Since western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) typically loses its leaves in the Fall and doesn’t start leafing out again until after the first of the year, you might be surprised to know that it is coming out now, as I was (see photo taken today). Chalk it up to global warming, I suppose, but the result is that poison oak season is elongating — it’s starting earlier and likely ending later, although I don’t have evidence of it.
This is bad news for hikers, and the stewards who try to keep it cut back off the trail. But since I haven’t yet had a chance to get out there with clippers (perhaps tomorrow), be careful. I’ve seen a few sprouts right at the edge of the trail.
Part of what makes poison oak tough to spot is that it presents differently at different times of year and in different growing conditions. To see some of this variability, see this web site, which has a number of pictures of poison oak in various stages of its life and in different growing conditions. Also, poison oak will often vine up into bushes and small trees, blending in with the other vegetation, which makes it even harder to spot. I’ve often missed noticing poison oak in such situations, even when actively looking for it.
Our program of control is limited to keeping it about 3 feet off the trail, as since it is a native species we aren’t interested in eradicating it like we are invasive species such as Italian and Yellow Star thistle. So if you stay on the trail you should be safe, at least after I get out with the clippers, but it doesn’t hurt to be vigilant.
In Northern California, despite the current cold snap, we have essentially entered Spring. This means several things. Plants like poison oak are flourishing, sending tendrils out to conquer new areas. We are presently trying to cut this back from the trail.
Soon we will also need to watch out for ticks, which are particularly bad early in the season, from March to mid-May. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, so it’s important to prevent the little buggers from biting you. Wear long pants and inspect yourself after your hike. If you do get bitten, then watch the bite carefully for signs of Lyme disease, as early treatment by a medical professional is essential. Thankfully, we have the Western Fence Lizard to help us out, since when a tick bites that lizard an enzyme is transferred to the tick that cures the Lyme disease. This has led to a much lower incidence of Lyme disease than in other areas without this helpful lizard. So be kind to the Western Fence Lizard! They are already scurrying across our trails.
Another hazard to watch out for is rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in the Spring when the days become warm enough for cold-blooded reptiles. I’ve already seen the Western Fence Lizard scurrying across the trail, which means snakes will not be far behind. However, this recent cold snap has sent them to ground. But rattlesnakes are typically around from March to September, so we are entering the time when they will be coming out of hibernation in the lowlands and making their way to their higher hunting grounds. Since they will be on the move, most of my sightings of rattlesnakes tend to happen in the Spring.
So stay alert and safe out there!
Each Spring we enter “removal season” on the Overlook and Montini properties. We begin with cutting back poison oak from the trail, as the runners begin encroaching as early as early February. So I was out today doing just that (see photo).
It was encouraging, though, as it seemed evident that previous years of cutting back the poison oak was reaping dividends. I was able to cover the bulk of the Overlook trail in one two-hour session.
After poison oak we will be on the lookout for Purple Thistle, as this non-native has been a scourge along the trail. We just started tackling this in earnest last year, so this year it will likely still be bad.
Following the Purple Thistle the Yellow Star Thistle will be coming in, by early March. That will likely keep us busy until early August. However, progress is being made on all these fronts and each year it becomes easier and easier, and some major patches are essentially already gone.
Once we get all these species under control, there are others we will need to tackle. Scotch Broom, for example, is one, although it isn’t as big a problem at the moment as the thistles.
If you want to help with this work, let me know! It basically takes a contractor bag (which I can supply you with) and gloves, although I frequently pull the Yellow Star Thistle gloveless.
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.