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You’re Invited! Save the date: SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20th

Hike in Marin


Such Hawks Such Hounds




The first one was so fun, let’s try this again. You’re invited to the second Phyte Club excursion, specifically to look for crazy flowers and wild things, in the out-of-doors, away from screens and rings and urban drama. And, as well, to hang with like-minded biophiles. To paraphrase the oft-quoted anarchist author Ed Abbey: “Us nature mystics gotta stick together.”

WHERE: A few venues, really. Of course, you can pick and choose between the three, but participating in the trilogy in its entirety is the most wholesome experience.

Part I: A 7.5 mile hike on the southernmost part of the Point Reyes Peninsula, taking the Coast Trail from the Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls and back. The trail starts just a few miles outside of Bolinas and the destination is a waterfall pouring onto Wildcat Beach (which unfortunately we supposedly can’t access, but oh well). The hike is pretty benign, with only about 600 feet in elevation change and a couple scrambly parts, according to Bay Area Hiker. The Coast Trail also passes three lakes. (There are options to turn the hike into a loop, but that would require four or five extra miles, so that can be determined on-the-trail.)

the first Dodecatheon hendersonii, better known as "shooting star," of the season. There's a good chance we'll see these.

Bay Area Hiker also maintains that the best time to experience this area is late winter, so we’re right there.

As for the flora, the National Park Service says there are over 900 plant species here at Point Reyes National Seashore, which encompasses an impressive 15 percent of all Cali flora. And 61 species of Marin County flora are endemic to this peninsula, meaning they’re found no where else in the world, only on that little jutting piece of land. Whoa. Numbers like this are what make it a global biodiversity hotspot, one of only 25 officially-recognized places on the planet where the number of species is incredibly high but the threats to their survival pose an obscene challenge. For example, the 292 non-native species competing with the indigenous ones. (Find plant lists here)

If the mood is right, we can journey to the Pelican Inn near Muir Beach on the way back to SF, which has a cozy pub that, as they put it, “captures the spirit of England’s 16th century west country.”

Part II: Return to my house in the Haight for food and spirits and to watch the documentary Such Hawks Such Hounds about the nature-infused and weed-inspired emergence of stoner metal and resurgence of psychedelic rock. See a couple preview clips here. (If I can’t get this DVD, second choice is Global Metal.)

Part III: Jaunt down the hill to Molotov’s, perhaps — one of my favorite bars in the Lower Haight, complete with a great jukebox (also across from the venerable beer bar, Tornado’s).

WHEN: Sunday, February 20th, exact time to be determined.


RSVP! I need to know who’s stoked and ready to go in order to figure out carpools, etc., and just to wrap my mind around the whole scenario. So, PLEASE, let me know as soon as you can if you’re in: Thanks.

lichen the beer on last week's hike in Pacifica

To get y’all inspired for exploring Marin County flora, here’s a sampling of what brightened the hillsides and understory this weekend at China Camp, a state park just east of San Rafael which in the early 1880s was a shrimp fishing village with nearly 500 Chinese residents. Aside from the first lone shooting star (pictured above), it was all very red:

The native madrones (Arbutus menziesii) were laden with 1/4-inch scarlet and golden berries, hanging down like bunches of grapes. A passing hiker warned me not to eat them, due not to any toxic danger but the assumed lackluster flavor. The joy of getting something in my diet that’s native and non-processed trumped his random warning, and though not amazing, the berries were slightly sweet, and at least interesting and different.

As Michael Moore writes in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, “The berries can be boiled and strained, the puree added to apple juice and pectin (and lots of sweetening) to make a jelly. To be perfectly frank, leave out the berries and it is just as good a jelly, although it will lack the panache of food gathering.”

The characteristically peeling bark of the madrones was a lovely mahogany red. I can’t recall why they do this, what sort of ecological strategy is represented in the thin flakes of peeling bark….Anyone? What I do know — only because I just read it in Moore’s book — is that a 30 to 40-foot-tall tree may be up to 100 years-old.

Another California chaparral native, the Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia = “with leaves like an Arbutus,” see above) was also in full berry, crimsoning the north- and east-facing slopes.

Toyon provides nourishment for several creatures, from the birds who eat the berries and randomly distribute the seeds all over the elfin forest floor, to the mule deer who voraciously munch the young leaves despite the cyanide-containing chemicals in them. Humans have been known to eat the berries too, as they’re edible once heated to remove the bitterness. But they’re more commonly used as Christmas decorations, given their resemblance to holly berries, which they’re actually not related to at all. Toyon once covered the hills above Hollywood, and may still (anyone know?) –  flanking the famous sign and giving the town its name; the Los Angelenos foraged the decorative boughs so much that in the 1920s, the state passed a law prohibiting further collection because the harvesting was getting destructive.

The first Indian warriors (Pedicularis densiflora) I’ve seen this season were poking out from beneath the manzanitas and other scrub, and amidst ferns and pure white milkmaids (Cardamine californica). One cool thing about this rosey-red blossom is it is a hemiparasite — though it can grow alone and autonomously, it does much better if it attaches to the roots of other plants to tap them for water and nutrients. Specifically, it likes cozying up to members of the Ericaceae family, which explains why it was found at China Camp near manzanitas (in fact, Las Pilitas Nursery says it used to be prolific on their site until two fires pretty much decimated the manzanita population).

If familiar with the wildflowers along the central California coast, you may notice Indian warrior looks a lot like the similarly-named Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.). They’re indeed different species though, even in different genera, though they are relatives, having both been recently moved to the Orobanchaceae, or broomrape, family.

Indian warrior is ethnobotanically important as a tea and tincture for relaxing tense muscles and helping mellow a overly-active, insomniatic mind. The flowers are sometimes added to herbal smoking mixes, and it’s sold on several psychotropic drug sites as a sedative. (Though should you have some wildcrafting in mind, remember two things: 1.) Make sure it is abundant where you’re taking it from, and 2.) as Michael Moore notes, pay attention to what other plant it’s parasiting, if it is, since you wouldn’t want some potentially poisonous secondary compounds tainting your nice tea or smoke.)

So are you coming or what?


6 comments to You’re Invited! Save the date: SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20th

  • Pat

    The madrones remind me of my time in Spain. In some old orchards in the mountains of Andalucia they planted Arbutus unedo, a European species with 1 inch fruits. The specific name “unedo” means “just one” as the botanist who named it thought it so disgusting that he couldn’t imagine anyone eating it twice. I thought the same having sampled fruit in the UK, where I am now living again. However, in Spain I was advised not to eat it until after Christmas when the frosts change the flavour remarkably. They are still strange, I can’t think of any other fruit like it but they are tasty and very moreish. I ate them until I could eat no more.

    Peeling bark is a good way to get rid of pollutants, are there lots of fires around there? London planes are successful in big cities in part because of their ability to shed bark as it gets heavily polluted. Lichens and moss may not be an advantage on the bark.

  • Oh, how I wish I could join you! This is a fab idea!!! I will be in the Bay Area for a knitting convention (yes, knitting) that weekend, but I am designated driver. The Prius is going to be packed to its gills with giddy ladies and wooly yarn on Sunday, so there is no way I will be able to stop by, no matter how much I beg my friends. However, I will be looking for your next adventure time and perhaps I will make the short drive from Redding to your neck o’ the woods to join you and other botanified kindreds.

  • @ Pat — Hi! The thought of Arbutus unedo orchards is a lovely one. Here in SF, they are all of the city as street trees. In fact, they’re in bloom right now, with their art nouveau clusters of tiny, urn-shaped and rosy pink flowers. I love this tree, and did you know that the Portuguese distill a liquor from the berries called “Medronho”? Would love to try that some time. Though we don’t get a ton of fires too often, the Bay Area does have its fair share of pollutants. Thanks for the idea, I’ll look into it!

    @ Amber — I wish you could join us as well. The first one a couple weeks ago was a lot of fun, and I think each hike will be different (and really, the purpose isn’t so much a hiking club but just a way to get us all together, and outdoors instead of freaking blogging….!). Keep your eye out — the next one will probably be late March (I’ll try to send you an email about it). In the meantime, have fun knitting! xo

  • Pat

    I have seen the liqueur but not tried it. It is infused into spirit not distilled from the fruit from the look of it. It is an unappetising orange/red/brown colour. I have not seen it since I realised that the fruit is tasty.

  • If I still lived in the Bay Area, I totally would have gone! I hope the jaunt was loads of fun.

  • It was fun (see current post)! Trails like this are one reason I’m tethered to the Bay Area (and killer shows and local bands, too). Sometimes I wish there weren’t so many rad things here as I’d really like to explore more……If you’re ever back in the ‘hood, lemme know and we’ll try to organize something.

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