June 2016

Coastal California Poppy – Eschscholzia californica var. maritima

robertpoppies2016 ​I ​Madonnari street painting festival – Robert Bernstein – click on image for original.

This past spring More Mesa provided an amazing wildflower show, especially given the severe drought we are experiencing. And when one thinks of wildflowers, one species in particular often comes to mind.  It is the epitome of wildflowers to many Californians and our state flower, the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica. So popular and attractive is the species that numerous cultivated varieties of it now exist, some even developed by the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank.  Its beauty and popularity has led to its widespread introduction around the country and the world; in some areas it has become an invasive species.

The genus is something of a tongue twister, named in honor of J.F. Eschscholtz, the surgeon and entomologist on a Russian exploration ship that visited the California coast in 1816.  But as difficult as many people find the genus of Eschscholzia to pronounce, it seems that getting to know the local coastal poppy has even been harder.

The more diversity a given region has in terms of its micro-climates, soils, and other variables, the greater the likelihood that there are organisms with unique genetic constitutions, that is genotypes, of the native plants that occur there. The Santa Barbara region is rich with such micro-climates and diversity, and those place-specific genotypes are exactly what UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) restoration staff seek out for use in campus restoration projects.  No, not any plant will do! Unfortunately, obtaining local material is not as simple as placing an order.

To obtain poppy plants for restoration project, CCBER staff ideally tries to collect from within those watersheds that flow into the Devereux and Goleta sloughs.  More broadly, they limit collection to within about 10 miles of campus along the coast, and to within a few hundred feet of elevation above sea level.  Anything within that general distance from UCSB’s natural areas is considered a local genotype. The coastal variety on More Mesa exactly fits the bill!

  • For the text above, we are indebted to CCBER Field Notes on the Coastal California Poppy. To read more about this poppy variety click here.
  • And for the photograph above, we give many thanks to Robert Bernstein, who captured the image of a recent I Madonnari chalk painting also honoring our Coastal Californian Poppy.
lynnpoppyCoastal California Poppy – More Mesa Bluffs

Notes on the California Poppy species, subspecies / genotypes.

  • The Jepson Manual recognizes no subspecies of Eschscholzia californica (link).
  • CalFlora recognizes one subspecies (link): Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana, the Desert California Poppy.
  • The PLANTS database (link) recognizes three subspecies of Eschscholzia californica:
    • Eschscholzia californica ssp. californica, found along the coast from the San Francisco Peninsula north. They are perennial and somewhat prostrate, with yellow flowers.
    • Coastal California Poppy Eschscholzia californica var. maritima, found along the coast from Monterey south to San Miguel Island. They are perennial, long-lived, glaucous, short in stature, prostrate growth with yellow flowers and orange centers.
    • Desert California Poppy Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana, found in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Other species of Eschscholzia. The first two names are also links to maps of the distribution in California. Eschscholzia caespitosa can be identified as having no “collar” under the flower head.
    • Eschscholzia caespitosa (large poppy bank on Figueroa Mountain)
    • Eschscholzia californica (Figueroa Mountain)
    • Eschscholzia glyptosperma
    • Eschscholzia hypecoides
    • Eschscholzia lemmonii
    • Eschscholzia lemmonii subsp. kernensis
    • Eschscholzia lemmonii subsp. lemmonii
    • Eschscholzia lobbii
    • Eschscholzia minutiflora
    • Eschscholzia parishii
    • Eschscholzia ramosa
    • Eschscholzia rhombipetala

May 2016

Another Chapter in our “Cautionary Tales” Book:  It seems as though we have been relaying cautionary tales quite frequently. Exactly a year ago, and even more recently, we warned of the unstable nature of More Mesa’s cliffs and the heavy erosion that takes place, not only after rain, but even in dry weather. There is no doubt that the record-breaking drought we have been experiencing is the source of many of the issues we have already discussed. Now another weather element has entered the picture to complicate and exacerbate the situation even further … WIND!

As we have described, More Mesa’s trees have been severely stressed with the drought, especially non-natives like eucalyptus. For example, the trees at the southeast corner have been especially hard-hit as they have no accessible water at all. In addition eucalyptus have extremely shallow root systems, and topple so easily that they are known as “Widow Makers”. Add to this the fact that, of late we have been experiencing consecutive days of heavy winds, many with gusts up to 40 mph. Coping with these conditions is difficult enough for healthy trees, let alone those that are severely compromised. We have already lost two of our giant trees, as well as many large branches of standing trees, to the heavy winds of the past 2-3 weeks.

We don’t want to lose any of you! Please go out and enjoy this place that is still incredibly beautiful … despite the drought. But do not linger under these big trees … especially when it is windy … or has been windy for several days. It is both risky and courting danger. Enjoy More Mesa, but please stay safe!




April 2016

Mother Nature Does Her Thing, Even with a Record Breaking Drought

In spite of what is shaping up as yet another drought year, More Mesa is green and blooming. In one short walk we spotted Poppies, California Brittlebush, Blue-eyed Grass, Redmaids, Owl’s Clover and Miniature Lupine. Many of these were in profusion and all a joy to look at.


It’s lovely out there! (To view a list of More Mesa’s wildflowers go to link.)

March 2016

El Niño Rains Haven’t Forgotten Us … They May Just Be Running Late

If you are wondering what happened to the vaunted El Niño,  weather experts have stated that periods of sunny and warm weather are typical even in strong El Niño winters and that there is “No need to be alarmed that El Niño is a bust.”

Over the past several winters, a persistent region of atmospheric high pressure over the far northeastern Pacific Ocean, dubbed by one forecaster as the RRR … Ridiculously Resilient Ridge … prevented storms from reaching us, resulting in our multi-year drought. (Instead moisture laden air was directed to the East Coast where snowfall reached excessive levels.)

Despite the fact that the RRR disappeared this year, another high-pressure ridge, this time off the coast of California prevented storms generated by  El Niño conditions from reaching southern California. High-pressure ridges are the norm in our area, accounting for the dry summers in our Mediterranean climate.

The drought break that Californians have been waiting for all winter is about to arrive: a series of storms bringing loads of rain and snow from the El Niño–fueled Pacific Ocean.

Over the next 10 days, beginning Friday, a series of Pacific storm systems will batter the California coastline, bringing intense tendrils of moisture northeastward from the deep tropical Pacific Ocean where El Niño has juiced the atmosphere’s energy. So far this winter, these storms have been largely directed on the Pacific Northwest, where on Tuesday, Seattle clinched its rainiest winter in history. That energy will now be directed squarely at California.   Link for article

In the longer run, it seems likely that a fairly active weather pattern will continue across California for much of March. And while we all hope for another “March Miracle” (as happened in 1991), precipitation at that level is hard to predict at this point. However, it does appear likely that California’s snowpack will recover to average (or perhaps above average) levels in the coming weeks. It is less clear whether Southern California will be able to make up the seasonal precipitation deficit that has accumulated this year, despite the near record-strength El Niño event in the tropical Pacific. Still, it seems increasingly likely that March will be able to make a dent – even though it’s quite clear that California’s multi-year drought will persist through the summer.

And on the brighter side, optimistic forecasters and modelers remind us that the two biggest El Niños on record, which developed over 1982-83 and 1997-98, brought double the rain and double the snowpack for California. Further, this El Niño is in the same league as those two, and may be even bigger. Frustrating as our “rain year” has been, forecasters offer that we should not be fooled into thinking that El Niño has forsaken us. It’s just “late to the party”. Finally, the El Niño expert and climatologist at JPL has been quoted as saying, “It is not unusual for El Niños, with regard to Southern California rain, to be slow starters … when they hook up, they are fast and furious finishers.”

Keep your fingers crossed!



February 2016

Caves Are No More

In several previous issues we discussed the dangerous erosion of the cliffs of the various sections of More Mesa. In October of 2014,  an incident where someone was hurt while in a cave on the western side of More Mesa precipitated a discussion of the geology of More Mesa’s cliffs. Specifically, we noted that the east side consists of a very old formation that erodes slowly, while the west, a much younger formation, erodes very quickly. In fact, sea cliff retreat in the this younger formation has been demonstrated to be about 10 inches a year, the highest rate observed along this portion of the South Coast. What this all means is that the western cliff is steep, unstable and unpredictable. At the time we advised everyone to stay out of the caves since they too, were judged unstable, unpredictable and dangerous.

But now they are gone! These very same caves collapsed last week. County firefighters conducted a precautionary search and found no evidence of any victims being trapped during the collapse. Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni issued a warning that it is extremely dangerous now that the bluffs have caved in.

The Good News: Now that the caves have collapsed there is no longer any danger that people inside them will be injured or killed.

The Bad News: Once again, we remind everyone that the cliffs on the edge of More Mesa are UNSTABLE, UPREDICTABLE AND DANGEROUS. Please stay off the trails leading down from More Mesa and take extreme care when using the Coastal Trail. Please be safe!