After the heavy rains that ended California’s five-year drought, our state’s wildflowers have made a comeback. Enjoying last year’s superbloom at Death Valley, we visited the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a premier place for California wildflowers. Shown above, coreopsis and fiddleheads bloom above Soda Lake, an alkaline lake ringed by salt. Reflected in Soda Lake, the Temblor Range is painted with swaths of wildflowers. I can see an impressionist painter splashing bold strokes of color on the canvas.
When rain falls, the water dissolves salts from the soil and usually flows to the ocean, already salty from past rain. Like Death Valley, Carrizo Plain has no outlet for rainwater, so water collects in the lowest spots and evaporates, leaving behind salts. Invasive plants struggle with this salty environment, while native plants that evolved here flourish without invasive competition. Consequently, Carrizo Plain has vast fields of California native plants and their spring blooms.
After the storms of January and February, the San Francisco Bay Area is drying out and getting ready for spring. Our first iris bloomed in late March. It’s a Douglas iris, iris douglasiana, a California native plant. Hardy, drought-tolerant, and disease-free, these irises are stars for a California garden, with beautiful flowers in the spring and green leaves year-round. They’re easy to divide and move to new places in our yard.
California’s reservoirs are full, and the mountain snowpack is very large, so there’s lots of water to distribute to farms and urban users. Future challenges will be whether the water conservation forced by the drought will persist and dealing with groundwater overdrafts.
Northern California and my home town of Los Altos received more rain than normal in January and February 2017, as the atmospheric river continued to flow here. After five years of drought, California’s surface water and snow pack are above normal.
In early March, bee’s bliss sage (salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’) begins to bloom, attracting bees. Bee’s bliss sage is a California native plant that is drought tolerant and likes full sun.
Faced with last month’s call to leave more water for fish and wildlife, San Francisco started a fight for water, authoring a guest editorial stating “The consequences of these cutbacks potentially could cripple our Bay Area economy.” In a separate action that spreads the water fight to a vast watershed that supplies southern California and the Bay Area, the California State Water Board said “scientific information indicates that restoration of more natural flow functions is needed now to halt and reverse the species declines”.
Our rainy season is off to a good start. In October, we received 1.72″ of rain, more than twice the normal .76″.
With cooling temperatures and rain, native plants are reviving after the hot and dry summer. Shown above, a California polypody (polypodium californicum) shakes off summer dormancy in late October, sending up fiddleheads in a thicket of snowberry (symphoricarpos albus). Both grow in the deep shade of a California live oak (quercus agrifolia), and all are California native plants.
A California native plant, the iris douglasiana does well in partial shade. The irises shown above get only a couple hours of sun a day, shaded by the house and a large California live oak (quercus agrifolia). Low and green, irises look nice along walkways.
Troubled at first when our fernspolypodium californicum (California polypody) died back in June, I now enjoy the polypody’s use of dormancy to survive the harsh, dry summer of California. In our Mediterranean climate, we have mild, wet winters and dry, hot summers. Very appropriately, the polypody fern is lush and green when we have rain, and it goes dormant in the summer, when we get little rain for six months.
To illustrate how the polypody fades as summer nears, here are photos of the same fern frond at one-week intervals this June. On June 1, the polypody frond is turning yellow with some burnt spots. The fronds in the background are in deeper shade, and they are green.
One week later, the frond is no longer green, and the frond tips are brown. Sunlight filtered by an oak tree shines on the frond and lights the spider webs on the frond tips.
Two weeks after the initial photo, the polypody frond, now brown and curled, lies on the oak leaf litter. Fronds in deeper shade are still green, and some are fading.
The polypody, a California native plant, is a visible harbinger of summer.
I’m learning to use depth of field to focus attention on the subject, the polypody frond. When the frond was upright, I photographed it in a single plane where the entire frond was about the same distance from the camera. Therefore, I could use a narrow depth of field. By the 15th, the frond had fallen toward where I shot the first photos. To use the same viewpoint as before, I needed a greater depth of field to still keep the frond in focus and blur out the background.
The May weather in my hometown of Los Altos, California, was drier than normal, but still as expected. May is the beginning of our dry season in our Mediterranean climate. We normally receive little rainfall in May, .48 inches, and we received only a quarter of that. We probably won’t see significant rain until November.
Our long drought continues. We continue to conserve water, and our local groundwater continues to improve.
The aquilegia formosa (western columbine) is still blooming. A California native plant, the columbine has 5-cm, red and yellow flowers suspended from 60-cm-tall stalks. To blur the background and other flowers, I used a wide-open, telephoto lens, with a fast shutter speed to get a sharp image in the breeze.