Spring is in bloom and wildflowers of all colors are decorating our hillsides on Catalina Island. Just look at them! Bright red Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis (Fig. 1) and white Bush Anemone (Fig. 2) are some you are likely to see while hiking around. Starting with the south facing slopes, the island begins a transition from the more earth toned brown landscape of summer and fall into one of vibrant and cheerful colors from February through May. The Shooting star, Dodecatheon clevelandii, is a favorite for many people, with its purple shape (Fig. 3), while the Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum, are a form of wild onion that was used by native Tongva for food (Fig.4)
But where do they hide all year long? Well, one of the perks of being a wildflower is that you don’t have to make an appearance all year long! These wildflowers are known as “annuals”, meaning the seeds will germinate in the fall or winter rains, flowers will bloom in the spring, and then they ripen to seed towards the end of the spring season. This completes the annual cycle and allows it to start again.
As the south facing slopes are exposed to more sunlight for longer periods throughout the day, these slopes will tend to bloom earlier in the wildflower season, followed by the shadier north facing slopes.
After a heavy rain season this year, the abundance of wildflowers is noticeably greater than in past years of drought. As it turns out, in order for the wildflower seeds to germinate, they require continued moisture, or at least enough that the soil remains moist. Without this, the plants will dry out before they get to flower! We really enjoy these annual bursts of color, so rain, rain, don’t go away!
Baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesii, is only known to exist in one population on Catalina Island. Photo by Amy Catalano
Deerweed, Acmispon dendroideus, are endemic to the Channel Islands. Photo by Amy Catalano
Most people are familiar with the concept of tide pools; shallow puddles of water that form along flat rocky coastlines and are exposed when tides are low. However, you may not be aware of the daily drama that takes place in this area called the Intertidal Zone where animals must be well adapted to living both in and out of water.
First lets talk tides. Tides are variations in the levels of water along a coastline that are caused by the gravity of the sun and the moon. There are two types of tides, spring and neap. Spring tides occur when the sun and moon are in line with the earth and take place during full and new moons. These tides are responsible for very large variations in the tides where you get dramatic changes in high and low tides. Neap tides occur when the sun and moon are a ninety-degree angle from each other and occur in very small variations in the tides, much less dramatic than spring tides. Each beach has a different tide type called diurnal, semi-diurnal, and mixed tides. Diurnal means that there are is just one high tide and one low tide in that region. Semi-diurnal means that there can be multiple highs and lows in one day that are about the same height, this is what we have on Catalina Island! Finally, Mixed tides are multiple highs and lows that differ in their heights.
Now on to the drama. All these variations in tides make life in the intertidal zone a little hectic to say the least. There are 4 parts to the intertidal zone and we are going to start off with the one with the easiest living, the low intertidal zone. This region is only exposed during the lowest of spring tides so it is submerged the vast majority of the time. The low intertidal zone teems with diversity and abundance of animals due to its protection from larger predators because of wave action, tons of food from an endless algae buffet that thrives from ample sunlight, and lack of worry from drying out or desiccation. Lots of algae is present in this zone as well as fish, sea hares, sea stars, crabs, abalone, eels, octopus, snails, and slugs. This area is like the VIP section of the intertidal zone.
Next, we have the mid intertidal zone. Here life starts to get a little harder as it is equally submerged and exposed during the daily cycles of tides. Diversity and abundance of life starts to drop slightly as animals must deal with spending more time out of water and increased waves crashing all over there sensitive bodies. Anemones have suction cups and very soft bodies to resist waves ripping them off, mussels have byssal threads that allow them to grab onto rocks, and sea stars have tube feet to hold on tight. Most animals here are filter feeders and use tentacles and other appendages to grab food from the constant flow of new nutrient rich water. Animals like anemones, sea urchins, barnacles, and sea stars, limpets, and snails along with some algae dominate the club level seats of the intertidal.
The high intertidal is where things really get interesting. This region only gets water during the high tides of every daily cycle. Animals are even less diverse and abundant when you get here because of the lack of water and higher temperatures. Shelled animals are the kings as they are able to close their shells to retain water like barnacles and mussels. Snails do well as they secrete mucous to keep their bodies moist. Anemones will pull back their tentacles and cover their bodies with rocks for the same purpose. But this is nothing compared to the next zone.
Finally, the spray zone is the area where it is only exposed to the water during storms and from the spray of waves crashing on the rocks. Here the animals have to deal with incredibly salty environments from evaporation, desiccation from the complete lack of water, and high temperatures from increased sun exposure. Only the hardiest of animals can live here and the diversity and abundance is almost zero. This area can only be described as the nosebleeds of the intertidal zone.
The intertidal zone is an amazing place filled with some incredible adaptations to help animals survive from drastic changes in temperature, water availability, and wave action. As you go from the spray zone to the low intertidal zone there is an increase in diversity and abundance. So next time you’re at the beach whether it be on vacation, near your home, or at CIMI give some respect to our tide pool residents and enjoy seeing their cool adaptations!
It’s the first day of spring, and here on Catalina Island spring has definitely sprung! This is the time of year that many plants are either seen for the first time or are in full bloom. Catalina Island is home to approximately 400 native plants, some of which are endemic (found nowhere else on Earth!). The indigenous (native) Gabrielino people on Catalina Island used these plants for various purposed for thousands of years – and we continue to use many of them still today! Here are just a few that you might find on a visit to Island…
Lemonade Berry – Rhus integrifolia
The lemonade berry is a shrub or small tree that can be found on sea cliffs and rocky slopes throughout the entire island. While in bloom, the lemonade berry has bunches of small pink flowers like those in the picture above. The fruits that this plant produces are small and yellow to pink in color – a lot like lemonade! But not only does this plant’s fruit resemble the refreshing tangy drink, it was also used by the native islanders and early settlers to make an acidic drink that tastes a lot like lemonade too. It is said that the seeds can also be brewed like coffee beans to make a warm drink for chilly spring mornings.
California Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum jordanii
The California maidenhair fern is one of the most beautiful and unique plants that can be found on Catalina. Because these ferns love shade and water, they are always rare and exciting to find on a desert island. On Catalina, they are most likely to be found in canyons with north-facing slopes because there is more shade and moisture in these areas. The California maidenhair fern is easily identified by its delicate black stems, which were used by island natives in their basket-weaving projects to create intricate designs.
Wild Cucumber – Marah macrocarpus
At first glance, the wild cucumber vine looks like something from out of this world! This native (and possibly endemic) species can be found everywhere from rocky cliffs, to grasslands and shaded canyons. The wild cucumber vine is easily identified by its small white star-shaped flowers and its apricot-sized spiked fruits. If you think these fruits look pretty cool, you’re not the only one! Native islanders used these fruits to make jewelry. They also used the oils found within the seeds to create paints for petroglyphs and other art forms.
Coastal Sagebrush – Artemisia californica
Coastal (or California) sagebrush is one of the most common plants on Catalina Island, especially on sunny south facing slopes. But don’t let its abundance trick you into thinking it’s boring – this plant is anything but! The soft, wispy branches have been referred to as “Cowboy Cologne” because of its pleasant and aromatic scent. It was also brewed into a tea by native islanders as a cure-all for illnesses like the common cold and sore throats.
Stinging Lupine – Lupinus albifrons
The stinging lupine just might be one of the most beautiful flowers you can find on Catalina Island, however, it is not very commonly seen. These flowers are generally only seen following years with heavy rainfall or after wildfires. We had a lot of rain this winter here at CIMI and we are being rewarded this spring with the lupine’s purple presence! The stinging lupine was known by the native islanders to have long and sturdy roots, which they wove together to make ropes and cords.
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