Treebeard's Stumper Answer
I'm ready for rain. It's been six months since we had a real storm here in central California. But look closer. Some native plants like the Coyote Bush in Julie's restoration area at Dunn Middle School are covered with white and yellow flowers. Most garden plants would be long gone without any summer water, but these natives are thriving. There are even a few summer mushrooms! I expect nature to make sense, but this is a puzzle. What other native plants wait until late summer and fall to flower? What benefit do these late bloomers get from flowering at the dry end of our summer drought, long after all the other native plants are finished?
Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis) is not our most beautiful late bloomer, but it is common, interesting, and important. It's a woody shrub in the Sunflower family (Asteraceae). It's interesting because it flowers in late summer, and it is dioecious with separate male and female plants. The female plants (left) have white flowers that develop fluffy dandelion-like seeds. The male flowers (right) are yellowish and produce abundant pollen that attracts insects, especially many different species of bees. They make me sneeze, though they are not wind-pollinated. Why does it flower so late in the year?
Coyote Bush is often maligned because it colonizes waste areas and vacant fields, replacing grassland with coastal chaparral scrub. I was happy to find a defence from the Friends of the Coyote Bush. Coyote Bush provides shelter for wildlife and a nursery for native plant seedlings. A school administrator once commented that Julie's restoration area at school was great "except for all that darn Coyote Bush." That was missing the point. Birds and rabbits find shelter here. It gives essential cover to dozens of Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) seedlings and even a few native California Black Walnuts (Juglans californica) that the birds probably dropped. These trees will outgrow the shrubs in time. This is the first step of real ecological succession in action. It gives me an idea of what the Santa Ynez Valley originally looked like. There's concern about the vanishing oak woodland in California. I'm sure the humble Coyote Bush is part of the answer.
Late summer flowers get the same benefit as all late bloomers. They bloom after the others are done. For plants like Coyote Bush, that means less competition for space, pollinators, and the little water that remains, including fog drip. I see swarms of bees, wasps, flies, and even hummingbirds on our late flowers. Conditions are harsh now before the rains begin, so these late flowers are important for many critters. Since our plants and animals adapted together, maybe the whole ecosystem needs these late bloomers to support the pollinators for next year?
Here are a few more thoughts about late bloomers:
- Some kids are late bloomers too, if they don't become casualties of the education system. I don't want to get off on a rant, but I think my stumper answer applies. As Bob Dylan once said
(),The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.
- Summer fog must be an important resource for local plants. I know that some trees "harvest" the fog and direct the water to their root zones. (Don't pitch your tent under Eucalyptus trees!) Are plants able to directly absorb this dependable moisture through their leaves?
- This is not just a California question. There are fall flowers across the country in many habitats, for example the many kinds of Aster (Aster and Erigeron) and Goldenrod (Solidago). It's particularly striking that Rabbit Brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) flowers in great profusion throughout the dry western deserts in late summer. It's hard to imagine worst conditions.
The great majority of our fall flowers in central California are yellow composites in the family Asteraceae. Coyote Bush is an exception with white female flowers, but the pollen-bearing male flowers are distinctly yellow. (Brickellia is another white exception.) These yellow composites are especially noticeable along the dry floodplain of the Santa Ynez River which only begins flowering in late August when yellow-flowered composite shrubs like Scale Broom (Lepidospartum squamatum), Golden-Aster (Chrysopsis villosa), and the many species of Goldenbush (Ericameria, Hazardia, and Isocoma) start to flower. I've never seen so much concentrated insect activity as on these golden summer shrubs. Scale Broom is a favorite of the magnificent Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis sp.) wasps (right) which are several inches long.
Most of our fall flowers are yellow, but an interesting exception is California Fuschia (Zauschneria californica or Epilobium canum) with its large bright red tubular flowers (right). This is a classic Hummingbird flower, and it's interesting that migratory Allen's and Rufous Hummingbirds are moving through the area when they flower in the fall. This supports my thesis that the ecosystem needs fall flowers to support the pollinators throughout the year.
There are also a few late bloomers with blue flowers, including California Aster (Lessingia filaginifolia), Vinegar Weed (Trichostema lanceolatum), and the uncommon fire-follower Rough-Leaved Aster (Aster radulinus).
- Most spring annuals and perennials are dead and gone by fall, and a few summer-deciduous shrubs like Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) have already dropped their leaves. But many other shrubs and trees are ripening fruit and developing their buds for next year. This is another stumper that may be part of the same answer. Why do so these trees and shrubs flower very early in winter, sometimes even before the first rains? A few examples are Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica), Alder (Alnus rhombifolia), most Gooseberries and Currants (Ribes), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos), and Silk-Tassel (Garrya). These plants all form new buds during the hot, dry summer so they're ready to go with the first winter rains. But winter storms can destroy flowers and pollen, so their strategy is risky. We had record rains in the winter of 1997-8, but many plants produced no seeds at all that year. But these early bloomers that appear with the rains just after the late bloomers provide a continuum for the pollinators.
- I'm developing a database of the trees, shrubs, and woody perennials of the central Santa Ynez Mountains behind Santa Barbara, California. From a total of 296 species (so far), here's a month by month chart of what's flowering. Of course the peak is in the spring, but there's always something flowering, even on top of these mountains where I live.
- Here's a list of our October late blooming woody plants according to my database. I wouldn't trust this list too much (yet), but it gives the idea that there's lots happening. Species info and photos can be found at CalFlora.
Species Common Name Family Alnus rhombifolia White Alder Betulaceae Alnus rubra Red Alder Betulaceae Arceuthobium campylopodum Foothill Pine Dwarf Mistletoe Viscaceae Arceuthobium occidentale Western Dwarf Mistletoe Viscaceae Artemesia californica Coastal Sagebrush Asteraceae Artemesia douglasiana Mugwort Asteraceae Artemesia dracunculus Tarragon Asteraceae Artemisia tridentata Great Basin Sagebrush Asteraceae Atriplex californica Saltbush Chenopodiaceae Atriplex canescens Wingscale Chenopodiaceae Atriplex coulteri Coulter'S Matscale Chenopodiaceae Atriplex lentiformis Brewer'S Saltbush Chenopodiaceae Atriplex leucophylla Saltbush Chenopodiaceae Atriplex watsonii Matscale Chenopodiaceae Baccharis douglasii Douglas Baccharis Asteraceae Baccharis glutinosa Mule Fat Asteraceae Baccharis pilularis Coyote Bush Asteraceae Baccharis plummerae Plummer Baccharis Asteraceae Brickellia california California Brickellbush Asteraceae Brickellia nevinii Nevin Brickellbush Asteraceae Castilleja affinis Indian Paintbrush Scrophulariaceae Castilleja martinii Indian Paintbrush Scrophulariaceae Chrysopsis villosa Golden Aster Asteraceae Chrysothamnus nauseosus Rabbitbrush Asteraceae Croton californicus Croton Euphorbiaceae Datura meteloides Toloache Solanaceae Eriogonum cinereum Ashyleaf Buckwheat Polygonaceae Eriogonum elongatum Silver Buckwheat Polygonaceae Eriogonum fasciculatum California Buckwheat Polygonaceae Eriogonum giganteum Saint Catherine'S Lace Polygonaceae Eriogonum parvifolium Seacliff Buckwheat Polygonaceae Eriophyllum staechadifolium Seaside Golden-Yarrow Asteraceae Frankenia grandifolia Alkali Heath Frankeniaceae Gutierrezia bracteata Matchweed Asteraceae Ericameria arborescens Golden Fleece Asteraceae Ericameria cuneata Wedge-leaved Goldenbush Asteraceae Ericameria ericoides Mock Heather Asteraceae Ericameria linearifolia Interior Goldenbush Asteraceae Ericameria palmeri Palmer's Goldenbush Asteraceae Hazardia squarrosa Sawtooth Goldenbush Asteraceae Hazardia stenolepis Narrow-scaled Goldenbush Asteraceae Isocoma menziesii Coastal Goldenbush Asteraceae Jaumea carnosa Jaumea Asteraceae Lepidospartum squamatum Scalebroom Asteraceae Lessingia filaginifolia California Aster Asteraceae Malacothrix saxatilis Cliff Aster Asteraceae Monardella hypoleuca Coyote Mint Lamiaceae Nicotiana glauca Tree Tobacco Solanaceae Phragmites australis Reed Poaceae Ricinus communis Castor Bean Euphorbiaceae Salicornia virginica Pickleweed Chenopodiaceae Senecio blochmaniae Coast Senecio Asteraceae Senecio douglasii Bush Groundsel Asteraceae Solanum douglasii Douglas Nightshade Solanaceae Stephanomeria cichoriacea Fort Tejon Milk Aster Asteraceae Suaeda californica Seashore Blite Chenopodiaceae Zauschneria californica California Fuschia Onagraceae Zauschneria cana California Fuschia Onagraceae
San Marcos Pass, October 2001
Gaviota Beach, September 2001
San Marcos Pass, September 1998
I haven't found many links about this stumper that I haven't already mentioned. CalFlora has info and photos of the California Flora. The Pollination Home Page has info and great photo albums of late summer pollinators of Goldenrod and Aster. The Ecological Society of America has a concise fact sheet on pollinators.
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Copyright © 2001 by Marc Kummel / email@example.com