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May 30, 2017



Dear Skyliners,


 We're making terrific progress clearing the invasive thistles.  Last Wednesday, we cleared the whole north slope of Barberry Peak.  On Sunday, we went over the peak to the south slope and cleared the open areas all the way down to the Bay Grove (and a little beyond).  Welcome back to David and Sonia.


 And, the Delta group (Calfire crew) arrived last week and cleared all along Tank Road, including the top shoulder of the long slope.  They got about halfway to the water tank, and will return again this week.  So we've got them surrounded and on the run.


 We'll have regular workdays this week: Wednesday at 4pm and Sunday at 9:30.  Please let me know (if you haven't already) if you can make it.


 We'll start our photos with this stunning panorama from Josh:

To get you oriented, we are looking towards the Bay from atop the north slope of Barberry Peak. The right side shows the saddle between the First Outcrop ridge and Barberry.  If you look closely you can see the little trail descending there.  As to flowers, one Cobweb thistle on the left, then Indian Paintbrush, and Meadow Lilies (Ithuriel's Spear).


 We've had a rich two weeks for finding new natives at Skyline - four of them - which brings our list of natives to 252.  They are: Coast Fescue (Festuca elmeri), Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizenii), Celery leaf lovage (Ligusticum apiifolium), and Service berry (Amelanchier utahensis).  This week, we'll look closer at the fescue.


 While clearing thistles on the long slope north of the Big Rock, I wandered in to a graceful, nodding fescue that reminded me of California Fescue, but it was not.  There was no big clump of leaves at the base.  The flowers were much finer textured, and the flowering stems arched gracefully.  Alas, this is Coast Fescue (F. elmeri) and is listed as a B (5 to 9 locations) on our CNPS East Bay Rare and Unusual plants list.  It's the first time I met this one.  Here is a habitat shot:

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To the left of center, you can barely make out some arching grass stems.  This is our baby, surrounded by Cow Parsnip, Sticky Monkey, Gooseberry, Coffeeberry, Poison Oak, Meadow Rue, and Graceful Tarweed.  This is thicket (and tick) country and the only reason I would every wade into a place like this is to hock out Italian thistles.  Once again, the best way to learn native plants is to go out weeding.


Here's a close up of the flowering stems and the grass flowers.

Can you see how the stems arch over?  This is very different from the straight, vertical stem spires of California Fescue.


Here is a close up of some flowers, against my hand for contrast:

If you look very closely at the florets, you can see a half-inch bristle (or awn) at the tip of each.  It turns out this is a diagnostic feature.


 Ok, now we jump out of the brush to the top of Barberry Peak to meet our glorious red Cobweb Thistles (Cirsium occidentale), now finally in bloom.  Here's a shot of the big clump, at the very tip top, on a foggy morning

Three flowers open and look at all those buds coming on.  Just imagine all the seeds they are going to make, and imagine all these seeds spilling down on the open area we have cleared there.  On the top of Mount Diablo, in similar habitat, we may find one of these growing every fifteen feet or so.  They are very thrifty in their spacing; I've never seen a thicket.  


 These are known as biennials - plants that grow leaves the first year, flower the second year, and then die.  But sometimes they can grow and flower all in one year, and other times they can take three or more years to flower.  Won't it be fascinating to see what happens in years to come.  


Here's a closer look at the flower:

The white dots poking out from the red are the pollen and ovary tips.  Thistles are sunflowers, composite heads of many small flowers.  They open from the outside towards the center, in a circular pattern.  The fine threads between the spines are the source of the common name, Cobweb Thistle.  Another name is Western Thistle. 


 Lastly, here's a side view, against the (rare these days) blue sky, held still against the wind.  Thanks to Margaret for this one. We are amazed at how straight these stalks can grow; it's always windy up there: 

On the horizon you can see Mount Diablo.  Salute.


Happy Trails,



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