April 18, 2017
Will this rain ever end - drizzle for days on end.
In the last week, we've had another 2 1/2 inches of rain up at Skyline, for a season total of over 64 inches; that's nearly double the yearly average. It's great for the plants, not so great for weeding. We had a good workday last Wednesday, doing the second weeding at the cap of Barberry Peak, but had to cancel Sunday. That hurt, because we had a great turnout lined up.
The weather is supposed to be clearing, so we'll have regular workdays this week: Wednesday at 4pm, Sunday at 9:30. Please let me know if you can make it.
This Thursday, we look forward to a special group of 15 Berkeley Rotarians out on the trail for a flower walk and weed pluck. Thanks to Bob and Joan for setting this up.
The flowers at Skyline are hitting their early season peak right now. Please get out and enjoy the fruits of our labors.
The next six weeks will be our most critical weeding time of the year. As all the flowers are blooming, the bad thistles and weedy grasses are also coming up to flower. Our strategy - to reduce the work next season - is to prevent these bad guys from making seeds. This means cutting them down right as they rise up and bloom. They are easy to spot then. This will put us in a great position to expand our restoration work next year.
I terms of workdays, I want to plant a seed with you all. Would you each be willing to have a little meeting with yourself and look at your calendar through May and schedule as many days at Skyline as is realistic for you? I know time is valuable in spring, and the flowers and special places are calling everywhere. My hope is that by getting workdays on the calendar now, we can do both in good balance: celebrate and restore. Please let me know of any dates you can calendar over the next six weeks.
OK, on to the flowers. This week let's meet our native clovers. Clover leaves are the familiar, 3 part leaves; the flowers are in tight, clustered heads. I think most of us would recognize a clover.
Most native clovers are annuals, which means that the seeds sprout with the rains, grow stems and leaves in the rainy season, flower in spring, make seeds and then die down. Clovers survive the dry season as tiny seeds in thick coats. Bumblebees and clovers have a special relationship, as tongues of the bees are just long enough to reach in to the flower tubes for the nectar.
In about half of the clovers, there is a bract (or modified leaf), in the form of a cup or a bowl, beneath the flower head. So if you look up clover (Trifolium) in the Jepson Manual, that's the first choice in the key: bract or no bract. See, it's not so hard. There are over 60 species of clovers in California, so with this one easy question, you've already narrowed it down by half!!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the diminishing presence of native clovers in our local grasslands. At Skyline, we are lucky to have 5 native clovers (so far) and here they are:
1. Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii):
Here we see Tomcat consorting with Chinese Houses. Tomcat has a pleated skirt of a bract, and very narrow, pointed leaves. Tomcat is probably the most common native clover at Skyline; especially on the trail between Siesta Gate and Diablo Bend. There's a big prize waiting for anyone who can tell us what the common name, Tomcat, has to do with these plants.
2. Notch clover (Trifolium bifidum):
The leaves have a notch at the end, but many clovers have this. This one usually has soft, shell pink flowers, and does not have a bract. The flower stems are slightly fuzzy. After flowering, the developing seed pods dangle down. I find these mostly on protected, easterly slopes. These are starting to bloom now at Nine Grass Bend.
3. Thimble clover (Trifolium microdon
Thimble Clover is usually white, and is named for the showy bract that cups the flower head like a 'thimble.' Perhaps a better name for these is Cupcake Clover, as the pleated bract is just like the paper cup around a cupcake. We find a lot of these at Nine Grass Bend.
4. Graceful Clover (Trifolium gracilientum)
Graceful clover is more spreading, with deep purple flowers. No bract on these, and the flowering stems are smooth, not fuzzy like Notched leaf Clover. Graceful clover grows in more hot and sunny locations, and each plant can sprawl out to nearly a foot across. A few of these are along the trail; this picture taken along Grizzly Peak Blvd in the hot, sunny scree section where the big patches of Chia grow.
5. Indian or Rancheria clover (Trifolium albopurpureum
This is a delicate, fuzzy beauty. There no bract, but the whole look is very distincive, with markedly purple and white flowers, as the name suggests. So far, we've found one little patch last year at Diablo Bend, at the base of the trail shoulder. We hope they have multiplied this year; not yet blooming.
Clovers were considered to be a spring delicacy by native peoples. There was eager anticipation of the clover harvest - and all those delicious, sweet greens. Over eating the first clovers was a real hazard. Since clovers are legumes, they can produce lots of gas. Local Indians had humorous stories of overeating bouts, where the victims would be inflicted with cramps, belching and gas. So, tasty, but be careful.
6. Rose clover (Trifolium hirtum) - an invasive species
(Photo by Keir Morse, Calphoto)
Rose clover is a lovely, fuzzy pink and very invasive. Both the flowers and leaves are fuzzy, and the bracts are large and partly enclose the flower head. You will find them all along trails and thick in grasslands throughout the East Bay. It's my theory that Rose Clover has taken the place of the native clovers in many places. In other words, Rose Clover fills the ecological niche of our native clovers. These are a real pest. The good thing about them is that when they flower, they are super easy to spot; and, in flower, they are very easy to pull up: just grasp a clump firmly by the base and they pop right out; that part is satisfying. It turns out the tap-root is rather weak.
I think that's enough on clovers.
Oh, lookie here, sun coming out now, right on schedule. Who-hoo!!