warrior’s plume

It was another windy, chilly day at the coast so I headed over the hill to my favourite sheltered trail, the section of the Backbone between Piuma Rd and Tapia Park, also known as Piuma Ridge Trail. I love that place—it’s shady, ferny, moist, and mostly human-free. Perfect for just sitting on a mossy rock and breathing it all in with eyes closed, enjoying my daily dose of nature therapy.

I saw an interesting and new-to-me plant, so did some sketch-noting and looked it up when I got home. It’s Warrior’s Plume (Pedicularis densiflora), a perennial root parasitic herb that attaches to the roots of other plants to obtain nutrients and water. I only saw a few plants; I wonder how widespread it is. It doesn’t appear on the 1983 list of the Flora of Malibu Creek State Park, so maybe it’s a more recent arrival, or perhaps it’s too rare to have made it on the list? Regardless, it’s very pretty!


Something I learned in MCSP Docent School this week: our native woodrats build large dens in coast live oak trees; dens can reach five feet in height and eight feet in diameter. They have separate rooms for sleeping (lined with chewed up bay leaves to keep away insects), food storage, nurseries, and protection. Woodrats live in a matriarchal social system where females choose mates, and boot out the males after mating. They are similar in appearance to the common rat species Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus, but with larger ears and eyes, softer coats, and furred tails (i.e., they are cuter!)

white oak farm

White Oak Farm is tucked into the northwest corner of Mulholland and Las Virgenes Roads. Once a dairy farm, it’s now part of Malibu Creek State Park, and a ranger lives in the old farmhouse. There are no ‘white oaks’ here, only valley oaks and coast live oaks. The valley oaks have lighter bark than the others, so perhaps that’s where the name came from.

close encounter

I was minding my own business, sketching the riparian plants in a secluded spot by Malibu Creek, when I was suddenly aware that I was not alone. In fact, a Large Creature was right at my back. I was so startled—and then immediately relieved that it was not a mountain lion* or a crazy human. It took a second for my adrenaline to calm down and for me to start sketching the friendly doe, who slowly (silently!) wandered off. I aspire to be so quiet in the wilds.

* A pet dog was taken by a lion a couple of days ago, a few miles from here.

liberty creek

Today I found a lovely sit spot under a big oak beside Liberty Creek, in a less-visited part of Malibu Creek State Park. Sadly, even here there was styrofoam litter, which I duly collected. On my way back to the car I thought I saw a bunch of tennis balls nestled among the mustard, and reached in to add them to my bag ‘o trash. But they were ripe calabazillas or stinking gourds (Cucurbita foetidissima). The vine had completely died back, leaving just the fruit. Tricked me!

how green was my valley

King Gillette Ranch houses the visitor center and joint headquarters for California State Parks and the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s named for millionaire businessman King C. Gillette (inventor of the disposable razor blade) who owned the property from 1926 to 1939 and built some of the structures on the 360 acre property. There are easy hiking trails and lots of places to picnic (and sketch).

The hills are green from last month’s rain, though they won’t stay that way for long. A few wildflowers are flourishing—we saw California Buttercups (Ranunculus californicus), Golden Currants (Ribes aureum), and Wild Peonies (Paeonia californica). There is no rain in the forecast, so I think it’s going to be a short spring.

When we settled down to sketch, S told me that the movie How Green Was My Valley (1941) was filmed in the valley ahead, which is, ironically, rarely green; but the movie was filmed in black and white so I guess that didn’t matter. The old water tank we could see on a distant knoll was erected to provide the Welsh rain. Ah, movie magic.