Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Autumn Colors in the Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles County

California is not known as a place for "Fall Color" since most of the famous trees are non-deciduous (Redwood, Giant Sequoia, Coast Live Oak, other conifers), but splendid autumn color is still available. You just need to focus on things a that are close to the ground.

In the Santa Monica Mountains, for example, you need to look at the shrubs. The Santa Monica Mountains are a dry and harsh place: blasted by salty breezes, devoid of rain nine months of the year, overloaded with rain the other three months, and occasionally catching on fire. Plants have adapted to survive the harsh conditions in many ways. For example, Manzanita leaves have a nearly vertically oriented to prevent overexposure to the sun; the native grasses are generally perennial and have root systems that grow deep and wide to find water; the leaves of live oaks are leathery to prevent water loss and to avoid sun damage.

Red shank (Adenostoma sparsifolium) and California buckwheat (eriogonum fasciculatum) are two colorful plants that one can find on the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. At this time of the year, Red shank has green needles with a layer of orange-gold leaves beneath. These background leaves give the plant an autumn look. The California buckwheat is a distant relative of the buckwheat used to make flour (Fagopyrum esculentum, used for such things as Bretonese crepes and soba noodles). In the spring, California buckwheat has white flowers which develop into seed pods that become a rich crimson after they dry out.

Three California buckwheat links with many more pictures: Las Pilitas Nursery, Michael L. Charters' wildflower pages and Berkeley Digital Library Project

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