March Showers, Spring Flowers: The Gold

Mar 27 2011 Published by under Biology & Environment

Yesterday I posted about the variety of blue and purple wildflowers that have sprung up after the recent rains.  But while the lupines and bellflowers and blue dicks provide spots of color, it was the yellow flowers that brightened the hillsides on an otherwise gloomy evening.

(Click to enlarge images)

Almost two years ago a fire swept across the hills leaving charred shrubbery and a layer of black ash.  Here's what it looked like back in May 2009:

Today the same hillside is yellow with mustard flowers:

While there are native "tansy mustards" (genus Descurainia).  Instead, my guess is that these are common mustard (Brassica rapa), which is not a California native and is considered an aggressive invasive species that may actually inhibit the growth of native plants. So while they are pretty, they are likely a sign of an unbalanced ecosystem.

Along the trail and on hillsides that were less scarred by fire,  golden yellow Menzie's Fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii or related species) were common:


Amsinckia menziesii is native to California, but is apparently found worldwide as a weed. When the plants dry out in the summer, brushing against the bristly hairs on the stems can be quite scratchy. The plants also contain toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, making them inedible to livestock (and humans).

Many of the fiddlenecks were infested with beetles:


Hopefully the beetles aren't an invasive non-native species or agricultural pest.

While both fiddlenecks and mustard grow wild, there were some cultivated flowers on the hillside as well. You see part of the trail passes over what used to be a landfill.  It's been covered with soil and most of the area just blends with the original landscape. But part of the area has obviously been planted with yellow and orange daisies.

I'm pretty sure these are variety of Osteospermum (African daisies), which are hardy growers here (some varieties are called "freeway daisies" because of their common use in freeway landscaping).

They seem unusually showy and out of place compared to the natively-growing plants, but I suppose it's better than a completely barren slope.

Come the hot dry weather of May and June the hills will be again covered by dry golden grass.

But as I write this, it's raining again. For now the grass is green and the flowers are in bloom.

(Tip of the hat to Birdmom's wildflower pages for help in flower identification)

 

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