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May 8

Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) through the year

As promised, some photos of my favorite plant.

The first image was taken on March 28, 2010, at the Carpinteria bluffs. I actually was trying to photograph the March flies (Bibio albipennis) that were flying around the plant; there were thousands of them in mating swarms above the coyote brush at the bluffs that day. But I think it’s a nice shot that shows what the plant looks like when it has leafed out with new growth in the spring.

The next two shots show close-ups of the flowers of a male plant (left) and a female plant (right) when the plant is blooming in the fall. These shots were taken at the bluffs in September 2010. You can see how the unopened male flower buds are thicker at the tip, giving them a kind of “fat-headed” shape, while the unopened female buds are narrower at the tip. Once the flowers actually open the differences are more obvious, with the male flowers being disk-shaped and yellow with pollen, while the female flowers have long, white filaments.

The next shot is of a female plant in full bloom. I took this image on October 30, 2011 at the Carpinteria salt marsh. I like how it shows both the plant and the marsh at my favorite time in their respective cycles: The coyote brush looking like it has been dusted with snow, and the marsh at maximum high tide, with the pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) of the low marsh habitat completely inundated.

The next shot is a close-up of a female plant actually releasing its seeds. At this point just a little bit of wind is enough to carry the seeds away. I took that shot in November 2010.

The next shot was taken in January 2011 at the marsh. By then southern California’s wet season was in progress, and new leaves were growing. This shot shows an interesting “witch’s broom” structure in the plant’s old dead stems. I suspect that’s from an attack by a gall-inducing fungus called Pucinea evadens. Active P. evadens galls develop lengthwise fissures filled with bright orange spores. I have some photos of those I’ll share another time, but in this shot I like how the old dead stems are being gradually hidden away by the plant’s new growth.

Finally, I have a shot of a lone coyote brush plant taken in February, 2011. The plant’s vegetative growth phase continues, though it’s tapering off, leading into the long, dry, southern California summer, during which the plant stores up energy, preparing for the fall flowering. The marsh is at low tide, which makes for an interesting contrast with the earlier shot taken at high tide. This is the same basin as in the earlier photo, though this shot is taken from the east side of the basin while the other was taken from the north. But that’s the same patch of marsh in both shots, showing how dramatic the tidal changes are.

I haven’t talked much about the rich community of insects and other invertebrates that associate with coyote brush; I’ll save that for another post. But this gives you an idea of the yearly cycle of this plant that I love so much.