In southern California, many of the local native plants follow different activities in the four seasons. A few of them, generally in moister areas, provide displays of fall color. On Saturday, I was part of a SBBG field trip to find fall color in the back country along Highway33, Lockwood Valley Road (a land of Rabbitbrush) ending up at Thorn Meadows. The shooting conditions had disadvantages and advantages – difficult shooting into the sun, but the fall color enhanced by back lighting.
(Sespe Gorge Viewpoint)
The photo above typifies the scarcity of fall color in this area. Vegetation, away from river beds, grows on soils that receive no moisture in the hotter months of the year. This vegetation has become adapted to summer drought. Many of the plants are evergreen, with small, tough leaves that lose a minimum of water in hot conditions. They also waste little energy growing in the summer, but do so in the cooler winter when rains replenish the soil with moisture. Hence, during fall, these plants are getting ready to start or are already developing and growing new leaves and flower buds. Some, such as Chaparral Currant are beginning to flower now, and a number of lower elevation Ceanothus species flower before the end of winter.
(Sespe Gorge Viewpoint)
(Sespe Gorge Viewpoint – Fremont Cottonwood )
In contrast, the trees along rivers and creeks follow the “normal” seasonal schedule – dropping leaves in fall or early winter, remaining mostly dormant in winter, putting out buds in spring, and leafing in summer. Some of these fall-color trees include Fremont Cottonwood, and in a few weeks, California Sycamore.
The oases of fall color are surrounded by large swaths of green from either evergreen chaparral, sage scrub or conifer stands, and the color contrast is very attractive. (The evergreen vegetation, often chaparral, covering the slopes of mountains and hills, however, does provide efficient water catchment during winter, allowing rain to percolate down to streams and rivers. In their absence, it would just be mudslides and torrents of water.)
(Thorn Meadows – On the middle ridge to the right, there is a small splash of
red-orange color provided by Black Oak foliage, shown below.
The foreground consists of yellow willow shrubs.)
(Thorn Meadows – Black Oak foliage, growing behind Jeffrey Pines)
Fall color seen at Thorn Meadows, was of the brilliant red-orange of Black Oaks at a higher level, and in the moist meadow area, the bright yellow of deciduous willows. The bulk of the surrounding vegetation in this area consisted of green conifers, many of them Jeffrey Pines.
(Reyes Creek Campground – Canyon Oak acorns )
We had lunch at Reyes Creek Campground, underneath a Canyon Oak, where the ground was littered with a large number of acorns.
(Spiny Tachina, about the size of a bumblebee, on Rubber Rabbitbrush )
While most herbaceous plants bloom in the moister months, there are many that bloom in summer and fall. This spread of nectar availability throughout the year provides food for insects and other fauna during most months of the year. An interesting fly, Spiny Tachina, is found from late summer to early fall in foothills and mountains. It feeds on nectar from plants in the aster/daisy family, especially Rabbitbrush and Coyote Brush. Both of these plants bloom later in the year, as the seasons are changing and the winds are stronger. The photos of this fly were taken hurriedly in windy conditions as everyone was departing for the next stop.
Thanks to the leaders for a great trip, and the excellent notes are always appreciated. New plants for me on this trip were blooming Rabbitbrush, Pinyon Pine, Jeffrey Pine and Poodle Dog Bush, the latter reportedly as unpleasant as Poison Oak.