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April 25, 2017

Dear Skyliners,


   Sunday was the Opening Day of Thistle Season and we hit it with a rush.  And, we discovered two new native plant species.  More on both below...

   Regular workdays this week: Wednesday at 4 and Sunday at 9:30.  Please let me know if you can make it.


   On Sunday, we re-attached our sickle weeders to their poles and twelve of us cleared thistles in the area of the First Outcrop.  Welcome to Kathy, Krehe, Amy, and Janet.  Here we are:

This truly is the work of the ants as we comb the slope and root them out.

   Last Wednesday, we finished our second weeding of the cap of Barberry Peak.  After thistling on Sunday, we went up there to look around.  Here's some of us botanizing:

The Poppies right now are glorious.  The photo below is a patch right along the main trail at Diablo Bend, growing with Popcorn Flower.  Two years ago, this very spot was a snarl of Italian Thistles and Filaree:

Our method works; it just takes time and care to clear and restore.


On the new plant front, we found two new species this week at Skyline, which brings us to 244 native species for the area; that's 7 new species so far this year.  Any bets how many more we'll find this year?


The first new one is an Owl's Clover, commonly known as Valley Tassels (Castilleja attenuata).  These were found on a road cut bench on the slope above the north side of Highway 24.  The patch was very plentiful, perhaps 200 plants. These are annuals, and are hemiparasites,  which means that they partially draw nourishment from other species, in this case probably grasses

(Photo Barry Rice, Calphoto)


You can see the flowers, the cute, white, puffy dotted tubes.  Do they look like little owls?  The green leaves with the white tips are known as bracts.  In Indian Paintbrush, a close cousin to these, the bracts are often flame red.


The second find is another native thistle.  This one is Brownie Thistle (Cirsium quercetorum).  These are a coastal species (think Point Reyes or the Sonoma Coast, but have been found on Grizzly Peak and Volmer Peak, too  Here is a photo of one of the Skyline plants (thanks to Angela):

   The foliage is very leathery, shiny, bright green on the top and gray underneath.  The leaves are cut to the point of being nearly pinnately compound.  The rosettes lay right on the ground.  We found a cluster of about ten such rosettes, all growing on a rocky nose within a few feet of each other.  It turns out these are perennials, and have 'runner roots' so this may be a 'clonal' colony.  


  These were not yet in flower, but we did see buds down in the rosettes.  The flowers on Brownie thistle are born very close to the ground, sometimes right in the cup of the rosette, and are usually cream colored.  Here is a photo from Calphoto (Zoya Akulova):

Brownie thistles are found along the California Coast from San Luis Obispo to Humboldt Counties.  This is now the fourth species of native thistle we've found at Skyline, joining the company of Western Thistle (C. occidentale), Indian Thistle (C. brevistilum), and Franciscan Thistle (C. andrewsii).  


  Hopefully, as we clear the invasive thistles, we'll make more room for more of the native ones. We did uncover a nice grove of Western Thistles during our weeding at the cap of Barberry Peak.  When these flower in June, they'll be able to release their seeds downhill on fresh, cleared earth.


Happy Trails,



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