Flowers and Plants of California by Ella M. Sexton
"When California was wild," says John Muir, "it was one sweet
bee-garden throughout its entire length, and from the snowy Sierra to
There were so many yellow poppies in this great unfenced garden, that
the Spanish sailing along the coast called it the "Land of Fire" from
the golden flowers covering the hills. Near Pasadena, in Southern
California, these poppy fields may still be seen glowing so brightly
in the sun that you do not wonder at the name "Cape Las Flores," or
Flower Cape, which the sailors also gave to this part of the country.
The poppy is our best-known wild flower, planted by Mother Nature
before white men ever visited these shores. When the Spanish
settled here they called the poppy copa de oro, or cup of gold.
The gold hunters spoke of it as the California gold flower, and sent
the pressed poppies home in their letters. But its correct name is
the Eschscholtzia (esh-sholt'si-a), from the name of a German
botanist and naturalist, who studied the plant and wrote about it
almost a hundred years ago.
From February to May the poppies are most plentiful, but a few may be
found almost every month in the year. Have you noticed the finely cut
green leaves, and the pointed green nightcap that covers each bud till
the morning sunshine coaxes off the cap and unfolds the four satiny
golden petals? The flowers love the sun and close up on dark, cloudy
days, or if brought into the house. But put them in a sunny window the
next morning, and you may watch the cups of gold open to the light.
Some of the poppies are a deep orange-color, while others are a pale
yellow. And as you walk through the fields you may pick a hundred at
each step, so thick do the plants grow. The wild bees find a yellow
dust called pollen or "bee-bread" in the poppy, the same golden powder
that rubs off on your nose, when you put it too close to this cup of
gold or to lilies.
Then in this "unfenced garden" were also the baby blue-eyes, whose
pretty pale-blue blossoms come early in the spring, each one with a
drop of honey at the foot of its honey path, as the black lines on its
petals are called.
Can you name twenty kinds of wild flowers? Around San Francisco and
the bay counties you will count, after the poppy and baby blue-eyes,
the shining yellow buttercup, the blue and yellow lupines that grow in
the sand, the tall thistle whose sharp, prickly leaves and thorny
red blossoms spell "Let-me-alone," the blue flag-lilies and red
paint-brush, yellow cream-cups, and wild mustard, and an orange
pentstemon. These with many yellow compositæ or flowers like the
dandelion, you will find growing on the windy hills and dry, sunny
places. Hiding away in quiet corners are the blue-eyed grass, and
a wild purple hyacinth, the scarlet columbine swinging its golden
tassels, shy blue larkspur, a small yellow sunflower, and wild pink
roses. Among the ferns in shady, wet nooks are white trilliums and a
delicate pink bleeding-heart, while the wild blue violets and yellow
pansies love the warm, rocky hillside.
Mariposas, or butterfly tulips of many colors, grow in the foot-hills
and mountains. Perhaps our most beautiful wild flowers are the lilies,
of which we have over a dozen kinds. In the redwood forests there is a
tall, lovely pink lily, and many brown-spotted yellow tiger-lilies. Up
in the mountain pines a snowy white Washington lily sometimes covers
a mountain side with its tall stems bearing dozens of sweet waxen
blossoms. In the wet, swampy places bright red, and many small orange
lilies bloom in late summer.
In the high Sierras are found strange and pretty blossoms unlike
the flowers of valleys and sea-coast. There you will see the
mountain-heather with pink, purple, or dainty white bells, the
goldenrod, and gentians blue as the sky. Strangest of all is the
snow-plant. This curious thing sends up a thick, fleshy spike a foot
or so in height and set closely with bright scarlet flowers. It grows
where the snow has just melted round the fir trees, and leaf, stem,
and blossom are all the same glowing red.
Most of the valley and coast wild-flowers bloom and ripen their seeds
before the dry summer begins. Such plants die and wither away in the
heat, but their seeds are safe on the warm ground till fall rains soak
the earth and set them growing again. In the high mountains a thick
blanket of snow covers the sleeping seeds till May or June, and then
sunshine wakes them once more.
No doubt you have seen many of our shrubs or tall bush-plants in your
vacations. Do you remember the sweet creamy white azaleas and the
buckeyes that grow along the creeks in the redwoods? And the feathery
blue blossoms of the wild lilac crowding in close thickets up
the hillsides? One of our shrubs is a holiday visitor, the
Christmas-berry, whose bright-red clusters trim your house at that
gay, happy season. The manzanita is another pretty bush, with pink
bells that ripen to small scarlet apples in the fall.
Usually, these and other shrubs cover the hillsides with a thick,
matted tangle of stems and branches almost impossible to get through.
This chaparral, as the Spanish called it, clothes the foot-hills and
mountain sides with a close growth through which deer and bears alone
can travel and make trails or runways. Great stretches of buckthorn in
the north, and of sage-brush in the south, cover the wild lands, while
in the sandy desert tall, prickly cactus, yucca, and mesquite grow
with the sage-brush in the blazing sun.
IN A MISSION GARDEN.
Only a few of California's wild plants and flowers have been now
called to your notice. But children have sharp eyes, and you will
find many more to inquire about in your vacation days. Then
the blackberries and thimble-berries will be ripe, and the pink
salmon-berry in the redwoods. Perhaps you will look for and dig up the
soaproot, that onion-like bulb of one of the lily family with which
the Indians make a soapy lather to wash their clothes. Let us hope
you will know and keep away from the "poison-oak," the low bush with
pretty red leaves, for its leaves are apt to make your skin swell up
and blister wherever they touch you.
What a long and pleasant story might be told you of our state's real
gardens! Perhaps your teacher will give you an hour to talk about your
home gardens, and to see how much you can tell about them. You may
have flowers the year round, if you live on the coast, or in the warm
valleys where no Jack Frost comes with his icy breath to kill the
tender plants. In such genial climates roses and geraniums bloom all
year, and only rest when the gardener cuts them back; and most of the
shrubs and trees in parks and gardens are always fresh and green.
Florists who raise flowers to sell find that here they can grow the
choicest and finest carnations, roses, and all the garden blossoms you
know so well. Many of these florists deal only in flower-seeds, and
bulbs or roots of the lilies to send to the Eastern states or abroad,
where people greatly prize California flowers.
PALMS OVER 100 YEARS OLD
AT LOS ANGELES.
Plants and trees from all parts of the world thrive here, also. You
have seen the palms, the tall sword-palm with its great spike of snowy
bloom in the spring, the fan-palm whose dried and trimmed leaves
are really used for fans, and, perhaps, the date-palm. This tree
was planted round the Missions by the Padres, and some, more than
a hundred years old, are still standing at the San Gabriel Mission.
These, and the magnolia with its large creamy blossoms, as well as the
graceful pepper-tree, are natives of warm, southern lands, while the
eucalyptus, or gum-tree, was brought here from Australia.
Look round, children, as you walk to and from school, or in the park,
and try to know and name the green things growing there, the flowers
and plants sent to make our world a pleasant place to live in.