Spring is the perfect time to view wildflowers on the coast. If you've got an interest in seeing the broad range of what's blooming in our backyards -- as well as learning more about some of the lesser-known facts about these beauties -- don't miss two events going on this weekend in Half Moon Bay and the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center in Davenport.
In Half Moon Bay, botanist Toni Corelli will lead a wildflower identification workshop and tour organized by the . Co-author with Avis Boutell and Nancy Frost of Plants and Plant Communities of the San Mateo Coast (San Mateo Coast Natural History Association, 2010), Corelli will guide participants in a post-workshop tour of native and non-native plants along the Ocean Shore Railroad Right of Way. (For more information, scroll down to the bottom of this article).
Farther down the coast, it's Wildflower Weekend at the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center 30 miles south of Half Moon Bay, where short wildflower hikes will be offered, a wide range of native and non-native wildflowers will be on display, and children can participate in art and educational activities.
The Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center sits in the Waddell Valley in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. According to State Parks Interpreter Specialist Laura Shaw, the valley is home to seven different native plant habitats: Beach, Marsh, Coastal Scrub, Meadow, Riparian/Streamside, Mixed Woodland, and Redwoods.
"It's very unusual to have such a diversity of habitats in one area," says Shaw, who is stationed at Rancho del Oso once a week. "We have the northernmost stand of Monterey Pines, old growth Redwoods, and Mixed Woodland made up of Fir, Redwoods and Oaks," she said.
Shaw and Waddell Creek Association volunteer Susan Krivan estimate that within a two-mile stretch of the lower part of the park alone, they counted approximately 110 different kinds of wildflowers at the peak of last year's season. To get a sense of that level of diversity, Shaw and Krivan say that about 140 different kinds of wildflowers have the potential to be found in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Differences in weather from year to year have an effect on the number and types of wildflowers that end up blooming each year, Shaw said.
"This year was very cold, so we see less species blooming because of that," Krivan said.
Though native plants are adapted to extreme weather conditions and are drought tolerant, Shaw says, rapidly changing weather conditions "gets the plants confused," specifically mentioning this year's abruptly changing Coastside weather conditions as an example.
At 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Rancho del Oso will take visitors on a 0.8-mile loop hike of wildflowers in the Waddell Valley. Hikes on Saturday will be geared towards adults, and those given the next day are designed for families.
One doesn't have to venture far from the Nature and History Center to see the wildflowers up close, however.
Modest clippings of a few dozen different kinds of Waddell Valley wildflowers from all seven habitats (natives and non-natives) will be on display inside the Center. Naturalists and volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about the flowers, and a Powerpoint presentation will be available for viewing as well. Several native plants and wildflowers have been planted its rectangular-shaped courtyard, or immediately outside it.
When Shaw gives a short overview of a few of these wildflowers blooming outside the Center, she reveals a surprising world that most would never expect from such delicate, innocent appearances.
To the casual eye, yellow-orange Sticky Monkey flowers -- typical Coastal scrub plants, according to Shaw -- look like a narrow and elongated version of the California poppy. But unlike the state flower, its pistil will close shut like a miniature hinge if touched. To demonstrate, Shaw gives it a quick tap with her index finger. Sure enough, the cream-colored pistil shuts in response.
Ceanothus (more commonly known as the the California lilac), Shaw says, contains saponins, or natural detergents. "You can rub Ceanothus between your hands under water, and it will be soapy," Shaw said.
Children's activities will center around arts and crafts projects to raise awareness about the endangered California Red-Legged Frogs that live in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The focus is timely: Friday (Apr. 29) was Save the Frogs Day, a date designated to bring attention to what people can do to help stop 2,000 amphibian species at risk from becoming extinct in the 21st century.
Wildflower Identification Workshop and Guided Tour: 1:00 p.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday, Apr. 30, 2011.
Workshop runs from 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. and meets at the Community United Methodist Church, 777 Miramontes St., Half Moon Bay, CA 94019 ($15 donation, $5 donation for seniors or free). Tour: 3 p.m. - 5 p.m. Meet at the corner of Poplar St. and Railroad Ave. Free.
Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center Wildflower Weekend, 12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., Saturday Apr. 30 and Sunday, May 1, 2011.
Wildflower tours 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (0.8 mi., slight elevation, not wheelchair accessible). Display of native and non-native wildflowers. Tour on Saturday geared more towards adult participants, Sunday tour geared towards families. Children's activities throughout the day. Free.
Directions: From Half Moon Bay, drive 30 mi. south on Highway 1 and make a left turn just after the Waddell Creek Bridge. For more information, call 831-427-2288.
Correction 4/30: The original story had an incorrect location of the wildflower identification workshop in Half Moon Bay. The correct location (Community United Methodist Church) has now been inserted in the text.