative parts of plants are more difficult to differentiate from one another because they are not blooming. Thus, we take advantage of the each distinct bloom to conduct surveys, which have filled our calendars for the past few months. Rare plant monitoring trips have been extremely rewarding for me because I get to work on my plant ID skills, familiarize myself with mapping and censusing techniques, and collaborate with other teams in the park. Some rare plant monitoring highlights are detailed below.

Nicasio Ridge: Natured, nebular, and numinous

In Marin County just north west of San Rafael sits Nicasio, a community of about 1000 residents. The “downtown” has, among other small businesses, a general store, a school, and a cheese company (of course). Nicasio Ridge surrounds the western side of the main part of town, and is characterized by serpentine grassland habitat. As with many of our other sites, serpentine outcrops are often where you find more notable plants and botanical rarities because the soil is very thin, nutrient deficient, and abundant in heavy metals (e.g. nickel, cobalt, chromium) 4that are not conducive of good growing conditions for most plants. The views of the rolling hills and valleys were breathtaking, and the slanted trees pruned by wind looked like a life form you might find on a different planet, or maybe in the Lord of the Rings universe. We were also lucky that the weather was well tempered on our trip to Nicasio, as it can often be extremely windy and unpleasant at times because of it. For us, it was sunshining and warm, and there was a light breeze – it was perfect!

Though I botanized at every possible moment (I am an iNaturalist wizard) and learned many new plants in Nicasio, our very large team (several interns and folks from One Tam joined us) was looking for a few specific plants there: Castilleja affinis ssp. neglecta (Tiburon paintbrush), Hesperolinon congestum (Marin dwarflax), and Streptanthus glandulosus ssp. pulchellus (Mt. Tamalpais jewel flower). While we ran counting lanes to census Castilleja, we took GPS points for Hesperolinon and Streptanthus on our trip. In most cases, the Hesperolinon was not fully in bloom yet, and since it is difficult to spot when not in bloom, we returned to Nicasio a few weeks later to monitor it when it was.

Trailblazing for Treasures in Tennessee Valley

Cirsium andrewsii, the rare Franciscan thistle, is found in a few different locations in the GGNRA, one of which is Tennessee Valley. While Michael and I were able to monitor the Presidio’s thistles in an afternoon, looking for the historical occurrences in Tennessee Valley would take a bit longer, as the occurrences had not been monitored in several years. We turned to Tennessee Valley steward and botanical extraordinaire Laura Booth to help us track down Cirsium on our monitoring day. Interns Danijela and Michelle, who have also worked extensively in TV, were there to help us San Francisco-ites out as well.

Danijela, Michelle, Laura and I! Shoutout to Michael for always getting the best images of our rare plant team.

Because it likes to live in wetland areas with a nice sheet flow, we followed historical maps to previous sightings and then looked for wetter areas at those sites. We hiked and bushwhacked through lots of poison oak and stomped through mud and into hidden holes, but it all immediately became worth the toil and sweat when we found multiple Franciscan thistles blooming happily on the hillside.

After successfully navigating to, counting, and mapping these thistle occurrences, we ate lunch at Tennessee Valley Cove and watched the waves. Beneath the superblooms of Layia platyglossia around us on the slopes, we mistook happy sea lions in the distance for a pod of dolphins while snacking on homemade matcha cookies from Michael’s daughter. We keyed out a mystery grass we found on our journey as we soaked up the sun. Like in Nicasio, we were blessed by Mother Nature with good weather again, making this trip to Tennessee Valley very memorable. Until next time, TV!

Romping around Rodeo Valley

My most recent rare plant expedition was just outside my house in the Marin Headlands. Michael and I spent the morning looking for Arenaria paludicola, or marsh sandwort. It is an extremely small flowering plant that grows in wetland habitats and uses other plants to climb. It is a federally listed plant and is very sensitive to changes in habitat and disturbances. It was a really hard trip – both Michael and I had a few trips and falls (luckily into pillowy, forgiving wetland grasses) and we walked through thickets of blackberry, poison oak, and stinging nettle. Nonetheless, it was still quite the blast to be adventuring off trail in the Headlands looking for Arenaria. For this plant, we did not census the population because it is really difficult to determine how many individual plants are growing in a certain area, both because it is hard to see where they are growing from due to their habit to grow on other plants, and because they are somewhat clonal (did you know that an individual clone is called a ramet?). Though it was looking a bit grim at first, we found some eventually!

Notable Naturalist Finds

Collinsia heterophylla (Purple Chinese Houses)

Spotted pouring out of some rock crevices at Nicasio Ridge! Such an eye-catching flower.

Cirsium occidentale (Cobwebby Thistle)

This guy is one of my favorite plants that I have encountered during this internship so far. The silvery grey color of the leaves contrasts the pink flowers of the thistle so well, and the actual cobwebby parts of the plant are so sick! This was taken at Fort Funston.

Dicentra formosa (Pacific Bleeding Heart)

I saw this guy on a solo trip to Point Reyes. This was my first time seeing a bleeding heart – pretty cool looking plant.

Papilo zelicaon (Anise swallowtail)

Spotted at Nicasio amongst the Nicasio Ceanothus (Ceanothus decornutus). It’s so chunky!! And look at those awesome colors:)

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1 Comment
  • Ankara Avukat
    Posted at 08:26h, 05 July Reply

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