Just Another Day at Work

Today’s Glimpse from the Field is by two men whose passion for all things natural revolves these days around San Bruno Mountain. David Nelson, aside from being a surgeon, is a devoted Mountain Watcher and amateur botanist. Doug Allshouse is an expert on San Bruno Mountain flora & fauna who has studied the Mountain for 38 years. Doug has been leading California Native Plant Society hikes for over a decade. Together they are writing "The Natural History of San Bruno Mountain", a long-needed and detailed natural history of the Mountain. The book will be published by the California Native Plant Society.

David and Doug are on the Mountain every Saturday in their search for interesting, rare and endemic plants - this ongoing research is the basis for their upcoming book. David and Doug send out regular SBM Rare Plant Alert emails to interested persons. David can be contacted at nelsondl@pacbell.net and Doug at dougsr228@comcast.net. Contact David if you would like to be on the SBM Rare Plant Alert List.


Things have been quiet on the Mountain the last few weeks, so we have not sent any postings to the SBM Rare Plant Alert List. However, with the welcome rains the Mountain has awakened.

San Francisco Wallflower

San Francisco Wallflower

On Saturday some of the usual early-blooming suspects were showing themselves. A few Milk Maids (Cardamine californica) were showing off and the San Francisco Wallflower (Erysimum franciscanum),  endemic to California, was starting to appear.  Once extirpated from the San Francisco Presidio, this species has been replanted there during extensive habitat restoration projects.

San Bruno Mountain Mazanita

San Bruno Mountain Mazanita

The manzanitas are in bloom, so head out to the Ridge Trail and check them out. There’s one spot at the beginning of the Ridge Trail where you can see 2 species of manzanita at Roof Rock – Bearberry Manzanita (Arctostapylos uva-ursi) and the rare and endangered San Bruno Mountain Manzanita (Arctostaphylos imbricata). This species is included the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants (List 1B.1).

We were on the Mountain on Saturday to do some trail grooming in preparation for leading an upcoming Bay Nature walk (sorry – invitation only) and we were working on a segment of the old Roof Trail (James Roof, famous California botanist and naturalist). This trail is definitely off the beaten path and only a few insiders know about it - and access can be challenging. In recent years PG&E completely cleared a wide swath under their Western Powerline easement to improve their access to both the powerline and the natural gasline that runs under it. Although unsightly, this did make access easier to some areas, especially the Roof Trail. We have taken full advantage of this, as have other botanists and explorers.

part of historic Roof Trail

part of historic Roof Trail

Speaking of manzanitas - an entrance to one stretch of the Roof Trail is accessible from this unsightly clearing along the powerline. Go down the slope a hundred yards or so and look for the narrow Roof Trail heading off to the left. What’s incredible about this portion of the trail is that it meanders through this vast expanse of the rare and endangered (obviously, locally abundant) San Bruno Mountain Manzanita (Arctostaphylos imbricata). They are now in bloom – enjoy!

After you’ve enjoyed this rare botanical extravaganza, continue west on the trail and start down into the ravine and you’ll be in Trillium Gulch – famous for Common Trillium (Trillium chloropetalum). So if you want to see the trillium in bloom, now is your chance.

emerging trillium bloom

emerging trillium bloom

David Schooley, San Bruno Mountain Watch founder, showed us Trillium Gulch in February 2014. Then we saw only one trillium, and David had not seen any growing there in some years.

In addition to the one pictured, Doug discovered several more a few feet from where we saw one in 2014, so there are now 6 plants identified in Trillium Gulch. This is the most we’ve seen in the last 3 years. Last year we saw one plant put up some leaves in January 2015, but a couple of weeks later it was gone. Eaten?

In the same moist areas that the trillium love, they can be accompanied by Slim Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum, formlerly Smilacina stellatum). The photo shows dozens of new sprouts shooting straight up – they have not yet taken on their classical prostrate posture. Look for them to bloom in April or May.

Trillium chloropetalum

Trillium chloropetalum

Slim Solomon's Seal sprouts

Slim Solomon's Seal sprouts

Why wait for Spring? There's plenty going on now! So get out and explore. And as Doug says -  "See you on the Mountain".