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February 28, 2018

Dear Skyliners,

 

We had almost half an inch of rain at Skyline on Monday, and over an inch expected tomorrow and Friday.  At last, we can stop worrying about watering our new plants.  Last week we finished spot spraying thistles on the slope above Diablo Bend and on Sunday, a big group of us hand weeded all around the cap of Barberry Peak; good solid progress all around.  Welcome to Arielle and Alejandro.  We're keeping right on track.

 

We'll be out regular days this week: Wednesday at 2 and Sunday at 9:30.  Please let me know if you can make it.

 

More wildflowers are starting to bloom now, and we found a new one on Sunday.  Here is Red Maids (Calandrinia menziesii), a close up of the flower:

Red Maids are not rare plants, and many of us have seen them elsewhere.  But they're new for us at Skyline, so that's big news.  We're now at 254 species for our native list.

 

Red Maids are close relatives of Miner's Lettuce and also the garden flower Portulaca.  They all have fleshy leaves and simple, but arresting flowers.  Here's a shot of a whole plant at Skyline:

Red Maids are annual wildflowers of open and disturbed areas.  They are often seen along the sides of fire roads.  Sometimes, they can bloom by the thousands and cover whole hillsides, as they have occasionally done out in hills of the Diablo Range.  They are not common in the Bay Hills, and that makes this find more noteworthy.

 

Some of our bulb plants are now starting to bloom.  Up on the ridges, we've seen our first Star Lilies and Blue Dicks.  Here's a shot of Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum):

These are bulb plants, who rest for the dry season underground.  The leaves emerge about six weeks after the first rains.  Although somewhat grassy in aspect, they are also fleshy, and have a chive-like feeling to them.  They often twist and sprawl on the ground like little, green snakes.  We've been meeting them everywhere and gradually we've gotten good at spotting - and sparing - them as we do follow-up hand weeding.  Soon they will be out by the thousands.

 

And, here come the Poppies.  Check this out:

I have to say, I had forgotten how beautiful these flowers can be.  Writer John Steinbeck said it best:  "If pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be the color of the poppies."   They really are great flowers - and I expect that this is going to be a very good year for them.  Less than normal rain means less grass and thistles, less competition and more light, and that favors tap rooted plants like Poppies, who can go deeper for moisture.   

 

This Poppy plant grows in the swale below the First Outcrop.  Last year, this plant was quite small, tucked up against the rock and smaller than your palm, surrounded by thistles and weeds.  With the invaders now removed, look how our little one has grown - thick and lush, two flowers already, and many more buds on the way.  This kind of response sure keeps me coming back.

 

Now for the surprise.  Yesterday, I was driving up Water Tank Road, and as I crested the hill, I looked to the east - and this:

Yes, that's Mount Diablo, with snow!!  It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, what a huge thrill.  There is something so special about snow-capped peaks in the distance.  

 

For a moment, I considered turning around and driving up there.  We rarely get to see our trees and shrubs covered in snow, and that is a rare treat.  Alas, it was a clear day, perfect for spraying thistles, and duty called.

 

That Monday afternoon squall really blasted the Diablo Valley.  Between 5 and 9 pm it dropped half an inch of rain on the lower mountain and about three inches of snow on the top.  With the cold weather, the snow level was down to about 2,000 feet, and those of you who know the mountain will see that's just where it stayed.

 

Such a sight, lucky us.  We live here.

 

Happy Trails,

 

Glen