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SCV Outdoor Report: Name That Ceanothus...

By Wendy Langhans

Sponsored By:

Patterson's Collision Center

I'll share a little secret with you:  In an era of eco-illiteracy, it's easy to
pose as a wildflower expert.  Just be
able to identify the 25 most common ones and you're in.


But some plants are just too doggone confusing to easily identify.  Take Ceanothus, for example.  Botanists have identified between 50 and 60
different species
and have created a "key"
to identify them, which works much the same way as calling customer service:
"If A, press "1", if B, press "2". 
Obviously, this is not a popular tool for the ordinary park visitor.


Ceanothus "I-don't-know-us"

And the terminology used in these "keys" offers a whole new
set of problems.  Like, what's a
stipule?  And don't even get me started
on "the lower portion of the calyx forms a hypanthium cohering with the ovary".


Ceanothus "Don't-ask-me-us"

Fortunately, for us there's a middle ground, because only a
few species of ceanothus can be found in our local mountains.  There are 6 common species of ceanothus in
the Santa
Monica Mountains



Latin Name

Blossom Color


Other ID Characteristics

Big Pod Ceanothus megacarpus white Jan/Apr small leathery leaves
Hoary-leaf Ceanothus crassifolius white Jan/Apr leaves opposite, olive-green; woolly-white underneath
Buckbrush or Wedge-leaf Ceanothus cuneatus white Feb/May leaves wedge-shaped, opposite with single vein; margins
w/o teeth
White thorn Ceanothus leucodermis white to blue Apr/June leaves alternate, 3 veins, powdery white coating on upper
Greenbark Ceanothus spinosis light blue to white Feb/May Green bark

leaves have single vein

Hairy-leaf Ceanothus oliganthus blue Feb/Apr leaves have three major veins



All this, however, still begs the question: why bother to
learn to identify flowers at all?  I
think because, at it's best, it's a community-building game everyone can
play.  When you go for a walk with family
and friends, you can begin the game by looking for flowers of various shapes
and colors.  But as you learn the names,
your game is no longer limited to a specific time and place; it opens up to
include other people and a whole ‘nother world.


For example, you'll learn that

Ceanothus helps convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a
type of fertilizer

Wedge-leaf seeds are split open by the heat of wildfires, so
that new plants can grow

Native American Chumash used the blossoms to make a lather
for washing hair.


So I invite you to join the conversation, which often begins
with a toddler squealing and pointing in amazement, "Mommy, lookie!  A pretty flower!"



Upcoming Outdoor Events: 


Saturday, February 21, 8:00-10:00
AM.  Morning Bird Hike in Towsley
Canyon.  Towsley
Canyon is a year-round home for
birds.  They like our Mediterranean
climate, the local bounty and the California
sunshine.  Bring your binoculars and meet
at the entrance.  Heavy rain
cancels.  For map and directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation


Saturday, February 21, 10-12
AM.  Wildflower hike at East
& Rice Canyons.

Heavy rain cancels. 
For map and directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation


Saturdays, February 28, and every Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.

Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie
and a heart-thumping workout.  For more information contact Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565.




You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report",
brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the
Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for
trail maps, click here or go to