Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wildflowers - Bloom Today, Gone Tomorrow

By Sandi Funke

Shooting Star - Dodecatheon hendersonii © 2007 Dianne Fristrom
Every year at this time I feel wistful. I gaze at of Pepperwood’s sprays of wildflowers and begin to hum the Al Dubin classic, Tiptoe through the Tulips or even Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven  with its hedgerows and all. I get the crazy urge to run through the fields and spin like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

As it turns out, my connection to wildflowers is reflected across countries and cultures. The Aztecs, who ruled a large portion of Mexico in the middle ages believed in a flower goddess called Xociquetzal (sho-chee-KEt-sal). Her name meant “feather flower” which probably referred to her sacred flower - the yellow marigold. Xochiquetzal was said to live in a flowery garden paradise and was married to the rain god Tlaloc. The moisture that Tlaloc created in the sky helped her flowers grow. The Greeks also had myths related to flowers. As legend tells, the fragrant flower Narcissus was said to have originated a conceited youth who loved to stare at himself by the water’s edge, which is where Narcissus grow.

Indian Warrior - Pedicularis densiflora
© 2003 Michael Charters
 But why do wildflowers come up this time of year and where do they go? Many of our wildflowers, such as our friendly bird’s eye gilia, are annuals which germinate, flower and die in less than one year or season. These species survive between generations by creating very resilient dormant seeds.

 The seeds can sometimes survive for years in the soil, and like Xochiquetzal’s marigolds, germinate when the rainfall, sunlight, and temperature are just right.  Many of these annuals flower for a few weeks or longer while others are here this week and gone the next. These very flashy wildflowers are known as “ephemerals.”

Other wildflowers native to our area are perennials and lucky for us, these individuals come back year after year. Their flowering is also triggered by weather and temperature.  Indian warrior is a beautiful maroon to pink perennial herb that blooms year after year. Henderson’s shooting star is a favorite of North Bay hikers with its dramatic thrown back hot pink to purple petals and apparent black stamens which produce pollen.

Leopard lily - Lilium pardalinum
© Tom Greco

We also have a number of perennial wildflowers that bloom from bulbs and underground swollen stems known as rhizomes. The star lily grows on rocky outcroppings and produces large clusters of pretty cream flowers in early spring.  A very common blue wildflower, whose name produces smirks when mentioned, is blue dicks. The leopard lily is a very showy, robust native wildflower that can grow over six feet tall on wet soils here at Pepperwood.
Star lily - Zigadenus fremontii© Michelle Jensen

So how can you best get out and take in this season’s boundless beauty? Pepperwood will again be hosting our annual Wildflower Festival on Sunday, April 21st. It will be great chance to go on guided wildflower walks and self guided hikes that will feature our spring wildflower display. If you can’t make it the Sonoma Ecology Center will be hosting several wildflower walks at the Van Hoosear Wildflower preserve in Sonoma.  Sonoma County Regional Parks will hosting wildflower walks at Hood Mountain and Shiloh Ranch and Landpaths will be leading a wildflower walk at Tolay Creek Ranch.

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