It’s nothing personal, but this fern is giving you the finger.
The best way to tell leathery polypody (Polypodium scouleri) from its polypody cousins is by its thick, leathery leaves. But the second-best way is by this fern’s long central frond–shaped rather like an expressive finger. The leaf is highly variable in size, usually growing from 6 to 18 cm but sometimes as much as 50 cm long, according to Jepson. As with all Polypodium, the underside of the leaves are decorated with the velvety brown spots of fertile, spore-producing sori. The fern blades sprout from underground rhizomes are white, and not licorice flavored
I haven’t seen this fern often–this one was spotted on the Steep Ravine trail on Mt. Tamalpais. Leathery polypody (also known as leather fern or leather leaf fern) can grow in a variety of habitats, including coastal strand, coastal meadows, and redwood forest. According to Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, it’s rarely found far from salt spray.
It doesn’t feel like winter since the days are balmy and dry, but the pepperwoods (a.k.a. California Bay Laurel) are blooming just like usual.
Of course, I can’t help but wonder if the phenology is different at all; maybe they are blooming a few days earlier in 2013 than they did a decade ago?
I was surprised to learn that this tiny, unassuming flower is a Hypericum–which is typically a showy and large-flowered genus. And though it has a lot of stamens (15-25 per flower) compared to most flowers, they still are comparatively sparse–some species have up to 120. Tinker’s penny (Hypericum anagalloides, or creeping St. John’s Wort) is common in wet meadows and marshes. I generally have spotted it in the gaps between clumps of rushes.
Superficially this plant reminds me of the non-native scarlet pimpernel, and the two names are similar: Anagallis arvensis and Hypericum anagalloides. I don’t know much (ok, any) Latin but I wonder if anyone out there has an idea as to why?
A spike of white flowers rises from the coastal grassland like a pale torch, attended by narrow green leaves. The lower lip of each small, fleshy bloom tapers into a protruding, tonguelike point.
This is Sierra bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata), which can be found from the Point Reyes Peninsula to 11,000 feet up in the Sierra. True to its name, it’s generally found in wetlands. You can distinguish it from other white orchids because it does have leaves that grow up its green stem, as well as the spurred lower lip petal. Sierra bog orchid isn’t rare in the state, but it is fairly uncommon in Marin; look for it on Point Reyes and in Potrero Meadows.
The genus Platanthera is one of the largest orchid genera in North America, with a total of 33 different species.
A flare of orange rises above a marshy thicket. This is coast lily (Lilium maritimum), a secretive yet spectacular flower. Large orange flowers are spotted with dark brown, and each petal curves dramatically backward to the stem. Each plant can grow up to 8 feet tall, and have up to 13 flowers. Look for this Northern California endemic in wet, coastal areas. In Marin, it is only found in a handful of places on the Point Reyes Peninsula. It’s a perennial, sprouting from a bulb-like rhizome, so once you find one you can go back and visit it each year.
Coast lily can potentially be confused with the more common tiger lily (which it hybridizes with) but you can easily tell the two apart because the first has short stamens tucked well inside the flower, while the second has long stamens that dangle prominently below the bloom.
Coast lily in the coastal scrub
Detail of recessed stamens
Small purple flowers sprout from hairy, spiny tufts of green–a splash of color on a dry hillside. This is sticky navarrettia (Navarretia viscidula), a California endemic.
There are many species of navarretia, which are generally white, pink or purple. While many can be found in wetlands, this species is one of those that tends to prefer dry habitat.
This is a member of the Polemoniaceae family, along with the similar-looking linanthus species. Navarretia seeds were used by indigenous Californians for food.
A low, mounded bush clings to a rocky seaside hill–covered in yellow flowers. This is lizard tail (Eriophyllum staechadifolium). Abundant flowers grow in dense clusters. Each daisylike bloom sports 6-9 “petals” or ray flowers–or else no ray flowers at all. The whole bush seems tinted gray by a wooly coating of small hairs; perhaps the color lends the name since the shape of the narrow, forked leaves don’t resemble a lizard’s tail at all.
This California endemic is rewarding because it some plants put out a few flowers even in the off-season, adding a splash of color to fall or winter hikes (though its main blooming season is in the spring). Look for it along the coast throughout most of the state. It has a few close cousins in our area, namely wooly daisy and golden yarrow–but the first grows each yellow daisy on a single stalk, while the second is mainly found inland (and has fewer petals).
Rock lettuce (Dudleya cymosa) is one of the few native succulents here on the central coast. In the spring and summer the rosettes of fleshy leaves shoot up colorful stalks of flowers. The stalk itself is red, while the many narrow flowers range from orange to yellow. The brilliant blooms are narrow and always appear to be on the verge of opening–but look close and you’ll see six pale pollen-dusted stamens hidden among the flowers’ pointy petals.
Rock lettuce can be distinguished from its cousin, sea lettuce, because it tends to grow inland rather than quite close to the coast. It can be seen throughout most of the state, from the Sierras to the coastal counties. Also even the yellow flowers tend to have a hint of orange in them, while sea lettuce blooms are a chillier, lemony hue.
Did you ever have a toy troll as a kid? Probably not, but for some reason blooming monardella remind me of those little plastic creatures with a fantastic tuft of colorful hair. If only they came in green, the image would be complete!
All mondardella species look very much alike at first glance: a crown-like tuft of small purple flowers perches atop a mounded head of buds. The leaves are the easiest way to distinguish serpentine monardella (Monardella purpurea) from its more common cousin, coyote mint. Serpentine monardella has hairless, glossy leaves with shallow veins. The veins of coyote mint are stamped deeply into the flesh of the slightly- to very-hairy leaf, as if by a heavy weight.
Clarkia are a lovely and varied group of flowers–there are seven different species that are listed for Marin alone. These four-petalled beauties are almost always pink, and often look very similar to one another. They are often generically simply dubbed Clarkia, or Farewell to Spring.
If you look close, reddened Clarkia (Clarkia rubicunda) are distinguished from their cousins by having ordinary petals that aren’t dramatically narrowed. The flowers are either solid pink or have a red splotch at their base (but not elsewhere). Their unopened buds are erect, not drooping, and the young, long seed pods are notched with four distinct ribs. Luckily, each stalk bears several flowers that open consecutively, so in a patch it is often realistically feasible to find both these diagnostic traits at the same time.
Reddened Clarkia has flower buds that don’t droop
Four-ribbed seed pod