Identifying Young Forbs

At this time of year, when the first rains have come, there are many small green leaves on the ground. Eventually these will turn into something recognizable, but at the moment they are mostly just small green things.

Today I was trying to figure out how to distinguish between the basal leaves of a Mariposa Lily and a leaf of a Blue Dick. I want to be able to say when the Mariposas started putting out leaves, and when the Blue Dicks did, and not get the two confused.

It’s always helpful to remember what grew where last year. Often I can’t recall. Sometimes both grew at the same place. But there were enough places where only one of the two grew and I was able to figure out distinguishing marks.

At first glance both leaves look like a grass leaf. They both begin life folded over and sticking straight up into the air, but, over time, both can flop over. However the cross section on older blades is quite different. If you were to take one of the upright blades and slice it off parallel to the ground then:

Cal-fim
Late Blooming
Mariposa
BlueDicks
Blue Dick

Both start out folded over, but the Blue Dicks have a sharp crease in the middle of the leaf, while the mariposas are smoother. As the mariposas age all signs of the fold vanish, but in the blue dicks the crease remains though the blade does open a bit.

Essentially any Mariposa in the front country is going to be a Late Blooming Mariposa, but in the back there are other Mariposas. Today I think I may also have seen basal leaves of Butterfly and Pale Yellow Mariposa lilies. But I wouldn’t want to distinguish any of them by leaf shape — I found these plants by looking underneath last summer’s seedpods and either identifying the seedpod or remembering what was there before.


There are dicots out there too. Many dicots have the annoying habit of producing a first set of (two, obviously) leaves which look nothing like subsequent leaves.

Eucrypta-chrysanthemifolia-young-forbsThis picture was taken in mid-November. The leaves of the first pair are rounded, almost circular, while later leaves are highly imbricate. I’m fairly certain (based on where this was growing there last year) that these are Spotted Hideseed plants (Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia), Phacelia sp. young forbsbut the early leaves look so similar to most Phacelia spp. that I can’t distinguish between them based on leaf alone yet. The picture on the right is the young form of a Phacelia (most likely either P. distans or P. grandiflora).

Pholistoma auritum young forbAnother member of the borage (waterleaf) family, Fiesta Flower (Pholistoma auritum) also has rounded leaves for the first pair and more imbricate ones for subsequent ones. Here in Santa Barbara there is nothing much else that can be confused with those second leaves.

Emmenanthe penduliflora forbYoung forb of Whispering Bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora).

Cryptantha sp. forbsYoung forbs of Popcorn flower (probably Intermediate Popcorn Flower, Cryptantha intermedia). Here, again, the cotyledons are different (rounder) than subsequent leaves.

Young Stinging Lupines
Lupinus hirsutissimus first leaves Lupinus hirsutissimus second leaves Lupinus hirsutissimus small forb
First two leaves look nothing like normal Lupine leaves Next set are normal shaped, but darker than the adult leaf A small forb with several leaf rosettes.

Claytonia perfoliata young forb
Young forb of miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). The youngest leaves are long and skinny. Then come diamond shaped leaves. Last of all (not yet on this plant) the circular leaves with a flower in the middle.

Gilia capitata forbYoung forb of Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata)

Eschscholzia caespitosa forbYoung forbs of Collarless California Poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa).

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