New Year Muir Woods Walk 2012

George and I headed out to Muir Woods National State Park for our traditional New Year’s walk. The weather was wonderfully clear, with the sun shafting in places through the thick redwood canopy.

Muir Woods redwood trees

If you’ve read my previous Muir Woods posts about our rainy 2011 walk and our 2010 walkyou know that one aim of our annual trek is to search for a tiny Lily flower, the first native flower that blooms in California in the winter. Scoliopus bigelovii is the Latin name, it’s also called Fetid Adders Tongue (it has a slight unpleasant scent), and other nicknames are slink pod and brownie. Ta-da! Once again, in the same location we’ve found them in years past, we were excited to see that the brownies were, indeed, there! I spotted the first one, and got my reward: a big kiss.

Slink pod flower

Scoliopus bigelovii means “crooked foot”, because the flower stalk curves over after the flower is pollinated and grows too heavy for the slender stalk. The flowers are quite small, at most about an inch, and the entire plant ranges from 3 to 6 inches tall. The leaves, large in comparison to the flowers, are covered with wonderful brown spots. This flower, below, is just poking its head up, the leaves still curled tightly around.

Brownie bloom

Brownies often have spikes of two, three, or more flowers. This, below, is an extreme closeup, remember the flower is only an inch at most.

Slink pod flowers

Looking down at them, hidden from all but the most dedicated brownie stalker, then up at the redwoods, is awe-inspiring.

Muir Woods redwood

George reminded me that last year Redwood Creek was dry, but it’s running strong now.

Redwood Creek

And with the full creek comes salmon! A first for both of us — we staked out a location where George thought the female Coho salmon might want to lay her eggs, and soon after we saw a male and female drifting in a calm spot, darting occasionally to find a good place to spawn.

Coho Salmon

Such a thrill!

Coho Salmon

And so as 2012 draws to a close, George and I wish you a most Happy Happy New Year, full of all of the things that inspire you, bring you joy, and fill you with love.

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Lovely leopard lily: Photo of the day

Confession: I can’t easily tell the difference between a leopard lily and a tiger lily. George grows both, but they seem to bloom at different times of the year, so I can’t easily compare them side-by-side. To be fair, even he-who-grew-it (George) took a moment to figure out which one this was.

Leopard lily

Verdict: it’s a leopard lily. To be precise, a Lilium pardalinum (California Tiger Lily). Leopard lilies are California natives, whereas most Tiger lilies are Asiatic in origin. Does it matter which this one is? Probably not – I love all of them. So this photo, which I took a couple of years ago, is my favorite photo of the day. Enjoy!

You can see my other flower and nature photographs on my website.

Irises Short and Tall

Quickly following on the heels of wisteria-blooming season, it’s iris time! Our garden is glorious with so many varieties. First the California native Douglas Iris emerged.  Relatively small, standing a scant half foot, the flowers are a saturated purple color with brilliant yellow-gold striations.

Douglas iris

Then the Pacific Coast hybrid irises began to open. About the same height as the Douglas Iris, this one has a much flatter broad blossom, with a complex mix of colors.

Pacific Coast hybrid iris

For sheer showiness, you can’t beat a bearded iris. No shorties, these. This blue bearded iris stands about 3 feet tall, and there are three or four flowers on each stalk. The “beard” is white with a dusting of brilliant yellow on top.

Blue bearded iris

The bearded irises in the front garden have grown up alongside a large cactus – I love the contrast of thorned with soft, plain with dazzling, basic green with brilliant blue. George tells me the cactus is an opuntia that Luther Burbank experimented with to be thornless, although this plant has a few thorns.

Blue bearded irises and cactus

Another bearded iris – this one with light brown upright petals or standards and white/light yellow downward curving petals or falls. The beards are bright yellow.

Brown bearded iris

This one has several flowers blooming at once on the same stalk. Other flowers will bloom serially when these fade and curl up, so we’ll have flowers for several weeks.

Brown bearded irises

Most irises don’t have much scent to them, but the large bearded irises we’ve grown, of all colors, have a faint distinctive smell that George and I describe as being like Pez candy.

Are the irises in your garden blooming? What’s your favorite?

New Year Muir Woods Walk 2011

One of our traditions to start a new year is to visit Muir Woods National State Park.  We went yesterday, joining the crowds of tourists from all over the world.  A fine misty rain was falling, and the pine smell was intoxicating. Unlike most of the visitors, who are there to see the huge, majestic redwood trees, we were in search of a tiny flower called a brownie, also known as slink pods, scoliopus and fetid adders-tongue. But before we found any we spotted some other wonders. George noticed this Ensatina salamander on a log:

The ranger had told us that there weren’t many banana slugs out because it has been so dry this summer and fall, but we did see one:

We also saw some interesting fungi–

The rain spotted spider webs with wonderful glittering light:

And, happily, in the same location we have sighted them in previous years, we were excited to see that the brownies were, indeed, there!  George was the first to spot one, and this is the one he found:

The brown-spotted leaves are so distinctive.

The flowers that have already bloomed and wilted leave the spikes hanging down. For perspective, these leaves are about 3 to 4 inches.  This is a closeup shot down inside the foliage, with a flower bud about to shoot up and bloom:

I like the nickname brownies, but if you want to show off, you can also use the Latin: scoliopus bigelovii.  The name means “crooked foot”, because the flower stalk curves over after the flower is pollinated and grows too heavy for the slender stalk.   They’re also called Fetid Adder’s Tongue, and yes – that does refer to the scent, which is slight but unpleasant.  Scoliopus is part of the lily family (Liliaceae) and it is a perennial.  The flowers are quite small, at most about an inch, and the entire plant ranges from 3 to 6 inches tall.  This one shows a flower blooming and a bud down at the bottom.

So that’s how we choose to start our New Year — celebrating nature, reveling in finding amidst the roots of the tallest trees in the world the first tiny flowers that bloom in the winter.  What are your New Year traditions?

Pitkin Marsh Lily

George grew this magnificent lily from seed that he got at the seed bank at the Tilden Park Botanic Garden in Berkeley. The flower bloomed today. A couple of days ago it was curled up tight:

The Pitkin Marsh lily, or Lilium pardalinum subsp. pitkinense, is an endangered perennial in the Liliaceae family. George tells me that there is a dispute about what family to put it into, that some think it should be with the leopard lilies. The individual flowers are relatively small, but the entire plant is tall, and filled with blooms and flowers.

According to Wikipedia, the habitat has been greatly reduced mostly due to cattle overgrazing, and partly because of collectors seeking it for its rarity and beauty.

The Tilden Botanic Garden sells plants and seeds at the Garden’s Visitor Center on Sundays and Mondays from 8:30 a.m to 5 p.m., at the Garden’s fall lectures, annual spring plant sale, and often at plant sales and fairs of the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Crazy about irises!

My mom loved irises – they were her favorite flower, and I share her passion for them.  George finds me the most wonderful assortment of different irises, and many of them just started blooming. The tall bearded irises showed themselves first.  Here’s one of the pure white, just starting to open.

Bearded iris

Bearded iris

And voila! The luxurious white petals are fully open, just a tinge of yellow on what I recently learned is called the beard, hence “bearded iris” (or one official source I found called it “the fuzzy line”) …

The yellow bearded irises started opening next.  Oh, I have to tell you that these bearded irises have the most interesting scent. George and I think they smell a bit like Pez candy. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, a little powdery and with a tinge of bitterness.

Bearded iris

Bearded iris

And a closeup of the interior petals, intriguingly striped, and the fuzzy beard, a more saturated yellow.

A very tight closeup side shot of the wonderful beard – have you ever felt one? They’re so soft!

Next the Douglas Irises started blooming.  They’re natives and are much smaller than the bearded irises.  This is one of my favorites, the purple and gold leaves are very distinctive.

Finally, this dutch iris is still bundled tight.  It’s a cold but sunny morning, so maybe it will warm up and I’ll be able to show you the bloom later this weekend.

Dutch iris

Dutch iris

Whoo-ha! It bloomed, and so here it is ..

Some more photos to add! This is one of my all-time favorites, it’s a Pacific Coast Iris.

The outer petals are the most amazing rich burgundy color, with veining of dark gold.  Here’s a closeup of the flower.

Any irises coming up in your garden?  Tell me your favorites!

New Year Muir Woods Brownie Walk

Muir Woods was bustling on New Year’s Eve day. Many family groups from all over the world were there to appreciate the beautiful National Park, the redwoods, the clear cold weather — in many different languages we heard variations of what we’re sure must have been, “wow, look at that tall tree!”  (French, Russian, Spanish, Hebrew, Indian dialects…).   Aside from the human visitors, this is the first critter we encountered, a soaring crow that was criss-crossing the parking lot:

As the crow flies

As the crow flies

As we waited to get into the Woods, I asked the guide whether there had been any brownie spottings.  A look of panic crossed his face, and I’m sure he thought I was some crazy lady who believed in fairies and wee folk, but his fellow guide assured us that yes, the brownie flowers, aka slink pods, scoliopus and fetid adders-tongue (more about that last name soon) were definitely blooming.  Last year, on our search for brownies at Muir Woods, we followed the normal trail to the left, and, unlike the normal sightseers who walked along looking up in awe at the towering redwood trees, we had our eyes trained on the ground, looking for the very small flowers.  It was a nice walk, but we were not rewarded with any sightings of the flower until we were three quarters of the way around the trail.  This time we bucked the flow and walked up the right side of the trail.  The first interesting thing we saw was not a flower, but was a banana slug —

Banana slug

Banana slug

We also saw some fun fungi–

Mushrooms on moss-covered tree trunk

Mushrooms on moss-covered tree trunk

And, happily, in the same location we sighted them last year, we were excited to see that the brownies were, indeed, there!  The first viewing (I was in front so I saw it first, and as is our tradition, got a kiss for my efforts) was this:

Slink pod foliage

Slink pod foliage

The brown-spotted leaves were the giveaway.  Sadly, the flowers had already bloomed and wilted, see the spikes hanging down the front?  For perspective, these leaves were about 3 to 4 inches.  We forged on, determined to see whether there were any flowers still blooming.  We were in luck!  We found a nice scattered grove of blooming flowers.  This one had three flowers blooming at once:

Slink pod flowers

Slink pod flowers

Here’s a closeup side view of a single flower:

Slink pod flower

Slink pod flower

I like the nickname brownies, but if you want to show off, you can also use the Latin: scoliopus bigelovii.  The name means “crooked foot”, because the flower stalk curves over after the flower is pollinated and grows too heavy for the slender stalk.   They’re also called Fetid Adder’s Tongue, and yes – that does refer to the scent, which is slight but unpleasant.  Scoliopus is part of the lily family (Liliaceae) and it is a perennial.  The flowers are quite small, at most about an inch, and the entire plant ranges from 3 to 6 inches tall.  This is a closeup shot down inside the foliage, with two small flower buds before they bloom:

Another closer shot where the foliage has uncurled and the bud is larger:

More closeups of the flowers.  I love the distinctive stripes:

That’s the end of our Muir Woods New Year’s Eve walk.  Oh wait – two more – George and me with our new friends.  Happy New Year everyone!!

Heidi and friends

Heidi and friends

George and friends

George and friends