Vascular Plants of Ladd Canyon's Journal

August 11, 2021

Looking for those summer bloomers

July 28: This was a hike up to East Fork from Ladd Canyon Road with the main objectives of collecting Humboldt lilies and mountain mint, a.k.a. Pycnanthemum californicum. It was a long hike made easier by the creek being dry, and in the end, it was a successful hike on both counts. I passed through one of my favorite spots, an open shelf next to the creek just before the confluence with East Fork that's full of broom sage (Lepidospartum squamatum, still not collected), which I've mentioned in an earlier post. This time through, I noticed a stand of 10 bigberry manzanitas, all tree-size with those beautiful red trunks -- a nice start to the day. There was some Opuntia cactus next to the manzanita that I'll have to collect next season. I had one successful collection of Opuntia this season from farther down-canyon, but I still haven't gotten around to identifying it to species. Several are at least superficially similar, and this one spent quite a while in the dryer, of course. I spent most of the day in the riparian area. I found a couple of new plants that I can collect later when reproductive: Holodiscus discolor (oceanspray) and Populus fremontii (Fremont's cottonwood). In the CCH2 database, I had seen a decades-old collection of oceanspray farther up East Fork, so it was something I was on the lookout for. I guess it wasn't surprising to find the cottonwood, but on this hike I found three -- so I was kind of surprised I had missed it earlier. I was hoping to find some summer-blooming Asteraceae, but no luck there. For instance, I had seen Stephanomeria cichoriacea with a single flower last time out in West Fork, but maybe I spent too much time in the creek bed to come across any. As happy as I was with my day collecting lilies and mountain mint, the highlight might have been finding beautiful new plant, Dunn's lobelia (Lobelia dunnii var. serrata, or Palmerella debilis according to iNat). It's not listed as rare by the California Native Plant Society, but it seems to have a smallish distribution and not a ton of records in Calflora. NatureServe lists it as G3, vulnerable, but says it needs review. It gets me wondering about the work and decision-making that goes into status listing.

August 2: I drove up Skyline Drive to N. Main Divide Road and hiked down the main fork of Ladd looking for Asteraceae in flower and to check on different populations of Humboldts and mountain mint. I didn't find much to collect, unfortunately, although I did get Stephanomeria cichoriacea. The mountain mint at this higher elevation was mostly still vegetative. A bunch of Humboldts didn't make it to flower in this upper part of the canyon. I don't know if this was because it was too dry or if it was some blight, or both. After making it some ways down the canyon, I took a new route out using a ravine to the east. This route was pretty good for a while, although a little brushy, but in the end it got steep. Climbing up the ridge I was rewarded with my first milkweed in the area. The flowers were spent, but I'll be back to check on that one next season.

August 9: This trip was mainly a drive along Main Divide, replacing batteries in weather data loggers. I expected some Asteraceae in flower, and I was not disappointed. I collected Malacothrix saxatilis, Stephanomeria virgata ssp. virgata, Corethrogyne filaginifolia, Pseudognaphalium beneolens (smells so nice!), and Ericameria parishii var. parishii., all along the road -- an easy day collecting for once! I also checked on a population of long-stemmed buckwheat (Eriogonum elongatum var. elongatum, and it too was in flower. I would have missed the tiny flowers among the dry grass and thin buckwheat stems if I hadn't been looking for it. I thought the red of its buds was a particularly pleasing color. I drove up from Maple Springs Road in Silverado rather than Skyline Drive in Corona, and I have to say, I don't recommend that route. Long. Bumpy.

Posted on August 11, 2021 20:38 by ddonovan17 ddonovan17 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 21, 2021


It's summer and it's hot. The slopes and ridges are baking in the sun, but pools of water persist in the creek beds. I have not been collecting nearly as much as in the spring. There is less to collect, for one thing, and I have been careful to avoid the hottest days. Then, I was also preparing for the Botany 2021 conference. There's plenty to do in the cool climes of Long Beach anyway, like reading James P. Smith's book on the grasses of California -- anyone who looks at my Poaceae observations knows I need help there. I also made a list of taxa that I know are in the area but that I haven't collected because either I observed it in a vegetative state or it was someone else who collected it or posted an iNat observation. The list is over 50 taxa, and that's just what we know about. Several of these should be blooming now or in August, so we'll see what the next field trip brings.

June 30: I hiked from Ladd Canyon Road through the main canyon to East Fork. Close to East Fork, there is a relatively wide bench with a lot of Lepidospartum squamatum, a.k.a. scale broom (one of those that should be in bloom soon). I wonder what else might be there; it's a unique spot in the project area. In East Fork, I made my first botanical discovery by smell. It was in a relatively lush part of the creek, passing though a bunch of the usual riparian perennials -- no poison oak in this case! ... actually, just kidding, it was in the mix too -- in which the usual smell is from Stachys rigida, a mint-family plant with an interesting, sort of nice smell. I had to backtrack because I registered the scent of something delightful. It was Pycnanthemum californicum. Bob Allen told me it's a mint you can ID by its wonderful smell, but he didn't mention finding it that way.

July 16: A hike up West Fork. This was a long, hot hike to check on a second population of Monardella leucophylla. The main fork population still had some flowers, but when I finally relocated the West Fork group, I was out of luck. If it wasn't a great day for collecting, though, there was still some cause for joy: Humboldt lilies were blooming everywhere. Honestly, the first thought that flits through my head when I see the Humboldts is that I'm probably committing bad science through collection bias, i.e. collecting (or making iNat observations of) the glittering beauties and neglecting the less glamorous specimens. One reason to read up on grasses is to counter this, after all. But whose going to object when a long, hot, unproductive day is brightened by our most fabulous flower? I came to my senses and enjoyed myself, and I took a lot of pictures.

Posted on July 21, 2021 08:50 by ddonovan17 ddonovan17 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 24, 2021

June gloom, June heat

June 4: I had a relatively short hike in lower Ladd Canyon, and I climbed a south-facing ridge. Everything was very dry on the ridge. It was pretty horrible for collecting, but I did find Bebbia juncea in flower, a new plant to me, and got a look at a new corner of the area. There are some small, permanent pools in the lower canyon, and I spotted some Western pond turtles again.

June 7: A much better day collecting. This hike started on Main Divide, headed down the east fork of East Fork Ladd Canyon, where I had never been, and ended up back on Main Divide on the north side of Bedford Peak by climbing a ravine. The sun only came out for maybe an hour all day. New collections included Madia gracilis, Rosa californica, and Allium peninsulara. Opening the newspaper on the rose at home perfumed my living room/botany lab. The onion has some of the prettiest flowers. Is that magenta? It's quite the color, anyway. The ravine where the onion was growing has some of the richest soil in the area. It drops to the northwest and is very shady. Dropping down the ravine halfway on an early exploration had turned up some woodland-star, Lithophragma affine. It's a neat spot. One regret for the day is that I thought I had collected Daucus pusillus in the area already and took only pictures, but it turns out I have never collected it. I always forget how bad my memory is.

June 16: I spent much of the day along Main Divide. Here's another story about learning by doing and making mistakes: One main goal was to collect some wavy-leafed soap plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum, which I had noticed before and had been checking for blooms. When I checked June 7, there were lots of buds and some spent flowers, so I didn't collect it, figuring the buds would bloom and I'd have a better specimen. On this day, there were a few buds and lots of spent flowers, and I did collect it. Had a done a little research, I would have known that the plant is a night-bloomer! I should have made a plan to be around in the late afternoon/evening just after the buds open. I ended up dissecting some buds before pressing. I dropped down into the main fork of Ladd Canyon for a little bit, and found not too much in bloom. The Pycnanthemum californicum there was growing well but had no buds yet. The highlight of the day was the flower show in the area's largest Lepechinia cardiophylla population. There were plenty of pollinators, including Osmia bees and syrphid flies. Opening the field press at home was another sweet experience. I sat breathing in the minty smell for a good minute before getting to work. The day was extremely hot, upper 90s, and I never strayed too far from the truck's AC. In fact, when I was taking pollinator pictures at the end of the day, including some video, my phone had a heat stroke and shut down. I took it back to the truck and held it up to the vent as I blasted the AC, and it was able to return to life and take a few more shots. Sheesh.

June 21: A good day collecting in lower Ladd Canyon, with a good side trip up to a rock outcrop on the south side of the canyon. New collections for the checklist included several riparian plants: Erythranthe cardinalis (scarlet monkeyflower), Hoita macrostachya, Datisca glomerata, and Rumex conglomeratus. The Rumex (aka clustered dock) is a nonnative that doesn't seem to be terribly common in the mountains. Before turning around, I ventured south up a side canyon that seems relatively long and manageable, but I soon got distracted by a scree slope below a stone outcrop. It looked like an interesting change from riparian habitat, and it was. I had spotted some Weed's intermediate mariposa lily early in the day, a species of concern. There were only five plants, so I had no collection. Here, I found more than 45 plants among the scree and spikemoss. All the lilies are nice, and this batch made a pleasant scene. I made a few other collections here, including some Eriogonum fasciculatum (buckwheat) that was blooming like crazy. I haven't paid enough attention to it since it is super common, but I want to make sure to get all subspecies in the area. These seemed to be ssp. polifolium. I'll have to look more closely.

Posted on June 24, 2021 19:43 by ddonovan17 ddonovan17 | 4 comments | Leave a comment

June 16, 2021

June 1 trip etc.

Forgot to post this from the first week of June:

Months before I started the master’s program at CSULB and before I had a permit to collect in the national forest, I started looking for off-trail routes into Ladd Canyon, first by hiking up the Silverado Trail to Main Divide on the east, then by biking up Black Star and along Main Divide from the west. It’s an absolute joy to get into places few others have and see the grandest old trees and lilies upon lilies. But the bushwhacking is also the bane of my research. It just takes time, and I worry that I’m less observant when I’m tired out or simply looking for my way. This is why I tried to get a good jump on route finding before the collecting season began.

From the beginning, I have been concerned about the time it takes to get to the lower canyon from public access points. I got permission from CNF to backpack a couple of nights in the canyon for this reason. So it was a huge help when CNPS’s Ron Vanderhoff put me in touch with Scott Breeden and through him Susan and Anthony Mack, who have allowed me to access the lower canyon from Ladd Canyon Road. I can’t thank them all enough! On May 10 and 11, I backpacked with Mike McDermott and was able to explore halfway up West Fork. There’s a beautiful little falls up there, and a plant or two (perhaps most worth mentioning is a population of Monardella hypoleuca, 1B.3, also found in the main canyon). Having already backpacked down the main fork of the canyon and up East Fork, I felt like I had covered most of the area. All of which brings us to recent goings-on in Ladd Canyon.

When spring finally came, there was a bit of easy collecting in easy-to-get-to places. Perhaps there could have been a bit more, but yeah, it’s been pretty dry. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve poked around ravines and ridges along Main Divide, as well as the lower canyon riparian area. I was also thinking about how to get to the middle section of West Fork that I still hadn’t seen. Down and back from Main Divide would be a long day. I explored a ravine halfway down the south ridge of Pleasants Peak (the Smashmouth use trail following SCE power lines is on this ridge) hoping for a short route, but I was stopped by the largest dry fall I’ve seen in Ladd Canyon, probably 40 to 50 feet -- not sure because safety first! I didn’t get too close. This week, after looking at topos and satellite images, I decided I would head down West Fork from Main Divide and try going up a different ravine to Smashmouth. If it worked, I’d have a good day, and if it didn’t, I’d have a good, long day retracing my steps.

The middle section was beautiful, with some huge big-leaf maples and white alders, as well as some year-round pools with four big groups of horsetails, Equisetum telmateia. My route up to the ridgetop worked, but I can’t say that I’m eager to repeat it. It involved a scree slope (there’s been Phacelia imbricata on every scree slope I’ve scrambled -- love those shapely leaves), and some stubborn chamise and manzanita. I collected some Collinsia heterophylla -- not a rarity in the Santa Anas but a plant I hadn’t seen yet. It reminded me again to pray for rain next year. The going got easier when I reached the large stand of knobcone pines near the top. It was a steep 1,000 feet and getting late, so I had a little lie-down and the last of my water. My last observation of the day involved those pines. Vogl (1973) said the knobcones in the area were all associated with serpentine soil, but I had doubted that because it didn’t look to be the case along the Smashmouth trail. Climbing up through these trees, though, I came upon yet another outcrop of friable white rock with rusty red streaks that I think is serpentine-associated silica-carbonate. I still have to confirm that, but I feel guilty for ever doubting Vogl. Asking questions, though, that’s just science, right?

Soon to come: exploring the east fork of East Fork and revisiting summer bloomers in the mint and aster families.

Posted on June 16, 2021 05:52 by ddonovan17 ddonovan17 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

First post: An intro to the project

Ladd Canyon is an intriguing area of the Santa Ana Mountains to study. There are no official trails into the canyon. The old Ladd Canyon Spring Trail is no longer maintained, and the so-called Smashmouth on Pleasants Peak’s south ridge is an unofficial route following SCE power lines installed in the early 2000s. Most past botanizing has been along Main Divide, although there are some old records from the short Ladd Canyon Spring Trail in upper East Fork. Reason enough to get into the canyon to see what is there! But there is more to consider here. The area at the north of Ladd around Pleasants Peak has the only serpentine soil in the Santa Ana Mountains, and serpentine is an important source of endemic species in California. It has also been suggested that moist marine air is funneled by the local topography up through Ladd Canyon, increasing moisture levels. The knobcone pine stands near Pleasants Peak are said to be associated with the serpentine soil and to rely on fog drip from the wet marine air. Their needles really do collect an impressive amount of water in morning fog. Finally, the canyon has been largely untouched by fire since the Green River Fire in 1948.

These abiotic factors could make a difference in the plant community in this part of the mountains. This project is an effort to document all the vascular plant species in Ladd Canyon, and many of the iNat observations here are associated with voucher specimens that will be preserved at the herbarium at California State University, Long Beach.

Posted on June 16, 2021 05:45 by ddonovan17 ddonovan17 | 0 comments | Leave a comment