by Gabi McLean
(reprinted from The Paintbrush, Fall 2007, California Native Plant Society, San Gabriel Mountains Chapter)
As a youngster, I dreamed of adventure in far away places, exploring unknown wild lands. The books I was devouring sparked in me the image of facing exciting great challenges and horrific obstacles that I would overcome and, in the end, make great discoveries. The dreams of a child!
I was reminded of my dreams this season when I "discovered" not one, but several species of plants that were not new to science, not even new to our local botanic experts, but new to me, the child that is still dreaming of wild lands and great discoveries. The wild lands where I found those plants were not far away but here in "our backyard", the San Gabriel Mountains. The challenges and horrific obstacles that needed to be overcome were not by me but by those very plants whose existence I discovered in this dreadfully dry year of 2007. Despite the record drought, there was a spring with new growth, with flowers and fruits, with color and hope. Not opulent growth, not abundance of color, but nevertheless, here they were, the unnoticed, unbeknownst, undiscovered, among the familiar friends. I just had to look!
On a survey excursion into the San Dimas Experimental Forest (SDEF) at the end of March, we found several bundles of long, narrow leaves of a monocot, with a fold or two like an accordion. We had no clue what that could be and when we saw a developing flower stalk, decided to come back in a couple of weeks to check it out. In subsequent visits in April and May, we discovered that those almost 2-foot-tall flower stalks were from the Star Lily, Zigadenus fremontii, a plant that we had seen once on a CNPS field trip in Harford Springs in Riverside County. At that time, there was an abundance of rain, an abundance of flowers, and the plants were accordingly full and healthy. Our specimen in the SDEF showed severe signs of stress this year but they were there, several of them flowering and, we hoped, setting fruit.
At the May survey into the SDEF, at a rocky, south-facing outcrop, a stand of dark green shrubs caught my eye. The healthy green stood out against the surrounding dry grassland and withering perennials. From afar, I guessed Scrub Oak or Ceanothus. I made my way to this island of green through the rather rough terrain and was rewarded with the discovery of many piercing-pink flowers whose shape put this shrub clearly into the Pea family. In all my hikes in the San Gabriels, I had never seen this plant–so obvious, so beautiful, and so resilient: the Chaparral Pea, Pickeringia montana. Once identified, we realized that we encountered this plant once before, in northern California near Clear Lake, but never in our local mountains.
Our third discovery started with an e-mail inquiry I received, together with a photo of leaves and flowers, asking what that plant was, found at Mt. Hawkins. I didn’t recognize the plant and I was short on time to conduct the necessary research, which is hard to do on the basis of photographs only. Then the inquirer gave me her guess that it might be a Draba species, but she was not certain. A couple of days later, an e-mail from long-time hiker and naturalist Bob Cates showed a photo of apparently the same species, only identified as "cushiony plant", found near Windy Gap. At that time, my interest was piqued, overriding any other time constraints. I had to go out there and find that tiny, pretty little thing myself! In the hot August sun, we drove up to Islip Saddle and started up the trail towards Islip campground and Windy Gap. Past the campground, on the way towards Mr. Hawkins, we did find this hairy rosette of succulent looking leaves. Only dry remnants of flowers remained; and all of the plants were limited to only one location. But then, I discovered a small one, only about 4 inches tall, that still had a flower stalk with a couple of blossoms. They were so small, it took a magnifying glass to see the details. It also seemed that some animal had chewed up the stalks. Vegetation had been so scarce this year; it was surprising to me that any green plants were left at all. With the help of others, we concluded that this was Draba corrugata even though the flowers did not seem to have any petals left.
This space is not big enough to tell of all the discoveries I made on the outings I mentioned here. Many more plants struck my fancy, some that we were able to identify and some that we were not. One thing is sure, though, there are plenty of things to discover yet–plants, animals, rock formations, lichens, and other natural happenings. I am glad I didn’t forget my dreams–there are still wild lands out there and discoveries to be made. Hope you’ll get out there, too, and explore and enjoy our beautiful San Gabriel Mountains.
Keywords: Gabi McLean, Cliff McLean, Gabriele McLean, Clifford McLean, Nature at Hand, Gabi Horn, Gabriele Horn, Plants of the San Gabriel Mountains: Foothills and Canyon, Interpretive Guide on CD, Plants of the San Gabriel Foothills and Canyons, California native plants, Pasadena, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, San Gabriel Valley, Southern California, Covina, natural, nature photography, photograph, environmental education, naturalist, docent, hike, hiking, CD-ROM, California native garden, gardening, flowers, wildflowers, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, California Native Plant Society, CNPS, Eaton Canyon Nature Center Associates, ECNCA, Mt. Baldy, Mount Baldy, Mt. San Antonio, Mount San Antonio