Pine Seedlings and Oak Galls at Grover Hot Springs

Pine seedlings

There was much to see at Grover Hot Springs a couple of weeks ago (in early May). As soon as I stepped out of the car on arriving in the campground, I found bunches of pine seedlings, most still holding on to their seed coats, scattered widely through the forest.

Pine seedlings

Why would a dozen to 30 or more pine seeds be germinating all together, as if a hand-full of seeds were planted all in one hole? Although a falling Jeffrey pine cone may hit the ground with enough force to knock loose some seeds, it’s unlikely that would explain the large number of seedlings emerging from an area of just a few square inches. It would appear that scatter-hoarding is the answer here.

Pine seedlings

Many small mammals and birds will store quantities of surplus seeds in the ground to consume later, when food supplies are scarce. It’s a common adaptation to seasonal changes in food availability. Some animals do “larder-hoarding,” where relatively few and large caches are created, then often defended. Another strategy is “scatter hoarding,” where many small hoards or even single food items are buried over a large area. Scattering the hoards provides some insurance against all of the food being lost to pilfering, but the hoarders themselves need a good memory and/or a good nose to be able to find their caches again.

Some seeds will, of course, escape both consumption by the hoarders and pilfering by other hungry critters, so they end up germinating.  Producing large quantities of nutritious seeds can thus be a good way for plants to have their seeds dispersed and planted. Some plants may even manipulate the scatter-hoarding behavior of seed-dispersing animals.

Golden Gall on Huckleberry oak

Then there were galls I had not seen before, fairly common at the tips of huckleberry oak (Quercus vaccinifolia) stems. Searching the internet, I found the ones above are likely produced by Heteroecus melanoderma (Hymenoptera: Cynipidae), the Golden Gall wasp (another photo). The galls above appear to be from last year, so their golden hairs have faded or worn off.

Apparently the Heteroecus wasps are partial to canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), but may also use huckleberry oak as a host plant. Aside from canyon live oak being a tree and huckleberry oak being a shrub, there are resemblances between these two oaks, and they will even hybridize.

Mushroom Gall on Huckleberry oak

Nearby, on the same bush, was a shorter, more squat gall (above) that appears to be that of Heteroecus sanctaeclarae, the Mushroom Gall wasp (another photo).

Huckleberry oaks

Cynipid wasp habitat: Huckleberry oaks beside a seasonal stream
at the edge of the pine forest.

Huckleberry oak acorns

Not galls: the acorns of Huckleberry oak.

The new checklist, Plants of Hot Springs Valley and Grover Hot Springs State Park, Alpine County, California is available for download HERE.


Copyright © 2017 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.
See also Tim Messick Photography and the Bodie Hills Plants blog.

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A Hike at Cold Canyon

One of the most popular spring hikes in Yolo County is a trail that starts near the base of  Monticello Dam, on Putah Creek. It enters the Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve (managed by the University of California) and offers the choice of a zig-zag route up to Blue Ridge, a straighter path along the creek, or a loop that encompasses both trails. Last weekend, to brush up on some Coast Range botany and get some exercise, I hiked to the crest of Blue Ridge (1,240 feet in 2.0 miles on a very good trail).

Cold Canyon

Near the start of the trail, if the water isn’t too high, the safest way to cross Highway 128  is to go under it, through one of two large culverts.

Cold Canyon

Much of Cold Canyon burned in the Wragg Fire of late July, 2015. Many trees in the area are still blackened skeletons.

Cold Canyon

But the vegetation here evolved with fire and is well adapted to recover quickly, especially after a winter with well-above-average rainfall. The shrubs will take some years to regrow, and the trees will take longer, but the herbaceous plants are now well-fed, well-watered, and freed from much competition and shading, so their growth is exuberant!


Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Cold Canyon

Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii)

Cold Canyon

Purple nightshade (Solanum xanti)

Cold Canyon

Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum var. achillaeoides)

Cold Canyon

Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum)

Cold Canyon

Golden fairy lantern (Calochortus amabilis)

Cold Canyon

A pleasant view of Lake Berryessa from the crest of the ridge. The reservoir is completely full now and draining through its spillway. Typically, there’s a barren drawdown zone visible above the water.

Cold CanyonLooking north along the ridge. That gap in the middle distance is the narrowest part of Putah Creek canyon—and the location of Monticello Dam.

Cold Canyon

Looking north along the ridge.

Cold Canyon

Western morning glory (Calystegia occidentalis subsp. occidentalis)

Cold Canyon

Looking south along Blue Ridge Trail.

Cold Canyon

Looking into Cold Canyon from Blue Ridge.


It seems remarkable to find a fern (Polypodium californicum), sheltered under rocks on the very crest of this ridge — a place that is extremely hot and dry all through the summer and fall.

Cold Canyon

Large lace parsnip (Lomatium macrocarpum)

Cold Canyon

And finally, an unusually robust, net-like dodder (Cuscuta sp.) entwined among plants, right along the trail . . . .


Copyright © 2017 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.
See also Tim Messick Photography and the Bodie Hills Plants blog.

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Bobcat Ranch

Clouds over woodland

Bobcat Ranch

It was a pleasure this past weekend to join an outing organized by the Putah Creek Council at Audubon California’s Bobcat Ranch, in the eastern foothills of the Coast Ranges near Winters. Our group of about 20 people started from the ranch headquarters, hiking in a light rain through blue oak woodland, up ridges and hillsides to Buckeye Spring, then back down (as the sun began to emerge) along a different route.

Blue Oaks

Blue oak woodland.

Although this area burned in the “Cold Fire” just last summer, you would hardly know it now where we were. Very few trees burned completely or were weakened enough to fall later. The grasses and wildflowers are thick as can be on these hills. If anything, the native plants are more abundant (among the many non-native grasses and forbs) on the burned slopes than on unburned sites. This ecosystem evolved with fire.

Group discussion

The group paused at intervals to discusses fire ecology, native grasses,
large manzanitas, plate tectonics, wildflowers, and the
flavor of sauteed Dichelostemma corms.

Silene gallica

There was a lot of this catchfly, Silene gallica.

Lathyrus vestitus

A wild pea, Lathyrus vestitus.

Tritelia laxa

A hillside with basalt boulders and lots of Ithuriel’s spear (Tritelia laxa).


These rock tripe lichens, (Umbilicaria sp.), were thriving on the basalt boulders.

Buckhorn Spring

At Buckeye Spring.

Microseris acuminata

We found a patch of Sylvan microseris (Microseris sylvatica) near the trail—identified for us later by Ellen Dean of the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity. Endemic to California, this plant is infrequently collected, but occurs in foothills and low mountains surrounding the Central Valley. It’s on the California Native Plant Society’s “watch list” (Rare Plant Rank 4) of “plants of limited distribution or infrequent throughout a broader area in California.”

Madia gracilis

A gumweed (Madia gracilis) under blue oaks near an ephemeral stream.

A larkspur (Delphinium sp.)—one of 4 larkspur species found here.

The group

Heading back down for lunch.

Thanks to Dash Weidhofer (Bobcat Ranch Manager), Stephen McCord (Putah Creek Council’s Board of Directors), and Marc Hoshovsky (geologist/naturalist and my office-mate in grad school years ago) for a well-planned, fun, and informative outing!


Copyright © 2017 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.
See also Tim Messick Photography and the Bodie Hills Plants blog.

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