Thursday, June 30

Mystery Flower

Every field researcher’s dream is to have that one big find. For team A.D.D.E.R, (Anna, David, Dammy, Evan S. and Rachel) the find came in the form of a delicate flower along a well-kept fire road. Led by our fearless leader Julie, the team collected the unknown specimen.
“What could it be?” This question rested on everyone’s mind and the thought of discovering a mystery flower was enticing. So with our specimens in hand we headed back to the lodge to show Rusty and the rest of the team our find. At first Rusty was stumped, and this excited us even more! Rusty took on the challenge of finding out what the flower was and the next day he had his answer.
Team A.D.D.E.R had collected Collomia grandiflora, part of the Polemoniaceae family, and known to most as Grand Collomia, or the large-flowered mountain trumpet. The flower is a native to California, but has not been seen much in the area.
There are only two recent records of the Collomia grandiflora in the area. The most recent was found in 1983 on the other side of the mountain on the Pacific Crest Trail above Garner Valley. However, the last time Collomia grandiflora was collected on this side of the mountain was over 80 years ago, in 1926.
So we hadn’t found some amazing new flower, but what we found was just as important and still meant a lot to the A.D.D.E.Rs, as well as to the rest of the team. Who would have thought that something as small as a flower could be such a big discovery?

No Trace Left Behind

It was a dark and stormy night, and there was a murderer among us. There was also an angel saving townsfolk from death and a sheriff hot on the heels of the perpetrator. Yes, we were playing the game "Mafia" after we finished our rigorous first day hike during our overnight trip. Our trip started with a ride on the Palm Springs tramway; a lift high up in the air that showed us around the mountains we would be on and brought us to the beginning of our hike. Some of us had to face our fears of wildlife and the hike itself during this section of our trip, but we all did so valiantly and made it all the way to the top and a fire service station, more than eight thousand feet above sea level in the San Jacinto mountains.

A special feature of the San Jacinto mountains is that they are open to all. The beautiful scenery that we were able to be in sees many hikers every day, not just day hikers, but also overnighters like us. Before we started on our two day experience, we were informed on the importance of being in nature without disturbing it. The Leave No Trace movement is a conservation movement dedicated to teaching people how to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors responsibly. Following this ethic, we did several important things to keep the natural environment as pristine as possible so that others could enjoy it without seeing human impact. We stuck to the trails in order to not destroy nature, packed out all the trash we brought in, left everything we found (other than the plant samples we took), and respected the wildlife from safe distances.

Following these rules didn't hinder our experience in the slightest, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We slept under the stars, played games, saw awesome views, and spotted some deer. And, of course, we collected plants for the research.

They Don't Belong Here...

The vast expanse of the beautiful southern Californian landscape is plagued by a great threat. When alive, it looks like a normal green grass, but it is really a kind of succubus to the water supply of native Californian plants. In the summer it is dead, brown, and dry--potential kindling for a conflagration that could put the San Jacinto’s wildlife and human lives at great risk. It is everywhere: on the peaks of mountains, in the very depths of the valleys, and even creeping around the environmental sanctuary known as the James Reserve. It is Bromus tectorum. Native to Europe, the northern rim of Africa, and southwestern Asia, cheatgrass (yes, its common name is quite appropriate) was introduced to North America by disguising itself as different grains that people actually like and hitchhiking on merchant ships in the late 1800’s. It is now rampant throughout all of North America.

As said before, there are many reasons why this plant just shouldn’t exist. Living cheatgrass steals water out of beautiful and useful species, like the agave and yucca. Dead cheatgrass easily spreads fires that kill native species, much like the way European settlers spread smallpox throughout the Native American peoples. And it never stops spreading. Its seeds attach onto unsuspecting hikers’ boots and clothes and travel to all corners of the world, endangering native species everywhere. Cheatgrass is also a blight upon the eyes. It looks like Europe decided to bring his ugly brown shag carpet over to North America’s place when they were moving in together but he never got rid of it even though she's saying for years that it's just killing the feng shui of the room.

Like most invasive species Bromus tectorum is here to stay. Best thing to do now is to try to limit its spread. So if you're hiking in an area where this brown plague is present, make sure to check your boots and pant legs carefully, even before getting back into your car. Pick out any seeds or grasses, bag them up, and dispose of them where they can't spread. Only you can stop bad shag swag.

It doesn’t belong here.