Plants of Our Mountain Community
Showy Flowers in our High Mountains
By Lynn Stafford, Liz Buchroeder and Bill Buchroeder
Photos by Liz Buchroeder, Bill Buchroeder, Mary McDevitt and Randy Cushman
Spring and summer come later on the peaks and ridges above PMC than down here in our village. Residences in PMC range from 4,900' to 6,400' in elevation. San Emigdio Mountain to the north of us rises to a little over 7,000'. Immediately to the south of our community are several peaks over 8,000', with Mt. Pinos being almost 9,000'. July is a good time to visit the higher country for flowers and other outdoor enjoyments. Two paved roads lead to the Mt. Pinos and Cerro Noroeste high country. This article will focus on some of the more attractive wildflowers. A future article will discuss other aspects of our mountains.
Fig. 1: Western Blue Flag Iris
Close to the upper end of the Mt. Pinos Road is a lush meadow, a rarity in these mountains. One of the stand-out features is the wild iris known as western blue flag (Fig. 1). Before we proceed further, why flowers? And why are they so showy? The answer is to attract insects and a few other animals. The flowers offer nutritious nectar and pollen, and the feeding animals pass the pollen on from plant to plant, facilitating reproduction of the plants. Flowering plants and insects have evolved in unison over many millions of years.
Fig. 2: Bumblebee on Blue Flag Iris
The bumblebee working a blue flag is an industrious example (Fig. 2). Please do not trample the meadow while observing the flowers. It is fragile.
Fig. 3: Mexican Pink flower
Sometimes, plant names have interesting backgrounds. The Mexican pink (Fig. 3) is sort of pinkish in color, but that is not the source of the name. As people who work with clothes can tell us, a pinking shear cuts a zig-zag pattern in fabric, just like the tips of these flower petals. Another odd name is the western wallflower (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4: Western Wallflower
Of course, a person is called a wallflower because he/she is shy, standing at the edge of the dance floor, not taking part. The wallflower plant is known for occurring either solitarily or in very small numbers. Their bright yellow can be seen occasionally on the sides of our mountain roads.
Fig. 5: Sierra Snow Plant
Now we come to two strange characters. Most flowering plants make their food through photosynthesis in their green leaves. But, there are exceptions. The Sierra snow plant (Fig. 5), named because it often emerges shortly after snow melt, has no greenery, produces no food and derives its nutrition indirectly from tree roots.
Fig. 6: Paintbrush
Paintbrush (Fig. 6) is another showy flower that, at least partially, relies on other plants for its nutrition. Paintbrushes are often found with sagebrush. Any attempt to dig up and transplant a wild paintbrush will yield only failure, because the host will not be present.
Fig. 7: Lupine
Two showy blue wildflowers are the lupine (Fig. 7) and the showy blue penstemon (Fig. 8). It may be tempting to think that they are being so attractive for our benefit, but, in reality, it is all about the insect pollinators.
Fig. 8: Showy Blue Penstemon
There are several local lupine species, growing in a variety of habitats. One interesting species is named the grape-soda lupine. Sometimes, plant taxonomists can have a bit of fun. The showy blue penstemon is also named creatively. It is found throughout a range of elevations in open areas.
Fig. 9: Seep-spring Monkeyflower
Next are two hard-to-overlook flowers in the yellow-to-orange color range. The seep-spring monkeyflower (Fig. 9) gives away its habitat with its name. Its feet are always wet. One of my favorite local flowers is the Kennedy’s mariposa lily (Fig. 10).
Fig. 10: Kennedy's Mariposa Lily
There are several lovely mariposa species in our area. Did you know that mariposa means butterfly in Spanish?
Fig. 11: Common Yarrow/Southern Scarlet Penstemon
(Fig. 11) is an artistic photographer’s creation. My friend, Randy Cushman, captured this duet of color and form up on Mt. Pinos. The white comes from common yarrow. The bright red is the southern scarlet penstemon.
I hope you all find time to enjoy our High Mountain beauties. For more information on our local flora, check out the excellent book, Plants of the San Emigdio Mountains Region of California by local professional botanist, Pam De Vries. This book can be purchased at Adventure Ink, a bookstore in PMC’s Business Center.