Hollyleaves, Birds and Butterflies

On the last “to-photograph-flora-list” (weekend of 28/29 April) were calochortus and fritillary, reportedly seen in the Santa Ynez Mountains. The lack of rain this year has seemingly confused many plant schedules; calochortus that were blooming at the end of March (instead of July) were not found, and the fritillary was well along the path to seed-forming. However, there were many other plants of interest, and inspired this post.

Hollyleaf Cherry
(Hollyleaf Cherry, April 29, 2007 – click for larger image)

A favorite tree/shrub, and seen on this photo trip, is Hollyleaf Cherry. This is because when it is encountered while blooming in the wild, it is one of the most insect-visited plants, especially by a variety of butterflies. Hollyleaf Cherry is a host plant for the Pale and Western Tiger Swallowtails, but other butterflies enjoy the nectar of the white fluffy blossoms. In fall, after the young green seeds have ripened into dark red cherry-like fruit, the plants are visited by many birds, including Western Bluebird, Robins, Purple Finches, Towhees, Pigeons, Jays, Mockingbirds, Thrashers and Cedar Waxwings. Black-headed Grosbeak also feed on the fruits of these trees, in addition to their normal diet of butterflies, grasshoppers and other insects harvested from trees.

The scientific name for Hollyleaf Cherry is Prunus ilicifolia, where the ilicifolia indicates that the leaves are holly-like. Prunus is a Latin name for plum. Hollyleaf Cherry is in the Rose family.

Catalins Cherry
(Catalina Cherry, April 15, 2006 – click for larger image)

A very similar tree/shrub, once thought to be a sub-species of Hollyleaf Cherry, is Catalina Cherry, Prunus lyonii (after William Scrugham Lyon) However, the leaves of Catalina Cherry are different from those of Hollyleaf Cherry, and have smoother edges. It is native to the Southern California Channel Islands, and frequently breeds with Hollyleaf Cherry. On the mainland, it is probably difficult to find a pure specimen. Similar birds feed on the fruit of this tree as those that feed on the fruit of Hollyleaf Cherry.

Hollyleaf Redberry
(Hollyleaf Redberry, April 28, 2007 – click for larger image)

Another butterfly (Pale Swallowtail) host plant and one with holly-shaped leaves, but in the Buckthorn family, is Hollyleaf Redberry, Rhamnus ilicifolia. The yellowish flowers are very small and profuse. Berries from these plants also attract the same kinds of birds as Hollyleaf Cherry, as do the berries of another plant in the Buckthorn family, Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica).

(Coffeeberry, June 17, 2006 – click for larger image)

These plants are mostly drought-tolerant, and are normally found in the Chaparral plant community. Chaparral plants include (some of the names can be clicked for a photo, more links will be added):

Greenback Ceanothus
(Greenbark Ceanothus, April 29, 2007 – click for larger image)
(Buckbrush Ceanothus, April 30, 2005 – click for larger image)