By Michael G. Barbour, Julie M. Evens, Todd Keeler-Wolf, John O. Sawyer
I am very fortunate to have been a part of the book project now in print titled CALIFORNIA’S BOTANICAL LANDSCAPES: A PICTORIAL VIEW OF THE STATE’S VEGETATION(CNPS Press 2016, $39.95). Over the past 5+ years this book has evolved through volunteer efforts as a service to those passionate about California’s flora. The book is dedicated to Humboldt State University botany professor and North Coast CNPS founder John O. Sawyer. I am honored to have contributed time to the project with photographs for many of the ecoregions as well as coauthoring the Klamath Mountain chapter with Sawyer. This new book surveys our state’s native vegetation with photos and text exploring each of 14 ecoregions across the state. It includes a wide array of photographs of broad-scale vegetation patterns paired with in-depth, interpretive descriptions written by California’s top plant ecologists.
Or…Why Star Wars fans should love conifers–especially redwoods
Return of the Jedi had a major influence on my experiences as a youth. I wanted to be able to use the force like Luke Skywalker, as do many children again in 2016. The Star Wars phenomenon has trickled down to our 3 year-old son from his Kindergarten classmates at Montessori as well, so we decided to seize the day and go for a hike that combined the legend of the force with the power of the redwoods, and explore where science fiction meets natural history.
Redwoods might just be the grandest species in the plant world—from top to bottom they are the epitome of grandeur. The tallest redwood is 379’ (and still growing), while one of the most massive redwoods is a mere 320’ but has a basal diameter of nearly twenty-six feet. Those are some impressive beings! The largest redwoods grow in northwest California, where they favor mountain slopes and river terraces close to the ocean while also being situated in the summer fog belt. Across the coastal landscape redwoods domineer a highly specific range—when soil, water, and exposure are optimal. The Owen Cheatham Redwood Grove is a great place to visit these giants.
Celebrating the Bigcone Douglas-fir of the San Gabriel Mountains
After nearly a month of travel through one of the gems of Southern California, I’ve had enough time to reflect on all aspects of the journey–including the wonders of the wilderness and forest, as well as the state of the region. The San Gabriel Mountains remain wild, in large part, because of isolation due to slope. John Muir called them the steepest mountains he ever hiked in! It seems to me that the forests here are doing as well as they are, while our climate is rapidly changing, because of this isolation in slope. Forest pathogens travel much slower through heterogeneous landscapes with mixed stands of trees. Many of the Bigcone Douglas-fir stands we visited were in isolated on slopes of greater than 50º. Isolation sculpts the ecology of the mountain’s biota in many ways, and makes life for Pseudostuga both easier and more difficult. That balance defines the ecological amplitude of many of the species on the California Floristic Province.
I’m still working on the full report for our findings, but in general it can be said that within region 1 of the map below, Bigcone Douglas-fir are not doing well. Elsewhere, they seem to be doing fine at the moment–especially if the species has been able to avoid high intensity fires. Reproduction is occurring at variable rates but they seem to like disturbed areas, like landslides, which the San Gabriels have no problem offering.
Botanical Wonders of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
Manzanitas are most commonly found across the Angeles National Forest on south-facing slopes where they are restricted to various mineral soils (most often granites). A. glandulosa appears in the front range from ~2,000-5,000 feet, A. patula in the higher elevations above ~7,000, A. parryana on the north slopes toward the Mojave from ~5,000-7,500, and A. glauca is common across the range but mostly on the north slopes adjacent to the Mojave from ~4,000-6,000. I never found Arctostaphylos pungens but it is within the range according to various sources.
What follows is a photographic journey through the San Gabriel Mountains to enjoy the spectacular places manzanitas grow.
Exploring the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
In my search to understand Bigcone Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) within the Angeles National Forest, I found myself in secret canyons and along steep hillsides that few people have ever explored. I thus took it upon myself to document more than just our selected data plots for Bigcone. In previous posts, I’ve shared some of the large angiosperms I’ve run across. Here is the documentation of the second largest Pseudotsuga macrocarpa yet measured — a record Bigcone Douglas-fir.
This Bigcone was found on the edge of a wash called Holcomb Canyon within the Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area. The tree is nearly as big around as the record specimen in Baldy Village but just not as tall. I have heard a rumor that the Baldy tree lost some of its crown — so I wonder if the numbers I have for this tree are still correct. Regardless, the tree in the Punchbowl is much more dramatic, being that it is within the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness and not in the middle of town!
I need to start by clarifying something: in last post about a giant Canyon Oak, I mentioned that I was not a big tree hunter. This post, a few days later, is about a big tree. I think I have become a big tree hunter…
Every day for the better part of the last two weeks, I have been walking through the San Gabriel Mountains getting to know Bigcone Douglas-fir as part of a project with the Angeles National Forest and the California Native Plant Society. I’ll post more about that in the near future. For now, lets look at the white alder (Alnus rhombifolia) I measured in the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness within the San Gabriel Mountain National Monument while working on that project. Stats on the past record tree can be found HERE.
The Transverse Ranges hold some of the largest oaks in North America
I fell in love with this Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis) in 2002 while training to prepare myself to hike the Continental Divide Trail. One fateful night I inadvertently camped near it along a stream called Prairie Gulch. The tree has lived in my dreams ever since. In November 2015, the opportunity to return, revisit and measure the oak was offered while doing a botany project in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
One of the most interesting geologic stories in western North America is told by the ultramafic rocks that were formed deep in the ocean floor. As the Pacific Plate collided and dove beneath (subduction) the North American Plate, the bottom layers from deep oceanic mantle were scraped (obduction) onto the North American Plate. These depositions are referred to as ophiolites and the Klamath Mountains present some of the most extensive examples on Earth.
I’ve been contracted by the US Forest Service, in partnership with the California Native Plant Society, to map Bigcone Douglas-fir in the monument as well as write a technical report about our findings. We did initial reconnaissance last week and will return later this year to initiate the project’s data collection phase. What follows are images from our trip across the range to meet the species and the monument.
Because I will undoubtedly be making more posts about PSMA, as I embark further into a mapping and monitoring project in the San Gabriel Mountain National Monument, I thought a post that provides an overview of this amazing species would be in order.
It has been called the desert fir (Jepson 1920), bigcone spruce (Munz 1959), false hemlock (Sargent 1884), and ultimately bigcone Douglas-fir (Abrams 1923). Clearly there was confusion as to this species relationship to other members of Pinaceae. It is now described as a Pseudotsuga, being ecologically distinct from its taxonomically complex western North American counterpart, Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). In addition to bigcone in Southern California, five other species of Pseudotsuga occur across Canada, USA, Mexico, Japan and China.
I have always wanted to visit the San Dimas Experimental Forest and as part of a mapping and monitoring project for bigcone Douglas-fir, I finally had the opportunity. The “forest” descriptor in the area’s title is a bit misleading, as the majority of the vegetation is chaparral–but there are trees and it was our mission to find them (or at least what remains). Six major fires have been documented here since 1914, with the most recent occurring about 10 years ago. These fire events, along with climate change, are rapidly reshaping the remaining stands of trees. What follows is a photographic journey into the front range foothills of the eastern San Gabriel Mountains.
This was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve had since we visited Hawai’i several years ago. There was no work to be done, no agenda to maintain–just time to swim, rest, and of course botanize and bird the Maine woods (click HERE for my bird list). I had one target plant to find in Maine–Kinnikinnick. I wanted to see a manzanita on the East Coast. This might have been the most difficult part of the vacation, being as it took me nearly 10 days to find the species! But on the second-to-last day, in Acadia National Park on the summit of Cadillac Mountain, we found it under a layer of fog. What follows are some images from the trip. Happy Plant Exploring.
The action of changing the arrangement, especially the linear order, of a set of items (what came first, the conifer or the cone?)
Wandering Devil’s Hole Ridge, miles from anything human, the landscape shifts as quickly as the juncos dancing across the trail. Walkabouts bring a level of focus not found in civilization. Walking offers time to hypothesize about the world at a slower pace…How recently did the vegetation patterns I see come to be? When did the Ash-throated flycatcher arrive from its tropical winter-land? How did I find myself in this desolate, isolated place–seven years after I last visited–and so far from my family? Like the undulating contours on the ridgeline, I ponder my place in this dynamic world. Walking further I realize, while out of place, I am fortunate to be here with time to think.
Seeing the trees through the forests, the birds in those trees, and then this vast landscape through my astigmatized-wide-angle glasses; thoughts swirl through my mind. The first few hours allow time to come to terms with my isolation and my body’s age (I’m moving slower than when I was here in my 30’s). Slowly my mind settles into place, in the wilderness. I ponder plant migrations and vegetation patterns as a student of biogeography. A few miles later my mind drifts towards systems of order (and disorder) that are established out here. This is where true place-based interpretations begin to solidify: my understanding of wilderness and how I’ll never truly fit in among it. Then comes the delineation of rarity. I am a rare human here–among the trees, sky and soil–but this fanciful journey is for the rare plants of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel.
Manzanitas of San Bruno Mountain County Park – An island of Artctostaphylos endemism
This region is the epicenter for “localized endemism” in manzanitas. Two manzanita species are found on this mountain and nowhere else (A. pacifica and imbricata) and both share space and time with a distinct form of bear-berry (A. uva-ursi), the equally rare Montara Mountain manzanita (A. montaraensis) and the more common brittleleaf manzanita (A. crustacea). The San Francisco Bay area is at the center of the range of biodiversity for the genus Arctostaphylos–which extends from just north of the Oregon-California border southward to northern Baja California, Mexico. Other nearby Bay Area rarities include the Franciscan manzanita (A. franciscana), Presidio manzanita (A. montana ssp. ravenii), and Marin manzanita (A. virgata) to name a few.
In the California Floristic Province, the genus Arctostaphylos is a particularly fine illustration of how long-term dispersal events lead to colonization and consequent adaptive radiation in a group of plants. Fossil records show that this genus has been migrating and adapting to climatic shifts for at least 15 million years. However, only in the past few million years has Arctostaphylos, commonly called manzanita for its berries’ resemblance to small apples, found its promised land. The California Floristic Province’s exceptionally diverse range of habitats, particularly of ones that provide a taste of the suboptimal, is perfect for manzanitas. A synergistic mix of climate stability, soil variability, topographic volatility, and fire frequency provides the perfect alignment of biotic and abiotic factors. Like many other California evergreens (including my beloved conifers!) these hardy plants have benefited from inhospitable environments wherein competition from many plants is reduced and their own adaptability to poorer growing sites allows them to thrive. This, somewhat ironically, has made the unassuming “little apple” the most species-rich shrub genus in the California Floristic Province.
The Santa Lucia Mountains offer a magical landscape. Uplifted dramatically above the Pacific Ocean, sculpted by frequent fire return intervals throughout the Holocene, and decorated with interesting plants–the landscape tells stories reflected in deep time. Plants both evolutionarily new and old can be found across a variety of vegetation types. Steep north-facing mountainsides offer a rarity here: the absence of high-intensity fire. This happens because the steepness inhibits fuel loading in the understory. These cool microsites nurture two relict conifers–the Santa Lucia fir being one of the rarest firs in the world.
I first created a map set for the trail in the winter of 2009 after hiking the trail the previous summer. It was a fun, first attempt for me to create something like this. I offered the digital map set & route description for free the past 6 years (find original map set here). During that time, hundreds of folks downloaded the file. Some of those even hiked the trail, providing me feedback on the original description. With the launch of my grand plan to establish the Bigfoot Trail Alliance, I decided it was time to revamp and update the previous document.
That original file got a major overhaul this spring with the help of a terrific cartographer, Jason Barnes. He and I worked out a template for the route and then created 23 brand new maps. At a scale of 1:60,000, where one inch is a mile. The description has a new, more user-friendly look and Jason’s map layers are second to none for both beauty and navigability.
Here are the details from the cover page of the new map set:
All photos and text by Michael Kauffmann Book layout and map details by Backcountry Press Cartography by Jason Barnes Consulting and GIS work by Justin Rohde Editing and trail notes by Sage Clegg and Melissa Spencer GPX Coordinates by Sage Clegg Published by Backcountry Press | Kneeland, California
Take the maps for a walk (long or short) and enjoy one of the most biodiverse temperate coniferous forest on Earth.
I’ll be sharing a Bigfoot Trail Presentation exploring the hike and the natural wonders along the way for this month’s meeting of the California Native Plant Society, North Coast Chapter. I hope you can join me!
“The Bigfoot Trail: A Celebration of Klamath Mountain Flora.”
May 13, Wed. 7:30 p.m. At the Six Rivers Masonic Lodge, 251 Bayside Rd., Arcata.
The Bigfoot Trail travels 360 miles across the Klamath Mountains from the subalpine slopes of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness to the temperate rainforest in Crescent City. Michael Kauffmann, the trail’s originator, will take you on a photographic journey along the route to celebrate the region with both the common and rare plants along the way, including 32 species of conifers. Visit www.bigfoottrail.org to preview the route. To get ready for summer hiking, an updated map set and write-up for the route will be available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going to North Coast CNPS. Michael’s new book, A Field Guide to Manzanitas, will also be available with all proceed going to North Coast CNPS.
Smokey Creek and South Fork Trinity River Along the Bigfoot Trail
Spring break offered the opportunity for a brief trip into the southern Klamath Mountains. The Bigfoot Trail was calling, and as I am working on a new map set for the trail, my goal was to check some of the route descriptions and enjoy the wilds of Trinity County. Our first significant snowfall of the rainy season locked me out of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness with over a foot above 4000′. So the lower elevations of the South Fork Trinity River became my destination. Here I would re-explore the Smokey Creek Trail and enjoy some quality time with my new friend, the manzanita.