Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chocolate for Valentine's Day

A while ago I wrote about my quest to photograph a rare wildflower in the Santa Monica Mountains. I visited the location two weeks ago, and it appeared the flower was just on the verge of bloom. I had commitments that prevented me from visiting the flower again until today, and I worried I'd miss the bloom.

Today, luck was with me. They were in bloom. Please enjoy my photographs.

Since my last visit, we've had some torrential rains and unseasonable cold. Today I went up onto the Fire Road between rainstorms, it was chilly but brilliantly sunny, and huge cumulus clouds were sailing across the sky, fluffy white at their tops, but heavy with rain at their bottoms.

Although the trail wasn't too muddy - thank goodness - you could see gullies and runnels where water had streamed down the face of the mountain onto the path, coursing toward the large corrugated spillways draining below.

The flower I'm stalking is a rare, shy flowering bulb, a member of the lily family called Fritillaria biflora. It's common name is Chocolate Lily. It grows on the eastern side of Topanga Canyon, high off the Fire Road, in a v-shaped gully draining the face of a bulging formation of mauve-red sandstone of the Sespe formation.

There is a small grassy hill of sandy soil, a slide from an earlier year. Beyond this a sheltered place in the rocks supports moss and tiny ferns, low shrubs, delphiniums that will bloom later this spring, and some small succulents called Dudleya cymosa - also an interesting mountain wildflower. Among these plants you can see the leaves of the fritillaria coming up. Their appearance is very similar to the rosettes of the Dudleya, until you look closer. The Dudleyas leaves are thick and meaty, while the Chocolate Lily's leaves are thin and transluscent like lilies or erythroniums.

Here you can see a plant that is just starting to put up a stem with buds. Here in this sheltered place, the plants are in varying stages of maturity.

The ones that are nestled into the northern side of the rocky shelter are not as far along as the ones that are higher on the face of the cliff, exposed to the sunlight.

Chocolate Lilies are not showy flowers. The blooms are small, only about an inch in length. They are modest, nodding little bells of deep purply-brown, shot through with streaks of greeny-gold. They are so subtle a flower that you have to fine-tune your eyes to see them.

This one is up on the hill, nestled in the dead woody twigs of a shrub from last year. Two, maybe three blooms are carried on a single stem that rises up from the central cluster of leaves.

The only way I can get up close to them is to climb up the rocky face of the cliff. The sandstone is solid and rounded, punctuated by bands of rounded aggregate stones cemented into it long ago.

By using the shelf-like ridges shaped by ages of water trickling down this slope, I can climb up to where the fritillaries bloom. I tentatively hold onto the rounded stones sticking out of the rock, but I have to be careful. Some of them detach themselves at the slightest pressure, tumbling down. The solid rock face is also tricky - it looks like solid hard rock, but in some places it's merely molded purple sand that crumbles away when you place your weight on it.

I finally get up to a place where there are three plants above me and two plants below me. I brace myself, and then blindly shove the camera in among the twigs for as many shots as I can take. I can't see my viewfinder, but I just hope the autofocus is working as I snap away.

This is looking down onto the trail from where I'm clinging to the side of the hill. A couple of mountain-bikers rode by and stared at me.

Here I am crouching above the plant, reaching below me with the camera pointed up at its face. Isn't it a beautiful, shy little bloom?

Although it isn't showy, there is a nice variation within the Chocolate Lily's range of color. Some are deep mahogany-brown; even purple. Others are lighter and trend more toward green. The lighter streaks and veining is more pronounced in some flowers than in others.

Here the camera has captured the yellow pollen-laden stamens within.

Some plants, when the sun illuminates the petals, glow crimson red.

There's something special about finding a flower like this, growing in the wild. It was worth the trek, and the fact that I had to get down by sliding on the seat of my pants. Tomorrow, we are expecting a heavy rainstorm, and I'm sure the rocky slope around the fritillaries will be drenched with run-off. I hope the little plants weather it well.


Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

looks like a pretty dark purple eggplant color doesn't it?

Vodka Mom said...

fantastic! I am such a flower fanatic- i loved this!!

CC said...

Oh My!!!.Your photos are wonderful..such a beautiful flower.
Thank you for showing's just lovely.

Cottage Rose said...

What a lovely little flower. My goodness you sure did go far to get such wonderful photos. Glad you did not fall.. Happy Pink Saturday and Happy Valentine's Day


Kate said...

Lovely indeed; so glad you got to photograph this experience

Marie said...

AMAZING!!thank you for bringing such beauty into my world

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Wow- you took a chance to photograph this flower but I can see why -- such a unusual and fragile!

I live on the south side of Brooklyn, so I'm far from Fort Greene but I want to explore that neighborhood more in the future. Lots of history there.

My Crafty Little Page said...

I think you're very daring to capture this flower photo but loved the journey - I was afraid you were going to fall! Beautiful, G. :)Nancy

JCK said...

Gorgeous, mysterious flowers. And of course I like this kind of chocolate for Valentine's Day, too. So, not only are you a wonderful story teller and photographer, but a dare devil climber as well??!!

Riet said...

Your flower pictures are beautiful. I love your explanations too. Happy belated Valentine pink Saturday

Elizabeth said...

How lucky you are to 'capture' this spectacular flower.
Greetings from New York.

My Artful Heart said...

What a pretty "chocolate" bloom :)

Donna @ Party Wishes said...

How awsome to find this in the wild! I had no idea we had these growing here! You were very brave for taking these shots! Thanks. Hope You had a great Valentine's Day with the Man You Love.

PlantBuddy said...

Just adore your little Fritilaria and the way you stalked it to get all those nice photos. You'd make a great orchid stalker--any orchids up on those hills?

victoria ~ auction girl vintage said...

Hey G, I'm so glad you got to see it bloom, it's such a fabulous chocolate color!

We drove down during last weekend's crazy rains to visit my MIL in Encino.

I don't remember if I've asked you before, but have you been to the old Nike missle base on Mulholland, a couple miles east of Encino Hills Drive, which is where Mulholland becomes a dirt road? It's now a designated wilderness park, with awesome 360 degree views of the valley, the basin/south side, and the Pacific. Well worth the bumpy ride once the mud dries up, as the dirt part of Mulholland is open to traffic and lightly traveled.



Woman in a Window said...

And it is a chocolate lily. Couldn't have planned it any better. What a sweet treat to have not missed it!

Jason, as himself said...

You never cease to amaze me.

Shayla said...

The colors are very rich. Hmmm... good chocolate for those who can't eat the real thing.

cactus petunia said...

Gorgeous flower! So glad it waited for you to get there to photograph it!

Nihal said...

Oh my..
Love can be found perfectly in the mother nature. Blooming in your part of the world as well as here in Istanbul, Glennis. Trees are started giving so nice tiny blooms here with white flowers. Captured their photos, and will go to share with you all in a short time.
I hope you don't mind my late arrival, sincerely wished you had a merry happy San Valentino.

Thanking to you for this excellent Spring post, and sending love to Topanga, keep open your windows:)