Friday, May 29, 2009

Aliens Among Us

Alt title: What If Martian Cats Were Reincarnated As Wildflowers?

There's aliens among us. I saw some this week. Native Californian aliens in fact. At least they sure look like aliens. I mean - how else do you describe wildflowers that are green and hairy and only grow on one scruffy coastal hillside in Tiburon and no where else on Earth? Well, except maybe also with words like "wow!" and "look at this one!" and "oh my gosh are these things crazy-weird beautiful or what?"

Flora fiends will know with a glance what wildflower so captivates my imagination. It's the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, Calochortus tiburonensis. And they only grow within a few wind-swept acres on the east side of a serpentine rock encrusted hill in the Ring Mountain Preserve of Marin County - just north of (and overlooking) that amazing city on the bay, San Francisco. And that's it. No where else. Pretty discerning & tasteful lilies I'd say.

Because of this unbelievable uniqueness, the California Native Plant Society gives Calochortus tiburonensis a CNPS listing of 1B.1, which is the highest level of concern for plants not thought to be extinct. It means that these fabulous lilies are endemic, endangered, rare and threatened (and any other scary word short of "extinct" that they can think of). I wouldn't be at all surprised if it also means that each flower gets a tiny GPS transmitter implanted inside it each Spring as they bloom. Oh, and ignore that red sniper-scope dot on your chest while you're taking photos of them. It'll go away as long as you just don't touch any... :)

Here's some pics from my pilgrimage to see these rare beauties. I sure hope they protect 'em forever - they're definitely worth it.

The predictable SF and Marin sides of the Golden Gate Bridge:

sf sidemarin side

And the awesome alien-looking natives, Calochortus tiburonensis, in all their glory:

calochortus mugshots

calochortus mugshots

calochortus mugshots

calochortus mugshots

calochortus mugshots

calochortus mugshots

The lilies have some pretty nice views:

calochortus with a view

the view

marine layer over sf

the city on the bay

And some quality friends:

another calochortus loveralligator lizard

There's also lots and lots of delicious, delicate, delovely Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum (which I'm used to seeing with their flowers chomped off because mule deer love them so):

soap plant

I'll close with a color explosion from the rest of the most-assuredly jealous wildflowers that grace the rocky slopes of the Ring Mountain Preserve (including one of tiburonensis' brothers, Calochortus luteus, the Yellow Mariposa Lily).

bluff lettuce - dudleya farinosaindian pinkcollinsiawestern larkspurcalifornia giliapitted onionwhite brodiaeamule earsithuriel's spearcommon phacelia - phacelia distanscalochortus mugshotsbuckwheatcalifornia phacelia - phacelia californicamonkeyflowers
(Above wildflowers in order of appearance: Dudleya, Indian Pink, Chinese Houses, Western Larkspur, California Gilia, Pitted Onion, White Brodiaea, Narrow-leaved Mule's Ears, Ithuriel's Spear, Common Phacelia, Yellow Mariposa Lily, Nude Buckwheat, California Phacelia and Common Monkeyflowers)





  1. AnonymousMay 29, 2009

    Wow, wow, and super-wow! You said it. I love your informative posts. I learn something new every time!

  2. Spectacular pictures, including lizards!

    I lived across the bay (Albany) for 2 years and sadly had no sense of the bounty north of the bridge.

    Thanks for a real eye-opener.

  3. Thanks much y'all.

    Don't feel bad for not knowing about them Hugh - much like your experience with the Elms, the people who live right on top of the preserve don't seem to know about it either. A Google Maps error had me starting off at the wrong place about 3 miles away, and not 1 of the 5 locals I asked had heard of the preserve or the flowers...

    There's always room for lizards!

  4. Beautiful series of photos. Love the skyline of the city. Lilies definitely look like aliens, or at least other-wordly, to me.

  5. Great piece and wonderful photos!
    We - wife, daughter & son-in-law - took a hike in this spot a year or so ago. Nice hiking and views! We knew these Calochortus were in flower and so it was our mission to spot them. After wandering around the park for a while we almost were ready to give in, when son-in-law (the least botanically minded of us all) says "Its not this, is it?" It was so funny and fitting. We spent an hour longer that expected trying to shoot these beauties (no easy feat!).


Please leave a comment, thought or question at any time.