Sunday, April 6, 2014

Everyone's Favorite Wildflower: Claspingleaf Wild Cabbage

It’s hard to walk more than a few feet into the wilds of Santa Clarita without stumbling across something special, especially at this time of year. After church this morning, I went to Elsmere Canyon to enjoy the spring show. I parked near the Elsmere Canyon Open Space sign off of Sierra Highway/Remsen Street. It's pleasantly isolated: just you, nature, the familiar roar of the 14, and a vague sense of dread over the electronic billboards that will soon be shining 50-feet overhead.
 
Among the more conspicuous wildflowers today were: (first-row) California Buckwheat, Prickly Phlox, Thick-leaved Yerba Santa; (second-row) Sticky Monkeyflower, California Suncup, Yellow Pincushion; (third-row) Coulter’s Lupine, Tansyleaf Phacelia, and Blue Witch. All of these plants are flowering within a half-mile of one another. Some grow in the sandy wash, some on the gravelly slopes, others in moister, oak-shaded margins. Our varied topography creates many unique niches, each exploited by different wildflowers.
 
 
Yeah, some are fuzzy--that's what you get for taking photos on a phone. Consider the unsatisfying clarity to be good incentive to go look at them for yourself; they're prettier that way.
 
The plant I was most excited to find, however, is called Claspingleaf Wild Cabbage (Caulanthus amplexicaulis var. amplexicaulis). It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it in the wild. Despite belonging to the genus Caulanthus, enticingly known as the jewelflowers, it’s very easy to miss. It grows on lean rocky slopes, its flowers are only about a quarter-inch across, and its leaves rise just a few inches above the ground.
 
 
So what’s special about it? It’s one of the oddly wonderful species (just look at the bizarre clasping leaves and the bulbous, deep maroon flower) found here and virtually nowhere else on earth. The entire population of this plant is confined to the Transverse Ranges of Southern California. We miss the little things like this far too often. For while the vegetation on our hills is viewed by firemen as fuel and by developers as brush, if you look closely enough, you’ll see that it’s really an amazing collection of plants The few Claspingleaf Wild Cabbages I saw blooming today will be dead in months; they're annuals. With any luck, however, they’ll have dropped their seeds, and after some nourishing rainfall, more Caulanthus will sprout and bloom next spring.

3 comments:

Wendy Langhans said...

Thanks for sharing! You might want to consider posting an observation on Calflora. http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-taxon=Caulanthus+amplexicaulis

Wendy Langhans said...

Thanks for sharing! You might want to consider posting an observation on Calflora. http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-taxon=Caulanthus+amplexicaulis

A Santa Claritan said...

Hi Wendy, Good reminder--I used Calflora to double-check on the ID so it would only make sense. The elevation's somewhat lower than usual based on the other reports, but I don't think it's outrageously low. Thanks for stopping by. (And for those of you reading comments here who don't read Wendy at KHTS or on FB, she's posted hundreds of wonderful photos and stories about local plants and other aspects of SCV nature, so go read up).