Everyday Flora- August edition

Whomever can name, without cheating, the devilishly delightful album that closed with this tune wins a glazed ham.  I swear this video looks like my old Queens neighborhood.

It’s that time again.  My semi-regular salute to natives lacking the bombast of their more ostentatious chaparral cousins.  You may not recognize her bloom

Can you guess?

but if you have left your cave at all this month you will surely recognize what the UCLA eggheads refer to as a “flexuous style”

The “beak”

Cercocarpus betuloides, or Mountain Mahogany is another of our natives that you would never would guess would be a member of the Rosaceae, or rose family.  Well trust me, it is.  While it is most at home in higher elevation canyons like Sisar, Howard Creek or Potrero John, Mt. Mahogany has managed to adapt to the full sun of our Ventura River Preserve quite nicely.  While the canyon specimens tend to be 8-10 feet tall and somewhat (6 feet) narrow, I’ve seen a few on the preserve that are monstrous 12 foot tall hemispheric shrubs that rival Laurel Sumac in girth and density.

Let’s have a gander at the leaves, small and evergreen they can resemble quite a few other chaparral species from a distance

Gray lightly hairy backs

Dark shiny green,one inch long,  somewhat ovate (oval, bear with me), edges serrate (like your Ginsu knives), with a distinct pinnately veined pattern (parallel side veins branching off the main center one).  Take a deep breath, this stuff gives me a headache too, but learning it really helps identify the tougher stuff.  The leaves grow along stems that are red when very young, maturing to brown then gray.


As we saw above, the flowers aren’t much to look at and you often won’t even notice them in March through May.  But the beak, oh those beaks.  When you are hiking early in the morning and catch the sun pouring through a bush covered in the feather-like seed-carrying contraptions it is a sight to behold.

Oh that fluff

Called “hell feathers” by old time cowboys these can irritate the skin and eyes if you pick them.  If you look closely you will see a seed (achene in geek speak) attached to each one.  As the winds pick up in September these are eventually dislodged and carried off to find a new home.  The corkscrew shape of the beak helps the seed work its way into the ground, though they are quite popular with forest foragers and will quickly be cached if found.

Mountain mahogany is a nitrogen fixer and can survive in very poor soils.  They go somewhat deciduous in the late summer and fresh growth is an important browsing staple for wild life in winter.  Extensive root systems make them ideal for erosion control.

Can you spot them?

In your home garden Mountain Mahogany can take full sun though it appreciates a few hours of shade or the benefit of some oaks overhead.  In my experience they take a year or two to get established before they go nuts.  It is one of the few plants ideal for a narrow side yard where width is more an issue than height.  They don’t mind being trimmed shaped or even coppiced to the ground occasionally.  We’ve had decent success propagating these from seed, though getting them to survive to gallon sized pot is the real trick.  Though it is a very versatile hard wood the only verified Chumash use I could find was as a digging stick for bulbs like blue dicks..

Hope everyone learned a little something.  Next week I will be returning with a full calendar as Doktor Lanny and the Ventura Audubon society get back in full swing.  I will probably be sticking with the once a week posts until mother nature cooperates with some rain and fresh blooms.

This entry was posted in Everyday flora, home garden, Native Plants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Everyday Flora- August edition

  1. naomispage says:

    I believe the answer is Her Satanic Majesties Request, by the Stones but I could be wrong… You are the best tour guide!!

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