Published in the April 18 – May 1, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life
This is a mandatory outing for all wildflower enthusiasts. My wife, Erin, and I walked this route April 8 and we were both amazed by the beauty of our surroundings. The breeze was rippling through the tall green grasses with waves of welcome as we set out from the trailhead. Erin had downloaded the phone app “i-Naturalist” and was stopping at every bend in the trail to capture an image of another perfect wildflower. Adolescent buttercups, lupine, poppies, johnny jump ups and baby blue eyes were among the wildflowers beginning to blanket hillsides.
One of my favorite flowers that seemed to grow in abundance with each step of elevation was the Mule’s Ear or the California Compass Plant which resembles a sunflower. Mule’s Ear is perennial and remains dormant until early spring. Both the flower stalks and the seeds were used by the Ohlone Indians. The flower stalks being particularly tasty before bloom, and the seeds were gathered for pinole, as a thickener for soups or combined with acorn flour.
I asked Erin to include a photo of Miner’s Lettuce. There was a profusion of Miner’s Lettuce, but because it is not as ‘showy’ as many of the other wildflowers. We observed some in the late morning sunshine, yet as we climbed Mummy Mountain there were gardens of Miner’s Lettuce in the shadier locations. You can eat Miner’s Lettuce raw in salads or boiled like spinach. Early pioneers and the Ohlone gathered the round leafed greens which again tasted best before flowering. The leaves have a mild flavor, so they were usually mixed with mushrooms, seeds, or berries. Newcomers to California, especially those during the Gold Rush, learned that eating Miner’s Lettuce prevented scurvy because it is a useful source of Vitamin C.
We have been fortunate to have had a wet March with rainfall continuing into April. Coyote Lake looks like a lake now rather that a mud flat of a few of months ago. The rains also created unique habitats known as vernal pools that are now dotting our coastal hills. Vernal pools are a type of temporary wetland, and with our Mediterranean climate in California (wet winter, dry summer) they harbor a diversity of small plants and animals. The federally designated California tiger salamander is listed as a threatened species and makes its home near vernal pools. The pools we noted along the Ridge Trail are depressions in the soil structure caused by the Calaveras Fault which runs through the Coyote Creek drainage.
The 2018 Earth Day theme highlights the amount of plastic pollution and waste that is choking out oceans and waterways plus piling up on the land. The global community is still not very good at recycling plastic as the estimate is almost 80 percent of all plastic ever produced is either in landfills or in the natural environment. The projection is that by the year 2050, 13 billion tons of plastic waste will either be in landfills or in the environment.
If you are unable to join us for the Earth Day hike, consider enjoying the outdoors with respect and humility. We have been given a treasure of a planet to take care of. Even the tiniest wildflower has its place and its purpose. Everyday is Earth Day. Keep on sauntering!
Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a Morgan Hill business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks.
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