Muir Woods Towering and Tiny

George and I headed out early on New Year’s Day to ring in 2015 with our traditional New Year’s walk through Muir Woods National Monument. It was clear but very cold, and tourists from countless countries exclaimed in their native languages about the majestic redwood trees.

Muir Woods redwood trees

Unlike them, George and I poked along slowly, heads down to spot a tiny flower in the Lily family, the first native flower to bloom in California in the winter. Its Latin name is Scoliopus bigelovii, also called Slink Pod, Fetid Adders-tongue (for its unpleasant scent), or our preferred name – Brownie. Though armed with the GPS where George keeps careful track of our brownie spottings, by this time we’re familiar with the place where the flowers come close enough to the trail’s edge for us to see them. This year George earned himself a big kiss for finding the first one.

Brownie flowers in Muir Woods

The Brownie’s Latin name means “crooked foot,” because its stalks curve over after the pollinated flowers become too heavy for the slender stalk. The tiny flowers are at most an inch around, and each plant only ranges from 3 to 6 inches tall. Brownies’ leaves are large as compared to the flowers, and are freckled with brown spots.

Brownie flowers in Muir Woods

When our necks were stiff from looking down at the diminutive flowers, we stretched, and began to notice other wonders in the Woods. With the recent rains Redwood Creek was flowing strong. The Ranger said that salmon were spawning downstream beyond the public part of the Park.

Redwood Creek in Muir Woods

George spotted this magnificent mushroom.

Mushroom in Muir Woods

I also took some short videos. Click here to see one I shot of the redwood trees. Want to see more of our traditional Muir Woods walks? My blog posts from prior years:

On our New Year’s Eve 2012 walk we saw salmon for the first time!

Rainy New Year’s Eve 2011 walk 

New Year’s Day 2011 walk

Happy New Year to you all!

Springtime in January

Good weather guilt has set-in big time. Sunny dry days are swoon-worthy in summer, but hard to enjoy in January because of our drought fears and Weather Channel warnings about snow storms in other parts of the country. But, as I showed you in my earlier post Cymbidiums in the Winter Garden, the garden sure is happy.

Here’s another cymbidium orchid to add to last week’s bouquet.  One barely-open Sussex Dawn Concolor peeks above multiple closed buds on the same stalk.

Cymbidium Sussex Dawn Concolor

What else is blooming? It is the right time of year for Scoliopus bigelovii , aka Slink Pod, Brownie or Fetid Adder’s Tongue (that’s a lot of names for a tiny plant), to come up. George and I always take a walk in Muir Woods around New Year’s to see the Slink Pods, but heard that because of the drought none had bloomed, and we thought it would be too sad to go. Click here to see photos of our last year’s walk, with many more Brownie photos. These Slink Pods are in a pot in the garden. George gave them just enough water so they’d come up.

Slink Pod

It’s definitely early for the brilliant pink puffs to appear on the ornamental plum tree in our front garden. The honeybees love the flowers.

Honeybee on Ornamental Plum Tree flower

Another small but wonderfully dramatic flower is open, this is Billbergia Nutans, a bromeliad.

Billbergia Nutans flower

And finally, a few stalks of paperwhite narcissus, also small but powerfully fragrant.

Paperwhite Narcissus

Is it blooming springtime or shivering winter where you are?

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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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?

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