Spring Surprises! California Croton and more. . .

Today’s Glimpse from the Field is the latest edition of David and Doug's San Bruno Mountain Rare Plant Alert email. In addition to their own finds, they post discoveries that were shared with them by other adventurers on the Mountain who were in search of all sorts of critters.

David Nelson and Doug Allshouse 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. Together they are writing "The Natural History of the San Bruno Mountains", a long-needed and detailed natural history of the Mountain. The book will be published by the California Native Plant Society.

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. They 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.

Spring has come to the Mountain!

A male Mission Blue (Aricia icarioides missionensis) has been seen flying on a windy March 24 by JS Young.

Mission Blue butterfly

Mission Blue butterfly

Late March is right on schedule, with the warmest of our microclimates producing the first adults, although our recent cold and rainy weather may have slowed them down a bit. The forecast is for warm and clear, so we all might get a chance to see them out this weekend. Liam O’Brien told me that he should be out today doing some survey work on our blue.

In case you might not have read this, the butterfly is called the Mission Blue because it was first sighted near Mission Dolores, which in turn got its name because when the friars first arrived in San Francisco, they camped on a creek on the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Spanish - Nuestra Señora de los Dolores.

Another find, sent to us by Ben Polacco, a microbiologist at UCSF who since childhood has loved looking for things that wiggle in nature, is the salamander, Ensantina eschscholtzi.



The ensantina is a lungless salamander that breathes through its skin and mouth. This imposes several interesting features on its lifestyle: it cannot live, mate, or spend its larval stage in water, as it would suffocate, so it lays its eggs on land, in moist burrows; and it needs year-round moisture, which some of our other amphibians (Pacific treefrog, Spring peeper toad, California newt) do not. It may be a first sighing on San Bruno Mountain: it is not listed in Elizabeth McClintock’s book, and Doug and I have not seen it. It was found by Ben in the Fog Forest, which due to winter rain and summer fog drip is considered our local equivalent of a “temperate rain forest”, which happens to be the favorite haunt of the ensantina. You probably also note the specific epithet reminds you of the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica. Johann Friedrick von Eschscholz was the physician and naturalist on board the Russian brig "Rurick" when it dropped anchor in SF bay in 1816 - see the Fremontia article at:


The final announcement is that we have found a plant listed by McClintock but no one currently working on the Mountain knew where it was: California Croton (Croton californicus).

staminate flower

staminate flower

This species of croton is a perennial herb or subshrub not exceeding a meter in height with slender woody stems. The leaves are elliptic to narrowly-oblong with a rounded tip and densely-covered with silvery, star-shaped hairs; blade 2-5 cm, petiole 1-4 cm long. The species is dioecious with individual plants bearing either male or female flowers. The inflorescence is a raceme. The staminate flower (to the left) is a tiny cup, 2-3 mm wide, pedicel 1-5 mm, with 10-15 yellowish stamens. The pistillate flower is a rounded, lobed immature fruit that is nearly sessile and surrounded by tiny pointed sepals, 2 mm long. The ovary is 3-chambered with 3 styles and the seed is 3.5-5.5 mm. There are plants at the bottom of Pig Ranch Ravine above the closed Colma Dump on a sandy bench. It is native to California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Baja California where it grows in the deserts and the along the coast (excerpt from our book).

See you on the Mountain!

David & Doug