Return to Sulfur Mountain

Sounds scary no?  Well don’t fear, it’s just the triumphant return of the Lannerminator…  After a full slate of activities on Saturday, Lanny has Sunday all to himself for his first guided jaunt of the season.  Still a couple of spots available so don’t be shy, he doesn’t usually bite.  In fact he was nice enough to chat and gives us a preview…

1.  3 months off… Go anywhere interesting?  Any new plant discoveries?

Our winter months are mostly devoted to the holidays and the Martin Luther King Committee of Oxnard. We just put on the 27th annual MLK Jr. Day Celebration in Oxnard. So Rondia and I have just done some local hikes and me some bike rides, including foraging for non-native wild greens like Chickweed and Mustard. Rather than depending on wild-picked greens, my locavore strategy is to grow a garden featuring our favorite close relatives of greens that grow wild. Right now it’s Collards and Arugula that I started from seed in mid-October. Rondia knows how to cook the Collard greens Southern style. Mmmm. My introduction to Arugula was years ago in the form of its local wild cousin “London Rocket” (Sisymbrium irio), which I first found along the North Fork of Matilija Creek near Wheeler Hot Springs.  It’s a European weed but it’s probably my favorite wild salad green for eating raw. Look for it in shady creekside situations and other moist, shady places. All the Rockets get that strange name from the Latin Eruca, whatever species they may be. Arugula is Eruca sativa and is also known as “Salad Rocket.”

London rocket

London rocket

2.  After last year’s somewhat disappointing wildflower season this year is shaping up nicely, anything catch your eye so far?

Quite a profuse bloom of Buck Brush (Ceanothus cuneatus) going on right now. It liked the good early rain we got. What I see is that we had a strong early germination of annuals with that late fall rain, giving the promise of an exceptional wildflower year but very little precipitation since then. So the annuals got an early start but aren’t getting real big and may flower early. Hopefully we’ll get some more rain (just not on the days I have Herb Walks scheduled, please).

Buckbrush ceanothus

Buckbrush ceanothus

3.  Have you noticed a population shift in any local wildflowers?  As in, blooms that you used to see frequently but have disappeared, or vice versa.. new flowers that you didn’t used to see?

In Ojai it’s usually the former because we have a fire ecology at work. When regular naturally-occurring wildfires sweep through, we see the fire-followers sprouting and thriving for a few years after that until the woody chaparral takes over again. Native plants like Red Maids, Coyote Tobacco, Woolly Blue Curls, Wild Morning-Glory (Calystegia macrostegia ssp. cyclostegia), Poodle Dog Bush. and Rock Phacelia, to name a few, are much less evident or non-existent in recent years.

Red maids

Red maids

4.  What made you pick Sulfur Mountain as the first hike of the season.  How long have you been hiking the trail? Have you noticed changes?

I like it for this time of year for several reasons. In case there is rain in the days leading up to it,  we don’t have to deal with crossing a creek.  It has a great mix of plant habitats from riparian at the trailhead through shady oak woodland to chaparral and green pastures. And it’s easy to reach from Ojai, Ventura or Santa Barbara. I’ve been going there for years and can’t say I’ve seen any major longterm changes other than the encroachment of the highly invasive French Broom (Genista monspessulanus).

French broom

French broom

5.  Sulfur Mountain has some great shady area species, any favorites?

As I said, I really like the spicy taste of the Mustard family but, aside from the ubiquitous non-natives like Black Mustard, Wild Radish, and the aforementioned London Rocket,  we have few edible native representatives. So I’m always glad to see the shy little Toothwort (Dentaria integrifolia) poking up through the oak leaf litter along the lower West Sulphur Mountain Trail.



6.  Sulfur also has tons of poison oak, your favorite remedies?

You mean besides the proverbial “ounce of prevention” like wearing long pants and watching where I’m walking? I swear by fresh Mugwort juice. I’ve only gotten Poison Oak rash once in my life and that is the only thing that worked to stop the itching and dry it up. If I couldn’t get Mugwort I would boil Live Oak leaves to a strong tea and add that to a lukewarm bath.

7.  How has the Herb Walk Store been going, any new products?

Hey, thanks for asking! We had a burst of sales before the holidays when we first launched. I guess there’s a cyclic tapering-off after that for a lot of businesses. It’s still a learning curve as we’re doing it all ourselves using the eShop plugin for WordPress which is the system I’m running the site on. We’re proud of our hand-picked selection of books and products representing our local flora. This week I’m adding Christopher Nyerges’ excellent Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants which was out-of-print for a while and just became available again. It’s pretty specific to our Southern California region and a must-have for any local foragers. Should be in the store at in the next few days.

8.  Can’t believe I didn’t ask you last time… Favorite local native tree/shrub/wildflower… 

I think you did ask me last time about my favorite trail for wildflowers and I said Cozy Dell Trail for the Mariposa Lilies. Besides those I’d have to go with the spectacular Humboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii var. ocellatum), also known as Tiger Lily, for a favorite flower. Hmmm. It’s hard to play favorites with my native friends. Okay, how about Incense Cedar for favorite tree and Islay Cherry for shrub? There. I’ve done it but don’t tell the others I said that.

Humboldt lily

Humboldt lily

9.  Most despised non-native?

Oh, that’s easy. #1 Most Unwanted is Yellow Star Thistle. #2 is the bane of local cyclists, Goathead, AKA Puncture Vine (Tribulus terrestris).

Puncture vine

Puncture vine

10.  Most common question you get on your Herb Walks.. Weirdest question?

No question is too weird for me. The weirder the better. Most common would be “Is this edible?” To which I often say, “Look around. Everything you see is edible….except that some of it can kill you.”

Sometime tomorrow or Thursday morning would be great.. Thanks!

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