The Purest Manzanita

January 18, 2017

A day or two before New Year’s Cynthia and I went hiking up to the Gaviota Wind Caves, and then wandered on further up the trail where we found a manzanita. My first guess was that it was Arctostaphylos purissima, because:

  • It looked like A. refugioensis, but was too small
  • It was only at 200m and A. refugioensis doesn’t go that low.

These are not good reasons, and I knew I needed to revisit the plant. With a key.

Today I went back. I also revisited the trails on the other side of the Gaviota Gap (US 101) where I do believe A. refugioensis grows. I wanted to make sure I could really tell the differences and wasn’t just fooling myself into believing the key.

I visited two patches on the east of 101, and found four patches to the west.

Jepson’s key says that to distinguish between A. purissima and A. refugioensis one must look at the nascent inflorescences and see if they have glandular hairs or not.


We are well past the time for finding nascent inflorescences… We’re seeing nascent seeds now. Even when I looked back in December I only noticed full blooms… And I’m not sure I can tell whether a hair has a gland or not. Past attempts have not been successful…

Oh well, if I’m just looking at these two species, and not trying to key things out from scratch then these facts might be helpful:

A. purissima A. refugioensis
height 1-4m 2-4m
leaf width 1-2cm 2-3cm
inflorescence raceme
0-2 branched
5-10 branched
fruit size 5-8mm 10-15mm
elevation <300m 300-820m

As for the height: Minimum sizes don’t seem very useful. I found plants no taller than 60cm in full bloom, and both species have the same maximum height. So ignore that.

Plants at both patches east of 101 had leaves that were more than 2cm wide, plants west had narrower leaves.

Arctostaphylos refugioensis leaf 2.7cm wide

Arctostaphylos refugioensis leaf 2.7cm wide

As for the inflorescences, those east of 101 are much more branched than those west.

East West
A. refugioensis inflorescence

A. refugioensis multiply branched inflorescence

A. refugioensis inflorescence

A. refugioensis inflorescence

A. purissima inflorescence

A. purissima inflorescence, single raceme

Fruits are not currently ripe so their size couldn’t be tested today, but a couple of years ago I determined that the plants (I looked at) to the east of 101 had seeds bigger than 10mm.

As for elevation: one patch to the east is at ~500m, the other at about 300m, while all patches to the west were below 300m.

In other words east of the Gaviota Gap I find A. refugioensis, and west I find A. purissima.
Arctostaphylos distribution
Distribution map of Arctostaphylos around Gaviota. Blue crosses mark A. purissima, and red crosses mark A. refugioensis. (I think)

Which makes me wonder if Gaviota gap is really a divide for both species.

I don’t have enough data yet…


Growing Calochortus

January 7, 2017

Calochortus (Mariposa lilies) have a reputation for being hard to grow, but I find the local ones fairly easy. At least easy to start, I haven’t had any bloom yet (that might take 5 years from planting), but my plants are alive…

Seed Propagation of Native California Plants (by Dara E. Emery, © 1988 The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden) says that nothing particular needs to be done to prepare Calochortus seeds for planting, and I have found that to be true.

Various sites on the web suggest that it takes 3-5 years to go from seed to bloom, so patience is required.

There are six species of Calochortus which are moderately common around Santa Barbara, these are:

C. albus
White fairy lantern

C. catalinae
Catalina Mariposa Lily

C. clavatus
Pale Yellow Mariposa Lily

C. fimbriatus
Late blooming Mariposa lily

C. splendens
Splendid Mariposa Lily

C. venustus
Butterfly Mariposa lily


The flowers are beautiful, and easy to distinguish. However by the time the seeds are ready for collection the flowers are gone. So how do you distinguish one seed pod from another?

The most obvious way is simply to remember where flowers bloomed in the spring and come back a month or two later and look for seedpods there.

This usually works fairly well, as most localities around SB only have one species blooming in them.

Some areas, however, have several species, and sometimes I find seedpods in an area where I’ve never seen blooms. It is often still possible to distinguish.

Most Calochortus seedpods open upwards, but C. albus is unique in having its pod open down. This pod is also the shortest, and fairly wide. The seeds themselves are small round balls (less than 1mm in diameter), while other species have flat circular flakes (perhaps 3mm in diameter and very thin). Because the pod opens downwards these seeds are the hardest to collect. If possible find them just before they dehisce…

The seedpods of C. catalinae are also short and stout, but point upward. (These can be found on Santa Cruz and Aliso trails).

Those of C. clavatus are long, stout at the base, but tapering toward the tip. (These can be found on Santa Cruz and Aliso trails).

Those of C. fimbriatus, C. splendens, and C. venustus are long and thin. I can’t distinguish between them by shape, but I do distinguish by habitat and location. C. fimbriatus is almost the only Calochortus to grow on the south side of the Santa Ynez mountains and any seedpod found around Camino Cielo is almost certainly it. C. venustus usually grows in grasslands (Forbush and Cottam meadows are good places to look for them). C. splendens is much rarer (locally) and I don’t have a good way to distinguish it from C. venustus save remembering where I saw it blooming in the spring (There’s a patch near where Blue Canyon trail hits the Santa Ynez river).

C. albus
White fairy lantern
C. catalinae
Catalina Mariposa Lily
C. clavatus
Pale Yellow Mariposa Lily
C. fimbriatus
Late blooming Mariposa lily
C. splendens
Splendid Mariposa Lily
C. venustus
Butterfly Mariposa lily

Seeds may be collected any time after the pods dehisce (except for C. albus). Because most of the pods open upwards, seeds can remain inside for months. Indeed, I have successfully collected and planted seeds from pods I found in December, but usually I collect about a month after the last blooms.

I generally fill a 4″x4″ plastic pot with potting soil, sprinkle about half a pods worth of seeds on top, then dust with a very thin layer of more potting soil and water heavily. I have planted any time from October-December and had small forbs pop up anywhere from a fortnight to two months later.

As might be expected, seeds collected and planted the same year do best, but older seeds will sprout (though at a smaller percentage and often later in the year).

Most seeds sprouted within a month (if planted in the rainy season), but older seeds might take twice as long.

Seedlings look rather unexpected (to me anyway). I had expected to see small basal-leaves when I first planted, but instead I got green threads the first year, which widened out the second, and by the third looked like normal basal leaves:
C. ¿splendens? at 6 weeks
These are either C. splendens or C. venustus. They were collected on Camuesa-Romero Rd. near Little Caliente Springs in July of 2016. They were planted on 17 Nov 2016. The first forb appeared on 11 Dec, and this picture was taken on 5 Jan 2017. So these are out of the ground for 3 weeks, and ~6 weeks from being planted.

C. sp. start of Year 2
The second year the forbs start out as threads but thicken into thin leaves by the end of the season. These were planted in Oct. 2014, and this picture was taken in Jan of 2016. Sadly I have no pictures from later in 2016. (Note rain year 2016 was very dry, essentially no rain fell until early January and shoots did not appear until after the rain).

This pot lives on my front porch, with no roof over it, open to the rain and weather. In the summer when the bulb is dormant I give it some water, once a week at most, but often I forget about it. In the winter the rains fall on it and they start regrowth. In dry winters (2015, 2016) I watered more frequently when needed.

C. sp. Year 3 Nov
The third year the forbs start out as curled leaves and unfurl. This picture was taken in November 2016 (same pot and planting as the previous picture, but rain year 2017 was much wetter with early rains in November). I did not find any wild basal leaves until December, so my garden seems to encourage early growth?

C. sp. Year 3 Jan
Same pot, early January 2017. The leaves now are about as wide as normal Calochortus basal leaves. Perhaps I’ll get a bloom this spring?

Floating Moss

October 3, 2016

I hiked up toward Tangerine Falls today and in a small pool I found moss floating on the surface of the water.
Floating moss island

Much of the pool was covered with bits of moss…
A pool of moss

A few moss islands

The moss is not attached to the ground under the water, I picked one up and looked underneath.
No roots

Perhaps the grows on the rocks and spreads out onto the water until it breaks off? But there seems a lot more moss in the water than on the rocks. (Perhaps someone came by yesterday and pulled moss off the rocks and placed it in the water?)

I contacted a byrologist (or whatever the proper term is) and he told me that the moss is probably Pohlia wahlenbergii and it does not naturally form floating islands. He suggests that someone picking it off the rocks is the more likely explanation.
Perhaps the moss floats off the rocks

I looked at adjacent pools and found none with floating moss, but also none with this kind of moss at all.

The water in this creek is odd, I presume it has a high sulfur content (after all the falls is called tangerine) don’t know if that affects things.

Map of the area, the text is too small to read here, click on the map to see a legible version. The location of the pool is the blue circled cross just to the west of the “Cold Spring West Fork” label. N34.4666052° W119.6584374° elevation ~400meters.

I’ve never seen moss do this before (if indeed it has) and I’m intrigued.

Calochortus fimbriatus — The Late-blooming Mariposa Lily

August 13, 2016

The Late-blooming Mariposa Lily is probably my favorite flower. It basically grows along Camino Cielo from Gaviota to Ojai (Oh, and there’s a small patch up at the border of San Luis Obisbo and Monterey Counties too). I concentrate on Camino Cielo, the map below (which you should click on to make legible) shows where I have found it.
Basically it grows along the ridge line, and on every trail that climbs up to Camino Cielo, and most of the roads too. I’ve found two small patches on the far side of the the Santa Ynez river (one on Aliso trail, and a single plant on Camuesa Rd. near Upper Oso). In the front country I’ve seen it as low as about 800ft (250m), but it doesn’t make it down as far as Mountain Dr. (as far as I know).

It seems to like open areas, it is most common beside trails and roads, and occasional on the top of knolls with little other vegetation. On the few occasions when I have gone bushwhacking through chaparral I have found none. In places burned by fires there do not appear to be hidden bulbs waiting the right conditions. In the burn scars plants are only found beside the trail or on knolls.

It’s a beautiful flower.
Calochortus fimbriatus

Its identity confounded me for years because it was treated as a subspecies of C. weedii, but it looks quite different from the nominate subspecies and I didn’t expect that.

It is also fairly variable with some blooms having lots of black hairs, and others lots of yellow.

This year I decided to try to keep accurate counts of how many plants were blooming where. I tried to visit Jesusita and Cold Spring trails (Mountain Dr. to Forbush) once a week to see how the season progressed.

This year I saw my first bloom on Cold Spring trail just above the Cold Fire scar on 19 June, and the last on the back side of Cold Spring on 30 July. In years past I have seen it blooming as early as 9 June (2013, 2015) and as late as 21 August (2015).

This year the first flowers appeared right after we got out from under the June fog and had some hot weather. But last year that was not the case.

The graphs below are bar graphs showing the number of plants blooming (which is slightly different from the number of blooms) on the dates that I observed them. Dates with no red bars above them mean that I observed no blooms. On days when I did not observe there aren’t even dates.

This was not a good year for blooms near Inspiration, there were some, but nothing like what we had the year after the Jesusita Fire.

A few hundred yards down from Inspiration, toward Tunnel, is another good patch. Inspiration is in full sun, this patch is shaded and it consistently blooms later, takes longer to reach its peak, but ultimately has more plants. Indeed it peaks when Inspiration is almost finished.
Jesusita Tunnel_2016

On the alternate route up Cold Spring (now with a sign saying “Ridge Trail”) there is a good patch about half-way up to the powerlines.
CS Ridge_2016

There’s another patch around the intersection with Hot Springs Connector.
CS Hot_2016

The biggest patch of all is around the Cold Fire burn scar. This is usually where I see blooms first, and always where I see the most.
Cold Fire_2016

There are occasional patches above that up to Montecito Peak, and I lump them all into one group (there’s a patch on top of Montecito Peak, but no more patches between Montecito Peak and the top).
CS Back_2016

And finally there are several patches between Camino Cielo and Forbush which I also lump together.
CS Upper_2016

(Of course there are many other patches in other places, but I didn’t visit them frequently enough to make a graph).

I am intrigued by how different the bloom peaks are, especially the patch at Inspiration and that down toward Tunnel, these are very close physically but quite different in timing. I presume this is because the patch at Inspiration is on the ridge line where it gets full sun, while the other is on a north-facing slope in morning shade.

A tale of two fires

May 4, 2016

In the last few years there have been two small fires on the front side of Cold Spring trail.

The first was the Cold Fire which burned on 6 Nov 2012 and was out by nightfall. It covered about 1 hectare. This fire burned at roughly 600 meters above sea-level.

The second was the Gibraltar Fire which started on 29 Oct. 2015 and was said to be fully contained on 3 Nov 2015. This was a bit bigger at about 10 flat hectares. This fire burned at roughly 950 meters above sea-level.

Both fires have a (roughly) west-facing hillside which I have watched recover.

I suspect that there are two significant differences in the way these slopes have recovered. The first is elevation (which affects what species can grow there) and the second is drought.

Both years were dry years, with only about  half to two-thirds the average rainfall, but in 2013 there was a relative abundance of rain in November and December, while in 2016 there had already been 4 years of drought and almost no rain fell in the fall.

RainYear2016So after the Cold Fire there was moisture in the soil and forbs started growing in December. After the Gibraltar Fire there was no moisture and nothing grew until mid January.


In early January not much has changed. The Cold Fire had small, unidentifiable forbs, while the Gibraltar fire had nothing


In mid February the Cold Fire is lush, the hillside is covered with blooming Marah (wild cucumber) vines. The Gibraltar Fire also has Marah but only in patches, they do not cover the area the way they did below. There are also other small forbs. (the Gibraltar hillside is is the same as before, just seen from a different angle — it takes a while to figure what what views are best).


In March in the Cold Fire the Marah has stopped booming and been replaced by Calystegia macrostegia (Coastal Morning Glory). While in the Gibraltar Fire things look much as they did in February; the Marah continues to bloom, there are a few, very small, Calystegia purpurata (Pacific Morning Glory) vines, and some of the forbs have become identifiable as Phacelia and Eschscholzia (poppies), but only Marah is blooming.


In April the Cold Fire is at its peak with morning glory, phacelias, popcorn flower growing in lush abundance. But the Gibraltar Fire looks much as it did in March, except that the Marah has stopped blooming there too.


May brings drought to the Cold Fire, almost everything appears dead, though a few Phacelia grandiflora continue to bloom. While the Gibraltar Fire is lush in its turn. Phacelia distans, P. grandiflora, P. brachyloba, Emmenanthe pendulifora, Eschscholzia california, Calystegia purpurata are all in bloom.


In spite of the similarity in the fires, burning at approximately the same time in the calendar year, in close proximity, on the same trail, on the same side of the mountain, the first seven months have been very different.

Clearly the early rains in 2013 made for an early start in the Cold Fire, and then the subsequent drought dried everything up. While in the Gibraltar Fire the early drought meant nothing could start until much later, but the rains in January and March meant that plants could continue growing into May.

But there are other differences not easily explained by weather. I suspect some of the difference comes from the different behavior of the two Morning Glories. C. macrostegia was already taking over from Marah as those plants faded, but C. purpurata still is only in small patches. It has grown far more slowly, and spread far less. This might also be weather related, or altitude related, but in the White Fire along Aliso Trail C. purpurata was not as vigorous as C. macrostegia in the Cold Fire (though more vigorous than C. purpurata in the Gibraltar Fire). So I suspect that this elevation induced species difference is partly to blame.

Flowers on Santa Cruz Trail and Little Pine Mtn 2016-4-17

April 17, 2016

Allium haematochiton
Red-Skinned Onion


Hesperoyucca whipplei
Chaparral yucca

Dichelostemma capitatum
blue dicks


Calochortus albus
White fairy lantern

Calochortus catalinae
Catalina Mariposa Lily

Fritillaria ojaiensis
Ojai fritillary


Sisyrinchium bellum
blue eyed grass


Avena barbata
Slender Wild Oat

Elymus glaucus
Western Rye


Osmorhiza brachypoda
California Sweet Cicely

Sanicula arguta
Sharp-Toothed Sanicle

Sanicula crassicaulis
Pacific Sanicle

Apiastrum angustifolium
Wild Celery

Lomatium utriculatum
Hog Fennel


Chaenactis glabriuscula
Yellow Pincushion

Eriophyllum confertiflorum
golden yarrow

All year
Deinandra fasciculata
clustered tarweed

Agoseris grandiflora
California Dandelion

Rafinesquia californica
California Chickory

Uropappus lindleyi
Silver Puffs

Leptosyne bigelovii
Bigelow’s coreopsis


Sambucus nigra-caerulea
Blue Elderberry

All year

Lonicera subspicata
Chaparral honeysuckle

All year

Plectritis ciliosa
Long Spurred Plectritis


Galium aparine
common bedstraw


Stachys rigida

Salvia apiana
white sage

Salvia columbariae

Salvia leucophylla
purple sage

Salvia mellifera
black sage


Fraxinus dipetala
Flowering Ash


Castilleja affinis
Coast Indian Paintbrush

Castilleja applegatei
Wavy Leaved Paintbrush

Castilleja exserta
Owl’s clover

Castilleja foliolosa
Woolly Indian Paintbrush


Mimulus aurantiacus
sticky monkeyflower


Collinsia heterophylla
Chinese Houses

Penstemon centranthifolius
Scarlet Bugler

Penstemon heterophyllus
Foothill Penstemon

Plantago erecta
Foothill Plantain


Calystegia purpurata-purpurata
Pacific false bindweed


Solanum xanti
purple nightshade

All year

Amsinckia douglasiana
Douglas’ Fiddleneck

Amsinckia menziesii
common Fiddleneck

Cryptantha sp.

Emmenanthe penduliflora
Whispering Bells

Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia
spotted hideseed

Nemophila menziesii
baby blue eyes

Phacelia cicutaria
Caterpillar phacelia

Phacelia distans
common phacelia

Phacelia tanacetifolia
Tansy Phacelia

Phacelia viscida-albiflora
white Sticky Phacelia

Pholistoma auritum
fiesta flower


Mentzelia micrantha


Gilia capitata
Globe gilia

Leptodactylon californicum

Leptosiphon parviflorus
Variable Linanthus


Ribes malvaceum
Chaparral currant


Lithophragma cymbalaria
Mission Star


Chenopodium californicum
Soap Plant


Claytonia perfoliata
miner’s lettuce


Eriogonum fasciculatum
California Buckwheat

All year

Brassica nigra
black mustard

Caulanthus lasiophyllus
California mustard

Descurainia pinnata
Western Tansy Mustard

Erysimum capitatum
Western Wallflower

Thysanocarpus curvipes
Fringe Pod


Camissoniopsis intermedia
Intermediate Suncup

Clarkia bottae
Punchbowl Clarkia

Clarkia epilobiodes
Willow Herb Clarkia

Eremothera boothii
Shredding Evening Primrose

Eulobus californicus
California suncup


Rhus trilobata

Toxicodendron diversilobum
poison oak


Marah fabaceus
common manroot


Lathyrus vestitus
common pacific pea

Astragalus filipes

Lupinus albifrons
Silver Lupine

Lupinus bicolor
miniature lupine

Lupinus hirsutissimus
stinging lupine

Lupinus microcarpus-densiflorus
Chick lupine

Lupinus nanus
sky lupine

Lupinus succulentus
arroyo lupine

Acmispon maritimus
Coastal Lotus


Ceanothus cuneatus

Ceanothus leucodermis
Whitethorn Ceanothus

Ceanothus spinosus

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus
Blue Bush

Rhamnus ilicifolia
Holly-leaved Redberry


Adenostoma fasciculatum

Prunus ilicifolia
Holly-leaved cherry


Viola pedunculata
Johnny jump-up


Dendromecon rigida
Bush poppy

All year
Eschscholzia caespitosa
Foothill Poppy

Eschscholzia californica
California poppy

Papaver heterophyllum
Wind Poppy

All year
Platystemon californicus
Cream Puffs


Clematis lasiantha
wild clematis

Delphinium parishii
pale larkspur

Delphinium parryi
purple larkspur

Ranunculus californicus
California Buttercup


101 different species.

Rain, rain, come again.

March 1, 2016

Normally February is our second wettest month of the year, second only to January, with almost 4 inches of rain. This February we had .48 inches, or about an eighth the normal amount. Yet the year has been so dry so far that even so February was our second wettest month.

In strong El Niño years February is our wettest month with about 9½ inches. We got about a 20th of that amount.

From 1 Sept we have received 7.66 inches, the historical average for this period is 13.37. We’re at about 57% of normal. The average for strong El Niño years is 24.59 inches. We’re less than a third of that.

We’ve received less rain this year than last. We’ve received less rain this February than last.

That may change. Some long term predictions suggest we’ll have a wet March, that the high pressure ridge (the Martin ridge) that keeps the storms from Southern California is finally breaking up. Indeed the weather forecast shows a series of storms hitting us next week.

It’s probably too late to hope for a rainy year. We’re currently down 5.71 inches from normal, if we’d like to get up to normal rainfall by the end of the month then we need that much rain, plus what we normally get in March, or 8.67 inches total.

We have approximately 150 years of rainfall data for downtown SB, and we’ve gotten that much (or more) rain in March a total of nine years in the past, and in two of those (1912, 1991) they had received even less rain to this point in the year than we have.

So it is possible.

Interestingly enough none of those years was a strong El Niño year. Two of them were “weak” El Niño years and a third was neither El Niño nor La Niña. (the others occurred before we were able to take the measurements currently used to classify a year as El Niño or not).

The strong El Niño years have averaged 3.6 inches in March, only marginally more than the historical average of 2.96 inches.

Given that this is a “very strong” El Niño year, the historical precedents suggest we will not even get up to normal rainfall for the year.

Looking at this year (so far) and the last two, Mother Nature appears to be running a rather interesting experiment. This year we got a lot of rain in January and the rest of the year has been dry. Last year we got a lot of rain in December and the rest of the year was dry. The year before that the rain came at the end of February/early March and the rest of the year was dry.

In other words we can compare these three years to see how the plants react to a single spurt of rain in either Dec, Jan or Feb.

For most plants it’s too early to tell (for this year anyway), but bigpod ceanothus has already been affected. This is the species that covers our bigpodhillsides in a blanket of white in early February, so it’s a very common, and obvious species.

In a normal year bigpods start blooming in late December and bloom into April with a peak in February. This year (January rains) they started blooming in early February, never really peaked, and are almost gone already. Last year (December rains) they started in December, as usual, peaked as usual, but faded fast and were gone by the end of February. Two years ago (February rains) they started in early January and fizzled out in February, but about three weeks after the rain they started blooming again — they never reached a peak were they covered the hills though.

So it looks to me as if bigpod (at least) needs significant rain in December to have a February peak where the hillsides are white.

Some rain

February 1, 2016

We had 1.53 inches of rain yesterday, bringing our January total to 6.31 inches (Normal January rainfall averages 3.98 inches. January rainfall for big El Niño years averages 5.60 inches).

So not only did we get more rain than usual in January, be got more rain than we usually get in a big El Niño year.

The standard deviation for rainfall in January is 4.13 inches so, although it seems like a lot, this year is well within one standard deviation of the average.

But we had almost no rain before January — .86 inches between 1 Sept and 31 Dec. Normally we get 5.5 inches, and in big El Niño years we average 9.35 inches in that period.

The result is that in spite of a wet January we are about 2.5 inches below average for the year. Year to date rain has been 7.18 inches for 2015-2016 against an average of 9.63 inches, and an El Niño average of 14.97.

We’ve had less than half the rainfall we expect for a big El Niño year, and only three quarters the rainfall we’d expect for a normal year.

Compared to the last 4 years of drought this year is wetter than 2 and drier than 2. We got about as much rain this January as we did in December of 2014. This year looks like a continuation of the drought so far.

The forecast says no rain for the next 10 days.

Now some plants don’t seem to care, particularly the annuals. They poke up their little forbs as soon as the rains come, and don’t care what happened before that.

But many shrubs are not happy.

The currants (Ribes malvaeceum), which normally start blooming in October, had a bad year. A few did start in October, but it was so dry after that that the buds shriveled on the plants and no others joined them. After the rains in early January a few more came out, but most plants are left with dead buds and no sign of blooms.

The manzanitas have not bloomed yet. Great Berry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) is normally in full bloom around the new year. This year, nothing. Eastwood’s Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa) which normally starts at the end of January hasn’t done anything either, I can’t even find buds. I was initially cheered to find a Refugio Manzanita blooming in December, but closer examination revealed only one in bloom. And only one, the same one, was blooming in January.

The cherries should have started, but haven’t.

Most disturbing, Bigpod Ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus), the plant which paints our hillsides white in January and February, normally starts blooming in late December. There’s no trace of a bloom as yet, not even a bud. In 2014 bigpod started blooming in December, stopped in February and restarted in March (that year the only rain was at the end of February). But this year, nothing. I’ve seen none of the other Ceanothuses either, and they should be out by now too, though bigpod is usually the first.

The bigpod are always blooming by the end of January (at least in my limited data). In all four of the past drought years they have done so too. Perhaps they need rain between Sept and December?

After a first rain storm

January 6, 2016

We had our first big rainstorm of the year yesterday morning with 1.5 inches falling in about 8 hours. Squalls continued to blow through for the rest of the day, but about 10:30 I decided it was dry enough and went out to look at the trails (I did get completely drenched by two squalls, but it was certainly drier than it had been).

I have noticed after the small rains we’ve had so far this year that various species respond quickly, and I wanted to see how quickly.

I grew up with something I called “Resurrection Fern” (Polypodium polypodioides) which curls in on itself, appearing dead, in dry weather and then unfolds again into greenery after a rain. There are at least three ferns here which seem to have the same behavior, but I was only sure of one, so I wanted to check out the other two.

I know that Gold Back Fern (Pentagramma triangularis) does this and I suspected that California Lace Fern (Aspidotis californica) and Coville’s Lipfern (Cheilanthes covillei) did the same. With these ferns in dry conditions you can see the withered fronds which regreen in the rain.

Another fern Coastal Wood Fern (Dyopteris arguta) stays green through the summer drought (mostly) but only puts out fiddleheads once the rains come. And California Polypody (Polypodium californicum) dies back every summer and pops up new fronds with the rain.

Bushy Spikemoss (Selaginella bigelovii) also has the resurrection property; it’s not a fern though, it’s in a class (spikemosses — Isoetopsida) that I’d never heard of until I met this plant — vaguely related to the Lycopodiums. But I already knew about it’s behavior and didn’t really need to check.

And then there are the Liverworts, over the last few months these have seemed to appear out of nowhere after a rain, and then slowly fade back into nothing as the drought reasserted itself. I find them amazing because I see no sign of them in the dry times, even just a few weeks after a rain has perked them up.

The only trail I know that has all three “resurrection” ferns on it is Cold Spring (and it is well supplied with spikemoss and liverwort sites too). I hadn’t been on Cold Spring for a month before this so I suppose it is conceivable that plants had started and I hadn’t seen them, but I’ve been up and down San Ysidro trail (only one mile away) frequently (the last time being two days ago) and I know there were no Gold Back Ferns, or Polypodies or Liverworts and only dried spikemosses on it.

So I’m fairly certain these would not be on Cold Spring either.

Cold Spring trail is also mostly rock and sand, not mud, so it’s not destructive to run on it after a rain.

I saw Gold Back Fern first, and right nearby some liverworts. These two are pretty common and I was almost certain I’d find them. I know they respond quickly.

A little further up is the first patch of Lacefern. These had already uncurled once after a bit of rain in September, but they curled up again. However I’d only seen them a week after the rain so I didn’t know how quickly they responded. Last time I’d been by they looked like this:
Lacefern dormant
But today, less than 12 hours after the rain started they looked like
Lacefern today
Green shoots are unfurling. They aren’t new fiddleheads, they aren’t coiled, these are old fronds that have come back to greenness. They aren’t fully out yet though. This is the same spot a week after the rains in September:

As I went up the trail I found more sites with new green Lace Ferns — basically everywhere I remembered that I’d found Lace Ferns in the past, I found green Lace Ferns today.

Just below the powerlines I found a small patch of Polypody unfurling their fiddleheads. This is the species that dies back, losing its fronds in the summer. In this rain year I hadn’t seen any examples of it in the front country (I have seen some in the back country, which gets more rain).

Spikemoss all along the trail had perked up and was green. But I expected that.

I only know one place to look for Lip Ferns, there are a few patches right on top of Montecito Peak. These had also unfurled briefly in November and then furled up again in December. Today, however, they were fully open
Lipfern today
(Sorry about the picture quality, it was raining and my lens had fogged up). A month ago they looked more like this
Lipfern dormant
Again the difference comes within 12 hours of the start of the rain.

Lichens look very nice in rain:

Oak Moss Lichen
Goldspeck Lichen
No Idea
Powderhorn Lichen

So ferns can resurrect themselves very quickly it seems. And Polypody ferns can produce and unfurl fiddleheads quickly too (but as I only found one patch, very few of them choose to do so). Liverworts can also change from invisible, to green plants in a short period.

I saw no fiddleheads yet from Coastal Wood Fern though.

I saw one flowering plant that appeared to be responding to the rain: Chaparral Currant (Ribes malvaceum). This plant usually starts blooming in October (once in September), but it has been waiting for rain this year.

Nice clouds on the way down



Waiting for rain

December 31, 2015

The big El Niño years of the past have all brought lots of rain to Southern California. In Santa Barbara the increased rainfall starts early, averaging about twice the long-term average rain for the rain year by the end of December.

Year Sept Oct Nov Dec 1 Sep-31 Dec
1957 0.00 1.41 0.51 4.51 6.43
1965 0.09 0.00 7.86 3.72 11.67
1972 0.00 0.04 5.69 0.73 6.46
1982 2.07 0.63 5.18 3.07 10.95
1997 0.05 0.15 4.30 6.72 11.22
2015 0.10 0.26 0.13 0.38 0.87
0.27 0.69 1.52 3.02 5.50

This year is different. Instead of having twice as much rain as usual we have had a seventh the normal amount. This El Niño is having the opposite effect from all the others before it.

Now there are several possible explanations. We’ve only got 6 “big El Niño” events in the historical record (because the definition of a “big El Niño” depends on ocean temperature monitoring that simply wasn’t technically feasible until the 1950s). Six events is not a good sample. All of them had large rainfall by now, but perhaps that was just chance.

On the other hand this is the biggest (hottest) El Niño ever recorded. Perhaps it is simply too big and has flipped the weather into yet another pattern. There is some evidence for this. All this year, as El Niño was forming there has been an unusual patch of warm ocean water off the Southern California coast. This patch currently has the effect of diverting storm systems from the west, north and away from Southern California. (Several days later the El Niño temperature has dropped and we seem to be getting a big storm…)

If this be true then as El Niño’s temperatures drop the warm patch should fade and we may get late winter rains. By this time of year, in the past, El Niños have been fading, and this year’s started to decline too, but it has more recently warmed up again (another unprecedented occurrence)… So it may be a while yet before we get any rain…

This isn’t just an El Niño year it is also the fifth year of drought

Year Sept Oct Nov Dec 1 Sep-31 Dec
2011 0.00 1.17 2.15 0.47 3.79
2012 0.01 0.03 2.78 3.20 6.02
2013 0.01 0.11 0.92 0.22 1.26
2014 0.01 0.04 0.86 5.37 6.28
2015 0.10 0.26 0.13 0.38 0.87

And disturbingly enough this year is the driest (so far) of the five.

Generally this is the 14th driest year to January, in other words, 90% of the time we have had more rain by now. Of those 13 drier years only one had above average annual rainfall (and not much above average).

So the historical record does not suggest that we’ll have a drought buster in Santa Barbara.

Unless climate change means that the historical record is now meaningless.