Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the the May 3, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

In our area certain entire mountain slopes support only a few widely scattered Jeffery Pines or are completely treeless, the thin, acidic soils developed atop the serpentine bedrock for various reasons being unable to support trees. Such a "serpentine barren" on a slope across the valley from my place can be seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090503vw.jpg.

Nowadays such barrens are blushing with pinkness, for there's a slender, six-inch-tall, pink-flowered herb flowering in mind-boggling abundance. Millions and millions of them. You can see a small gathering above.

A close-up of their tiny, unusual blossoms is shown below:


With the plants' square-in-cross-section stems, their bilaterally symmetrical, or zygomorphic, corollas, and their flowers restricted to the stem's top like a lantana's, at first I thought the flower was a member of the lantana's family, the Verbena Family. However, then my handlens revealed that not only did each flower bear the unlikely number of three stamens per blossom, but also the ovaries were inferior -- corolla and sexual parts arising from atop the ovary, not below it, as in most plants.

The blushing plant is a member of the small, little- known Valerian Family, the Valerianaceae, genus Plectritis. In the Jepson Flora of California our plants key out to PLECTRITIS CONGESTA, but their leaves are much smaller and more erect than what's shown for that species on the Internet. I don't know whether I have something different, or maybe just the way P. congesta looks when it grows on a serpentine barren.

The common name for P. congesta is Sea Blush, for along rocky coasts sometimes it grows so abundantly that the whole coastline blushes with its pinkness. What a sight that must be. But it can't be any prettier than one of our mountain-slope serpentine barrens blushing on a dewy, sunny morning.