Alert hikers might first notice California hoptree (Ptelea crenulata) because of its sweet fragrance drifting across the trail. Both the leaves and the blossoms exude a sweet scent. This makes it a good garden plant not just for its own sake, but also because ants and other insects love the flowers, and in turn attract jays, flycatchers and other birds. Each blossom is very pretty, with 4 or 5 narrow white petals, and stamens tipped with bright yellow pollen. Look for ants happily roaming across the sprays of small white flowers.
This California endemic grows in canyons and woodlands; the distribution loosely circles the Central Valley (as you can see on this map).
California hoptree have distinctive deep green, shiny leaves divided into three leaflets. But be careful–it can easily be mistaken for another three-leafleted native: poison oak!! Both also have small white flowers, so be sure to be cautious.
Here you can see the winged achene-type fruit developing
Shiny leaves with three leaflets can superficially look like poison oak
California ponysfoot is a low, mat-like plant that is a common sight on lawns and meadows–but you might not have noticed it. The round, slightly fuzzy leaves of this ponysfoot (Dichondra donelliana) are about the size of a quarter, and are easily overlooked as they blend in with clover and grass. In fact, its lookalike cousin Dichondra carolinensis is sometimes planted as a lawnlike groundcover in southern states. The creeping stems root easily at the leaf nodes and help them spread.
If you find yourself in a patch of ponysfoot, part the leaves and look close to the ground. You may be rewarded with the sight of the diminutive, pale-petalled flowers with pretty purple anthers. I took these pictures a few weeks ago, but we’re nearing the end of the season: they mainly bloom in winter months, January through March.
California ponysfoot is endemic to the state of California. There are two other species of Dichondra listed in the state; however California ponysfoot is the only one that is common in the northern and central parts of the state.
(This is an updated version of a post I first wrote in January 2013, since I finally got some good photos of the ponysfoot flowers).
From a distance, certain pastures have a tinge of orange atop the green of spring grass. If you stop for a closer look, you’ll see millions of small orange flowers unfolding on coiling stalks. This is most likely common fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia), also known as rancher’s fireweed, which can be found growing across much of the state.
This is a gorgeous flower en masse; there is something particularly beautiful about the way it captures the sunlight. Part of this effect might be because each coiled stem is densely covered with bristly white hairs that give the plant the appearance of a halo when the light is right. I saw this particular display on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road in Marin, around the intersection with Hick’s Valley Road.
Common fiddleneck is in the Boraginaceae family, along with common borage, popcorn flower, houndstongue, and forget-me-not. There are numerous species of fiddleneck–orange and otherwise–so you have to look close & use a key to know which is in front of you. This species has sepals that are NOT partly conjoined; it also often has small darker orange or red dots on its five petals.