Lately I’ve been too busy with a more important project to get my daily hike in on the Overlook and Montini trails. But yesterday I cleared some time and made my way there. I knew that we were well into the season of the invasive Yellow Star Thistle, so I took along a feed sack to pull what I could.
Those of you keeping score at home likely know that the Overlook Trail Stewards have been waging war against this pest, and that war has been stepped up in recent years. Last year we were successful in eradicating it from the main Overlook and Montini properties. We knew it would be back this year, but we also figured that given how we beat it back last year it likely wouldn’t be as bad.
Having inspected a couple locations where it was bad last year I’m happy to say that it isn’t nearly as bad this year. We are indeed making progress, but we also know that this is a multi-year war and that it will require us to be vigilant and relentless.
This war is led by volunteer Steward Rich Gibson, who has called work days for groups to get together and take out both Yellow Star Thistle and Scotch Broom – another non-native that has a tendency to take over the landscape. Without efforts such as these our landscape would look very different than what it should be, and has been for centuries.
To celebrate National Arbor Day, volunteer Steward Rich Gibson, a retired biologist, will lead a 3-mile hike of moderate difficulty on the Sonoma Overlook Trail while telling hikers about the trees and shrubs along the trail. This is not to be missed, as you will emerge from the experience with a much greater appreciation of the trees and shrubs you see not just beside the trail, but everywhere in Sonoma Valley.
There are two times to choose from:
- Friday, April 29th at 5:30 pm
- Saturday, April 30th at 9:00 am
For either day meet at the main Overlook Trail trailhead next to entrance of Mountain Cemetery. Be sure to bring water, sturdy shoes, and sun protection.
For more information leave a message for Rich at 707-939-0280.
If you like flowers, then now is the time to hike the Overlook and Montini trails, as they are going nuts. From California poppies, to Lupine, to you name it, they are out in great profusion. The picture to the right was taken just a few days ago on the Overlook Trail, where you can see both Lupine and Poppies hanging over the trail.
There are many other flower varieties out at this time, and others on their way. Spring is in full flower, and it is awesome.
However, keep in mind that other plants are going crazy right now, and among them is poison oak. Although we recently cut it back, it is still growing and we will likely need to cut it back again soon. Also, since the grass is growing like mad and often over-hanging the trail, keep an eye out for ticks. They like to climb up onto the tips of grasses where wildlife (and we count) are walking by so they can hitch a ride.
For tips on what to do if you are bitten, see this earlier post where I describe my own experience.
But by and large, it’s all good out there on the trail, and experiencing our wildflower bloom is well worth any slight risks.
We are once again in the season when poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) attempts to run rampant on the trail, threatening hikers with itchy rashes that can spread over one’s entire body (believe me, I’ve been there). So now is also the time when we stewards work to mitigate this threat. In the past, we have sprayed the edge of the tray to kill it off, but recently we have been taking a more ecologically friendly approach by simply clipping it back.
This is potentially dangerous work, but with appropriate precautions one can do it without harm. Last year I got one small spot of itchy irritation that I was able to manage until it subsided. This year (knock on wood) so far I’ve been itch-free.
As I’ve been doing this over the last week I’ve received a lot of complimentary feedback from grateful hikers who know how annoying such a rash can be. This helps make the labor worthwhile, as you know from even just several hours of work you can make a real difference.
Our recent and ongoing rains have had their desired effect in at least one significant way — the mushrooms are out! Wikipedia describes mushrooms as:
“…the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source.”
That clinical description belies the charm of these organisms that pop up from the forest floor when the right conditions (dampness being key) are present. The varieties are endless, and some are edible, but identifying them properly is a sticky business best left to experts. If you eat the wrong one, you can get sick or even die.
Of course mushrooms are but on type of fungus. Another type that is easily spotted on the trails is a bracket fungus (see picture). These grow on trees, like this one which is growing on a dead and downed tree alongside the trail on the Overlook side of Rattlesnake cutoff. Look for it in what I call “Fern Glen” which is where the seasonal creek is now running across the trail.
This specimen I found near the 4th Street entrance to the Montini Preserve, and I love it’s delicate stem. I had to get quite close to get this shot of what is one of the smaller varieties. On the same day I found nearly the opposite, one with a six-inch cap that had only recently popped up above the dead leaves of the forest floor.
For help in identifying a particular variety, there are a number of strategies:
Whether you are trying to identify a particular variety or simply enjoying seeing them pop up in the season of the fungi, it’s yet another reason to get out on the trails and enjoy what they have to offer. See you on the trail!
This is the time of year when the California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) earns its name. Named for the rather large seed pod they drop that resembles the eye of a deer, they are now easily found on the trail.
When they shed their covering they reveal a rich brown colored seed pod (see pic). Pacific Horticulture has this to say about the pods: “Though thoroughly inedible (unless leached of their toxins, as the Native Californians did), there is something irresistible about this seed, looking as if it had been carved, lacquered, and polished; few can resist picking up one or more, often pocketing them to be brought home for a show-and-tell with family or friends.”
Get them while they’re hot.
There is a tree on the Overlook Trail that I’ve dubbed “The Mistletoe Tree”. This is because it harbors several clumps of the parasitic plant, and at elevations where it would be easy enough to pluck a sprig to hold above one’s loved ones for a kiss.
Wikipedia says that “It is associated with Western Christmas as a decoration, under which lovers are expected to kiss. The reasons for this are less than clear.”
But then who needs a reason?
Being parasitic, mistletoe penetrates the host tree to steal water and nutrients. Mistletoe typically does not to lead to the demise of the host, except in extreme infestations, but large clumps may lead to the loss of a limb. The University of California has more information on mistletoe as well as how to control it, but here on the Overlook we let nature take its course as much as we can.